The Ivanpah Solar Project: Getting the Facts Straight
On February 5th, the Los Angeles Times published an article by Julie Cart titled, “Sacrificing the desert to save the Earth,” which has several inaccuracies and failed to include many key points. BrightSource is proud of our efforts to help put people back to work building our nation’s clean energy future, while helping to solve the world’s most pressing environmental concerns. Ivanpah is delivering on solar’s promise.
Below is a point-by-point correction to inaccuracies found within the story, and an overview of key facts omitted.
The LA Times says: “Even if only a few of the proposed projects are built, hundreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear. Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created.”
The Facts: This is simply not true. The story grossly over-estimates the impact of utility-scale solar on public lands. The California Energy Commission has approved 11 planned solar plants on public lands in California – the equivalent of approximately sixty-six square miles. To put this into context, the Mojave Desert is 25,000 square miles. Even if all of these plants are built, it would represent .26 percent of the entire Mojave Desert.
It is false to state that all of the areas used for large-scale will be scraped. Contrary to the article, only a small fraction of the land at Ivanpah is graded, and the rest allows vegetation to remain in place.
Lastly, Ivanpah and many other projects do not require new transmission to be built.
LA Times says: “The federal government has furnished more public property to this cause than it has for oil and gas exploration over the last decade — 21 million acres, more than the area of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties put together.”
The Facts: This is patently false. The federal government has dedicated nearly 2,000 times more acreage to oil and gas leases than to solar development. In 2010 the Bureau of Land Management approved nine large-scale solar projects, with a total generating capacity of 3,682 megawatts, representing approximately 40,000 acres . In contrast, in 2010, the Bureau of Land Management processed more than 5,200 applications gas and oil leases, and issued 1,308 leases, for a total of 3.2 million acres. Currently, 38.2 million acres of onshore public lands and an additional 36.9 million acres of offshore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico are under lease for oil and gas development, exploration and production.
The LA Times says: “Capturing a free and clean source of energy is not cheap. Solar is the Cadillac of energy, with capital costs and other market factors making it three times more expensive than natural gas or coal.”
The Facts: The story ignores recent trends and greatly exaggerates the cost of solar energy.
• The cost of solar has decreased by nearly 50 percent over the past couple of years and is expected to continue to fall as next-generation technologies – like the one used at Ivanpah – are commercialized.
• According to VoteSolar, utility contracts for solar power are being signed in the U.S. at prices competitive with new coal and natural gas plants and well below the cost of new nuclear. Utilities in California, the nation’s largest solar market, have secured contracts for over 4.4 gigawatts of solar at prices below new natural gas generation .
The LA Times says: “Ratepayers’ bills will be as much as 50% higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the state Public Utilities Commission.”
The Facts: False. The story greatly exaggerates cost impacts to utility customers by as much as five times, and ignores the value of solar as a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices. Just last week, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a report highlighting how the falling cost of renewable energy is leading to low prices for utilities far below that stated in this article, with costs not only having been significantly reduced to date, but with the “prospect that prices in future years will be lower still” . The study found that:
• In 2020, the total statewide electricity expenditures of achieving a 33% RPS is projected to be 10.2% higher compared to an all-gas scenario.
• Even if California makes no further investments in renewable energy, this analysis projects that average electricity costs per kilowatt-hour will rise by 16.7% in 2020 compared to 2008 in real terms.
• Aside from the up-front capital costs required to build a solar plant, the fuel is free for the life of the plant, serving as a price hedge against volatile fuel sources that can skyrocket in price, adding instability to utility customers’ rates.
The LA Times says: “BrightSource’s Ivanpah facility is expected to employ 1,000 workers at the height of construction.”
The Facts: The story underestimates the jobs created and overlooks the impacts of these jobs on local communities and to the US economy. At the peak of construction, there will be approximately 1,600 workers on site. Under a project labor agreement signed by Bechtel, the project engineering, procurement and construction contractor, these jobs are largely coming from union trade members in California’s desert communities.
The total amount of construction worker wages will exceed $250 million and provide $300 million in state and local tax revenues.
The majority of the project’s supply chain is domestically sourced from 17 states in the continental U.S.
The LA Times includes a quote from a project opponent that says: “The public would be up in arms if someone was building Disneyland next to a national park.”
The Facts: Ironically, this statement ignores the fact that there are actually three casinos – one including a small theme park, complete with a roller coaster- within sight of the Ivanpah project, as well as a 36-hole golf course adjacent to the project. Additionally, there is a natural gas power plant located in the valley. The Ivanpah site itself already includes a natural gas pipeline and existing transmission lines.
Ivanpah is a world-class solar project whose innovative technology is playing a critical role in helping our state meet its legislative goals to produce 33% of its energy from qualifying renewable energy resources by 2020.
The LA Times says: “The Federal Aviation Administration has voiced concerns about the heat plume rising from the Ivanpah towers and about the installation’s possible radar interference.”
The Facts: All potential project impacts are considered and reviewed during the permitting process. The CEC issued a permit based on a comprehensive review including input from all stakeholders such as the FAA and found that the project would not have a negative impact.
ADDITIONAL FACTS ABOUT THE IVANPAH PROJECT
Fact: Ivanpah is a model for environmental stewardship
The project partners – BrightSource, NRG and Google – have taken precedent-setting steps to ensure that activities on-site protect and preserve the natural landscape and species. Today, the Ivanpah environmental protection and impact mitigation investments total more than $50 million.
The project is employing a low impact design that allows for vegetation to grow within the solar field. Poles holding mirrors are placed directly into the ground, avoiding areas of sensitive habitat and avoiding the use of concrete pads. Grading only occurs on common roads and construction areas, and at the base of the tower.
Additionally, there is a native plant nursery on site. Those plants identified as sensitive are moved to this area and cared for by leading plant biologists.
We have also invested greatly to protect species on site. In addition to arranging for the purchase of more than 7,000 acres in conservation habitat, we have also created a model desert tortoise Head Start program. To date, the program has successfully cared for 117 juvenile tortoises and birthed 53 total juvenile tortoises. Juvenile tortoises typically have less than a 5% chance of survival in the wild, so this program is significantly increasing tortoise survival rates. Many more tortoises will be returned to the wild than would have survived in the wild if Ivanpah had not been built.
Fact: The Ivanpah project uses little water.
Ivanpah is using a closed-loop dry-cooling technology, instead of water to cool its plants. While dry-cooling represents an additional cost, it also means that the project will use only five percent of the water that would be used by a plant using wet cooling.
Fact: Ivanpah helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improves air quality.
Ivanpah will produce enough clean energy for more than 140,000 homes and displace 10 million tons of greenhouse gases over its 25-year life. It will also result in dramatically improved air quality compared to fossil fuel alternatives. The International Energy Administration announced that, on our present course, climate change will be irreversible by the year 2017. The public and private sector need to work together to do more, not fewer, of these large renewable projects.
Fact: The Ivanpah project underwent an extensive environmental review process.
The Ivanpah project went through an extensive three-year joint environmental review process by staff at the federal Bureau of Land Management and the California Energy Commission. Using stringent guidelines under the federal National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality act, Ivanpah’s review was extremely transparent and deliberative, with many thousands of pages of analysis developed by the California Energy Commission.
Fact: Ivanpah is helping California meet its clean energy goals.
California requires that all investor-owned utilities generate 33% of their power from qualifying renewable sources by 2020. By producing reliable and cost-effective clean energy, Ivanpah, and other projects like it, are central to meeting these goals.
Fact: Ivanpah brings together world-class partners.
In addition to using BrightSource’s solar thermal technology, the project is majority owned by NRG – one of the nation’s leading independent power producers – and Google. Bechtel, one of the world’s largest engineering, procurement and construction contractor, is building the project.
Fact: The federal government is playing a critical role driving innovation in the energy industry.
By providing loan guarantees and investment tax credits, the federal government is helping to accelerate innovation and bring clean energy technologies to market by cost-effectively attracting private capital. It is estimated that every $1 provided in Department of Energy loan guarantees attracts $13 in private investment.