California regulators may force a massive solar thermal power plant in the Mojave Desert to shut down after years of under-producing electricity — not to mention the plant was blinding pilots flying over the area and incinerating birds.
The Ivanpah solar plant could be shut down if state regulators don’t give it more time to meet electricity production promises it made as part of its power purchase agreements with utilities, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Ivanpah, which got a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Obama administration, only produced a fraction of the power state regulators expected it would. 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.
Ivanpah — which is owned by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google — uses more than 170,000 large mirrors, or heliostats, to reflect sunlight towards water boilers set atop 450-foot towers that create steam to turn giant turbines and generate electricity.
The plant was financed by $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy in 2011. When the solar plant opened in 2014, it was hailed as a great achievement by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
“This project speaks for itself,” Moniz said when the project went online in early 2014. “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,” Moniz said.