World’s Largest Solar Thermal Project Receives $2.1 Billion Federal Loan

The Solar Trust of America is to be the recipient of a $2.1 billion loan from the US government, given in support of the construction of what will become the largest solar thermal power plant in the world.

The funds will be used in the construction of the Blythe Solar Power Project, a joint venture between Solar Trust of America, itself a partnership between the German companies Solar Millennium AG and Ferrostaal AG, and Chevron Energy Solutions. 

Once completed, the plant will meet nearly ten percent of the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 goal, which seeks to source at least ten gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2015.

The project represents the latest in a number of solar thermal power plants currently in construction by Solar Trust of America.

The conditional loan guarantee, offered by the Department of Energy, is part of an initiative to provide funding for innovative projects utilizing often “unproven” technologies, which may consequently have trouble generating revenue using traditional channels.

Located in southern California, eight miles to the west of the City of Blythe, the project will span approximately 7,030 acres in total, with the enclosed plants comprising 5,950 acres of that total.  Total construction costs are currently estimated at approximately six billion dollars.

Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), who represents the district containing the Blythe Solar Power project, echoed her support for both the US loan and the implications of the Blythe Solar Power Project.

“Solar Trust of America’s Blythe Solar Power Project is now one step closer to reality,” she stated.  “I look forward to continuing my work supporting projects in Riverside County that will harness our local energy resources and help reduce our nation’s dangerous dependence on unstable foreign oil.”

Utilizing solar parabolic trough technology, once completed the initial two units of the Blythe Solar Power project will produce an estimated 484 megawatts of energy. Overall, the project, consisting of four independent solar plants producing 250 megawatts of energy each, is expected to produce 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal energy.  The energy produced would be enough to power over 300,000 households annually.

Speaking on the project, John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, stated,

“Solar Trust of America’s Blythe Solar Power Project will soon be the largest solar project in the world. It brings over a thousand jobs, billions of dollars in private investment to our state, and is further proof that California is leading the way in clean energy development. This clean, renewable energy will make our communities better places to live.”

The process of generating the energy incorporates both innovative and traditional technologies. As parabolic mirrors collect and refocus heat energy into receiver tubes, an oil “heat transfer fluid” (HTF) is filtered through the tubes, becoming hotter as it circulates. After reaching temperatures of up to 750°F, the HTF is circulated through heat exchangers, where it creates steam. In combining this steam with a traditional steam turbine engine, electricity is produced.

The project will also result in the creation of over 1,080 construction and plant operations jobs. Bill Perez, Executive Secretary of the Riverside and San Bernardino Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, spoke on the economic importance of the plant for the hard-hit construction industry. 

“At a time when job creation is sorely needed in Riverside County, this project and the economic boost it will provide will help us put tradesmen back to work and fuel local economic development,” he stated.

The Blythe Solar Power Project will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the area by as much as one million tons per year, the approximate equivalent of eliminating 300,000 cars from the road. Most of the water utilized in the process of generating energy will be recycled back into the system.

The facility will also use 90 percent less water than a traditional solar plant, due to the utilization of dry-cooling methods, such as large fans, in place of industry prevalent wet-cooling methods.

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