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Category — Energy Sources

Solar Land Blues: The Eco Reality of Dilute Energy

“As citizens, we need to call on our leaders to make thoughtful choices about where to site industrial-scale development and renewable energy projects, and to create a legacy for our national parks and to public lands everywhere.” - Mark Butler, “Saving the Mojave from the Solar Threat,” Los Angeles Times , March 25, 2014. “‘Soft’ energy sources are horribly land intensive…. The greenest possible strategy is to mine and to bury, to fly and to tunnel, to search high and low, where the life mostly isn’t, and to leave the edge, the space in the middle, living and green.” - Peter Huber, Hard Green; Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists (New York: Basic Books, 1999), pp. 107–108.

Hard-green energies (fossil fuels, uranium) have a major ecological advantage over politically-correct soft energy (wind, solar): less infrastructure requirement, including land. This was recognized by the father of energy economics, William Stanley Jevons, in his 1865 tome, The Coal Question. Mainstream environmentalists are waking up to the problems of central-station solar now that they can physically see it and have operational results. California’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) is “the world’s largest gas-fired power plant (largest in physical size, not gas consumption),” said one eco-critic. And now Mark Butler in the Los Angeles Times has blown the whistle on the national showcase of Big Solar (full op-ed below). [Read more →]

April 7, 2014   No Comments

Big Solar: Big Gas (Ivanpah’s ‘dirty power’)

“It has been lauded as the world’s largest solar power plant, but the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) could also be called the world’s largest gas-fired power plant (largest in physical size, not gas consumption).”

Chris Clarke continues in his piece, “Ivanpah Solar Plant Owners Want to burn a Lot More Natural Gas” (KCET, March 27, 2014):

Each of the 4,000-acre facility’s three units has gas-fired boilers used to warm up the fluid in the turbines in the early morning, to keep that fluid at an optimum temperature during the night, and to boost production during the day when the sun goes behind a cloud…. Solar Partners says that in order for ISEGS (Ivanpah) to operate at full efficiency, the plant’s gas-fired auxiliary boilers will need to run an average of 4.5 hours a day, rather than the one hour a day originally expected. The plant’s total CO2 footprint from burning natural gas would rise to just above 92,200 tons per year, approximately equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas output of 16,500 average passenger cars.

The newly operational Ivanpah solar thermal electric power megaplant in California’s Mojave Desert was controversial before it was ever built for bird kills, desert tortoise impacts, and a 161% higher cost than coal-fired power plants. Now, with data coming in, it is becoming more controversial. Environmentalists, energy experts, and political decision-makers may soon ask how they were we sold a bad bill of goods.

One month after start up in February 2014, commercial airline pilots started filing complaints with the F.A.A. about the massive glare from Ivanpah’s 173,500 heliostat-mirrors used to radiate heat toward a central tower to drive a steam turbine.

Soon after the initial plant start-up it was also reportedly discovered the so-called clean power plant would emit 55% more greenhouse gases than it claimed in its original operating permit and environmental report, the equivalent of 16,500 cars. And this does not include all of the GHG emissions associated with the plant’s infrastructure and construction. [Read more →]

April 2, 2014   14 Comments

$5.4 Billion in Solar: California Goes All In

“The government support — which includes loan guarantees, cash grants and contracts that require electric customers to pay higher rates — largely eliminated the risk to the private investors and almost guaranteed them large profits for years to come. The beneficiaries include financial firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, conglomerates like General Electric, utilities like Exelon and NRG — even Google.”

- Eric Lipton and Clifford Krauss, “A Gold Rush of Subsidies in Clean Energy Search,” New York Times, November 11, 2011.

A recent article by Pete Danko, “Solar Power Hitting New Records in California” (Earthechling.com) documents the dramatic growth of solar energy generation facilities in California. Three large-scale solar PV installations recently on-line or underway are: California Valley Solar Ranch; Antelope Valley Solar 1, and Topaz Solar Farm, together representing a nameplate capacity of over 1,000 megawatts (1 gigawatt).

Because of their size and cost, it is worthwhile to take a look at these three facilities in greater detail: [Read more →]

January 13, 2014   13 Comments

Micro-Hydro: The Regulatory Noose (Logan City vs. FERC)

“[A] complex regulatory nexus surrounds all hydropower projects, no matter how small. As far as regulatory requirements are concerned, it didn’t matter that the project would have little to no environmental impacts…. When it comes to renewable energy, federal policies are working at odds with one another.”

In 2008 Logan City, Utah decided to install a micro-hydro project in its culinary water system. The city’s assistant engineer recognized the opportunity to generate clean, low-cost electricity for the city by installing a turbine in the city’s culinary water pipeline.

Logan City’s project would power 185 homes, and would not require any new construction. At the same time, it would also help reduce excess water pressure in the system. Because the project was so small, and would not affect anything outside of an existing pipeline, city officials thought the permitting process would be a breeze.

What started as a simple plan to install a micro-hydro facility soon became really complex. As Logan City officials learned firsthand, the permitting process required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), proved to be so lengthy and expensive that the difficulties associated with the process far outweighed the benefits. [Read more →]

December 20, 2013   No Comments

Nuclear Power: Our High Costs Benefits! (Bastiat, call your office)

“It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

- Frédéric Bastiat (1850)

Making the news last week was a new “economic impact” study funded by a trade association representing the nuclear industry. The study purports to show that the nuclear industry in North and South Carolina generates $25 billion dollars annually and supports 29,000 jobs. The study funded by the industry group Carolinas Nuclear Cluster would like to believe that such activity is a per se good, the marketplace notwithstanding.

So much for economics, which stresses that ends are greater than means and that good activities should be done at least cost. [Read more →]

December 4, 2013   3 Comments

California Valley Solar Ranch: What for $1.24 Taxpayer Billion?

“One acre or 1,500 acres? 88 percent capacity factor or 22 percent? Less than $1,500,000 per megawatt of capacity or $6,400,000 per megawatt? Location near the customer load or remote? Highly dispatchable electricity or non-dispatchable? Do we need to really ask these questions.”

The huge California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) central-station solar plant is apparently now at “full power” thanks to a loan guarantee from the U.S. taxpayers of $1,237,000,000. Information regarding this project has been published here by Earthtechling, and also here, by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In an earlier article by Eric Lipton and Clifford Krauss in the New York Times entitled A Gold Rush of Subsidies in Clean Energy Search, the full cost of the project was established as $1.6 billion. Lipton and Krauss indicate:

The project is also a marvel in another, less obvious way: Taxpayers and ratepayers are providing subsidies worth almost as much as the entire $1.6 billion cost of the project. Similar subsidy packages have been given to 15 other solar- and wind-power electric plants since 2009.

 The government support — which includes loan guarantees, cash grants and contracts that require electric customers to pay higher rates — largely eliminated the risk to the private investors and almost guaranteed them large profits for years to come. The beneficiaries include financial firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, conglomerates like General Electric, utilities like Exelon and NRG — even Google.

A Critical Appraisal

In a realistic appraisal of the CVSR we should note the following: [Read more →]

November 7, 2013   19 Comments

Rooftop Solar: Grievous Grid Economics

“It’s these subsidies and unfair billing credits–coupled with the intermittent nature of solar energy–that has utilities, utility customers, and taxpayers questioning the expansion of solar power. Until the solar industry can effectively operate in a free market and not burden consumers who cannot or choose not to install rooftop solar, this debate will continue.”

Solar power generation in the U.S. rose nearly 600% from 2000 to 2010 (NREL), and this trend is continuing. Fueled by an array of federal, state and local subsidies along with utility-bill credits, the economics of photovoltaic (PV) energy might seem too good to pass up. This is especially the case with residential or rooftop solar systems.

However, a closer look at industry subsidization, the unique properties of PV, and controversial billing practices for solar users, such as Net Metering, show that solar power is not as great a deal as its supporters would have you believe.

Economics of Rooftop Solar

For homeowners looking to add solar panels to their rooftops, there is no shortage of handouts to help make this possible. First, there is a 30 percent Investment Tax Credit from the federal government, in place until 2016. If not used completely at the time of installation, this credit can be carried over for up to five years. On top of that, state, local and utility specific programs sweeten the deal. These programs vary greatly by location. [Read more →]

September 30, 2013   5 Comments

Frac Bounty: All Should Participate (resource creation for economic revival)

Deep Ecology adherents view fossil fuels as evil incarnate, and believe fervently in ‘peak oil’ and Climate Armageddon. They are frustrated that fracking guarantees a hydrocarbon renaissance and predominance for decades to come, and helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions without massive economic sacrifice.”

Anti-energy activists actively promote falsehoods about the vital, safe, job-creating hydraulic fractionation. They inhabit a callous parallel universe to wage war on affordable, plentiful energy–and quality, sustainable jobs. Such a war targets those who need jobs and lower costs the most. 

It is time for all thinking, good people–Democrat and Republican–to welcome the oil and gas treasure unleashed by new technology in every locality and state where private property rights are respected. And, as Bret Stephens wrote in the Wall Street Journal, it is high time for environmentalists to think.

“Ninety-eight Percent Positive”

Signs of pride and prosperity were evident all over Williamsport and the gorgeous northern Pennsylvania countryside around it. Friendly, happy people greeted us. New cars, trucks, hotels and restaurants sparkled in a clean, bustling downtown. New roofs topped barns and houses, while late model tractors worked the fields. Formerly dirt roads are now paved.

Men and women again have high-paying jobs, young people are coming back instead of moving away, their salaries are supporting other businesses and jobs, and many are taking college programs in oilfield technical and business specialties, Vince Matteo told me. As president and CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming County Chamber of Commerce, he’s witnessed the transformation. [Read more →]

July 25, 2013   1 Comment

Vogtle Nuclear Project: More Overruns, More Delay (Georgia Power reconfirms the perils of government-subsidized energy)

Late last month, Georgia Power (Southern Company) filed its eighth semi-annual report on the construction progress of its 2,240-MW two-unit Vogtle nuclear plant to the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC).

The already bad news got still worse–not surprising for a project that is all but financially insulated from its own failure. As I previously wrote at MasterResource:

With a pending $8.6 billion federal loan guarantee, a cap on liability, production tax credits and pre-collection of profits this makes Georgia Power the nation’s biggest welfare queen.

Georgia Power’s latest report to state regulators indulges in self-praise, shifts blame for growing problems, and employs misleading analysis. The Company asks the GPSC to approve an additional $737 million in cost and add 15 months to the project’s schedule. Since Georgia Power has 45.7% ownership, the entire $14 billion project has additional cost of over $1.6 billion. [Read more →]

March 28, 2013   2 Comments

Dominion Virginia’s “Green” Solar Program: Bad Economics for a Misplaced Cause

“[T]here is no companion prerequisite that such renewable programs be cost-effective or deliver reliable power…. This program appears designed for the privileged few to enjoy a subsidized electric energy existence, provides those ‘green bragging rights’ mentioned by a solar installer in this courtroom last September, but little else.”

Last May, Dominion Virginia Power petitioned the Virginia State Corporation Commission to introduce a voluntary ratepayer program to support up to 3 MW from distributed solar installations. Dominion seeks to offer the public an alternative to an existing, net-metering, residential solar panel program. This voluntary test Solar Panel Program would be guaranteed for five years at a “buy all/sell all” $0.15/kWh. It would be limited to an initial maximum scale of 0.2 percent of 2010 peak load.

Solar is an intermittent power source that would require storage to be on a stand-alone basis. The Dominion program offers a solar energy buyback on a firm (non-interrupted) basis, which requires cross subsidization from conventional energies.

The $0.15/kWh price is below what the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates to be the cost of distributed solar, which is north of $0.25/kWh. Multiple tax breaks explain the difference ($0.022/kWh production tax credit; accelerated depreciation, etc.). Solar executive David Bergeron has estimated that the as much as 90 percent of lifecycle solar costs are hidden, due to special government subsidies. [Read more →]

February 27, 2013   4 Comments