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Thursday, Oct 18 2007 01:43 AM

Developer plans Kern's first solar plant

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    A rendering of the plant.

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BY STACEY SHEPARD, Californian staff writere-mail: sshepard@bakersfield.com

A Nevada-based developer plans to put one of Kern County's most abundant resources to use.

Ecosystem Solar Electric Corp. recently announced plans to build the county's first solar thermal energy plant in an unincorporated area near Boron. The 109-megawatt plant will be built on 40 acres of land owned by Ecosystem Solar Electric Corp. and its sister company, Solar MW Energy.

The Kern solar plant, which will cost $100 million to build, will be the first of four the companies plan to build. The other three will be located in San BernardinoCounty, said Nick Panchev, CEO of both companies.

The solar plant is one of many clean energy projects cropping up around California as utilities strive to meet a state mandate that requires 20 percent of their energy to come from renewable resources by 2010, according to Amy Morgan, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission, the agency that certifies solar plants.

"These large solar thermal projects will help California reach the goal," Morgan said.

Since the mid 1980s, five large solar thermal power projects have been built in California, producing a combined 354 megawatts of electricity, according to the Energy Commission. The last one went online in 1990.

In addition to Solar Electric Corp.'s four proposed plants, six other major solar projects capable of producing a combined 2,500 megawatts of electricity have been announced or are under the commission's review.

Solar thermal energy is often generated using long, curved mirrors that concentrate sunlight on a liquid inside a tube. The heated liquid is used to produce steam that drives an electric turbine.

The other major type of solar energy comes from photovoltaic cells that absorb sunlight and convert it directly to electricity.

The rise of new power sources has prompted utility companies to build new infrastructure.

Earlier this month, Pacific Gas & Electric announced plans to build a new transmission line from Bakersfield to Fresno in order to distribute new energy generated by wind and solar projects in Tehachapi Mountains and the Imperial Valley. Southern California Edison has also embarked on a similar transmission line project to deliver wind power from the Tehachapis to customers in Southern California.

Currently, about 12 percent of PG&E's energy and 16.7 percent of Southern California Edison's energy comes from wind, geothermal, biomass, solar and hydroelectric suppliers.

The solar plant slated for Kern County will produce enough energy to power between 70,000 and 100,000 homes. The power will be sold and distributed either to PG&E or Southern California Edison, Panchev said.

The solar plant must first be approved by the state, a process that usually takes at least one year and includes an environmental review of the proposed project. Once built, the plant will be owned by private equity investment firms, Panchev said.

Panchev said his companies have owned the land in Kern County for 17 years but were held up getting the plant built because of energy policies that didn't encourage the use of solar power.

"Now that there's incentives," he said, referring to the state's renewable energy mandate, "this is going to be the next major source of energy for the United States."

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