LAS VEGAS -- The world's largest solar thermal power facility is about 40 miles from Las Vegas and it is now delivering electricity. It's taken years to become a reality, but Thursday the $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System plant was dedicated.
The project is noticeable to drivers on I-15 shortly after they cross over the California state line. There are 300,000 mirrors shining brightly in the Ivanpah dry lake in San Bernardino County, California.
Big names like NRG Energy and Google are behind the 392 megawatt plant which is delivering green energy right out of the Mojave Desert. The Ivanpah Solar Thermal Power System is promoted as a new dawn for solar energy.
"We're standing at the world's largest concentrated solar power plant now," said Randy Hickok, senior vice president of NRG Solar.
Ivanpah produces electricity the same way most of the world's electricity is made. High-temperature steam turns a conventional turbine, but here, the sun is the power, not burning fossil fuels. More than 300,000 software-controlled mirrors track the sun and reflect the sunlight to boilers on top of towers.
"That's enough power to power 140,000 homes for a year," Hickok said.
Clean energy in the West has sparked concern. Ivanpah had to relocate federally-protected desert tortoises, and 8 News NOW has learned since December, 44 birds have died from either hitting the mirrors or being burned.
"We are in the process of developing actions that will diminish the avian mortalities. So we're looking at everything from laser beams to predator calls to changes in the way we focus the light on the tower," Hickok said.
Even with the minor challenges, a solar thermal power project on this scale could have a bright future.
"It's part of the wave. I think America and the rest of the world need to be very thoughtful about the emissions from carbon materials," said Dave Ramm, chairman and CEO, Brightsource Energy.
NRG Energy touts, not only the environmental, but the economic benefits as well, having created 2,500 construction jobs and 70 full-time positions.
"When it's all said and done, we'll have paid out approximately $650 million worth of salaries to employees, and we'll have paid over $300 million in taxes, both state and local," Hickok said.
That money and all of the power is going to California, but NRG Energy has plans to do a solar project on a smaller-scale in Las Vegas.