Sun Power


The entrance to the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm
Behind the white, box-like structures what appears to be blue paving is actually a small portion of the thousands of side-by-side solar panels.

Erecting one of the poles which will carry electricity from the solar farm

   Like all good things, our late-winter interlude in the Southwest had to end. After three weeks of sunshine, interrupted only by starlit nights, we headed toward Los Angeles to return our rented car and board the train for our return to the Northwest’s cool cloudiness. As we drove Highway 10 across Arizona, we delighted in the yellow blooms of brittlebush, drifts of Mexican poppies, and wild blue lupines. But we knew the gorgeous wildflowers would soon dry up in the 90 degree temperatures. If only all that sunlight in the desert’s baking heat could be put to use!
   We crossed into California. and the desert continued up into mountains, highest peaks still snow-crowned. By now, Hank was hungry, so we watched for a restaurant. The map showed a community called Desert Center.  But when we arrived, it contained nothing except a deserted gas station, an empty school, crumbling homes, and the tall, black stems of dead palm trees. We couldn’t imagine a more desolate place.
   For many miles we’d been seeing what looked like dark blue water at the foot of distant hills. As we reached the abandoned community, we saw a road leading off in the direction of the “water” and a green oasis. Maybe that’s where they’d moved the restaurants. So we swung onto the road and headed toward the hills. Deep sand lined both sides of the cracked paving, and signs warned of blowing dust. Across the valley we could see tailings from the Kaiser Steel Eagle Mountain mine, one of the world’s largest open-pit iron mining operations where former inhabitants of Desert Center worked until it closed in the 1980s.
   The oasis turned out to be an over-55 community with a golf course and lush vegetation but no tourist facilities that we could see.
   We noticed workers erecting tall metal power poles, section by section, on one side of the road.  On the other, the “dark blue lake” was actually a vast number of solar panels covering many acres. Outside the fenced complex, a sign read Desert Sunlight Solar Farm. Our Mission: To Create Enduring Value by Enabling a World Powered by Clean, Affordable Solar Electricity.
   So there was a plan to put some of that sunlight to use!
   We found out that a group called First Solar is constructing the 550-megawatt solar farm. The Federal Bureau of Land Management manages the property, which is about six miles north of the abandoned Desert Center community. When finished, the farm is expected to provide enough energy to power about 160,000 homes. The group estimates the project will displace 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere each year. That equals taking approximately 60,000 cars off the road.
   Construction began in September of 2011 and is expected to be finished by 2015. Desert Sunlight Solar Farm will help California toward its goal of providing one third of its energy from renewable sources.
   We finally found our restaurant, some miles down the freeway, but we were glad for our serendipitous side trip.
   For more information about the solar project, go to