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Solar Power's All-Too-Bright Promise: Earth Image of the Week March 21, 2014
Satellite image of the Ivanpaw Solar Electric Generating System.
The three towers and surrounding arrays of mirrors stand alongside U.S. Interstate Highway 15, just a few miles from the California–Nevada border.
The world’s largest solar thermal power plant that employs generating towers opened last month on the edge of California’s Mojave Desert.

The Ivanpaw Solar Electric Generating System consists of three towers that are surrounded by an array of more than 170,000 mirrors.

Those sun-following reflectors focus enough sunlight onto a small portion of the tower to generate enough power for 140,000 homes.

The facility, owned by NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy, formally opened on February 17 and has a capacity of 392 megawatts.

But pilots flying over the array have complained of “nearly blinding” glare from the vast field of mirrors.

“In my opinion the reflection from these mirrors was a hazard to flight because for a brief time I could not scan the sky in that direction to look for other aircraft,” one pilot wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Many other pilots said they have not had a problem flying over Ivanpah.

The Press-Enterprise reports that dozens of daily flights from Southern California to Las Vegas’ busy McCarran International Airport cross the California-Nevada border above or near the solar plant.

Some conservation groups have expressed concern about the plant’s threat to birds, which can be harmed or killed by the intense heat above the mirror arrays.

But proponents of this new solar energy facility say that the complex will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tons per year.

The image to the upper right of the plant was captured by the Landsat 8 satellite on December 25, 2013.

Image: NASA