SCE books major solar deal with BrightSource . . . Utility bills 1,300 megawatt pact as largest solar purchase pact ever

While price tags weren’t announced for the power purchase pacts, the construction of a 400 megawatt BrightSource solar thermal plant in Ivanpah, Calif. will result in $3 billion in direct investment into the economy, the companies said in a fact sheet accompanying their announcement.

Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International (EIX:Edison International will buy 100 megawatts of power from Ivanpah. The entire 3,900 acre plant will produce electricity through a series of mirrors directing the sun’s energy onto a “tower of power” that helps convert heat into electricity via steam.

The agreement requires approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, starting with BrightSource’s Ivanpah, Calif. plant, with construction planned later this year and a proposed completion date of 2013.

The full 1,300 megawatts of projects will produce 3.7 billion kilowatt-hours of energy, enough to power 845,000 homes — the equivalent of removing more than 335,000 cars from the road, the company said.

“These contracts represent a significant addition to our renewable portfolio, which is already the nation’s largest.” said Stuart Hemphill, SCE vice president, Renewable and Alternative Power. “This innovative solar technology helps to further our position as the nation’s largest purchaser of solar energy, as well.”

Southern California Edison said the 1,300 megawatts of solar power surpass the 900 megawatt projects it’s seen as the largest ever in the business of producing electricity from the sun.

“I cannot think of a larger project than this,” said Neal Lurie of the non-profit American Solar Energy Society. “It’s a series of projects so there’s a question on how you bundle it. The key point is that concentrated solar power is cost effective on a large scale.”

The contract with Southern California Edison comes less than a year after BrightSource announced a $115 million round of venture financing from a diverse group of blue-chip backers including Google, Chevron, BP, StatoilHydro and Black River, a unit of privately held Cargill.

While blue photovoltaic solar panels have represented an iconic image of solar power for homes and businesses since the 1970s, the shiny mirrors of thermal solar have been quietly picking up steam for larger customers, mainly power companies. See full story.

BrightSource has built a demonstration facility with the tower of power technology in Israel. The pilot plant has been operating since June of last year and produces utility-grade steam.