Ivanpah solar seeks government grant to pay off government loan

The owners of a massive solar plant located in California’s Mohave Desert, west of Las Vegas, Nevada, have discovered that the sun does not shine all the time. The plant is owned by Google and NRG and operated by Bright Source Energy.

The plant, which has been operating since last December, cost $2.2 billion to construct. The Department of Energy guaranteed $1.6 billion to help build the plant.

Things are not going well. So far the plant has produced only one-quarter of the electricity promised. The owners are now seeking a $539 million federal grant to pay off their loan.

Ivanpah uses mirrors to focus sunlight on three towers where water is converted to steam to generate electricity. However, there hasn’t been enough sun. Back in August, Bright Source Energy, the company operating the plant, petitioned the California government, requesting permission to burn more natural gas and to emit 94,749 more tons of carbon dioxide per year. If the permit is approved, then this “solar” plant will produce about 35 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels. (See: Ivanpah solar plant wants to burn more natural gas).

That’s not the only trouble Ivanpah has. Back in April, I reported on Avian mortality from solar farms. The Ivanpah plant has been killing birds. Focused sunlight from the mirrors generates very high temperatures. Birds experience traumatic impact with the mirrors, but the larger danger is getting singed by the heat flux which is up to 800 degrees F.

The Forensics Laboratory of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service calls this facility a “mega-trap” because it attracts hordes of insects which, in turn, attract insect-eating birds that get singed by the heat. Disabled birds and bird carcases attract predators. The Forensic Laboratory says that this facility creates “an entire food chain vulnerable to injury and death.”

William Yeatman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute notes (here) that the Ivanpah facility’s “raw project costs were $2.2 billion, and that the peak power output is 393 megawatts. Because the sun only shines half the day, we can safely give the plant an effective capacity of 200 or so megawatts, although even this energy isn’t dispatchable. So that works out roughly to $2.2 billion for 200 megawatts of unreliable capacity, or $11,000/kilowatt. By comparison, the most recently constructed coal-fired power plant I can think of off the top of my head, Xcel Energy’s 760 megawatt Comanche 3 power plant in Pueblo, Colorado, which was outfitted with the latest, most expensive environmental controls, cost $1,700/kilowatt.”

Although Kermit the Frog says it isn’t easy being green, it seems to be easy to suck up taxpayer money for politically-correct green projects, especially if you are a favored crony.

Wind and solar energy are unreliable and more expensive than fossil fuel generation, especially in light of the natural gas boom.

Now is the time to write to your new legislators and members of the Corporation Commission urging them to repeal the renewable energy mandate and tariff. You can read specific reasons here: Five reasons Arizona should repeal its renewable energy standards mandate.