the $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar thermal plant in California. (Note: Solar thermal plants do not use solar panels to directly convert sunshine to electricity; they use sunshine to boil water that then drives conventional turbines.)
Here’s the story so far. Ivanpah…
- is owned by Google, NRG Energy, and Brightsource, who have a market cap in excess of $500 billion.
- received $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy.
- is paid four to five times as much per megawatt-hour as natural gas-powered plants.
- is paid two to three times as much per megawatt-hour as other solar power producers.
- has burned thousands of birds to death.
- has delayed loan repayments.
- is seeking over $500 million in grants to help pay off the guaranteed loans.
- burns natural gas for 4.5 hours each morning to get its mojo going.
Brightsource, which is privately held, is owned by a virtual who’s who of those who don’t need subsidies from taxpayers and ratepayers.
In spite of all this, Ivanpah has fallen woefully short of its production targets. The managers’ explanation for why production came up 32 percent below expected output is the weather. In addition to raising questions about planning for uncertainty, it is not all that clear how a nine-percent drop in sunshine causes a 32-percent drop in production.