Giant generator opens

Huge U.S. thermal plant opens as industry grows.
Associated Press
Feb 14, 2014

A windy stretch of the Mojave Desert once roamed by tortoises and coyotes has been transformed by hundreds of thousands of mirrors into the largest solar power plant of its type in the world, a milestone for a growing industry that is testing the balance between wilderness conservation and the pursuit of green energy across the American West.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, sprawling across roughly 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border, formally opened Thursday after years of regulatory and legal tangles ranging from relocating protected tortoises to assessing the impact on Mojave milkweed and other plants.

"The Ivanpah project is a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy," U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement after attending a dedication ceremony at the site. "This project shows that building a clean-energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions and fosters American innovation."

The $2.2 billion complex of three generating units, owned by NRG Energy Inc., Google Inc. and BrightSource Energy, can produce almost 400 megawatts — enough power for 140,000 homes. It began making electricity last year.

Larger projects are on the way, but for now, Ivanpah is being described as a marker for the United States' emerging solar industry. While solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation's power output, thousands of projects from large, utility-scale plants to small production sites are under construction or being planned, particularly across the sun-drenched Southwest.

The opening of Ivanpah is "a dawn of a new era in power generation in the United States," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

The plant's dedication comes as government continues to push for development of greener, cleaner power.

President Barack Obama has mounted a second-term drive to combat climate change, proposing first-ever limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. His plan aims to help move the U.S. from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by wind and solar power, nuclear energy and natural gas.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, the cost of building and operating a new solar thermal power plant over its lifetime is greater than generating natural gas, coal or nuclear power. It costs a conventional coal plant $100, on average, to produce a megawatt-hour of power, but that figure is $261 for solar thermal power, according to 2011 estimates. The figures do not account for incentives such as state or federal tax credits that can affect the cost.

Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the solar association, said in a statement that solar systems have seen "dramatic price declines" in the last few years.

That's good for utilities in California, which must obtain a third of their electricity from solar and other renewable sources by 2020.

The Ivanpah site, about 45 miles (75 kilometers) southwest of Las Vegas, has virtually unbroken sunshine most of the year and is near transmission lines that carry power to consumers.

Using technology known as solar-thermal, nearly 350,000 computer-controlled mirrors roughly the size of a garage door reflect sunlight to boilers atop 459-foot (140-meter) towers. The sun's power is used to heat water in the boilers' tubes and make steam, which drives turbines to create electricity.

While many people are familiar with rooftop solar, or photovoltaic panels, "these are a little bit different. This takes the sun's rays and reflects them onto towers," said NRG spokesman Jeff Holland.

The plant can be a startling sight for drivers heading toward Las Vegas along busy Interstate 15. Amid miles of rock and scrub, its vast array of mirrors creates the image of an ethereal lake shimmering atop the desert floor. In fact, it's built on a dry lakebed.

Google announced in 2011 that it would invest $168 million in the project. As part of its financing, BrightSource also lined up $1.6 billion in loans guaranteed by the U.S. Energy Department.

Ivanpah can be seen as a success story and a cautionary tale, highlighting the inevitable trade-offs between the need for cleaner power and the loss of fragile, open land. The California Energy Commission concluded that while the solar plant would impose "significant impacts on the environment ... the benefits the project would provide override those impacts."

Such disputes are likely to continue for years as more companies seek to develop solar, wind and geothermal plants on land treasured by environmentalists who also support the growth of renewable energy. At issue is what is worth preserving and at what cost, as California pushes to generate more electricity from renewable sources.

In 2012, the federal government established 17 "solar energy zones" in an attempt to direct development to land it has identified as having fewer wildlife and natural-resource obstacles. The zones comprise about 450 square miles (1,165 sq. kilometers)in six states — California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Government documents show dozens of dead birds from sparrows to hawks have been found on the site, some with melted feathers. The suspected causes of death include collisions with mirrors and scorching. In November alone, 11 dead birds were found, including two, a blackbird and a warbler, with singed feathers.

The Western Watersheds Project is continuing to push a lawsuit against federal agencies that reviewed the Ivanpah project. Its California director, Michael J. Connor, said alternatives to the site were not considered and serious environmental impacts, including fragmenting the tortoise population, were ignored.

NRG did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

According to statistics compiled by the Energy Department, the solar industry employs more than 140,000 Americans at about 6,100 companies, with employment increasing nearly 20 percent since the fall of 2012.

 

Comments

Restless1

Eleven dead birds? That's not what I heard. With temperatures near 1,000 degrees, birds flying into the complex of mirrors and panels simply fry to death.

coasterfan

There are always animals and people who suffer or are displaced as a result of America's energy needs. The Keystone Pipeline that Republicans are advocating is slated to go through Yellowstone Nat'l Park and several states. Does anyone think that they'll give a rat's patoot what happens to wildlife during the construction?

How about the thousands of fish who undoubtedly died during the recent Elk River chemical spill from a local coal mining operation?

Any move away from fossil fuels is a better option now and in the future. The solution that does the least amount of damage to wildlife and our natural resources gets my vote.

Donegan

You claim to be for the environment yet you fail to realize whether you want it or not the oil will be shipped through the US. They can do it with a pipeline, Tanker trucks which would take 15,000 of them to do PER DAY, Rail which it takes 4,200 tankers to do PER DAY in contrast to the pipeline. So you can whine about the environment while putting more trucks and engines on the road or you can save the environment with the pipeline.
Chances are you'll pick trucking and rail because that is exactly what Obama donors have invested in regardless of the impact it has on the environment you claim to love. BTW hows it feel to post using a petroleum product surrounded by petroleum products while screaming about how bad it is? Hypocrisy is easy to spot with your type.

Contango

Re: "Rail which it takes 4,200 tankers to do PER DAY"

"Buffett’s Burlington Northern Among Pipeline Winners"

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/20...

The Bizness

I don't think that since environmentalist like myself use computers makes us hypocrits. Especially when we have the ability to make electronics in more renewable ways, and without using plastics. Would it be harder sure, but it would also be better for our world, and future generations.

Most of us environmentalists are not saying we go back to living in caves, we are simply saying be mindful or what you use, and how much you use it, and then recycle what you are discarding. Most of the things I do in my personal life to take care of the world, take care of my wallet as well.

I would prefer we ship no more oil, not over rain, road, nor rail.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

The chemicals in the Elk River spill, if I am not mistaken, were a "detergent" that our government mandates wash all coal before it is to be burned in power plants. The latest shuttle disaster could have been prevented if the original insulation foam was used instead of the more-brittle version environmental regulation required. I can only wonder how many people have died due to CAFE standards dictating increasingly more environmentally-regulated benchmarks which made cars not as sturdy?

Being reasonable and measured > being "green" for green's sake especially as there are ALWAYS going to be sacrifices made for that result.

The Bizness

Bird deaths from Wind, and now solar like this are greatly overblown. If you all wanted to complain about bird deaths, then we need to stop building tall buildings. It is estimated that Toronto Canada accounts for 1 million bird deaths from buildings strikes in a year, 1 MILLION! We need renewable energy, no more fossil fuels.

http://www.theecologist.org/News...

O'Heritage

Another liberal pipe dream. The first big hail storm will reduce this waste of money to a sea of glass. Give me cheap coal energy any day.

Contango

Re: "According to statistics compiled by the Energy Department, the solar industry employs more than 140,000 Americans at about 6,100 companies, with employment increasing nearly 20 percent since the fall of 2012."

Let's see how these numbers look after taxpayer subsidies for this special interest, ideologically based industry are cut.

Yea, Al Gore is worth $230 million now in part by getting a 'heads up' on which cos. were getting green energy subsidies - like Solynda.

Gotta love the special interest pigs slopping at the govt. trough.

Contango

Article in the NYT says that future projects of this magnitude are in serious doubt:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/101417387

The Big Dog's back

Why is it you never, ever mention the subsidies oil companies get?

Contango

Re: "subsidies oil companies get,"

Such as?

Contango

Typical lefty confusion of terms.

Using deductions and write-offs in the tax law which are common to most corps. are not "subsidies."

Show me were the govt. GIVES money (grants) to oil & gas like it does "green" cos.

SamAdams

If you really wanted environmentally-friendly and far more efficient (and thus cheaper) solar power, you'd be promoting orbital solar collection "stations" which would microwave power down to the planet's surface. The microwaves are weak enough in relative terms that a moving animal won't be fried (or chopped into pieces or poisoned), and yet because there's no atmosphere to interfere with solar collection, will actually be cost effective.

Oh, wait. We CAN'T. We can't even get our own astronauts into space by ourselves any more because short-sighted (not to mention economically and scientifically illiterate) people don't like to "throw money into outer space." It's humiliating and downright shameful that the country that put a man on the moon can't even put him into LEO these days!

Second choice: Keystone. It's more efficient (thus cheaper), less harmful to wildlife, and offers up the added bonus of more jobs and less vehicle-generated pollutants. No wonder liberals don't like it! It makes good sense!

Really are you ...

Why does the government? Wow! If the government or an electric company wants a fixed generation plant. Quit fracking around. Go geothermal. Place one way pipes straight into the ground, not going deep and turning like fracking. Pump water into the earth, when it returns as steam. There you go, hook it to a turbine. Stationary green energy. No nuclear radiation, combustion of anything, don't need the sun or wind. Just add water.

Nothing like what this SPEG device is capable of. No external influences needed. Not even water.

kURTje

Meanwhile Germany & other countries are using bio-mass with + results. We in America could utilize arboriculture like poplar for energy. Naw..........