Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 | 5 p.m.
A California-based company that is developing solar plants in and near Southern Nevada will be the first solar developer in the nation to get a federally backed loan guarantee, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today.
BrightSource Energy will conditionally receive a federally backed loan for up to $1.4 billion. The loan guarantee is available through the provisions of the Energy Policy Act, which launched a program in 2005 to support commercially proven and innovative renewable energy technology. The BrightSource technology is the first to qualify for the program.
"Today's announcement is just one more powerful example of how the solar industry is a major part of our nation's economic recover," Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch said in a statement. "DOE should be commended for taking this critical step toward providing financing for our 21st century clean energy infrastructure. we hope this loan guarantee is a signal that DOE will begin approving the dozens of other projects that have applied for loan guarantees and let solar reach its full potential as a major employer in the U.S."
The guarantee will help BrightSource finance a gigantic solar thermal power plant near the California-Nevada border. Once built, the Ivanpah Solar field will generate 400 megawatts of electricity for California customers. It will be the world's largest solar energy project.
The project is planned for Bureau of Land Management land about 4.5 miles southeast of the Primm Golf Course on the California side of the border. It is currently undergoing environmental review with the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management. Construction is expected to begin in the second half of 2010. It will employ about 1,000 union workers, most likely from nearby Primm and Las Vegas, at the height of construction.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement that he applauded the Energy Department's commitment to utility-scale solar projects.
"I am hopeful this project will serve as a cornerstone of the clean energy economy in the southwestern U.S.," he said. "I look forward to BrightSource and other solar companies putting more Nevadans to work by building major projects like this in Nevada very soon."
The company has several other projects planned, including one on the Coyote Springs development north of Las Vegas. It has contracts with Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison to eventually provide 2.6 gigawatts of solar electricity for the California utilities.
"We're truly humbled by the opportunity to help build our nation's green energy economy by creating good jobs for local communities," said BrightSource CEO John Woolard. "We look forward to beginning construction on the Ivanpah project, making a real and substantive impact on climate change, and creating a model for environmentally-responsible energy projects."
The BrightSource array will be the company’s first American plant (it has a test plant in Israel) and will be based on new technology. The new solar power plants won’t use the traditional trough-style parabolic mirrors, like those at Nevada Solar One in Boulder City, but thousands of relatively small mirrors called heliostats, which will be organized in clusters.
Each heliostat is individually installed and controlled to follow the sun’s rays and direct them towards towers housing steam turbines that generate electricity.
This configuration increases the field’s total efficiency and significantly lowers the cost of materials, the company says. Five heliostats can produce up to 100 megawatts of power.