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The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a $2.1 billion loan guarantee to Solar Trust of America for a solar thermal power plant near Blythe, Calif.

The Oakland, Calif.-based company secured the loan for the first phase of a project that will generate 1,000 megawatts of power. Solar thermal power plants use an array of mirrors that focus sunlight onto a single point on a tower. The heat from the focused sunlight heats up water, creating steam that moves conventional turbines to generate electricity.

The loan guarantee means the government will cover the debt Solar Power Trust of America will accrue to finance the project if it cannot pay it back to other borrowers.

Solar power towers recently made news when Google dropped $168 million in a solar power tower project in the Mojave Desert in California. Power towers aren’t entirely new — there were two solar power towers deployed in California already to show that the technology worked. The two towers generated 38,000 megawatt hours of electricity while they were active between 1982 and 1988.

The new project should push California toward its new goal of generating around a third of the state’s power from renewable energy sources — a law that Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signed last week. The new law is a major incentive for clean technology companies in the state to begin ramping up their production of clean energy sources. Previous laws required power companies to fill 20 percent of their output with renewable energy sources by 2010 with a 3-year grace period.

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