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Near Default, Federally Backed $2.2 Billion Solar Facility Granted Extra Time

The solar thermal plant built with $1.6 billion in federal loans produced only 68 percent of its contracted electricity in 2015.

(Image credit: BrightSource Energy)
(Image credit: BrightSource Energy)

On the cusp of defaulting on its deal with Pacific Gas & Electric, last week the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System was granted one year to increase electricity production. If it still fails to deliver, the plant will be forced to shut down.

The 377-megawatt facility — built by Bechtel and owned by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google — opened in 2014. Built with the help of $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy, the 3,500-acre facility is the largest solar thermal plant in the world, according to Bechtel.

In 2014, Ivanpah delivered only 45 percent of its contractually obligated electricity. That number jumped to 68 percent in 2015, which is still well behind the plant’s goals, even while it is a move in the right direction.

(Image credit: BrightSource Energy)(Image credit: BrightSource Energy)

The forbearance agreement approved by the California Public Utilities Commission involves Ivanpah paying an undisclosed sum to PG&E in exchange for extra time before the plant officially defaults. The forbearance will end Aug. 1, with a potential six-month extension, Bloomberg reports.

Located in Southern California’s Mojave Desert, the concentrated solar power facility comprises three 459-foot-tall towers with boilers mounted on top. More than 300,000 mirrors direct solar energy toward the boilers to create superheated steam to spin turbines.

(Image credit: BrightSource Energy)(Image credit: BrightSource Energy)

The near-default isn’t the only shady patch on Ivanpah’s record.

Because the project takes up thousands of acres, environmentalists have criticized the plant for destroying natural habitat — despite solar thermal energy’s “clean” benefits — and for incinerating hundreds of birds caught in the mirrors’ path each year.

Do you think Ivanpah will be able to up its energy production enough to save itself from closure? Comment below or tweet @KatieeMohr.

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