Debate Forum: 11/18

Debate Center: Ivan-ho! (or, another government bailout?)

By Sarah Sidlow

Illustration: Jed Helmers

The 3,500 acre Ivanpah solar electric generating plant, which is the largest solar plant in the world, is allegedly in financial straits. Owned by Google and renewable energy behemoth NRG, the plant, which is located in the Mojave Desert southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, uses 173,500 heliostats, essentially large mirrors, to turn the sun’s energy into electricity.

But, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the groundbreaking plant produced only about a quarter of the power its investors expected, just under 255,000 megawatt-hours of electricity, from January through August – far short of the million megawatt-hours promised.

The problem: the sun didn’t shine as often as studies predicted it would, according to an NRG spokesman.

The $2.2 billion project was built in part with the help of a controversial $1.6 billion federal construction loan, granted to the California investors in 2013. This was part of a net $18.5 billion dispersed by the Obama administration in renewable energy grants. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal began reporting the separate Ivanpah entities responsible for repaying that construction loan had requested and were granted extensions. Now it has been reported Ivanpah is requesting a $539 million federal grant from the U.S. Treasury to help pay off a portion of that same federal loan Ivanpah owes the U.S. Department of Energy. The applications were submitted to the Treasury’s 1603 cash grant program, a stimulus provision that allows renewable energy projects to be reimbursed for 30 percent of their costs in the form of a grant.

NRG argues this request is a reasonable one, falling well within the available government programs designed to help develop and expand the use of clean energy. The investors claim the plant will produce 1,000 new jobs and cite the long-term benefits of a clean and sustainable energy future, beginning with the ability to power up to 140,000 California homes with solar energy. This is, proponents say, a natural step in the advancement of any new and worthwhile technology, and American investors must be patient in order to move closer to energy independence.

Opponents of this alleged bailout contend U.S. taxpayers, who contributed funds to the initial $1.6 billion construction loan, should not be additionally responsible for shouldering the cost of a federal grant, particularly when it’s not likely they will see any of the revenue returned to them if and when the company rights itself. Rather, they support the idea of the investors themselves assuming the responsibility of paying back the loan that was granted to them by the federal government.

Moreover, some environmentalists have turned against plants such as Ivanpah entirely, deeming them threats to wildlife. They claim the large mirrors used to concentrate reflected sunlight present a hazard for birds, who see the mirrors as water, only to get roasted by the 800º F solar beams. The California Energy Commission determined Ivanpah would kill up to 28,000 birds a year.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

The Ivanpah solar plant received a $1.6 billion federal construction loan, but it produced only a quarter of the energy it promised. Should it now receive a half-billion dollar federal bailout?

Debate Right: This gets tiresome

By Marianne Stanley

We all know how the Ivanpah Solar Plant is on everyone’s minds (not) and tongues (nope) these days. Actually, the Ivanpah story is just more muckraking by the Radical Right, who stay awake nights trying to find any little thing they can in an ongoing, ever-so-tiresome effort to trash anything that smacks of “liberal,” whether it be an errant twitch of the president’s eye or something to do with the environment. 

Every one of the “news” sources used for this topic are far-right-wing sites – The Daily Caller, Fox News (hard to even put those two words together with a straight face), WND (formerly WorldNetDaily) and the Wall Street Journal, which is now owned by none other than Rupert Murdoch, the ruthless billionaire whose news organizations hacked the phones of celebrities and Britain’s royal family.

For Americans to stay up to date and well informed, as the citizens of any true democracy must be, we must have access to facts vs. spin; to newsworthy events vs. hype. To do this, avoiding all major news networks is imperative since each and every one is in corporate hands and devoid of true journalists and journalism. Journalistic news stories are now only found on independent online sites like Reader Supported News (RSN) and AlterNet. There, with only support from readers who are sick and tired of being spoon-fed the daily drivel of the corporate media, we can find accurate reporting on relevant news topics.  Ignorance is the core problem in this country today.  Note that I didn’t say “stupidity” since the issue isn’t IQ; the issue is Americans either missing accurate information or getting false data on key topics.  

But back to Ivanpah. This scandal-mongering from the Right, starting with the Solyndra “scandal-which-wasn’t,” carefully leaves out the salient fact that the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Renewable Energy Loan Guarantee Program is there to save our asses or at least slow down our extermination from the bloated corpse of today’s fossil fuel industry. The Washington Post, for which Amazon owner Jeff Bezos paid $250 million in cash for last year, has relentlessly and dishonestly pointed to Solyndra as proof of widespread waste, failure, fraud and corruption in this program. Nowhere can you read the fact that, even though the DOE’s program was never meant to turn a profit and Congress set aside $10 billion to cover its projected losses, the Renewable Energy Loan Guarantee Program has not only collected $810 million in interest payments on its loans so far but has even landed in the black with $30 million in profits and a loan default rate of only 2.28 percent. 

Obama’s green technology program was meant to create jobs, cut reliance on foreign oil and give the U.S. a leadership role in combating climate change, but it’s been outrageously turned into a political football, filled with factual errors. Fox demonized the Energy Department’s loan programs incessantly and all media outlets continue to ignore the DOE’s role in the success of Tesla Motors, the electric car company that is enjoying stunning success and public support.

Congress created this loan program under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, never thinking it would be a moneymaker. The program was specifically created to speed up finding clean energy technologies as the world rushes to the brink of disaster – a disaster of our own making. People need to hear this. They need to know the “media coverage” we get on many issues today is pure propaganda. We are wise to always look further, especially on the pivotal issues of our time like climate change, our growing police state and the erosion of our rights.

Ivanpah, the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world, just opened last February. Despite its newness, the hounds are nipping at its heels, looking for any vulnerability. Never mind that the DOE program has a higher success rate than that of venture capitalists. Never mind that megalithic corporations are eating Americans for dinner but still receive more in the way of government help, tax incentives, rebates and bailouts than any program set up for the public good. Pay attention and you’ll see the rabid dogs of corporate media are just there to bring down prey for the American public to feast on, always in the form of actions or programs aimed at easing pain and injustice among our countrymen and always based on fear-mongering and B.S. that is designed to make us believe the lies of our corporate and political puppet masters. 

Ivanpah is not receiving a “bailout” – that’s what our criminal banks got at our expense, remember? No, Ivanpah merely was able to utilize a grant provision in the program in order to offset 30 percent of its costs. What they have done is not only legal, it’s laudable. That’s called success, folks, not failure and not an abuse of taxpayer funds.

Fox and all the other non-news “news” outlets need to stop demonizing anything non-neocon and everything-Obama. They are taking down our country piece by piece. We all need to wake up, pull together and disempower the real bogeyman – the 1 percent in industry and government who laugh all the way to the bank while suffering and pain grows among the American population.  Government programs like this one need to be expanded until no American is jobless, hungry, homeless or hopeless, ever again. Want to save the taxpayers money? Stop our fabricated “wars.” 

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at

Debate Left: How do you spell boondoggle?

By David H. Landon

How do you spell boondoggle? Well, in President Obama’s world of green energy subsidies, it’s spelled Ivanpah – as in the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. This new green energy facility has already received a $1.6 billion dollar construction loan from the federal government. Unfortunately, the project has been a huge disappointment in both the production of energy and in the ability to repay its federal loan. After producing only a quarter of the green energy promised, the operators of this Mojave Desert thermal energy farm are making the excuse that the problem with energy production was: the sun didn’t cooperate. I’m not a scientist, but I’m going out on a limb here. If your project, which is located in California’s Mojave Desert, can’t get enough sunshine to make your business model work, I would respectfully submit there is a problem with your business model.

It gets even worse. The owners of Ivanpah, primarily Google and NRG Energy, are coming back to the federal government asking for a federal grant in the amount of $539 million dollars. They want an Obama-style taxpayer bailout. They argue they qualify under a program, which gives Department of Energy grants of up to 30 percent of construction costs for renewable energy projects. Without the grant, they will be unable to repay the installment payment on the $1.6 billion dollar loan.

There’s more good news. Ivanpah is a solar thermal plant, which means it’s using outdated technology. Imagine 300,000 mirrors spread across the desert floor, each the size of a garage door. The mirrors reflect solar rays up onto three solar processing towers, each standing 40 stories above the desert floor. The water inside the towers is heated by the concentrated solar towers, creating steam that turns turbines, which, in turn, creates electricity.

While Ivanpah goes from its complicated sunrays to heated water to steam to electricity, the industry has moved past this complicated multistep technology. There will probably be no more such facilities constructed as the technology is now using photovoltaic solar power. This system consists of solar panels absorbing (rather than reflecting) sun rays and directly converting those rays into electricity. This eliminates the less efficient process of water to steam to turning turbines to electricity. It will also save the lives of approximately 28,000 birds, who are barbequed annually by the concentrated solar rays which reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The workers at Ivanpah call the birds that fly into the mirrors, which they mistake for water, “streamers,” as it describes the trails of smoke that follow the crashing birds to the ground.

Why is the type of technology important? It’s important for a couple of reasons. First, the industry is moving away from the solar thermal model. Here we have Ivanpah, unable to produce the amount of energy promised and yet asking for a bailout. Secondly, this is another example of the Obama administration acting like cheerleaders for the renewable energy industry rather than doing their due diligence in determining the viability of a particular renewable energy project. In this instance, the Obama energy program pumped $1.6 billion dollars into an unproductive technology.

How did this come to pass? Partnering with Google and NRG Energy is a group known as BrightSource. The group’s current chairman testified BrightSource appealed directly to the White House in securing the $1.6 billion dollar loan. The list of BrightSource investors includes many top 2008 Obama campaign donors. Among those on the list are VantagePoint Partners (Robert Kennedy’s group), Google, Inc. (#5 top Obama donor with $814,540) and Morgan Stanley (#19 top Obama donor with $512,232). Then there’s the interesting saga of BrightSource Chairman John Bryson. After helping craft the stimulus plan, from which Ivanpah received its $1.6 billion dollar loan, he became Obama’s Secretary of Commerce (until he was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident and resigned).

At the same time he was promoting questionable renewable energy projects, Obama continued his assault on the coal industry. While promoting sustainable and renewable energy is a worthy goal, the president’s war on coal is literally shutting down power plants and driving up energy costs. His anti-coal/anti-oil obsession has dramatically slowed our recovery through decisions by the administration, such as not supporting the Keystone Pipeline. Unfortunately for the economy, his obsession with stopping coal and oil is being pursued before an alternative is market ready.

Ivanpah is Solyndra on steroids. We have, in the decision to give Ivanpah a $1.6 billion dollar loan, “crony capitalism” at its finest. Replacing both the market place and solid science with “who donated to our campaign” has become this administration’s approach to developing an energy program. If the White House worried about the “optics” and political fallout that resulted from the Solyndra crash and burn, then they had better make the difficult decision to walk away from Ivanpah. It’s the wrong project and the wrong science. Let’s have no more money for Ivanpah.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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