Tag Archives: Mojave Desert Solar Projects

A Huge Solar Plant Caught on Fire, and That’s the Least of Its Problems

By Sarah Zhang, WIRED

Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar plant, is a glittering sea of mirrors, concentrating sunlight into three glowing towers. It is a futuristic vision rising out of the Mojave desert. But from the day the plant opened for business in 2014, critics have said the technology at Ivanpah is outdated and too finicky to maintain.

The latest problem? A fire at one of the plant’s three towers on Thursday, which left metal pipes scorched and melted. As the plant dealt with engineering hiccups, Ivanpah initially struggled to fulfill its electricity contract, and it would have had to shut down if the California Public Utilities Commission didn’t throw it a bone this past March. “Ivanpah has been such a mess,” says Adam Schultz, program manager at the UC Davis Energy Institute and former analyst for the CPUC. “If [the fire] knocks them offline, it’s going to further dig them in.” On top of the technical challenges, the plant has had to deal with PR headaches like reports of scorched birds and blinded pilots from its mirrors.

Ivanpah’s biggest problem, though, is hard economics. When the plant was just a proposal in 2007, the cost of electricity made using Ivanpah’s concentrated solar power was roughly the same as that from photovoltaic solar panels. Since then, the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels has plummeted to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (compared to 15 to 20 cents for concentrated solar power) as materials have gotten cheaper. “You’re not going to see the same thing with concentrated solar power plants because it’s mostly just a big steel and glass project,” says Schultz. It can only get so much cheaper.

Read full article at WIRED

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Interior Department, State of California Announce Innovative Strategy for Renewable Energy and Conservation on Public Lands in California Desert

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird today announced the final environmental review of an innovative landscape-scale blueprint to support renewable energy development and conservation on 10 million acres of federal public lands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the California desert. The release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Phase I of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) is a major step forward, and a key part of the collaborative effort to streamline renewable energy while conserving unique and valuable desert ecosystems and promoting outdoor recreation opportunities.

The blueprint is part of a larger, comprehensive effort with California, covering 22 million acres in the state’s desert region. Collectively, these lands contain the potential to generate up to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy development, while meeting federal and state renewable energy and climate change goals through 2040.

Phase I of the DRECP, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, designates Development Focus Areas with high-quality solar, wind and geothermal energy potential, access to transmission and would allow impacts to be managed and mitigated. Applications will benefit from a streamlined permitting process with predictable survey requirements and simplified mitigation measures, and Interior is considering additional financial incentives through an ongoing rulemaking process. The first phase also identifies National Conservation Lands, and designates Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, wildlife allocations and National Scenic and Historic Trail management corridors. These lands would be closed to renewable energy and benefit from adaptive management in the face of climate change.

Read full press release from the U.S. Interior Department and the State of California

 

Ivanpah plant faced emissions deadline

By David Danelski, The Press-Enterprise

The operators of a Mojave Desert solar power plant at the center of the Obama administration’s push to reduce carbon emissions faced an unusual task this week. They had to prove to state air quality officials that they were complying with California’s cap-to-trade program to get carbon polluters to reduce their emissions.

The Ivanpah solar plant in San Bernardino County makes electricity by focusing heat from thousands of mirrors onto water boilers mounted on top of three towers. Steam from the water then turns turbines that generate power. But the plant also needs to burn significant amounts of carbon-emitting natural gas to operate and thus is required to be in the state’s cap-and-trade program.

This week, Ivanpah and the state’s other carbon emitting power plants had to meet a Nov. 4 deadline to demonstrate how they had complied with the state’s cap and trade program this year and last, said Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, which oversees the cap-and-trade program. The power plants needed to show that they had reduced their carbon emissions by 10 percent or prove they had complied by buying pollution credits from other firms that had cut their own carbon emissions by more than 10 percent, Clegern said.

It is not clear exactly how the Ivanpah plant complied with cap and trade rules. The paperwork that plant operators submitted to the state is considered confidential, Clegern said. David Knox, a spokesman for NRG Energy, which operates the plant, said in an email that “Ivanpah complied through California carbon allowances and approved greenhouse gas offsets.”

Read full article in the Press-Enterprise

Related article: Desert plant has pollution problem – Oct. 16, 2015

Desert plant has pollution problem

By David Danelski, The Press-Enterprise

A solar power plant at the center of the Obama administration’s push to reduce America’s carbon footprint by using millions of taxpayer dollars to promote green energy has its own carbon pollution problem.

The Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert uses natural gas as a supplementary fuel. Data from the California Energy Commission show that the plant burned enough natural gas in 2014–its first year of operation–to emit more than 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nearly twice the pollution threshold for power plants or factories in California to be required to participate in the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions. The same amount of natural gas burned at a conventional power plant would have produced enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 17,000 homes–or roughly a quarter of the Ivanpah’s total electricity projection for 2014.

The plant’s operators say they are burning small amounts of natural gas in order to produce steam to jump-start the solar generating process. They said burning natural gas has always been part of the process. David Knox, a spokesman for NRG Energy, which runs the facility, said the plant still meets a state requirement that no more than 5 percent of its electricity production come from burning fossil fuel.

This rule, however, does not factor in the gas burned to heat water before enough steam is generated to produce electricity. That distinction is significant because it could affect the plant’s customers. Under state law, alternative energy plants can’t use more than 5 percent “nonrenewable” fuel for electricity generation. If a plant goes over that threshold, its electricity can’t count toward the state’s renewable energy goals.

Read full article in the Press-Enterprise

California’s desert deserves permanent protection

The Times Editorial Board, The Los Angeles Times

After more than six years of analysis, debate and draft proposals, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is close to issuing its final plan for nearly 10 million acres that it controls in the California desert, designating sections for recreation, industry, conservation and renewable energy production. If its most recent “preferred option” prevails, this will be a strong blueprint for the future, protecting the desert’s most pristine and environmentally significant land while making good use of perhaps its best natural resource — abundant sun for solar energy. But one thing has been missing in the BLM’s plan so far: a guarantee that the conserved lands will be protected permanently, as such lands have been everywhere else in the country.

Environmentalists expect the BLM’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan to set aside about a third of its acreage for conservation — 3.5 million acres of land in seven southern California counties. This portion of the acreage is home to iconic species such as the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep, and is the site of petroglyphs and other important historical and archaeological treasures. Slightly less than a tenth of the total land — close to 1 million acres — would be zoned for energy development, largely solar. A second phase of the desert plan, being developed by county and city governments for the areas over which they have jurisdiction, is expected to provide more land for energy development.

Read full editorial in the Los Angeles Times

NRG Spinoff Buys Into Giant California Solar Farm

By Jordan Blum, The Houston Chronicle

A spinoff of NRG Energy is buying a 25 percent interest in the massive new Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in southern California for $285 million.

NRG, which is based out of Houston and New Jersey, formed NRG Yield in 2013 to own a mix of renewable and conventional power generation assets.

NRG Yield is buying the solar farm interest from GE Financial Services. The deal also includes the assumption of $287.4 million in project debt. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, which opened in February, takes up six miles of land about 50 miles from the California-Arizona border.

Read full article in the Houston Chronicle

High-Tech Solar Projects Fail to Deliver

By Cassandra Sweet, The Wall Street Journal

Some costly high-tech solar power projects aren’t living up to promises their backers made about how much electricity they could generate.

Solar-thermal technology, which uses mirrors to capture the sun’s rays, was once heralded as the advance that would overtake old fashioned solar panel farms. But a series of missteps and technical difficulties threatens to make newfangled solar-thermal technology obsolete.

The $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar power project in California’s Mojave Desert is supposed to be generating more than a million megawatt-hours of electricity each year. But 15 months after starting up, the plant is producing just 40% of that, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department.

The sprawling facility uses “power towers”— huge pillars surrounded by more than 170,000 mirrors, each bigger than a king-size bed — to capture the sun’s rays and create steam. That steam is used to generate electricity.

Built by BrightSource Energy Inc. and operated by NRG Energy Inc., Ivanpah has been advertised as more reliable than a traditional solar panel farm, in part, because it more closely resembles conventional power plants that burn coal or natural gas. NRG co-owns the plant with Google Inc. and other investors.

Read full article in the Wall Street Journal

Solar project advances despite objections

By David Danelski, The Press-Enterprise

To the consternation of some environmentalists, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced Friday it had eliminated a quarter of the proposed Soda Mountain Solar project but will allow most of its construction on nearly 2,000 acres near Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. The Soda Mountain Solar Project, planned for public land in San Bernardino County next to the Mojave National Preserve, has been opposed by environmentalists for years.

The Bureau of Land Management approved the final environmental study for the project, a key step in the process that allows the project to receive final approval in 30 days.

The BLM reduced the project’s size from 4 square miles to 3, but said the smaller footprint still would allow the developers to install enough photovoltaic panels to power an estimated 79,000 homes, helping California to meet its renewable energy goals.

A press statement by the land management agency said the now 264 MW project is being made smaller to address concerns about its effect on the bighorn sheep that travel through the area about 6 miles from Baker. Eliminating an array of solar panels originally planned for a site north of Interstate 15 also protects scenic vistas and ensures that the project will not be seen from most parts of the nearby Mojave National Preserve.

Read full article in the Press Enterprise