The U.S. Department of Energy is using funds from last year’s economic stimulus package to guarantee $1.37 billion in loans for a solar energy project in California’s Mojave Desert.
The project mounted by BrightSource Energy would be the world’s largest solar thermal power plant when built.
“We’re not going to sit on the sidelines while other countries capture the jobs of the future,” Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said in announcing the conditional loan commitment. “We’re committed to becoming the global leader in the clean energy economy.”
The Ivanpah Solar Complex will be located on federally owned land in southeastern California, near the Nevada border. The three combined plants in the complex will generate 400 megawatts of electricity and will supply power to 140,000 California homes. It will nearly double the existing generation capacity of solar thermal power in the U.S.
“The loan guarantee commitment…serves as a tremendous validation of our technology, the BrightSource team’s ability to execute, and the Ivanpah project’s role in meeting our nation’s large-scale renewable energy needs,” John Woolard, BrightSource chief executive, said.
Investors in BrightSource include energy giants Chevron and BP as well as well-heeled funds at Google, Morgan Stanley and other institutions.
BrightSource’s technology will use thousands of “heliostats” on three solar fields, DOE said in the announcement. Each heliostat has two mirrors that track the sun in two dimensions, allowing the capture of a greater percentage of solar energy than other solar thermal technologies.
The first plant is expected to begin construction in the second half of 2010 and come on line in 2012. Commercial operation for the second plant is slated for mid-2013 and the third later in 2013.
Electricity from the project will be sold under long-term power purchase agreements with Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison Company (SCE). The project will be connected to the electricity grid via an upgraded SCE transmission line.
Construction of the complex will employ approximately 1,000 people, and its operation will create 86 permanent jobs.
The loan guarantee is conditioned on financial and environmental requirements, including local, state and federal regulatory approvals. The Bureau of Land Management will continue leading a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review with support from the Department of Energy.
By Darrell Delamaide