Promoted as the future of renewable clean solar energy, the Ivanpah electric generating plant has less to boast about than first thought. With three massive towers rising 495 feet high and 352,000 mirrors focusing sunlight toward the tops of the towers to boil water with solar energy, Ivanpah is far less environmentally friendly if one considers its carbon emissions.
Co-owned by Google, NRG Energy and BrightSource Energy, Ivanpah is located in the sun-drenched Mojave Desert and has been hyped as the first of a new generation of renewable clean energy plants for the future. Unfortunately, it has not been the shining solution of green energy touted by President Obama when he said, “We’re putting Americans to work producing clean, homegrown American energy.”
The problem is that Ivanpah uses natural gas to pre-heat the water to make steam more quickly. This results in the production of nearly twice the threshold of CO2 allowed for power plants in California. In fact, this renewable green energy solution is producing so much CO2 that it is now required to participate in the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions.
Power produced at Ivanpah provides electricity for 140,000 homes with its 377 megawatts of generating capacity. Sadly, it also emits 101,200 pounds of CO2 in the process. Compare this to the thirteen dams on the Columbia River that produce a total of 25,579 megawatts of power for 9,508,000 homes and produce zero CO2. That is 670 percent more power with zero CO2.
However, there are other environmental problems that need to be addressed. Not only are there excessive CO2 emissions, the concentrated sunlight has the side effect of frying passing birds. The solar flux from the mirrors reaches almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the towers, and according to The Desert Sun, 3,504 birds were killed the first year alone.1 Killing migratory birds, even by accident, is illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Ivanpah consultants admit at least 898 birds the first year were killed around the plant.
While oil spills can kill birds, they are rather infrequent events. Birds killed from solar and wind-generating plants will continue indefinitely. Yet other carbon-based power plants are seen as being greedy and harming nature while wind and solar power is exempt from the same criticism.
But the problems of Ivanhah do not end here. Not only does the plant emit excessive CO2 and fry birds, but it is also unreliable. Solar energy plants need sunlight, which is often not available. Many solar facilities try to mitigate this problem by developing massive battery back-up power. Unfortunately, Ivanpah has no backup and thus is yet another unreliable green energy source on the grid.
Built with a $1.6 billion loan guaranteed by the Department of Energy, Ivanpah is just another attempt to undermine proven methods of clean energy such as hydroelectric and nuclear energy. It fails to do what it claims — provide clean energy. Instead Ivanpah is emitting 101,200 pounds of CO2 annually, thus proving that it is not so squeaky green.