DOE grants another $2.1 billion to solar developers

The U.S. Department of Energy has loaned US$2.1 billion for energy companies to build a 1000 MW solar thermal facility in the California desert.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor

The DOE loan will only pay for the first two phases of the project. Power is produced by steam turbines. Image source: California Energy Commission

The developer of a massive 1,000-megawatt solar thermal plant in California’s San Luis Obispo County has secured a $2.1 billion conditional loan guarantee from the United States Department of Energy.

Yesterday, the DOE announced that it is funding the construction of the Blythe Solar Power Project, a joint venture of German solar power company Solar Millennium’s U.S. Subsidiary and Chevron Energy Solutions.

The DOE's loan will only cover building the first two phases of the Blythe Solar Power project; each phase will introduce an identical 250-megawatt (MW) solar plant. The plants are being built adjacent to one another on approximately 5,950 acres of land.

The loan guarantee program is a product of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The work will employ 1,000 construction workers, according to Forbes.

“Loan guarantees play an important role in facilitating the development and deployment of innovative technologies at massive scope and scale,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a prepared statement. “Continued investments like this project make solar power more efficient and cost competitive while creating thousands of jobs and strengthening the economy.”

Funding for the loan guarantee program will expire in September, and an extension seems unlikely with a Republican controlled House of Representatives. In February, the House probed a controversial loan guarantee of $535 million that was granted to Calif.-based photovoltaic solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.

Meanwhile, billions of dollars in loans continue to be allocated. The DOE announced $1.187 billion in loan guarantees for the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch last week. NRG Solar and SunPower are developing that project.

BrightSource Energy’s 370-megawatt Ivanpah project was the recipient of a $1.6 billion loan guarantee earlier this month. For the sake of comparison, venture capital firms invested a little over $1 billion into renewable energy start-ups in the first quarter of 2011.

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