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October 13, 2010

Interior Department Approves First Solar Power Tower on U.S. Public Lands

Photo of a large tower surrounded by square solar mirrors in the desert.

The Ivanpah solar project will rely on solar power tower technology, which employs a field of flat mirrors to concentrate the sunlight on a receiver, mounted at the top of a central tower .
Credit: BrightSource Energy

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved on October 7 the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the first large-scale solar energy project on U.S. public lands to use "power tower" technology. Proposed by BrightSource Energy, the project could produce up to 370 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power 111,000 to 277,500 American homes. Located in San Bernardino County, California, the project is expected to generate approximately 1,100 new jobs. The DOI decision authorizes Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to offer BrightSource a right-of-way grant to use the public lands for 30 years if all rents and other conditions are met. The site is in Southern California's Mojave Desert, near the Nevada border.

The Ivanpah project uses innovative technology that, when completed, will include three solar thermal power plants. The technology employs mirror fields to focus solar energy on power tower receivers near the center of each array. Steam from solar boilers in the towers drive a turbine that generates electricity for the transmission grid. Construction of all three project phases is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013. To lessen its environmental impact, BLM reduced the size of the project by more than 15%, from 4,073 acres to 3,471 acres; it also reduced the number of heliostats (solar mirrors) from 214,000 to 173,500.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, renewable energy developers whose projects begin construction by the end of 2010 can apply for payments of up to 30 percent of the eligible costs of the project. Also under the Recovery Act, DOE awarded BrightSource $1.37 billion in conditional loan guarantees for this project. See the DOI press release and an fact sheet on IvanpahPDF.

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