March 15, 2013 / 4:36 PM / 5 years ago

Abengoa becomes partner in 500 MW BrightSource project

LOS ANGELES, March 15 (Reuters) - U.S. solar company BrightSource Energy Inc said Spain’s Abengoa SA would become a partner in its 500 megawatt Palen project in the California desert.

The two companies will work jointly to permit and finance the solar thermal project, which will be built, operated and maintained by Abengoa. The plant will use BrightSource’s technology and design.

Construction on the $2.6 billion plant is expected to begin at the end of 2013, the companies said in a statement on Friday. It is expected to go into service in 2016. BrightSource would not say which utility will buy the power produced by the plant.

BrightSource acquired the Palen project last year from insolvent German company Solar Millennium AG. The project has already been permitted by the California Energy Commission, but BrightSource is now seeking approval to use a solar thermal technology that is different from Solar Millennium‘s.

The Palen project will consist of two 250 MW solar plants that produce steam from the sun’s heat to generate electricity. At each plant, elevated mirrors called heliostats will focus the sun’s rays on a solar receiver located atop a 750-foot “power tower” near the center of a field of mirrors.

In general, solar thermal technology has faced competition from increasingly cheap photovoltaic solar panels. Several big solar projects underway in California switched plans to using PV technology from solar thermal because of the lower cost.

Solar thermal power plants use the sun’s heat to produce power, while PV panels use sunlight.

The Palen project will be located on federal lands in Riverside County, California. It is expected to produce enough electricity to power 200,000 homes.

BrightSource, a small venture-backed company based in Oakland, California, has raised more than $615 million in equity financing to date. It withdrew a planned initial public offering last year due to weak market conditions.

BrightSource is more than 20 percent owned by French power equipment maker Alstom SA. Other investors include VantagePoint Capital Partners, DBL Investors, Goldman Sachs Inc , Chevron Technology Ventures and BP Ventures .

The company’s first major project, the $2.2 billion Ivanpah plant in California, is nearly complete. The 377 MW plant is backed by a $1.6 billion government loan guarantee.

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