The largest solar power plant opened on Thursday in Nevada's Mojave Desert. After its official opening, the world’s largest solar plant continues to spark controversy about its environmental impact. “The $2.2 billion, 400-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System , which covers 5 square miles near the Nevada-California border and has three 40-story towers where the light is focused, is a joint project by NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy,” reported NPR on Feb. 14, 2014.
The Ivanpah solar farm is located about 40 miles south of Las Vegas and started operating on Thursday after nearly four years of construction. The solar farm will produce enough electricity to power 140,000 homes per year.
However, the project, which was developed by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy and included investors like NRG and Google, is not without controversy.
Unlike the photovoltaic solar panels that people use on their homes, the solar energy produced by the Ivanpah solar power plant is thermal technology. Nearly 350,000 computer-controlled mirrors, roughly the size of a garage door, reflect sunlight to boilers on top of 459-foot towers, which are more than 100 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. The sun’s power is used to heat water in the boilers’ tubes and generates steam, which drives turbines to create electricity.
Besides being land intensive, the farm requires access to transmission lines.
During its construction, the solar power plant included measures to protect the threatened desert tortoise at a cost of $55,000 per tortoise. However, other wildlife is also paying the price.
The Wall Street Journal calls the opening of the world’s largest solar power plant a “$2.2 Billion Bird-Scorching Solar Project.” Birds that fly through the intense heat surrounding the 40-story towers are exposed to temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.