Plans go forward for Carrizo Plain solar plant

The energy company First Solar has applied for federal loan guarantees for its proposed 550-megawatt photovoltaic plant on the Carrizo Plain.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced Friday that it has begun the process of analyzing the environmental effects of the plant as part of the loan application. The agency will hold a public meeting on the project starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Carrisa Plains Community Center, 10750 Highway 58, one mile east of Soda Lake Road.

The purpose of the meeting is to ensure that all of the issues to be addressed by the environmental impact statement are known. The public has until Nov. 22 to comment on this scoping effort at topaz-eis@hq.doe.gov.

A federal EIS is similar to a state environmental impact report. The county recently released the draft version of that document.

“It is widely expected that the DOE will rely heavily on the county’s EIR, rather than starting from scratch,” said Alan Bernheimer, First Solar spokesman.

The loan guarantees sought by First Solar are offered through federal stimulus legislation. Under such an agreement, the federal government promises to pay any loans if First Solar were to default on them.

Such guarantees are a common feature of large-scale renewable energy projects. They improve the likelihood of the company getting loans during the current slowdown in the economy, Bernheimer said.

“It makes financing a little easier as we move through the process,” he said. “The criterion is that the project must start construction by Sept. 30, 2011.”

First Solar has proposed building the plant on some 4,000 acres on the northwest corner of the Carrizo Plain, mostly north of Highway 58 and east of Bitterwater Road. Once complete, it would produce enough power for 160,000 homes.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.