U.S. OKs 3rd Golden State Solar Project

The federal government continued its rapid-fire approval of major new renewable projects in California today, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave a thumbs-up to the 370-megawatt (MW) capacity Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. Earlier this week, Salazar approved the 709 MW Imperial Valley Solar Project and the 45 MW Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project on federal lands in the Golden State.

California regulators said yes to Ivanpah last month, and although the Department of Energy had committed to loaning BrightSource Energy $1.37 billion to do the project, it needed approval from Salazar to build on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property that falls under his purview. BrightSource is the developer behind the Ivanpah project.

image via BrightSource Energy

“Ivanpah is one of several renewable energy projects in the pipeline that will help California and this nation build a clean energy economy,” Salazar said in his decision. “With this project, we are making great strides toward meeting the President’s goals for creating new jobs for American workers, reducing carbon emissions, promoting energy independence and strengthening our national security.”

That said, the project won’t be as big as originally planned. The Interior Department release noted that in response to public concern about environmental impacts, “BLM reduced the size of the project by 15 percent, from 4,073 acres down to 3,471 acres and the number of heliostats (solar mirrors) from 214,000 to 173,500.”

The Interior Department heralded Ivanpah for its “innovative technology,” which entails using mirror fields to focus solar energy on “power tower” receivers near the center of each array. Steam from solar boilers in the towers then drives turbines, producing electricity. The department said the project, expected to be completed by the end of 2013, would generate enough electricity to power at least 111,000 homes and perhaps as many as 277,500.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.