Despite concerns about its costs to taxpayers and effect on a fragile desert environment, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility was approved by the Obama Department of Energy, cleared regulatory hurdles of the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Wildlife, Fish & Game, S.E.C, I.R.S and others and construction was begun in 2010. The Dept. of Energy granted Ivanpah $1.6 billion in loan guarantees plus as a ‘green-energy’ project it also qualified for and received more than $600 million in federal tax credits!So proud of this ‘advance’ in power production was President Obama that he routinely heaped praised upon the project as a shining example of America’s clean energy future. In October of 2010, from the future site of the facility, on his weekly radio address the President said, “With projects like this one we’re putting Americans to work producing clean, home-grown American energy.”
Well, Ivanpah is completed, up, running and functional and guess what?It’s not so “clean” after all AND to add insult to injury, it’s inefficient too!
Turns out Ivanpah uses a lot of fossil fuel, primarily natural gas, to pre-heat water at the top of its towers prior to sunrise and it has massive auxiliary gas boilers that come on ….when there’s cloud cover blocking the sun.
Located in the Mojave Desert off Interstate 15 near the Nevada border, Ivanpah is a behemoth. It utilizes hundreds of thousands of mirrors spread out over more than five and a half square miles. The mirrors aim at the tops of three 459-foot towers where the heat boils water in tanks atop the towers. which generates steam used to turn electricity-producing turbines.According to the Press Enterprise in Riverside, CA, data from the California Energy Commission shows the plant burned enough natural gas in 2014 — its first year of operation — to emit more than 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nearly twice the pollution threshold for power plants or factories in California to be required to participate in the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions.
The same amount of natural gas burned at a conventional power plant would have produced enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 17,000 California homes – about 25 percent of the Ivanpah plant’s total electricity projection for 2014!!
At the direction of White House then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar,
expanses of public land were freed up for the plant’s construction despite environmentalist’s concerns about wildlife habitat and the loss of open space. (Imagine if Exxon-Mobile had made a similar land grant request, how do you think that would’ve gone?)
The facility is cooking birds mid-flight, over 3,500 of them in its first year, according to the Desert Sun.
Biologists discovered scores of desert tortoises during the construction Ivanpah and teams of them gathered more than 175 of the reptiles from the site plus found another 50 tortoise eggs that were later hatched in captivity. In all. $56 million was spent capturing, housing, relocating, and preserving and restoring tortoise habitat elsewhere.And now for all those billions spent, for all that destroyed pristine desert-scape, dead birds, displaced tortoises and more – the darn thing emits more CO2 than an ordinary power plant would’ve anyway.
In 2010, the California Energy Commission required a condition of the plant’s license was that heat input from natural gas be no more than 5 percent of the heat the plant captured from the sun.
But in March 2014, after three months of commercial operation, plant operators found they needed to use more natural gas and asked the commission for a change in the rules. In August 2014, the commission voted to scrap the 5 percent rule and increased the plant’s annual gas volume limit by 38 percent. Seems waste and carbon emissions are ok, if your heart is in the right place.
Sadrul Ula, a University of California engineering professor and managing director of the Winston Chung Global Energy Center at U.C. Riverside, said all gas burned should be factored in when evaluating the plant because all of it is necessary for Ivanpah to function. Ula said Ivanpah is performing below expected production levels – while also relying on significant amounts of fossil fuel. The plant produced just 59 percent of its annual power goal between July 1, 2014 and June 30 of this year. “It is a poorly performing hybrid,” Ula said.
David Lamfrom, desert project manager of the National Parks Conservation Association, said information about the amount of natural gas used at Ivanpah shows that the plant is essentially a hybrid operation that requires both fossil fuel and sunshine to make electricity. He said he doubts the project would have gone forward if it had been billed a hybrid plant. But it wasn’t.
“It feels like a bait and switch,” Lamfrom said. “This project was held up as a model of innovation. We didn’t sign up for greener energy. We signed up for green energy.”
So you’ve been bait and switched by the Obama administration, Mr. Go Green? Welcome to the club, brother.
[Note: This article was written by Derrick Wilburn]