The Desert Sunlight solar project is technically the same size as the existing Topaz solar project, also in California, at 550-megawatts but as the sunlight is more consistent where the Desert Sunlight project is situated it will actually generate more power.

The project is the last of five large-scale solar projects funded by a loan from the department of energy to come online.

The guarantee scheme has been criticised for wasting billions of taxpayer dollars, including losing $535m when a solar panel manufacturer went bankrupt in 2011. However the department of energy has described the $1.5bn funded Desert Sunlight project as a mark of the scheme’s success and has reported it expects to make profits of $5bn to $6bn from the programme.

Large-scale solar

According to Peter Davidson, executive director of the Department of Energy’s loan programs office, the government loan scheme has been instrumental in launching the large-scale solar industry in California. 17 farms larger than 100 megawatts have been funded since 2009, part of a larger move towards renewable energy by the state.

The state’s three major utilities are on track to meet or exceed a 33% renewable energy mandate by 2020, although Governor Jerry Brown called for policymakers to increase that target to 50% by 2030 in January. In 2013, the state accounted for more than half of all solar capacity installed in the US, and the state’s sunny climate means that solar systems are extremely efficient.

“The debate’s over — we’re going to be moving to more renewable energy,” Riverside County supervisor John Benoit said. “We are ideally situated to host this kind of development in the future.”

Lucinda Dann

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