DOE Offers $2.1B Loan Guarantee for Giant Solar Farm

It’s a double-whopper: The federal government said Monday it’s offering the largest loan guarantee commitment yet for solar to what is the world’s largest proposed solar farm for now. Blythe Solar Project is set to get a $2.1 billion loan guarantee to build half of the 1,000MW plant in California’s desert.
The guarantee, if finalized, will be used to build 500MW, from which 484MW will be delivered to Southern California Edison. The developer, Solar Trust of America, is designing the project to be made up of four, 250MW units, a company spokesman told med. But the power each needs to produce to fulfill the company’s contract with Edison is less than the full capacity.
The loan guarantee will cover not only half of the solar farm construction but also eight miles of transmission lines and other related power delivery infrastructure, said the U.S. Department of Energy. The $2.1 billion is the second largest loan guarantee offered by the U.S. Department of Energy. The title holder goes to Georgia Power, which received a $8.33 billion conditional commitment for a nuclear power plant.
Solar Trust America, a joint venture between German firms Solar Millennium and Ferrostaal, already started preliminary construction of the project last fall by putting in an access road and some water supply infrastructure. The company plans to start building the project in earnest in late spring or early summer, said Uwe Schmidt, CEO of Solar Trust, during a conference call Monday. The first half of the solar farm will cost an estimated $2.8 billion, Schmidt said, and Solar Trust expects to start building the second half of the power plant within two years.
The project will use curved mirrors to concentrate sunlight to heat up fluid, which will be used to produce steam to run generators. Solar Trust plans to use the new HelioTrough collectors for the solar farm. In all, the 1000MW power plant will reside on 9,400 acres in Riverside County and cost more than $5 billion, the company said. The power plant equipment will take up about 5,950 acres.
California has long been the largest solar energy market in the country, thanks largely to its policy and subsidies that encourage small-scale installations at homes, businesses and government buildings. The state mandate for its utilities also is turning California into home for large solar farms and making it a major beneficiary of federal programs to fund renewable energy power plant construction.
Just last week, Energy Secretary Steve Chu announced a conditional loan guarantee commitment of $1.2 billion for SunPower to build a 250MW project in central California that will be owned by NRG Energy (s nrg). Also last week, the DOE finalized a $1.6 billion loan guarantee with BrightSource Energy to build a 392MW solar farm in California’s Mojave Desert.
California requires its utilities to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2013 and 33 percent by 2020. The state Legislature passed a bill to set the 33 percent mandate last month, and Gov. Brown signed it last week. Brown, like his predecessor, also styled himself as a renewable energy champion and joined the press conference for Blythe Solar’s loan guarantee announcement Monday.
The California Energy Commission approved nine solar power projects in just four months last year, decisions that have drawn lawsuits from critics who argue that the commission didn’t do enough to make sure some of the projects won’t have a significant impact on wildlife. The state Supreme Court tossed two such lawsuits, one of which was filed by Sierra Club, last week.
Photo courtesy of Solar Millennium