February 23, 2010
By TODD WOODY, New York Times
The United States Department of Energy offered a $1.37 billion loan guarantee on Monday to a California company planning to build a large-scale solar power plant in the Southern California desert.
The loan guarantee for BrightSource Energy of Oakland, Calif., is the largest the department has given for a solar power project. BrightSource’s planned project, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is the first utility-scale solar power plant to undergo licensing in California in nearly two decades.
It would use solar thermal technology, in which mirrors concentrate sunlight to heat a fluid and generate steam. If built, it would be the largest of its kind.
“We’re not going to sit on the sidelines while other countries capture the jobs of the future — we’re committed to becoming the global leader in the clean energy economy,” Steven Chu, the energy secretary, said in a statement.
The loan guarantee is contingent on the Ivanpah project passing state and federal environmental reviews.
Some environmental groups have objected to the site of the project in the Ivanpah Valley, arguing that the plant would eliminate habitat for the imperiled desert tortoise and other rare plants and wildlife. BrightSource earlier this month offered to reduce the size of the plant to lessen its impact on wildlife, but representatives of the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife said the move was inadequate and argued the project should be relocated.
Surveys have found 25 desert tortoises on the site, which is about 45 miles south of Las Vegas.
Executives at BrightSource, which is backed by Google, Morgan Stanley, Chevron and BP, have said the loan guarantee is crucial to obtaining financing to build the plant at a time when banks are reluctant to finance new technologies. The company will not disclose the total projected cost of the power plant.
The Ivanpah plant will deploy thousands of mirrors, called heliostats, that focus the sun on three towers that will each contain a boiler filled with water. The focused heat creates steam that drives a turbine to generate electricity. The plant, to be built by Bechtel, is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs.
BrightSource has signed contracts to deliver 2,600 megawatts of electricity to the utilities Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison.