Burn, Baby, Burn

The Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave desert is taking heat for frying so many birds with its 5.5 miles of garage door-sized solar reflectors, but it turns out that they have some other problems, as well: the heliostats direct sunlight onto three towers topped with water tanks, which turns the water to steam, which runs the generators to provide electricity to over 100,000 homes. How positively Green&Sustainable! The latest problem, quite apart from the bird issues, is that – believe it or not – the sun doesn’t shine all the time!

So in order to keep the water in the towers hot, the plant burns natural gas. You can’t make this stuff up.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating & Bird-Frying System in California, touted as the world’s largest “green energy” solar plant, has recently filed an application with the State of California to increase the carbon pollution emissions it generates from dirty fossil fuels to 94,749 tons of greenhouse gases per year, a 59% increase above the greenhouse emissions currently permitted by California.

If the petition is approved, the “solar” plant would be allowed to use a quantity of natural gas that would have been enough to supply about 35,000 typical California households. That’s 35% of the 100,000 households the entire project is expected to power – generated from fossil fuels!

In the process, due to the nature of the boilers they use, emissions would equal the annual tailpipe output of some 16,500 standard automobiles. This “solar” plant cost $2.2 billion to build, whereas a gas turbine power plant producing double the MW output of the “solar” plant runs around $630 million to build – and it doesn’t fry birds that attempt to fly over the site.

Moreover, that gas turbine plant yields significantly fewer particulate and other emissions than the Green&Sustainable Ivanpah plant does when it’s burning natural gas. It probably all comes down to simple semantics: their definition of Green&Sustainable just differs from yours.

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About maxredlines

experience: biology, zoology, psychology. authored/co-authored papers appearing in peer-reviewed scientific journals, as well as numerous professional proceedings. authored articles appearing in computer-oriented publications. featured in publications ranging from books to New Yorker magazine to television.
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