On our drive, about 45 miles past Las Vegas and just over the California border, the massive Ivanpah Solar Thermal Farm came into view. It was extremely bright, and steaming, with over 300,000 mirrors, or heliostats, that track the sun over the course of the day and concentrate the sunlight onto three, 459-ft towers. At the top of the towers sit solar receivers, or boilers, which capture the sunlight and heat water to create superheated steam. The high-temperature steam is then pumped to a turbine, where electricity is generated. The electricity is then channeled through transmission lines to homes and businesses, providing enough to power 140,000 homes. The Ivanpah project, owned by NRG Energy Inc., Google Inc., and BrightSource Energy Inc. came at a cost of $2.2 billion, with a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee.
Local wildlife organizations are dissatisfied with BLM’s work to relocate desert tortoises and assess the impact on bighorn sheep and birds at the five square mile site. The concentrated sunlight creates intense heat around the towers, which can reach up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The project has already scorched and killed a number of birds, which may be mistaking the reflection from the mirrors as reflections from lakes. For more on this plant, which opened in February, 2014: The $2.2 Billion Bird-Scorching Solar Project.
A photo of one of the towers at Ivanpah from the highway, hard to capture well without a filter: