The barren Mojave Desert would become home to large solar power plants once the construction is completed. The electricity generated from the desert would be enough to power millions of homes. It looks like another California Gold Rush in underway and it is fueled by the federal stimulus funds.
Utilities in California are required to buy a third of their electricity from renewable source by 2020. This is one of the reasons why companies are scrambling to build more solar power plants in the desert. The solar industry received a black eye recently because of Solyndra’s bankruptcy but it looks like several companies that also received loan guarantees from the government are blooming.
BrightSource has a project in the Mojave Desert dubbed as Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which has been under construction for a year now. It’s located near the California-Nevada border through a $1.6 billion loan guarantee. It uses mirrors to concentrate the sun and turn turbines to produce electricity. Its target date of completion is in 2013 and it would be the biggest solar thermal power plant in the world, which would generate electricity that can power 140,000 homes.
At present, there are 800 construction workers employed on the 3,600 acre job site. The tower would be higher than the coastal redwood trees. Most of the workers arrive at the site before dawn to beat the scorching heat and engineers look over the blueprints in air-conditioned trailers.
Ivanpah is just one of the nine solar thermal power plants approved by the California Energy Commission last year. There are other solar projects lined up and waiting to be approved. Last August, the federal Bureau of Land Management was processing applications for 17 more solar power plants in California’s deserts.
A solar project that was approved last year had to be probed further because the developers decided to change the type of technology to be used for it. The Calico solar project was approved last year that would utilize mirrors to convert sunlight into electricity. The project was sold to another developer and the new company wants to use photovoltaic panels instead.
But not everyone is in favor of erecting solar power plants in the deserts. Groups such as Solar Done Right fear that tracks of public lands are industrialized because of the need to produce more solar power. This could harm the plants and animals of the region. They call for smart planning in the usage of the desert that would allow renewable energy to be development in some parts of the Mojave while retaining the rest as sanctuaries.