DAVID GARDNER: ENERGY IVANPAH THERMAL SOLAR PLANT
Lens Magazine|February 2021
Coming over the rise through Nipton California, on Highway 164 into the Ivanpah Valley, the Ivanpah Thermal Solar Power Plant first came into view.
Like a vision from Tolkien's Mordor, three towers, glowing ominously, rise above the surrounding desert on a gentle slope. The towers are surrounded on all sides by 143,000 mirror arrays, known as heliostats, that reflect the sunlight onto the central towers to generate steam. It is not easy to make the desert here look small, but at 3,500 acres on leased Bureau of Land Management land, the sprawling plant caused a disorienting effect on my senses as my mind struggled to fit it into proper scale. It is the largest solar plant of its kind in the world and generates 392-megawatts that provide electricity to 140,000 homes.

Located about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, NV, on Interstate 15 – not far from California's Mojave National Preserve - its first unit went online in 2013. I traveled there in 2018 and again in 2020 to explore the effect this large facility had on my perception of the natural landscape.

My expectation of this place led me to believe I would not like what I saw. Displaced desert tortoise populations and removal of heavier brush inside the facility's 10 ft. surrounding fence has degraded this once pristine, ecologically intact desert landscape. I knew that the operation of the facility has resulted in thousands of bird deaths each year – caught in the intense heat generated by the mirror beams to the tower.

Upon arrival, another feeling forced its way to the surface. I found I was completely enthralled with this vision of human ingenuity – human impact - before me. At dawn, the mirrors seemed a digital lake in the desert as they shimmered in the early light.

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