Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave final approval Thursday for a solar energy project in Ivanpah Valley, Calif., across the state line from Primm, where BrightSource Energy soon will begin construction of the world’s largest system of solar mirrors, or heliostats.
The system will focus the sun’s energy on three solar towers to create heat to drive turbines to generate electricity for Southern California.
"Ivanpah is one of several renewable energy projects in the pipeline that will help California and this nation build a clean energy economy," Salazar said .
"With this project, we are making great strides toward meeting the president’s goals for creating new jobs for American workers, reducing carbon emissions, promoting energy independence and strengthening our national security."
Officials for BrightSource Energy of Oakland, Calif., estimate the project, with a capacity of nearly 400 megawatts, will generate enough electricity to power more than 140,000 homes and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tons per year.
A coalition of conservationists known as Solar Done Right, bemoaned the project, saying in a news release that BrightSource’s project and others of its scale "should be restricted to heavily degraded land that offers no wildlife habitat, agricultural or similar values" where scarce water resources won’t be depleted.
"The project hemorrhages the very heart of the biologically rich eastern Mojave Desert, where plant diversity rivals that of the primeval coast redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest," Solar Done Right member Jim Andre is quoted as saying in the group’s news release.
Andre is director of the University of California’s Granite Mountains Research Center.
Salazar noted that the Bureau of Land Management scaled down the size of the project by 15 percent from BrightSource’s original proposal.
In response to public comments, the BLM reduced the project site from 4,073 acres to 3,471 acres. The number of heliostats was reduced from 214,000 to 173,500.