A massive solar plant in the Mojave Desert officially began operation today after years of construction, testing, and development. Co-owned by NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, and Google, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is said to be ready to generate nearly 30 percent of all solar thermal energy produced in the United States. The plant consists of three 459-foot tall towers each with tens of thousands of robotic, garage-door sized mirrors that angle sunlight toward a water boiler sitting atop them.
NRG says that the nearly 5.5-square-mile plant is the largest solar project of its type in the world, and that it will be able to provide clean energy to 140,000 neighboring California homes. But though its owners see Ivanpah as a beacon for clean energy sources, the plant has not been without its controversies. The Wall Street Journal reports that its more than 300,000 mirrors have been scorching birds that fly through their path, and the Associated Press reports that local protected tortoises had to be relocated during the plant's construction.
While regulators are continuing to look into the plant's environmental impact, it's still a big moment for clean energy in California. "At Google we invest in innovative renewable energy projects that have the potential to transform the energy landscape and help provide more clean power to businesses and homes around the world," Rick Needham, Google's director of energy and sustainability, says in a statement. "Ivanpah is a shining example of such a project and we're delighted to be a part of it."