Ivanpah, controversial desert solar project, goes online

Worlds Largest Solar Plant

Chris Carlson/AP

Jeff Holland, left, talks with Noel Hanson near a boilers that sit on 459-foot towers Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 in Primm, Nev. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, sprawling across roughly 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border, was scheduled to open formally Thursday after years of regulatory and legal tangles.

Worlds Largest Solar Plant

Chris Carlson/AP

Some of the 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors, each about 7 feet high and 10 feet wide, reflect sunlight to boilers that sit on 459-foot towers. The sun's power is used to heat water in the boilers' tubes and make steam, which in turn drives turbines to create electricity.

Worlds Largest Solar Plant

Chris Carlson/AP

Some of the 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors, each about 7 feet high and 10 feet wide, reflect sunlight to boilers that sit on 459-foot towers.

Worlds Largest Solar Plant

Chris Carlson/AP

Noel Hanson stands near some of 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors that reflect sunlight to boilers that sit on 459-foot towers near a boilers that sit on 459-foot towers Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 in Primm, Nev.

Worlds Largest Solar Plant

Chris Carlson/AP

Jeff Holland walks near some of 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors that reflect sunlight to boilers that sit on 459-foot towers Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 in Primm, Nev.

Worlds Largest Solar Plant

Chris Carlson/AP

Some of the 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors, each about 7 feet high and 10 feet wide, reflect sunlight to boilers that sit on 459-foot towers.


Energy from a massive and controversial solar development in the desert of San Bernardino County is now sold on the commercial market.

U.S. Department of Energy officials planned to celebrate the Ivanpah project coming online Thursday.

The Oakland-based company Brightsource received $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from a federal Energy program to build three arrays of mirrors.

With a footprint covering more than five square miles, the fields of mirrors direct sunshine into towers that generate power with turbines. That’s enough to power 100,000 homes in the territories of Southern California Edison and PG&E, according to NRG, the company operating the project. 

Video: See how Ivanpah's concentrated solar power plant works

Before this largest-in-the-world project even broke ground, desert conservationists objected to its location in prime desert tortoise habitat. Since the solar towers went up, wildlife managers have tracked birds that die while flying through hot spots nearby.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was scheduled to be on hand to applaud the program’s construction.

The federal loan guarantee program has grown to $24 billion overall, and Moniz says projects like Ivanpah show that President Barack Obama’s "all of the above" energy strategies — balancing renewables with natural gas — are working.

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