Energy Department Touts Controversial Loan Program as Huge Solar Project Opens

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Secretary of Energy nominee Ernest Moniz arrives for testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee April 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. Moniz, a nuclear physicist, testified before a full committee hearing on his pending nomination.  (National Journal)

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will be in California on Thursday for the formal opening of a huge solar-power project supported by his department's green technology loan program.

The Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System in the Mojave Desert, a vast array of mirrors that makes it the world's largest solar project of its kind, was helped along by a $1.6 billion Energy Department loan guarantee in 2011.

Department officials are touting it as a major win for the loan-guarantee program, which has faced years of political attacks from Republicans over the 2011 collapse of the solar-panel manufacturing company Solyndra and some other flops.

But department officials note that in the main, the loan portfolio of more than two dozen projects has been a success--and point to Ivanpah as a big example.

The loan program was created through a bipartisan 2005 energy law but first began supporting projects under the Obama administration.

"This project was made possible by the successful public-private partnership between the Department of Energy and the project sponsors," said Peter Davidson, executive director of the Energy Department's loan programs office.

Ivanpah, a $2.2 billion project, is a joint effort of NRG Energy, Google, and BrightSource Energy. The companies say it will provide enough electricity to power 140,000 homes.

Most of the power will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, according to the Energy Department.

The San Francisco Chronicle has an in-depth look at the project here.

The Associated Press reports on the history of Ivanpah, calling it a "a milestone for a growing industry that is testing the balance between wilderness conservation and the pursuit of green energy across the West."

"Ivanpah can be seen as a success story and a cautionary tale, highlighting the inevitable trade-offs between the need for cleaner power and the loss of fragile, open land," AP reports.

Moniz, in a statement, called the project a demonstration of wider White House energy goals.

"We must continue to move toward a cleaner energy economy, and this project shows that building a clean-energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions, and fosters American innovation," said Moniz, who also noted that installations of utility-scale solar projects in the U.S. set a record last year.