BrightSource CEO John Woolard: We “understand what it takes” to build major projects like Ivanpah

by mpabst - August 5, 2010

BrightSource CEO John Woolard: "I can't say we were never frustrated" about regulatory hurdles.

Green energy superstar this week when a California state regulator recommended approval of its 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert.

The California Energy Commission will now hold a 30-day public comment period before voting on the final decision. Another regulatory approval, this one from the federal Bureau of Land Management, should come down in short order. The company plans to begin construction on the complex by fall.

G.E.R. spoke to BrightSource Chief Executive Officer John Woolard earlier this summer about the regulatory challenges of the project. �I can�t say we were never frustrated,� he said. A bit of an understatement perhaps.

BrightSource has faced opposition to the Ivanpah project on a number of fronts, most notably because the initial 6-square-mile project footprint was in the habitat of the threatened desert tortoise. The Sierra Club wanted them to relocate the project entirely, which would have threatened the $1.37 billion loan guarantee the Energy Department has awarded for the project.

BrightSource technology uses thousands of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a boiler on top of a 459-foot metal tower. The steam generated as the liquid is boiled is piped to a turbine and generates electricity. Ivanpah should power about 140,000 homes and the energy has already been sold to Pacific Gas & Electric and Sourthern California Edison.

Woolard said he there is always opposition to the first of anything (for a rough analogy, see Cape Wind�s attempts to build an offshore wind farm in Nantucket).

�Everybody in our company has built power plants and assets before and understands what it takes,� he told G.E.R. in an interview at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York on June 29.

Not that the regulatory hurdles have prevented BrightSource from raising heaps of cash. In May, a Series D financing secured $150 million to build 14 new solar plants from the California State Teachers Retirement System and Alstom, among others.

He added that the intensive review process made the project that much better.

In February, BrightSource revised the project to reduce the project footprint by 12 percent � which reduced the megawattage from 440 to 392 � and minimize its impact on rare flora and fauna, including the desert tortoise.

The solar will also cool the project with air, instead of water, saving considerable amounts of water.

Woolard said most environmental groups understand the threat of climate change and are simply advocating for thoughtful planning. But, he added that �the biggest threat to any biodiversity is not acting thoughtfully.�

Woolard noted that there were 74,000 permits issued for oil and gas projects on federal lands in the past 15 years, while there have been zero for solar projects.

�We�ve got a major problem to solve,� Woolard said. �We�ve got to build 50 gigawatts a year of carbon-free power. That�s a lot of power to build and we�re failing miserably at doing it.�

3 Responses to “BrightSource CEO John Woolard: We “understand what it takes” to build major projects like Ivanpah”

  1. says:

    After 30 years of working to have various energy projects approved, I would like to say Congratulations to Mr. Woolard and his team. I too have experienced the presence of the ‘desert tortoise’ on projects I have been involved in.
    KUDOS to all

  2. [...] a crucial regulatory hurdle. Company officials convinced state regulators that they could build its 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on 6-square miles of federal land without adversely affecting the environment, including the [...]

  3. says:

    I understand the appeal of a quick and easy fix to the impending global climate disaster, but folks, you are turning a blind eye to a massive greenwash! Have we not learned our lesson from the BP “ecotastrophe” that our nations environment and energy future cannot be left in the hands of self-serving energy corporations??? Ivanpah is about to become the Mojave’s BP oil spill. Again, brought to us by British Petroleum (BP) – a major investor in BrightSource. BIG SOLAR, BIG WIND and the BIG NEW TRANSMISSION MISSION are being pushed by the same old (and too powerful) energy interests that got us into this mess, with a new (and even more dangerous) twist.

    Ivanpah is the first of many massive industrial solar proposals being fast-tracked on public lands in the southwest (see: ). In a dangerous and precedent setting move, Bureau of Land Management and the California Energy Commission have ruled that multiple unmitigatable environmental harms will result from Ivanpah (and other industrial solar projects following on its tail), but that “overriding considerations” in the form of assumed greenhouse gas emission reductions, justify waiving the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Cultural Preservation Act and other critical legal protections for our environment.

    In effect, we are permitting the destruction of the planet in order to save it. Please ask yourself truthfully, is this a logical solution? Obviously, this debate is much larger than appropriate to a blog comment, but some simple facts to consider:
    1) Not a single fossil fuel source will be shut down or reduced because of Ivanpah. It simply increases energy on the grid and (most importantly) profits for BP;
    2) Emissions from the manufacturing, construction, transmission and operations of Ivanpah are ENORMOUS. The cradle to grave “reduction in emissions” assumption is far from proven;
    3) Point of use solar PV on or near the existing transmission infrastructure has been proven to be significantly more cost effective and faster to deploy without destroying valuable intact ecosystems and putting more demands on our already scarce water resources.

    By playing the “green energy” trump card, the same old energy interests are again deceiving us into thinking we are solving our energy problems – this time through BIG industrial renewables. At the very least, I hope the sophisticated and caring readers of this blog will take the time to get informed before blindly endorsing this destructive, business as usual path.

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