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Another Solyndra?

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The Obama administration is at again. Not content with the scandal over the failure of Solyndra, on September 28 the Department of Energy (DOE), guaranteed loans to the Tonopah Solar Energy project ($737 million), and the Mesquite Solar 1 project ($337 million). Let’s examine these two recipients of DOE loan guarantees.

Tonopah Solar Energy

From Tonopah’s web site, we learn several things:

  • It is a wholly owned subsidiary of SolarReserve
  • It proposes (probably with the $737 million loan guarantee from DOE, but it doesn’t say) to build, own, and operate the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project.
  • It will create (it claims) 400-600 construction jobs, and 45 permanent jobs.
  • It will use liquid salt to capture solar energy to drive electricity-producing turbines.
  • It will use technology from SolarReserve, made primarily in the US.

Tonopah Solar Energy proposes to build and operate the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. Crescent Dunes will have the tallest molten salt tower in the world.

From the SolarReserve web site, technology section, we learn:

  • SolarReserve says it will build power plants that are solar power towers, which focuses the sun’s energy with 17,500 mirrors (called heliostats) in a two square mile field.
  • The sun’s energy melts salt, an older technology (see Solar Project), then is stored and/or used to generate electricity.
  • SolarReserve says it can produce electricity at lower prices using this technology.
  • SolarReserve proposes to use United Technologies Corporation proven technology.

And now we learn that Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) brother-in-law, Ronald Pelosi, is an executive at Pacific Corporate Group, a partner of SolarReserve. Coincidence?  It’s worth noting that, when she was speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi often spoke of the culture of corruption in Washington DC.

The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project will be located 14 miles northwest of Tonopah, Nevada, on land leased from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The electricity produced, SolarReserve claims, will be capable of powering more than 43,000 homes with this technology (PDF).

Mesquite Solar 1

A little research tells us that the Mesquite Solar 1 project, to be located near Phoenix, AZ, is owned by Sempra Energy. We also learn that Suntech will provide 800.000 photo-voltaic (PV) panels to the project, and that Zachary Holdings, Inc. has been chosen for the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) for the site. The Mesquite Solar 1 project will be one of the first PV power plants to use US-manufactured, transformerless, liquid cooled inverter technology.

Andrew Beebe, chief commercial officer of Suntech, said that with Sempra, Zachry and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) involved, Mesquite Solar 1 will be built. Sempra already has a 20 year power purchase agreement with PG&E. Scheduled for completion in 2013, Mesquite Solar 1 will be one of the largest PV solar installations in North America, projected to create no permanent jobs. The project is supposed to provide 300 construction jobs.

The questions I must ask are: If Sempra has all of the above technology, facilities, partners, and money in place, why does it need a DOE loan guarantee? And when the construction jobs are gone, what new green jobs will be created?

Spain — Been There, Done That

Spain’s solar project, a 2009 study at King Juan Carlos University found, spent more than half a million euros for each green job created since 2000. Further, the solar PV industry alone received subsidies of €2.6 billion in 2010. And, we learn that Spain is using the same technology proposed for both the Tonopah and Mesquite projects. But Spain ran out of money and ended solar power subsidies.

DOE Loan Guarantees

DOE has issued loans, loan guarantees, or conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling nearly $40 billion to support more than 40 clean energy projects, including several of the world’s largest solar generation facilities, three geothermal projects, the world’s largest wind farm, and the nation’s first new nuclear power plant in three decades. So? Will the Tonopah Solar Project and the Mesquite Solar 1 project be profitable, or will they be another Solyndra, another hole into which taxpayer money will be poured with little or nothing to show? Spain could not make it work without massive subsidies that it had to end. Why does Obama think it will work here?

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  • Maurice

    WB – great article. You raise some good questions.

    Side note: the Treasury loaned Solyndra $535mil. The Katrina people are still waiting for their money.

  • Bill Woods

    Solyndra was a factory, that made panels that generated expensive power — for which there was little demand. Crescent Dunes and Mesquite Solar are power plants, that will generate expensive power — which utilities have already contracted to buy. That’s a big difference! If they can be built on budget the taxpayers will come out okay. (The ratepayers, now…)

  • Cannonshop

    The Crescent Dunes and Mesquite projects, if they can operate at a profit, will make returns. The odds of operating at a profit are pretty good, assuming that the work building them is better than half-assed.

    As Mr. Woods pointed out, they already have customers, and if the work is done well, they can run lower cost and thus, keep up with changes in the supply/demand curve.

    Solyndra was, from the start equal parts snake oil and orbital pastry (pie-in-the-sky).

    The bigger problem is the perception of graft-having close relatives of congresscritters who control the purse involved isn’t a good sign, and if the projects (either one) go into overruns, the perception will be all that matters.

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    So they have loaned out $40B and you only account for $1B in the article. Does your lack of coverage mean you are okay with the companies that received the remainder?

  • http://rwno.limewebs.com Warren Beatty

    Mr.Woods, please explain WHY PG&E customers should pay higher prices for electricity. And you raise a very big IF question concerning building within the budget.

    Cannonshop, you also raise a big IF question about profitability. If Spain could not make solar energy profitable, and had to subsidize it, what makes you think it will be different here? BTW, Crescent Dunes and Tonopah propose to use the same technology as in Spain.

    El Bicho, no!! I simply reported what DOE has said. The other $39B will, in all probability, be spent on other “orbital pastry” projects, leaving us taxpayers holding the bag once again.

  • Igor

    You people really should look at how that $40billion subsidy is distributed, since most of it is for old projects like ¨clean coal¨ (a boondoggle to give cash to coal companies), ¨biofuel¨ (which is the widely discredited corn-alcohol subsidy, a boondoggle to give cash to agri-business), and of course, that old favorite, nuclear energy, which plugs on regardless of the March 11 experience in Japan, which might have caused normal people to change their plans.

    Instead of that superficial ¨energy.com¨ website, I suggest the DOE´s much better information site at EIA: EIA subsidy, which reveals that little of that $40B is for new energy (except, of course, the money wasted on the myth of ¨Clean Coal¨).