credit: inhabitat.com

credit: inhabitat.com

Solar Power. It’s a concept of unlimited promise, but distinctly limited application. Even so, I’ve done my part. Several years ago, I bought a solar attic fan, which was promised to at least somewhat reduce my energy bills during the hot, Texas summers. If so, I’ve been unable to detect it by any measure. I’ll never recoup the high cost of the fan in energy savings, and I doubt Barack Obama and his greenie acolytes like me any better.

Solar technology is not particularly efficient, and produces limited power only when the sun is shining. The idea that it, absent enormous, absolutely unforeseeable leaps in technology, could ever be a significant part of American power generation is of a piece with boondoggles like Solyndra, merely one very expensive crony capitalism endeavor of Mr. Obama that cost taxpayers as much as $849 million. 

Readers, I’m sure, recall the never-ending controversy over the Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert, from displacing endangered species to threatening to crash commercial and private aircraft due to blinding glare, to massive cost overruns and energy production deficits, it has failed to live up to its utopian promise. Oh, have I mentioned that the plant obliterates hundreds of thousands of birds each year, including endangered species, that happen to fly through it’s laser-like beams of light? ZAP! And they drop, smoking and crispy, to the ground. Col. Sanders never fried ’em faster and better.  But the good news is, gentle readers, it’s even worse than we imagined:

A solar power plant at the center of the Obama administration’s push to reduce America’s carbon footprint by using millions of taxpayer dollars to promote green energy has its own carbon pollution problem.

Gee. Who coulda thunk it?

The Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert uses natural gas as a supplementary fuel. Data from the California Energy Commission show that the plant burned enough natural gas in 2014 – its first year of operation – to emit more than 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. 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 – or roughly a quarter of the Ivanpah plant’s total electricity projection for 2014.

The plant’s operators say they are burning small amounts of natural gas in order to produce steam to jump-start the solar generating process. They said burning natural gas has always been part of the process.

credit: photos.sf.co.ua

credit: photos.sf.co.ua

What?! A solar power plant is powered by natural gas from the start? Why didn’t the plant’s proponents mention that one?

Natural gas is used to preheat water that goes into boilers mounted on top of three 459-foot-tall towers at Ivanpah. This allows heat from the sun – captured by 352,000 mirrors – to make steam more quickly. The steam turns the turbines that produce electicity.

The Ivanpah plant off Interstate 15 near the Nevada border also has auxiliary gas boilers that kick in whenever cloud cover blocks the sun.

The primary use of the natural gas ‘is to optimize the amount of electricity produced from the sun by preparing the facility each day to utilize the solar resource as soon as practically possible, and safely,’ said David Knox, a spokesman for NRG Energy, which runs the facility.

Oh, so the natural gas is for practicality and safety, is it? Not quite. It’s the only way for the plant to produce electricity when the sun isn’t shining, which is at least half of each day, and when there is significant cloud cover, which is annoyingly often as well. That doesn’t seem to be what was promised for the plant and similar installations.

The U.S. Department of Energy granted Ivanpah $1.6 billion in loan guarantees. As a green-energy project, it also qualified for more than $600 million in federal tax credits.

Just before the project broke ground, President Barack Obama praised it in his weekly radio address.

‘With projects like this one, and others across this country, we are staking our claim to continued leadership in the new global economy. And we’re putting Americans to work producing clean, home-grown American energy that will help lower our reliance on foreign oil and protect our planet for future generations,’ Obama said.

Ah yes: “clean, home-grown American energy.” And only $2.2 billion in taxpayer dollars thus far–of which we’re aware… There is, however, a distinct lack of green purity involved:

Ivanpah was built on 5.6 square miles of mostly undisturbed public land that was home to desert tortoises, a species threatened with extinction, among other wildlife.

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.

‘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.

Bait and switch indeed. “Fraud” might be a better description.

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