DOE offers almost $2B for solar thermal projects

The Department of Energy has been getting the remainder of its loan guarantees out the door at record speed to beat the program’s sunset on Sept. 30 of this year. Here are the latest two (and perhaps two of the last few winners): On Tuesday, the DOE announced almost $2 billion in conditional commitments for loan guarantees for two solar thermal projects, which use mirrors to produce heat to generate electricity in contrast to solar panels that convert light into electricity.

The first project is a 250 MW solar farm to be built by Abengoa Solar, the solar arm of the Spanish engineering giant, in San Bernadino County, Calif. The DOE is offering the so-called Mojave Solar Project a $1.2 billion conditional commitment for a loan guarantee. The second project is another 250 MW solar farm, to be built by NextEra Energy in Riverside County, Calif. called the Genesis Solar Project. The DOE is offering a conditional commitment for a $681.6 million loan guarantee for that project.

Abengoa and NextEra say their solar thermal projects will provide 1,630 construction jobs, and close to 120 jobs when the solar projects are up and running. Loan guarantees are assurances that the government will pay back a loan if a company defaults on it, and often goes along with loans from the Federal Financing Bank. The guarantees also enable companies to get loans with better rates than without the guarantee, particularly for risky, early stage technology.

Last month, the DOE’s loan guarantee program chief Jonathan Silver said his staff had narrowed down a list of projects that were still eligible for loan guarantees and also notified applicants whose projects weren’t good enough or far enough along in the process to be in the running for the loan guarantees. The loan guarantee program came to life as part of the 2009 stimulus package that aimed to boost job creation and clean power generation.

Solar projects have been a major recipient of DOE loan guarantees. Earlier this month, the DOE awarded a loan guarantee to solar developer Fotowatio Renewable Ventures to build a 20 MW solar photovoltaic project near Las Vegas; Abengoa already received a $1.45 billion loan guarantee for its solar thermal Solana project in Arizona; and BrightSource Energy received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee for its inaugural Ivanpah project in California. The DOE also announced a $737 million conditional loan guarantee for a 110 MW solar power plant by SolarReserve last month, and awarded its first loan guarantee to thin-film solar maker Solyndra. (see the complete list of awardees and solar awardees here).

Image courtesy of Abengoa, and pictures Abengoa’s Spanish solar tower power plant.