BrightSource turns to taller tech for new solar plant

UPDATED: Solar project developer BrightSource Energy isn’t close to completing it first solar power plant, but it’s already getting the ball rolling on its second project. The company has filed an application seeking the approval from California regulators for a 540-MW, 3,277-acre solar power plant in Inyo County in Calif., near the Nevada border.

The project, called Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System, will be divided into two solar fields of 270 MW each, according to the application filed on Friday, and it is supposed to be completed in 2015. Of the 540 MW, 500 MW will be sold to utility Pacific Gas and Electric, while the rest will be used on-site.

Unlike its first project, which BrightSource began construction on last fall on public land overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management, Hidden Hills will be built on private land. That will mean BrightSource won’t have to secure a federal building permit and should therefore reduce the time it would take to gain regulatory approval.

BrightSource plans to use a new solar power plant design for Hidden Hills that is taller and will use more mirrors in a given space and is therefore a more efficient use of the land that also reduces shadows. BrightSource’s traditional plant uses a field of flat mirrors that concentrate and direct sunlight onto a water boiler atop a tower that is 459 feet. The new design will stand 750 feet.

Minimizing land use to reduce environmental impact has been a big concern of state and federal agencies when it comes to reviewing these giant solar farms. BrightSource already had to cut the proposed land use of its first solar power project by 23 12 percent in order to gain government approval last year. Ivanpah is located on BLM land and among the habitat of wildlife such as desert tortoises.

BrightSource should have an easier time selling stakes in the new project now that it has been able to secure permits and funds for the 392 MW Ivanpah Solar project in California’s Mojave Desert. The company lined up a mix of federal loans and private equity from investors such as NRG Energy (s NRG) and Google (s GOOG) for Ivanpah, which should be built in 2013. BrightSource also plans to raise money through an initial public offering.

Image courtesy of BrightSource Energy