Last November, it looked as if federal funding for the massive Blythe Solar Power project was a sure thing, but it has been a few months since we’ve heard anything from Blythe, save its involvement in a large federal lawsuit. The silence is now broken as Solar Trust,  the project’s sponsor, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) both announced the DOE’s offer of a conditional commitment for a $2.1 billion loan guarantee to support units 1 and 2 of the Blythe facility.

When all four units of the project are in operation, the facility will reportedly bring 1,000 megawatts of power online-enough for 300,000 homes- making it the largest solar power plant in the world and effectively doubling the world’s current solar power capacity.This loan agreement from the DOE supports the first phase of the project, which includes construction of the first two units, said to produce 242 megawatts each.

Parabolic Trough
image via Solar Millennium

Blythe is to be a solar thermal power plant that uses large parabolic mirrors to intensely focus sunlight on oil, which heats water into steam that drives a turbine, thus creating energy. According to the DOE, units 1 and 2 will utilize “HelioTrough collectors”  which are larger yet simpler than previous trough designs, making them less expensive to build and install, and more efficient than the earlier technology. Solar Trust says the facility is unique in that it is the first to use an air based, “dry-cooling” approach which is meant to consume 90% less water than water-cooled solar thermal plants. Apparently, each 242 MW unit will use as much water as a typical municipal golf course.

The DOE has been pretty active in pushing through big loan guarantees to renewable power facilities recently. Last week, the Ivanpah facility got its $1.37 billion loan commitment as did the California Valley Solar Ranch with its $1.187 billion. This could be due to the fact that the loan guarantee program expires at the end of September.

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