Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A look at the world’s largest solar energy production facility

Commentary by James Shott

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

Ivanpah is a $2.2 billion solar project in the California desert consisting 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 was financed in part by $1.5 billion in federal loans, 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 from 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 fossil fuels and produces pollution. Ivanpah burns natural gas each morning for start-up, up to 525 million cubic feet of natural gas annually, and reportedly burned 867,740 million BTU of natural gas, which is enough to power the annual needs of 20,660 Southern California homes, and 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.

The Wall Street Journal reported that spokesmen for Ivanpah’s operator, BrightSource, and NRG 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. The Journal also reported that the Energy Department supports giving the plant, which started operating in early 2014, 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.”

The overall job creation rate was a pitiful 1.74 percent, and 12 times that figure means roughly 21 percent for the solar industry. That sounds pretty good, but fast job growth during new industry “booms” is not unusual. Touting such growth is good PR, even when it exaggerates reality.

But when you analyze this project, it quickly becomes clear that government has more to do with this 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 President Barack 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 income problems in the economies of coal producing states, and burdened all Americans with higher energy prices. The administration’s tunnel vision on reducing the non-existent or miniscule 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 debacle put 1,100 people out of work when it closed down, and wasted $535 million in government loans. And, the Abound Solar plant, which got $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 will require an estimated $3.7 million to clean and repair the building for use.

None of this pain and suffering was needed; the normal progress of technological advancement would eventually 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.

Barack 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.

Cross-posted from Observations

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