Energy Department Touts Controversial Loan Program as Huge Solar Project Opens

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Secretary of Energy nominee Ernest Moniz arrives for testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee April 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. Moniz, a nuclear physicist, testified before a full committee hearing on his pending nomination. 
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Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Feb. 13, 2014, 3:13 a.m.

En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz will be in Cali­for­nia on Thursday for the form­al open­ing of a huge sol­ar-power pro­ject sup­por­ted by his de­part­ment’s green tech­no­logy loan pro­gram.

The Ivan­pah Sol­ar En­ergy Gen­er­at­ing Sys­tem in the Mo­jave Desert, a vast ar­ray of mir­rors that makes it the world’s largest sol­ar pro­ject of its kind, was helped along by a $1.6 bil­lion En­ergy De­part­ment loan guar­an­tee in 2011.

De­part­ment of­fi­cials are tout­ing it as a ma­jor win for the loan-guar­an­tee pro­gram, which has faced years of polit­ic­al at­tacks from Re­pub­lic­ans over the 2011 col­lapse of the sol­ar-pan­el man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany Solyn­dra and some oth­er flops.

But de­part­ment of­fi­cials note that in the main, the loan port­fo­lio of more than two dozen pro­jects has been a suc­cess—and point to Ivan­pah as a big ex­ample.

The loan pro­gram was cre­ated through a bi­par­tis­an 2005 en­ergy law but first began sup­port­ing pro­jects un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“This pro­ject was made pos­sible by the suc­cess­ful pub­lic-private part­ner­ship between the De­part­ment of En­ergy and the pro­ject spon­sors,” said Peter Dav­id­son, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the En­ergy De­part­ment’s loan pro­grams of­fice.

Ivan­pah, a $2.2 bil­lion pro­ject, is a joint ef­fort of NRG En­ergy, Google, and Bright­Source En­ergy. The com­pan­ies say it will provide enough elec­tri­city to power 140,000 homes.

Most of the power will be sold to Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric and South­ern Cali­for­nia Edis­on, ac­cord­ing to the En­ergy De­part­ment.

The San Fran­cisco Chron­icle has an in-depth look at the pro­ject here.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports on the his­tory of Ivan­pah, call­ing it a “a mile­stone for a grow­ing in­dustry that is test­ing the bal­ance between wil­der­ness con­ser­va­tion and the pur­suit of green en­ergy across the West.”

“Ivan­pah can be seen as a suc­cess story and a cau­tion­ary tale, high­light­ing the in­ev­it­able trade-offs between the need for clean­er power and the loss of fra­gile, open land,” AP re­ports.

Mon­iz, in a state­ment, called the pro­ject a demon­stra­tion of wider White House en­ergy goals.

“We must con­tin­ue to move to­ward a clean­er en­ergy eco­nomy, and this pro­ject shows that build­ing a clean-en­ergy eco­nomy cre­ates jobs, curbs green­house gas emis­sions, and fosters Amer­ic­an in­nov­a­tion,” said Mon­iz, who also noted that in­stall­a­tions of util­ity-scale sol­ar pro­jects in the U.S. set a re­cord last year.

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