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Summary:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has become a favorite in the solar business lately, approving six solar farms in this month alone, including a 1,000MW project (the world’s largest) in California. If it seems like he’s racing against the clock to OK these projects, well, he is.

Solar Millennium

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has become a favorite in the solar business lately. He’s scheduled to appear tomorrow in a remote corner of California to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony of BrightSource Energy’s first solar power plant project in the country. Just yesterday, Salazar announced he had signed off on the 392-megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project, which, at 1,000 megawatts, is the world’s largest solar farm under development.

In all, Salazar greenlighted six massive solar power plant projects so far this month, four of them in California: Imperial Valley Solar Project, Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project, Calico Solar Project and Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (by BrightSource). The sixth project, Silver State North Solar Project, is set for Nevada.

Both Silver State (by First Solar) and Lucerne Valley (by Chevron Energy Solutions) will use solar panels, while the others will use mirrors to make use of the sun’s heat to produce electricity.

If it seems like Salazar is racing against the clock to approve these projects, well, he is. The Bureau of Land Management, part of the Interior Department, has put 14 solar farm projects on the fast track to gain approval before the end of this year, when a federal grant program for renewable energy projects is set to sunset. Most of the projects are proposed for locations in California, and the California Energy Commission also has been racing to bless nine projects this year and has given its nod to six so far. The commission’s approval isn’t required for projects that use solar panels.

The grant program, courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is highly coveted by project developers because they could get incentives sooner than they would with an alternative incentive program that provides a 30 percent investment tax credit. The grant program is open to projects that are put into service in 2009 and 2010, and also those that begin construction before the end of 2010. Solar project developers have until Jan. 1, 2017 to complete their work.

Approving all these projects also looks good for an administration that is facing a tough mid-term election, where Republicans are expect to take seats away from Democrats and might even gain control of the House of Representatives.

Although Blythe project’s developer, Solar Millennium, has secured the all-important federal permit, it has yet to clinch the funding it needs to build the 1,000-megawatt solar farm. The company has applied for a $1.9 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, an amount that would cover more than two-thirds of the first half of the project. The loan guarantee program can provide up to 80 percent of the cost of the project. This program, too, has been funded by the Recovery Act and produced hefty loan guarantees for solar project developers. BrightSource received a loan guarantee of $1.37 billion, which is translating into a loan from the U.S. Treasury’s Federal Financing Bank.

The federal loan guarantee program for renewable energy project (commonly called 1703/1705 because of the sections of the legislation that created it) is meant to bolster a company’s case as it seeks to borrow money from private banks. The government promises to pay back the loan if the company fails to do so. However, private banks haven’t been willing to lend money, so the government has been loaning the money instead, said Ebony Meeks, a DOE spokesperson. Abengoa Solar is finalizing its $1.45 billion loan guarantee for a project in Arizona, and it, too, will borrow from the Federal Financing Bank, Meeks said.

The Blythe project includes four power plants of 250 megawatts each. The four power plants will take up a total of 7,025 acres, but the entire project site is 7,541 acres in Riverside County, Calif., the company said. Solar Millennium hopes to start construction of two of the plants by the end of the year, of course, and expects to start delivering electricity in the second quarter of 2013. The federal approval comes with a requirement that Solar Millennium spends money to lessen the project’s impact on 8,000 acres of desert tortoise, western burrowing owl, bighorn sheep and Mojave fringe-toed lizard.

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Photo courtesy of Solar Millennium

  1. Great news! with all the auto companies pushing plug in cars into production it will be good to know that more of the electricity is coming from a clean source as well.

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    1. Let’s hope so! Electric cars powered with coal would seem like quite a missed opportunity, to say the least.

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  2. Great for the environment and green jobs! However it’s not such a good thing when it takes a German company to build the world’s largest solar plant on US soil… it’s bad for US leadership in renewable energy.
    And Solar Millennium hasn’t disclosed where the equipment will be manufactured.

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    1. The project is going to require American labor to complete, and it will be funded partly by American taxpayers’ money. The electricity will serve Americans. Christ, why does it matter that Solar Millennium is HQ in Germany? BrightSource Energy, an American company, just announced plans to build solar farms in Africa. You probably think BrightSource should only do business in the United States.

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      1. I absolutely agree with you! All I was saying is that the US has got to move quicker to regain a leadership position in the world (from Germany and China) in renewable energy.

        I’m perfectly fine with Germany and China investing in the US, and Brightsource investing in Africa. I’m French BTW…

        Coincidently, Brightsource is the owner of the world’s 2nd largest solar plant (392 MW), the Ivanpah project, also in California. Actually, Ivanpah will be the world’s largest until Blythe starts in 2014.

        -Bernard

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    2. Actually not so great for the environment. Today’s ground breaking for this solar farm is on so called “protected” land that is home to endangered federally and state protected desert tortoises and will further endanger their existance. I am sure that info won’t make the press conference,

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  3. Hi Bernard, thank goodness you are French. I thought you were one of those people who embrace protectionism policy a little too much.

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  4. Today’s ground breaking ceremony for this newest solar farm is on so called “protected land” for the federally and state protected desert tortoise. Except – this solar farm is going ahead even though this endangered species will be greatly compromised and possibly even destroyed. Bet that didn’t make the press announcement.

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    1. Yes, with all these solar projects, we are making some serious trade-offs. And it’s easy not to think about them because most of us don’t see or understand the enormity of these projects.

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  5. Yes…… cover Class 1 agriculture land with solar panels and buy your food from China or South America

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  6. Yes…… cover Class 1 agriculture land with solar panels and buy your food from China or South America,in California anyway.

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