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It’s the thought that counts

Earth Resting Atop a Leaf --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

At least that seems to be the mindset of the Department of Energy as they waste taxpayer money on solar power. 

Designed to “protect your planet for future generations” (President Obama) the California based Ivanpah “Solar” farm is a money pit that reportedly underperforms its energy producing goal by 60%,  uses enough natural gas to power 17,000 homes (one quarter of the homes that could be powered by the solar farm), emitted 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide last year (twice the pollution threshold for factories in California), and cost tax payers some $2.2 billion. 

Despite being owned by a plethora of entities who don’t need taxpayer- backed subsidies including Google, Bright Source and NRG energy, project leaders obtained $1.6 billion in loan guarantees, have delayed making payments, and now they are seeking (yes) $500 million in GRANTS to help pay off the loan guarantees.  It also qualified for $600 million in tax credits, and customers pay 4 to 5 times as much per megawatt-hour as natural gas powered plants, and even 2-3 times more than other solar farms. 

In justifying the cost, an executive for an advocacy group noted “While (concentrated solar) doesn’t meet the definition of ‘least cost,’ there’s some indication that it has a role to play as part of a ‘best-fit’ solution”  At 2.2 billion, that “fit” must be something to see. 

Ivanpah is a “Solar Trough” type plant, where there are 173,500 heliostats (moving stands), each with two highly polished  mirrors the size of a king-sized bed, focusing solar energy on boilers located on three centralized solar power towers.  There are computers and motors to move each of the reflectors as the sun moves to maximize the temperature on the tank.   

But, like coffee in the morning, this system must have something to get it started as dawn breaks.  A natural gas fire.  This heats the water to the point where the heat reflected from the sun can continue to  heat the water to the 500-1000 degrees desired.   Of course this takes a bunch of natural gas, and creates “carbon.” 

There is a limitation that no more than 5% of the electricity produced be via fossil fuel.  But this is not happening, so the decision was to exclude the carbon emitted from burning gas for start-up and from burning gas when its too cloudy, from the count.  I am not sure what is left, but that is how you can burn all this fuel and still “stay under” the 5% maximum.

Other shortcuts and work-arounds had to be taken to get it up and running. So, environmental concerns, extreme costs, and unproven technology aside, it was “approved” and 5.6 square miles of desert was devoted to heating a boiler. 

This is not the only one.  There are others experiencing similar problems, each costing us billions and destroying the environment. 

Currently, the CNS News reported solar provides .2% of the nation’s power.  Solar troughs are estimated to provide less than a third of that.  So, they cost more an produce less, less reliably.

When you ask “why”?  Why not use this money in our schools, helping our veterans, or somewhere else?

One can only assume “it really is the thought that counts.”