Make us your home page
Instagram

After years of legal tangles, giant solar plant in Mojave Desert officially opens

PRIMM, Nevada — A windy stretch of the Mojave Desert once roamed by tortoises and coyotes has been transformed by hundreds of thousands of mirrors into the largest solar power plant of its type in the world, a milestone for a growing industry that is testing the balance between wilderness conservation and the pursuit of green energy across the American West.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, sprawling across roughly 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border, formally opened Thursday after years of regulatory and legal tangles ranging from relocating protected tortoises to assessing the impact on Mojave milkweed and other plants.

"The Ivanpah project is a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy," U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said after attending a dedication ceremony at the site. "This project shows that building a clean-energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions and fosters American innovation."

The $2.2 billion complex of three generating units, owned by NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy, can produce nearly 400 megawatts — enough power for 140,000 homes. It began making electricity last year.

Larger projects are on the way, but for now, Ivanpah is being described as a marker for the United States' emerging solar industry. While solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation's power output, thousands of projects from large, utility-scale plants to small production sites are under construction or being planned, particularly across the sun-drenched Southwest.

The opening of Ivanpah is "a dawn of a new era in power generation in the United States," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, the cost of building and operating a new solar thermal power plant over its lifetime is greater than generating natural gas, coal or nuclear power. It costs a conventional coal plant $100, on average, to produce a megawatt-hour of power, but that figure is $261 for solar thermal power, according to 2011 estimates. The figures do not account for incentives such as state or federal tax credits that can affect the cost.

Using technology known as solar-thermal, nearly 350,000 computer-controlled mirrors about the size of a garage door reflect sunlight to boilers atop 459-foot towers. The sun's power is used to heat water in the boilers' tubes and make steam, driving turbines to create electricity.

While many people are familiar with rooftop solar, or photovoltaic panels, "these are a little bit different. This takes the sun's rays and reflects them onto towers," NRG spokesman Jeff Holland said.

The plant can be a startling sight for drivers heading toward Las Vegas along busy Interstate 15. Amid miles of rock and scrub, its vast array of mirrors creates the image of an ethereal lake shimmering atop the desert floor.

According to statistics compiled by the Energy Department, the solar industry employs more than 140,000 Americans at about 6,100 companies, with employment increasing nearly 20 percent since the fall of 2012.

After years of legal tangles, giant solar plant in Mojave Desert officially opens 02/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 13, 2014 9:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Study: Tampa Bay a top market for homebuyers on the move

    Real Estate

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, ATTOM Data Solutions says.

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, a survey found.
[Associated Press file photo]
  2. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA

    Airlines

    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  4. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants the Constitu?tion Revision Commis?sion to ask voters to repeal the state’s system of partial financing of statewide elections.
  5. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — When Miami developer Jorge Perez first eyed a 4.2-acre tract on the west bank of the Hillsborough River two years ago, people asked him if he wouldn't prefer to build on the opposite side closer to the downtown core.

    No way.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]