Tessera Sells Off 2nd Big Cali Solar Project

It was only in December that Tessera Solar announced the sale of its crown-jewel, an 850-MW solar project, after it had trouble lining up financing and lost its power sales contract. Now the Houston-based company has sold another big project, a 709-MW solar development, to AES Solar, Tessera said Wednesday.

Uh oh. Tessera originally was looking to build the 709 MW Imperial Valley Solar Project to sell electricity to San Diego Gas & Electric, which already signed a power purchase agreement. AES Solar said in a press release that it intends to fulfill the contract with SDG&E. But Patty Rollin, a managing director of AES Solar, also declined to provide details about the purchase or development plans for the project.

The sale by Tessera isn’t surprising considering the obstacles it faced with the 850-MW Calico Solar Power Project, which it sold to K Road Sun last December. Tessera had just secured state and federal permits for both projects, to be located in California and on land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, when news hit that its parent company was besieged by financial woes. That made it difficult for Tessera to line up financing for the project, which was predicted to cost about $2 billion to build.

At the same time, Tessera was facing threats of legal challenges for the Calico project and a federal lawsuit from an Indian tribe for the Imperial Valley project. The tribe claims it wasn’t adequately consulted before the government approved the project.

Then, Southern California Edison, which had signed a contract to buy power from Calico, canceled its contract about a week before Tessera announced Calico’s sale to K Road. K Road spokesman Anton Nicholas told us the company plans to start construction of the project this year.

The sale of Imperial Valley is another sad turn for a company that has tried for years to develop both the Imperial and Calico projects and seemed so close to actually making them happen.

Calico, for example, has been under development for years and was initially overseen by Stirling Energy Systems (SES), which develops stirling engines for solar. Each 25-kilowatt stirling engine system is a giant parabolic dish of mirrors that concentrate and direct sunlight to heat up hydrogen gas inside what’s called a “power conversion unit” in order to run a 4-cylinder engine that in turn drives the generator to produce electricity.

SES signed a contract to sell power from the project to Southern California Edison in 2005. The project languished for some time when SES didn’t have enough to continue its technology development. Then an Irish firm, NTR, came to the rescue in 2008 and pumped $100 million into SES.

SES then created Tessera Solar in 2009 so Tessera would focus on project development while Stirling would concentrate on technology development and equipment sales. By then, SES was finishing up the re-design of its stirling engine system called SunCatcher and getting ready to move into manufacturing the equipment. In September 2009, SES announced its manufacturing plans for 2010.

Lawsuits are becoming a popular tool for opposing large solar power plant projects. Last month, Western Watershed Project filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its approval of a 392-MW project by BrightSource Energy in California. The suit contends that the government didn’t conduct proper environmental review before granting approval last fall.

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Photo courtesy of Stirling Energy Systems.