More Blues for the Greens

Now matter how many greenbacks the government throws at “green” energy, everyone ends up feeling blue. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal updated the story we’ve been covering for a long time now about the dismal performance of the Brightsource solar energy array in the California desert:

High Tech Solar Projects Fail to Deliver

$2.2 Billion California Project Generates 40% of Expected Electricity

By Cassandra Sweet

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. . .

It gets better:

One big miscalculation was that the power plant requires far more steam to run smoothly and efficiently than originally thought, according to a document filed with the California Energy Commission. Instead of ramping up the plant each day before sunrise by burning one hour’s worth of natural gas to generate steam, Ivanpah needs more than four times that much help from fossil fuels to get the plant humming every morning. Another unexpected problem: not enough sun. Weather predictions for the area underestimated the amount of cloud cover that has blanketed Ivanpah since it went into service in 2013.

Great: the place needs more water than thought. And California has lots of extra water lying around these days. And it takes fossil fuels to get the thing started up each day? I guess the carbon footprint of this plant is a little larger than advertised.

Oh, and speaking of heavy footprints, let’s not forget the wildlife mortality:

The Ivanpah plant was delayed several months and had millions of dollars in cost overruns because of wildlife protections for the endangered Desert Tortoise. Once built, U.S. government biologists found the plant’s superheated mirrors were killing birds. In April, biologists working for the state estimated that 3,500 birds died at Ivanpah in the span of a year, many of them burned alive while flying through a part of the solar installment where air temperatures can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

What the heck, while we’re on the subject of epic-greenfail, let’s not overlook this recent story from the Washington Post:

How Europe’s Climate Policies Led to More U.S. Trees Being Cut Down

By Joby Warrick

OAK CITY, N.C. — For the sake of a greener Europe, thousands of American trees are falling each month in the forests outside this cotton-country town. . .

Soaring demand for this woody fuel has led to the construction of more than two dozen pellet factories in the Southeast in the past decade, along with special port facilities in Virginia and Georgia where mountains of pellets are loaded onto Europe-bound freighters. European officials promote the trade as part of the fight against climate change. Burning “biomass” from trees instead of coal, they say, means fewer greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But that claim is increasingly coming under challenge. A number of independent experts and scientific studies — including a new analysis released Tuesday — are casting doubt on a key argument used to justify the cutting of Southern forests to make fuel. In reality, these scientists say, Europe’s appetite for wood pellets could lead to more carbon pollution for decades to come, while also putting some of the East Coast’s most productive wildlife habitats at risk.

Time to cue one of Jon Stewart’s greatest takedowns on how our “energy-independent future” is powered by fossil fuels. (Worth waiting through the ad: I show this to students, and it saves a lot of time reviewing the four-decade folly of what we’ve called “energy policy.”)

Not to worry. I’m sure poop-powered vehicles are just around the corner. Oh, wait—you’re kidding me!