Clean energy got a big boost today as Ivanpah, the world’s largest concentrating solar power plant, officially started generating energy for California’s electric grid. Located just southwest of Las Vegas, the massive solar facility can produce a whopping 392 megawatts of solar energy to power 140,000 California homes with clean energy–the equivalent of removing 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air per year. Despite these impressive numbers, however, Ivanpah has been mired in controversy for its high operating costs and for reportedly killing and scorching alarming numbers of the local wildlife.
Jointly created between NRG Energy, Inc., Google, and BrightSource Energy, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is the largest solar project of its kind and accounts for nearly a third of all solar thermal energy produced in the U.S. Stretching across five square miles in the Mojave desert, the massive solar project consists of three 40-story tall towers surrounded by 350,000 garage door-sized mirrors. Each reflective heliostat focuses solar energy onto the boilers atop the towers to create steam to power turbines.
The Ivanpah plant, however, has come under fire by various critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, the clean energy generated by Ivanpah will cost about four times as much as the electricity generated by conventional natural gas-fired plants. Ivanpah will also produce less electricity than conventional sources and require more land to operate. Animal activists have also been alarmed by the number of birds that have been scorched and killed around the solar plant towers, which can generate temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.