Despite the hefty loan guarantee of $1.2 billion by the Department of Energy, the Ivanpah solar plant is facing closure because of underperformance and high cost.
The Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert in California received $1.2 billion from the Obama administration in 2011, before it officially opened in 2014. At it’s opening, Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz lauded it:
“This project speaks for itself. Just look at the 170,000 shining heliostat mirrors and the three towers that would dwarf the Statue of Liberty. Ivanpah is the largest solar thermal energy facility in the world with 392 MW of capacity — meaning it can produce enough renewable electricity to power nearly 100,000 homes.”
The problem with the solar plant, however, was that it continued to underperform compared with what it was contractually obligated to produce for Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).
In addition, the cost was so high for it to underproduce electricity that it had to ask for an additional half a billion dollars in federal grant money just to keep it afloat and help pay off its $1.6 billion loan. The Daily Caller reported:
The plant only generated 45 percent of expected power in 2014 and only 68 percent in 2015, according to government data.
And it does all this at a cost of $200 per megawatt hour — nearly six times the cost of electricity from natural gas-fired power plants. Interestingly enough, Ivanpah uses natural gas to supplement its solar production.
These disappointing results at high prices could be the solar plant’s undoing. California Energy Commission regulators hoped the plant would help the state get 33 percent of its electricity from green sources, but now the plant could be shut down for not meeting its production promises.
And not to mention that the solar plant drew the ire of environmentalists for killing thousands of birds a year. Now, it’s facing closure.
President Obama had also hailed the Ivanpah solar plant before it opened, saying in 2010, “It’s going to put about 1,000 people to work building a state-of-the-art facility” and “it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes.” Perhaps this “shovel-ready” solar plant project wasn’t as shovel-ready as he expected.