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Originally published Monday, February 22, 2010 at 4:56 PM

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Solar project gets tentative OK for US loan aid

The Obama administration on Monday gave preliminary approval for $1.4 billion in federal loan guarantees for a sprawling solar-energy project in California's Mojave Desert.

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES —

The Obama administration on Monday gave preliminary approval for $1.4 billion in federal loan guarantees for a sprawling solar-energy project in California's Mojave Desert.

The offer from the U.S. Energy Department for Oakland-based BrightSource Energy would support the construction of three solar-energy plants capable of powering 140,000 homes. The project must clear state and federal environmental reviews, and BrightSource must meet other financial requirements before the loan deal can close, the department said.

"This is an investment in American jobs and the clean, renewable energy our economy needs," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. "We're not going to sit on the sidelines while other countries capture the jobs of the future - we're committed to becoming the global leader in the clean energy economy."

It is the sixth conditional loan guarantee issued by the department for renewable energy development, and the largest so far for solar.

With credit markets tight, the federal loan guarantees have become an increasingly important part of financing for energy development. As part of a lengthy review, the department was required to examine the project's likelihood of being completed and the company's ability to repay loans.

Environmentalists want the complex near the Nevada border relocated because they say it will harm protected desert tortoises. BrightSource has made design changes in an attempt to alleviate environmental concerns.

If approved, the project would become the first project of its kind on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property, leaving a footprint for others to follow on public land across the West.

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