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Troubled Solar Project Could Cost Hundreds of Millions

• February 13, 2012 2:27 pm

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A Department of Energy-backed solar project—one of the biggest and most expensive in California—is being held up due to groups of desert kit foxes and evidence of ancient human settlements, threatening to cost tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The $1 billion Genesis Solar Energy Project, backed by an $825-million Department of Energy loan guarantee, is supposed to create 800 jobs and power 18,700 homes. If construction is cancelled, the federal government will be on the hook for 80 percent of the project’s outstanding loans.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The $1-billion Genesis Solar Energy Project has been expedited by state and federal regulatory agencies that are eager to demonstrate that the nation can build solar plants quickly to ease dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming.

Instead, the project is providing a cautionary example of how the rush to harness solar power in the desert can go wrong — possibly costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and dealing an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration's solar initiative.

Native Americans, including the leaders of a nearby reservation, are trying to have Genesis delayed or even scuttled because they say the distemper outbreak and discovery of a possible Native American cremation site show that accelerated procedures approved by state and federal regulators failed to protect wildlife and irreplaceable cultural resources.

The problems threaten the entire project, said Michael O'Sullivan, senior vice president of development for Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, one of the largest renewable energy suppliers in North America and the builder of Genesis. The project is to start producing power by 2014. If too many acres are deemed off-limits to construction, "the project could become uneconomical," O'Sullivan said.