Two Solar Energy Projects in California Frozen Citing Financial Woes
Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems put freeze on Mojave Desert and Imperial Valley CSP solar energy projects due to financial troubles
Financial and legal woes have put the kibosh - at least temporarily - on two ambitious solar energy projects that approved to begin construction in the Mojave Desert and Imperial Valley, California. NTR, the Irish utility company that owns Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems, the two companies that were developing the solar farms and the Suncatcher Concentrated Solar Power System that was to generate the solar energy, earlier this month announced that it has decided to freeze the solar energy projects, at least until the economy improves. The Mojave Desert and Imperial Valley solar energy projects that were to have come up in California were to have generated close to a combined 1.3 gigawatts of power.
According to NTR, additional funding of at least €2 billion is required to get the Mojave Desert and Imperial Valley solar energy projects off the ground. The two projects have already contributed in a major way to NTR's loss of €210 million this year, and NTR appears to be in little mood to accept even bigger write-downs going forward.
Much of NTR’s woes have to do with the fact that solar thermal energy farms of the sort that Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems were to have built, simply are not as attractive as they once appeared to be. Unlike solar energy projects based on photovoltaic (PV) panels, such solar thermal energy farms use large mirrored dishes to concentrate the sun’s heat onto high-temperature Stirling heat engines, where heat is stored and later converted into electricity. At one time solar thermal was considered the best option for building out large solar energy projects. However, falling silicon prices and the increasing availability of relatively low-cost, high-efficiency PV panels are pushing a growing number of utilities to launch solar energy projects using PV panels instead.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that both Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems are in trouble as well. The CEO and several high-level executives of Stirling Energy Systems recently resigned from the company, while Tessera Solar has reportedly had a string of recent layoffs.
In addition to the financial troubles and the troubles at Stirling Energy Systems and Tessera Solar, legal woes have had a chilling effect on NTRs solar energy projects in California. A federal judge is expected to rule later this week on whether to bar construction of these solar energy projects, based on claims from the Quechan, an Indian tribe near Yuma, that the solar energy projects are to be built and land that is unsuitable for the purpose.