On January 15, FERC issued an order approving a small solar thermal generating facility to be designated as a Qualifying Facility (“QF”) under section 210 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”) despite the fact that portions of the same facility are at times used to generate electricity using natural gas.

On October 21, 2008, Ausra submitted an application for certification of its solar-powered generating facility located near Bakersfield, California. Ausra leases 19.5 acres of land from Clean Energy Systems, Inc. (“Clean Energy”) for its installed solar collectors. It uses concentrated solar energy to boil water in pipes that drives a turbine on an adjacent property owned and operated by Clean Energy. Clean Energy shares use of the turbine with Ausra, but when Clean Energy uses the turbine, it powers it with natural gas.

To be a QF under the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) a facility must “produce[] electric energy solely by the use, as a primary energy source, of biomass, waste, renewable resources, geothermal resources, or any combination thereof.” Even though Clean Energy sometimes uses the turbine as a gas-fired facility, the Commission found that the turbine meets the FPA definition because it cannot physically be used to generate power using natural gas and solar power simultaneously. Thus, when the facility is being powered by the sun, it is a QF. When it is being powered by gas, it is not. Ausra retains all rights to the solar power produced by the facility and plans to sell that power to a local utility or into the California ISO market.

The order is available on the Commission’s web site under Docket No. QF09-37-001.