Economy, Regs, & Taxes

Shining Sunlight on Solar Power

Yet another taxpayer subsidized effort underperforms.

James Shott · Mar. 22, 2016

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, built by Bechtel, is a joint effort of NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy and Google, and is said to be the largest state-of-the-art renewable energy production project of its kind. So how stands this Great Green Hope?

Ivanpah is a $2.2 billion solar project financed in part by $1.5 billion in federal loans. It consists of three solar thermal power plants on a 4,000-acre tract of public land near the Mojave Desert and the California-Nevada border. The facility utilizes more than 170,000 mirrors mounted to the ground that reflect sunlight up to three 450-foot-high towers topped by boilers that heat water to create steam, which in turn is used to generate electricity.

The green energy and climate change lobbies are, of course, excited about this dream-come-true example of how the U.S., and eventually the world, can survive and thrive without pollution-causing coal-burning and natural gas-burning electricity production facilities.

But their hopes have exceeded reality, as is so often the case with these idealistic dreams. The project has three major problems, one of which has produced a huge rift between the Left’s internal factions. While green energy folks are ecstatic over the huge solar plant, other environmentalists are outraged that the plant has killed thousands of birds, many of which are fried to death.

The second problem is that the so-called green energy plant is not as green as you might expect: It burns vast quantities of fossil fuels and produces pollution. Ivanpah burns natural gas each morning for start-up, and reportedly burned 867,740 million BTU of natural gas, which is enough to power the annual needs of 20,660 Southern California homes. On top of that, it emitted 46,084 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2014.

Furthermore, it has so far failed to produce the expected power it is contractually required to deliver to PG&E Corp. As a result, the solar plant may be forced to shut down unless the California Public Utilities Commission gives permission for PG&E to overlook the shortfall and give Ivanpah another year to sort out its problems. It began operating in early 2014.

Spokesmen for Ivanpah’s operator, BrightSource, and NRG reportedly declined to comment on its future, but NRG said it has taken more than a year to adjust equipment and learn how to best run it. Naturally, Barack Obama’s Energy Department supports giving the plant more time.

Advocates also paint an over-positive picture of solar energy job creation. The Solar Energy Industries Association touts spectacular job growth in the solar industry, boasting “the solar industry continues to support robust job growth, creating 35,052 new jobs in 2015, a growth rate of approximately twelve times greater than that of the overall economy.”

Fast job growth during new industry “booms” is not unusual, and touting such growth is good PR, even when it exaggerates reality. For the sake of contrast, however, 35,000 jobs still doesn’t offset the job losses from Obama killing the Keystone Pipeline, much less those in the coal industry against which he’s waging war.

But when you analyze this solar project, it quickly becomes clear that government has more to do with engineering this jobs increase than does the actual market demand for workers in solar energy. You, the taxpayer, heavily subsidized this industry, and when taxpayer money pays the bills, an industry can and does create jobs without a real demand for them.

Under Obama, the federal government has wasted billions of dollars of hard-earned taxpayer money on green energy efforts that failed or under-performed, even as it enacted policies that punished Americans working in the coal industry and related businesses with substantial unemployment, created revenue problems in the economies of coal producing states, and burdened all Americans with higher energy prices — by design, we might add. The administration’s tunnel vision on reducing the effects on the environment of fossil fuel energy production that have powered the U.S. and most of the world for decades has caused untold misery.

The heralded Solyndra solar company quickly became a debacle that put 1,100 people out of work when it closed down, wasting $535 million in government loans in the process. And, the Abound Solar plant, which received $400 million in federal loan guarantees in 2010, when the Obama administration sought to use stimulus funds to promote green energy, filed for bankruptcy two years later. That facility sits unoccupied, is littered with hazardous waste, broken glass and contaminated water, and it will require an estimated $3.7 million to clean and repair the building for use.

None of this pain and suffering was necessary. The normal progress of technological advancement would have gradually replaced fossil fuels as the primary source of electricity, when those less polluting methods were up to the task, like the automobile replaced the horse and buggy.

Once the Left gets an idea, however, it dives in head first, eyes closed, with a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach that generally produces more harm than good.

Obama lets nothing get in the way of his ideological fantasies, least of all reality. Any harm and destruction that occurs is regarded as necessary collateral damage on the way to his socialist utopia.

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