As if receiving a $1.6 billion construction loan from U.S. taxpayers wasn’t quite generous enough, owners of the world’s largest solar power plant Google, BrightSource Energy and renewable energy giant NRG now seek another $539 million federal grant from the Treasury Department to help pay off that previous loan. Why do they need it?
Well . . . blame the weather. It seems that the sun doesn’t shine as brightly on the California Mojave desert Ivanpah project as their studies predicted. Whereas President Obama promised in October 2010 that the sprawling 3,500 acre state-of-the-art solar thermal facility would power up to 140,000 homes and stimulate the economy, it hasn’t turned out that way. Since last February, the plant has produced only about one-quarter of the million megawatt-hours of free electricity that the developers had promised.
Just two weeks after Ivanpah became operational, NRG sought and received an extension from DOE until February 2015 for paying back its first overdue $132 million installment.
A second $158 million payment due on June 27 was then extended until Dec. 27, and a third $117 million installment due on Oct. 27 was reportedly extended to April 27, 2015.
DOE handed out $18.5 billion in renewable energy grants through its “1705 Program” during 2013 alone, of which $4.4 billion went to solar projects intended to accelerate America’s energy independence.
Amidst much hoopla at that time, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz touted the Ivanpah “investment”, saying, “We want to be technology leaders. It’s good for our economy and it’s also good for helping stimulate the global transition to low carbon.”
That low carbon energy fixation comes at a very high price. Much of the real cost necessary to sustain it is passed on to taxpayers and consumers through invisible subsidies and preferential purchase mandates. While those coal plants that EPA is intent upon killing produced 39 percent of all U.S. electricity, don’t expect solar — 0.23 percent — or wind— 4.3 percent, to replace them any time soon.
Even Google which made big headlines with its all-in green energy advertising has learned this. The company has had to admit that the much-heralded solar panels installed on its data centers couldn’t deliver the power required. Another grandiose project called Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal — RE<C — hasn’t worked out as planned either.
Writing in an IEEE Spectrum article, two lead RE<C scientists concluded, “At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists — We felt that with steady improvements of today’s renewable energy technology, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope, but that doesn’t mean the planet is doomed."
Environmentalists have particularly good reasons to be displeased with Ivanpah. A recent study conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity described the plant as a “mega-trap” that will kill up to 28,000 birds per year. Mistaking the large field of mirrors for water, they become fried when they approach.
Incidentally, DOE’s 1705 Program which bankrolled Ivanpah also funded Solyndra, the California solar company that went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving $536 million in federal loan guarantees. And as with Solyndra, Ivanpah was also was pushed by the White House while known to be a questionable deal from the beginning.
A 2012 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report determined that the Ivanpah recovery estimate was the lowest — 55 percent — out of all DOE loan program projects they reviewed. The report concluded that, “Contrary to the Administration’s assertions, the [various] loan program’s failures cannot be isolated to the Department of Energy Loan Program Office, or to the Department of Treasury or the Office of Management and Budget.”
More than 150 e-mails obtained revealed that, “nonpolitical, career Department of Energy employees felt political pressure from sources as high as the President, Vice President, Secretary Chu, and senior White House officials.”
Reason Foundation Vice President of Research Julian Morris who authored a lengthy study of Obama administration green energy program corruption and cronyism regards the Ivanpah deal — one in which corporations use our money to pay off 30 percent of the debt they already owe us — as “obscene.” He observes, “They’re already paying less than the market rate. Now demanding or asking for a subsidy in the form of a grant directly paying off the loan is an egregious abuse.”
Ignoring previously failed blue sky projections, a NRG spokesman now expresses “every confidence that the plant will function as anticipated for the life of the facility.” Yet even if so, it will be Ivanpah owners — not charitable taxpayers — who reap the benefits.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is author of “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax,” and his professional aerospace work has been featured on the History Channel and the Discovery Channel-Canada. Read more of his reports - Click Here Now
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