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California sets hearings for BrightSource solar power plant

(Reuters) - California regulators will hold several workshops to discuss the proposed 500-megawatt (MW) Palen solar power plant, which could provide electricity for more than 200,000 homes.

Privately-held California solar power company BrightSource Energy and Spanish engineering firm Abengoa SA are developing the Palen project, which is estimated to cost about $2 billion to build.

The California Energy Commission said it will hold meetings on July 17, 22, 25 and 26 to allow Commission staff, the applicant, interested agencies, the public, and others to ask questions and comment on the preliminary staff assessment released on June 28.

In that assessment, the staff found the amended project would comply with all applicable laws, ordinances and regulations.

The staff, however, said it needed more information about air quality and greenhouse gases, biological resources, cultural resources, traffic and transportation, waste management, worker safety and other things. It will make a final determination on the proposed project when all information is provided.

After receiving public comments, the Commission said the staff will publish a final assessment to be considered by the agency as part of its decision making process.

The Commission approved the Palen project in December 2010, but had to look at the project again in December 2012 when the new project owner filed an amendment requesting to change the technology from parabolic trough to solar power tower.

Parabolic trough technology uses curved mirrors to reflect sunlight on a tube that contains a fluid, which is heated to high temperatures. The hot fluid is used to create steam that turns a turbine and generates electricity.

Solar power tower technology uses mirrors to reflect sunlight on solar receivers on top of a tower, heating water to create superheated steam that is piped to a turbine that generates electricity.

Abengoa will build the project and operate the plant once online. BrightSource will provide the solar technology and plant design, according to the project's website.

The proposed project consists of two 250-MW solar plants for a total of 500 MW. Each plant would have about 85,000 heliostats, or elevated mirrors, for a total of 170,000 heliostats, the Commission said.

The solar receiver would be located atop a 750-foot tall power tower near the center of each solar field.

The companies want to build Palen in eastern Riverside County about 175 miles east of Los Angeles.

The developers are seeking a right-of-way grant for about 5,200 acres of federal public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is also reviewing the project, the Commission said.

In addition to the technology change, the Commission said the amended project was reconfigured to a smaller 3,794-acre footprint.

If the Commission approves the amended plan, the developers have said they expect to start construction during the fourth quarter of 2013, with commercial operation in June 2016, the agency said.

The project would average 998 workers during construction with a peak of 2,311. Up to 100 workers would be needed when the project is operating, the developers have told the Commission.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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