Submitted by New Energy News Blog

NewEnergyNews has already covered the Stirling Energy/San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) solar power plant development. (See STIRLING ENERGY: CONCENTRATING SOLARSDG&E, as part of its California Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) obligation to obtain 20% of its power from New Energy sources, has a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Stirling Energy for 900-megawatts of solar energy-generated electricity.

The PPA provides the financial foundation for Stirling Energy to proceed with the project. The Bureau of Land Management’s moratorium on new solar power plant applications does not apply to this long-planned installation. An EIS report has been drafted. Only one piece of the puzzle is still missing: Transmission.

In another example of the very interesting conundrum in which local environmental harm finds itself pitted against global environmental harm, SDG&E wants to build the Sunrise Powerlink, 150 miles of new transmission, to bring the Stirling Energy project’s electricity to San Diego and local environmental groups oppose both. Sunrise Powerlink would cross the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a region treasured (for good reason) by environmentalists. Also, the Stirling Energy technology is unproven on a large scale and opponents fear its ultimate cost will be far greater than is presently estimated, putting upward pressure on utility bills.

In order to push the project forward, Stirling may proceed with the installation in 2 phases, the 1st of which would not require the new high-voltage transmission. By the time Stirling and SDG&E are ready to take on Phase 2 and Sunrise Powerlink, the technology will be proven, costs will be clearer and global climate change may make environmentalists more willing to talk about new transmission.

An interesting footnote to the story: California is one of only two southwestern states whose RES does not have a solar “carve out” (a requirement that a certain percent of the overall New Energy requirement be from solar energy). Yet California is busy developing solar because its rich solar assets and its governor’s aggressive support make that New Energy source an economic option.

The implication: As technological breakthroughs and well-designed federal and local incentives bring solar energy production costs down, more and more states will turn to it. Though wind energy has beaten solar energy to marketplace price parity, solar is such a logical choice in so many circumstances there is absolutely no reason the two most abundant renewable energy sources cannot and will not eventually co-exist in an emissions-free 21st century New Energy infrastructure. (No reason except, of course, the resistance of dirty and dangerous energy source owners.)

Unlike most sundrenched southwestern states, CA doesn’t have a solar carve-out in its RES. Yet it is building solar energy. It is important to notice why. (click to enlarge)

Massive solar plan is linked to SDG&E; Proposed plant would power 500,000 homes in San Diego
Bruce V. Bigelow, July 1, 2008 (San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E); Stirling Energy Systems (Bruce Osborn, COO & Bob Liden, VP); California Energy Commission (CEC)

Stirling Energy filed a 2,600 page document with the CEC providing futher details of SES Two, its 1st 300-megawatt installation of SunCatchers for SDG&E.

click to enlarge

– The California RES requires state utilities to obtain 20% of their power from New Energy sources by 2010.
– 2005: SDG&E signed a PPA with Stirling Energy covering 900 megawatts of solar energy-generated electricity.
– If allowed to proceed, Stirling expects to begin construction in 2009 and finish before the end of 2010, allowing the installation to provide 40% of the SDG&E’s CA RES requirement.
– Stirling has subjected its SunCatcher dishes to rigorous testing at Sandia National Laboratory for almost 2 decades.

– Stirling Energy Systems is based in Phoenix, AZ. Their 1st installation for SDG&E is planned for the Southern California desert region on 6,500 acres of mostly federal land between Interstate 8 and state Route 80 about 10 miles west of El Centro.
– Sunrise Powerlink would run from California’s Imperial Valley to the City of San Diego.

– The Stirling Energy/SDG&E 750-megawatt installation will have 30,000 SunCatcher solar mirror dishes, each 38 feet tall and 40 feet across.
– This would be the first large-scale installation of the Stirling Energy technology.
– Phase 1 would place 12,000 SunCatchers on 2,600 acres and generate 300 megawatts (peak).
– Phase 2 will have 18,000 SunCatchers, generate 450 megawatts (peak) and require the Sunrise Powerlink.
– Stirling estimates the cost of Phase 1 at $400 million while opponents claim it will cost $1.8 billion. The dispute results from the fact that prototype SunCatchers cost $250,000 to build but the company expects costs to dramatically drop with economies of scale.
The cost of the Sunrise Powerlink is estimated at $1.5 billion.
– When agreement is reached on Phase 2, a 3rd installation of 150 megawatts will require a 3rd Imperial Valley site.

A Stirling SunCatcher. (click to enlarge)

– Bruce Osborn, COO, Stirling Energy: “We can deliver the first phase to San Diego on existing power lines, but new transmission infrastructure is critical to achieving full realization of the Solar Two facility…”
– David Hogan, Center for Biological Diversity: “Even if the Stirling solar project is viable, which we dispute, it doesn’t appear necessary to build the Sunrise Powerlink to bring energy from the Stirling facility to San Diego…”
– Jennifer Briscoe, spokeswoman, SDG&E: “[Stirling is ] meeting their milestones on schedule, and even ahead of schedule…They are bringing us one step closer to a cleaner and greener San Diego.”
– Bob Liden, VP, Stirling Energy: “We have geared up to be able to deploy roughly a thousand units a month, which would enable us to complete the first phase [by the end of 2010.]”

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