Government can, and must, play an important role in
deploying emerging energy technologies
By John M. Woolard, President and
CEO of Brightsource Energy
I consider large-scale solar thermal power to be a keystone of our
nation's future energy supply. Solar thermal technology is different
from photovoltaic (PV) energy—the kind you typically find on
rooftops. We generate power similar to traditional power plants, by
creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine.
However, instead of using fossil fuels or nuclear power to create that
steam, BrightSource Energy uses the sun's energy.
Since our founding in 2006, we have executed 13 long-term power
purchase agreements (PPAs) with two of the largest electric utilities
in the United States, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and
Southern California Edison (SCE), to deliver approximately 2.4 GW of
installed capacity by 2017. We believe that these PPAs are the largest
solar contracts in the world and represent one of the largest
utility-scale solar pipelines in the United States.
In 2007, we commenced the permitting and financing of our Ivanpah Solar
Electric Generating System, located in California's Mojave Desert. The
purpose of the Ivanpah project is to generate power to sell to PG&E
and SCE under three of the power purchase agreements that we signed
with those two utilities. In total, the Ivanpah project will cost about
$2.2 billion to build and, at 392 megawatts, will produce enough power
for 140,000 homes.
The Ivanpah project is already providing substantial economic benefits
not just to California and the region, but to the nation, as our plants
depend on the traditional supplies needed for conventional power plants
as well as commercial mirrors and equipment needed to provide its solar
"fuel". In fact, we procure from a supply chain that stretches across
17 states. The majority of the materials are procured domestically, and
we estimate that approximately 70 percent of the project's value will
be captured in the United States.
The Ivanpah project is one of the largest infrastructure projects in
the nation and the largest solar thermal plant under construction in
the world. When completed, it will increase the amount of solar thermal
energy produced in the U.S. by 70 percent. The project is being built
over a three year period and is creating 1,400 construction jobs at
In April 2011, the Federal Financing Bank extended the Ivanpah project
companies a $1.6 billion loan, which was guaranteed by the DOE.
BrightSource first applied for a loan guarantee in 2006 and achieved
financial close of the loan in April 2011.
In total, the DOE review process lasted more than four years. In our
experience, the DOE's review process was extremely thorough and marked
by thoughtful analysis.
The 2005 Energy Policy Act created the DOE loan guarantee program as a
way to help commercialize innovative energy technologies. The Ivanpah
project serves as a successful example of the important and effective
role that the government can, and must, play in deploying emerging
Due to their similarity to conventional power plants, concentrating
solar plants deliver highly reliable power that is easy for the grid to
integrate. These power plants can operate as hybrids by adding fossil
fuel, like natural gas, as a heat source, or can add thermal
storage—which is cost-effective under today's energy
prices—to provide power and grid support services whenever they
are needed. The Ivanpah project demonstrates that innovative
technology, when supported with thoughtful policy, can help position
the U.S. as a leader in a globally-vital industry, create thousands of
jobs, and strengthen our nation's energy security.
Without the loan guarantee, this project may not have happened, and
none of the positive developments I have described earlier would be
occurring onsite and across the nation. Going forward, we expect to
finance our future projects commercially. As such, the loan guarantee
program served an important role in the market, allowing our project to
achieve meaningful scale, drive down costs, and validate our technology.
the Record is an excerpt of the testimony of John M. Woolard, President
and CEO of Brightsource Energy, before the U.S. House Committee on
Oversight and Government Reform in May 2012.