PRIMM, Nev (FOX5/CNN) - It's been described as the Hoover Dam project of our time. The world's largest thermal power plant is now operational, and it's not too far from Las Vegas.
The massive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is located just south of Primm, near the Nevada-California border.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was among the dignitaries on hand for Thursday's ribbon cutting.
The plant is capable of generating enough electricity to power 140,000 California homes.
Moniz is confident the $1.6 billion investment by his department will pay dividends.
"It's good for our economy, and it's also good for helping stimulate the global transition to low carbon," he said.
The approximately 5-square-mile plant, which includes thousands of mirrors, harvests the energy of the sun without producing carbon dioxide. In contract, a similarly sized conventional plant would generate 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to the emissions 72,000 cars would produce in that time period.
The Ivanpah plant uses very little water to generate power.
"We've designed the plant to have a closed system like a radiator on your car. The hot steam will go into a big radiator that has fans on it," said Randy Hickok with NGR Energy. "The water will simply condense and be recycled in the plant, so no water will be lost in the process."
Plant developers said the amount of water needed to run the plant's three tours and thousands of mirrors is equivalent to the amount of water needed keep two holes on a golf course green.
"America and the rest of the world need to be very thoughtful about the emissions of burning carbon materials. We don't expect to replace all carbon materials tomorrow, but as a form of combustion or fuel for combustion, certainly this technology with other renewable technologies can make a big difference," Hickok said.
The plant took three years to construct and employed nearly 3,500 people, many of them Nevadans. The plant will employ about 70 full-time employees.
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