Google Inc. is investing $168 million in an alternative power project that aims to produce enough solar energy to light 140,000 homes.
The commitment announced Monday is part of the financing that BrightSource Energy needs to build solar power plant in California's Mojave Desert. BrightSource also has lined up $1.6 billion in loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Energy and a $300 million investment from NRG Energy Inc. The project, known as the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is supposed to generate about 392 gross megawatts when it is completed in 2013.
Google has been dipping into its bank account to back various projects that promise to generate energy from other sources besides oil and coal. The company has emerged as a major consumer of electricity as it opens huge data centers to house the computers that run its Internet search engine, email and other online services.
Promoting energy that causes less pollution is one of several crusades championed by Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Page, 38, reclaimed his original job as Google's CEO last week after handing over the reins during the previous decade to a more experienced leader, Eric Schmidt, who is now the company's executive chairman.
The investment in BrightSource's solar energy plant represents Google's biggest bet on so-called clean energy so far. The company, based in Mountain View, Calif., can afford to take some chances. It ended last year with about $35 billion in cash.