Rice Solar Energy Project

Docket Number:

09-AFC-10 (Application For Certification)
09-AFC-10C (Compliance Proceeding)


Project Status: Licensed; In Compliance Phase.

The California Energy Commission approved this project's Application for Certification on December 15, 2010. The Commission monitors the power plant's construction, operation and eventual decommissioning through a compliance proceeding.



Committee that oversaw Original Licensing Proceeding:

Robert B. Weisenmiller, Commissioner, Presiding Member

Karen Douglas, Chairman, Associate Member

 

Hearing Officer: Kourtney Vaccaro



Key Dates


GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PROJECT

Artist rendering of project

Rice Solar Energy, LLC, (RSE) a wholly owned subsidiary of SolarReserve, LLC, proposes to construct, own, and operate the Rice Solar Energy Project (RSEP or project). The RSEP will be a solar generating facility located on a privately owned site in unincorporated eastern Riverside County, California. The proposed project will be capable of producing approximately 450,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy annually, with a nominal net generating capacity of 150 megawatts (MW).

The RSEP will be located in an unincorporated area of eastern Riverside County, California. Land surrounding the project site consists mostly of undeveloped open desert that is owned by the federal government and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The proposed facility will use concentrating solar power (CSP) technology, with a central receiver tower and an integrated thermal storage system. The RSEP's technology generates power from sunlight by focusing energy from a field of sun-tracking mirrors called heliostats onto a central receiver. Liquid salt (The salt is a mixture of sodium nitrate, a common ingredient in fertilizer, and potassium nitrate, a fertilizer and food additive. These mineral products will be mixed onsite as received directly from mines in solid crystallized form and used without additives or further processing other than mixing and heating.), which has viscosity and appearance similar to water when melted, is circulated through tubes in the receiver, collecting the energy gathered from the sun. The heated salt is then routed to an insulated storage tank where it can be stored with minimal energy losses. When electricity is to be generated, the hot salt is routed to heat exchangers (or steam generation system). The steam is then used to generate electricity in a conventional steam turbine cycle. After exiting the steam generation system, the salt is sent to the cold salt thermal storage tank and the cycle is repeated. The salt storage technology was demonstrated successfully at the U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored 10-MW Solar Two project near Barstow, California, in the 1990s.

According to the applicant, this unique CSP technology offers several important benefits. Because liquid salt has highly efficient heat transfer and storage properties, it is used as the heat transfer medium in the cycle. Natural gas heating is therefore not required for startup or for operating stability during routine cloud cover. Second, the stored energy in the salt can be extracted upon demand and produce electricity even when there is no sunlight. Finally, the output from the RSEP will produce a stable electricity supply, compensating for potential impacts on the electricity grid from other intermittent energy sources having less predictable operating characteristics.

The solar facility will have the following key elements:

  • A large circular field of mirrors (heliostats) that reflect the sun's energy onto a central receiver tower
  • A conventional steam turbine generator to produce electricity
  • Insulated tanks to store the hot and cold liquid salt heat transfer fluid
  • An air-cooled condenser (ACC) to eliminate water consumption for cooling the steam turbine exhaust

Energy Commission Facility Certification Process

The California Energy Commission is the lead agency (for licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts and larger) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and has a certified regulatory program under CEQA. Under its certified program, the Energy Commission is exempt from having to prepare an environmental impact report. Its certified program, however, does require environmental analysis of the project, including an analysis of alternatives and mitigation measures to minimize any significant adverse effect the project may have on the environment.



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