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'Big Solar' and Environmentalists Clashing Over Endangered Animal Land Access

Just after noon on a 110-degree summer day, the 5.6-square-mile Desert Sunlight Solar Farm — the biggest of its kind erected on U.S. federal land — is proving why this desolate spot is such a good one for harnessing the sun’s rays.

With few clouds above, the seemingly endless 8-million-panel array is churning out 551.3 megawatts, or million watts, of electricity, more than enough to power 160,000 homes some 175 miles west of here in Los Angeles.

“This is fairly typical, that as the sun moves through the sky, this is about the time of day that we hit that sort of number,” said Steve Stengel, a spokesman for the plant’s co-owner, NextEra Energy Resources.

Giant solar arrays such as Desert Sunlight not only generate vast amounts of power, but they also do not require any fuel or produce any carbon emissions — advancing the ambitious climate goals of California and the United States alike.

K. Kristina Drake/USGS

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