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Three huge solar thermal projects now dead in California

eSolar SunTower, Lancaster CA. The only Concentrating Solar Plant in the US

eSolar SunTower, Lancaster CA. The only Concentrating Solar Plant in the US

Brightsource has cancelled plans for a ginormous solar thermal plant on 4,000 acres of desert near Blythe CA, citing costs. A similar plant in Inyo County has been suspended. The Calico Solar Project in the Mojave has also been cancelled, due to “changed market conditions.”

All three projects were planned to be solar thermal, where the heat of the sun is reflected to central towers to drive turbines. However, the rapidly dropping cost of photovoltaics made the projects less economically feasible. Plus, solar thermal uses water to power the turbines, and no matter how much the water is reused, it still uses large amounts of water compared to solar PV, and in deserts where water is scarce. On top of that is the problem of getting the power from remote deserts to cities. New transmission lines often need to be built, creating more delays. And of course there are environmental concerns too.

California has ambitious plans to have 33% renewable energy produced within the state by 2020. These plants would have totalled more than 1.5 GW. Their cancellation makes California’s goal more difficult to reach.

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