Ivanpah Solar Project Reaches Construction Halfway Point

The Ivanpah solar power facility under construction in June 2012| Photo: Don Barrett/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The gargantuan Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is officially halfway built, its developers announced yesterday. The 392-megawatt concentrating solar power tower project being built by BrightSource in cooperation with NRG Energy, Google, and Bechtel will be the world's largest solar power tower facility at completion, which is scheduled for 2013. The project is now at its employment peak, with upwards of 2,100 construction workers and support staff assigned to the site.

"We are tremendously proud of the significant accomplishments being made towards Ivanpah's completion," said BrightSource CEO John Woolard in a press release, "and look forward to powering California's homes and businesses with clean and reliable electricity in the coming year."

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The $2.2 billion project occupies about 3,700 acres of public lands in the California portion of the Ivanpah Valley, about 50 miles south of Las Vegas. More than 2,000 of the jobs created are construction-related: a 2011 BrightSource estimate put the likely number of permanent jobs created at 86.

Yesterday's announcement was a milestone for the project, which has been marked by environmentalist opposition over its effect on wildlife habitat. Adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve, the project site was home to a surprising number of federally protected desert tortoises. In the initial stages of planning BrightSource's contracting biologists estimated that the project would kill, injure, or displace fewer than forty tortoises. Crews started finding far more tortoises than that: eventually, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a revised Biological Opinion for the project significantly upping the number of allowable "takes" of tortoises. The Bureau of Land Management estimated in April 2011 that as many as 2,862 adult and juvenile tortoises and tortoise eggs may be harmed by the project. BrightSource has moved 58 tortoises to nearby holding pens since 2011, and those 58 have been joined by almost as many hatchlings.

KCET's investigative show "SoCal Connected" did a nice feature on the issue:

Ivanpah's design includes more than 170,000 programmable mirrored heliostats, which move to track the sun and focus sunlight on boilers atop three 459-foot towers -- referred to as Units One, Two, and Three. Unit One is slated to start delivering power to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in mid-2013. When completed later in 2013, Units Two and Three will sell power to PG&E and Southern California Edison.

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