After years of delays, the world's largest solar thermal plant known as the Ivanpah Solar Project broke ground last week. The project took years to be approved because of "controversies over the installations' impact on water, wildlife, and fragile desert landscapes" according to a story posted on Reuters. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar were on hand to attend the groundbreaking.
The massive project on 3,400 acres of federally leased land is scheduled to be completed by 2013 It will cost an estimated $2 billion and when completed will have a capacity of 370 megawatts. The beginning of construction had to occur before the end of the year. According to The New York Times, "The Ivanpah plant is the first of nine multibillion-dollar solar farms in California and Arizona that are expected to begin construction before the end of the year as developers race to qualify for tens of billions of dollars in federal grants and loan guarantees that are about to expire. The new plants will generate nearly 4,000 megawatts of electricity if built - enough to power three million homes."
After completion the solar plants are expected to operate at a capacity of "13 to 17 cents a kilowatt-hour" stated by the New York Times. The recent increase in solar farms is due to government grants, which makes the programs possible. "The most crucial is a loan guarantee program, expiring next September, that allows them to borrow money on favorable terms to finance up to 80 percent of construction costs. The other is the option to take a 30 percent tax credit in the form of a cash payment once a project is built. Although the tax credit does not expire until the end of 2016, the option to take it as a cash payment disappears this year, making it far less valuable to a start-up company that is just beginning to generate revenue" according to The New York Times.
The new construction of the plants has sparked a backlash from environmental groups who are threatening to sue the companies that are building the projects. Many of the companies have scaled back the original size to reduce the amount of the land they will require. In order to help reduce their footprint on the environment some companies are doing their part to help, such as "Solar Millenium, the project's Germany-based developer, will be required to fund conservation efforts for more than 8,000 acres of desert tortoise, Western burrowing owl, Bighorn sheep and Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat to minimize the project's environmental impact" according to news review.com.
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will be an example for the future of what Solar Energy is capable of. Solar Home and Business Journal stated "If Ivanpah, with its sparkling mirrors and glowing solar furnaces, fires the public's imagination, the sky may be the limit. If it should become a towering symbol of government-assisted failure, the country's solar candle could be snuffed out again."
The solar future is bright for California. Outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stated "I see miles and miles of a gold mine, of a gold mine of great, great opportunities. And this is one of the perfect examples right here, and there will be many more to come" according to Solar Home and Business Journal.