Solar Energy Gives Investors a Shock

Ivanpah solar energySolar energy is full of surprises.

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The operators of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System were recently surprised by state air quality regulators, who informed them that the $2.2 billion solar energy plant is a carbon polluter.

Solar energy doesn’t emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s the whole point of California’s increasingly mandatory and wildly expensive push to replace fossil fuels with solar and wind energy.

But as it turns out, the sun does not shine at night. This is what happens when governors don’t do any research before they sign legislation.

The Ivanpah plant is located on five square miles of the Mojave Desert near the Nevada border. You can see it from Interstate 15 — it’s that alien-looking landscape of shiny circles surrounding three skeletal towers topped with black-and-white capsules.

The shiny circles are hundreds of thousands of mirrors that aim sunlight at boilers mounted on the towers. The sun boils the water, and the steam rotates turbines, which generate electricity.

But only during the day.

At night, and on cloudy days, Ivanpah burns natural gas to keep the water hot.

And that attracted the attention of the California Air Resources Board, which gave Ivanpah’s operators until Nov. 4 to comply with the state’s cap-and-trade program by cutting the plant’s carbon emissions 10 percent or purchasing pollution credits from somebody who has cut carbon emissions someplace else.

Ivanpah, a “clean energy” plant built with $1.6 billion in federal loan guarantees and $600 million in federal tax credits, now has to pay for being a “polluter” in California.

Solar panelsAnd that’s not the only surprise in the solar business. Some people who invested tens of thousands of dollars in rooftop solar panels have been disappointed by the revenue from net metering — the money they’re supposed to receive for selling surplus electricity back to the grid.

West Hills residents Barbara and Bob Schoenburg are beyond annoyed that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is holding more than $1,000 of their money. The Schoenburgs’ solar panel array, for which they paid about $20,000 after rebates and credits, consistently generates more electricity than they use. But LADWP will not write them a check. Instead, the credit on their bill just grows, year after year. It can’t even be used to pay the rest of the DWP bill for water, taxes or sewer and sanitation charges.

Here’s the surprise: California’s net-metering law, which requires utilities to pay their customers for surplus electricity generated by solar panels, applies to all utilities in the state with one exception — the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Yet some customers of Southern California Edison are equally aggravated. Hidden Hills resident Dr. Daniel Gross invested more than $20,000 in solar panels and was surprised when the installer told him the electricity generated by them could not be used to power his own home.

The electricity from the rooftop panels flows to the grid, and the home is powered with electricity drawn from the grid, as before. Once a year, the utility settles up. “The rate they pay you is markedly less than the rate you pay them,” Gross said, adding that he’d like to install batteries and be off the grid altogether.

“I thought I was doing something good for the country, for the community, for the economy,” he said, “and instead I’m a peripheral provider of electricity that Southern California Edison sells to make money.”

Southern California Edison is concerned about losing customers like Gross. In its most recent quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, SCE disclosed that future revenues could be negatively affected by “possible customer bypass or departure” if new technologies, government subsidies or higher rates made self-generation “economically viable.”

LADWP made a similar disclosure in a recent statement to bond buyers. Self-generation was listed as one of the factors that may “materially affect the operating and financial position of the department.”

SCE and other investor-owned utilities are now asking the California Public Utilities Commission to lower the rate they have to pay their power-generating customers for surplus electricity. And they say the CPUC must approve new fees on solar customers to prevent the existing system from collapsing due to declining revenue.

Gross has no patience for their argument. “That’s the same concern the wagon wheel makers had,” he said.

Maybe that will be the final surprise. If California lawmakers and regulators continue to pretend there’s no longer any need for fossil fuels, wagons could make a comeback.


  1. Wagons?
    Only if they’re propelled by non-polluting means – which rules out horses, oxen, or other animals that emit methane producing substances.

  2. Solar never has been, isn’t now and never will be a viable solid, reliable source of power. It is far to unreliable, inefficient, intermittent, variable, and costly. California is losing the battle using solar power and needs to shut it down and dismantle it now, roof-top and utility-scale also.

    • Solar works fine If it is done right. It just needs to be used in conjunction with wind and batteries on separate housing. You need the batteries to store power so you have it when the sun does not shine and wind power for the same reason. The problem is when they try to use it for wholesale production of electricity.

      • The only viable, workable, solution to eliminating “carbon based” energy generation is NUCLEAR!
        The Enviros have backed themselves into a box-canyon, and can’t figure out how to take their blinders off to find their way out.

        • Except for one teeny tiny nitpicking Nuclear problem:
          55 years ago, our science teachers taught us how electricity was generated from Nuclear, with one issue to be ‘solved by the engineers in 10 years’ – how & where to store the Radioactive waste fuel rods & retired concrete buildings and steel boilers.

          Ha! Ontario plans to store the ‘slightly’ radioactive stuff 4500 ft under Lake Huron, the source of ground water in Southern Ontario
          (‘slightly’ = stored for 10,000 years).

          Where & how to store the highly radioactive stuff for 300,000 years?

  3. Why does none of this surprise me?

  4. Demon solar and wind are worse that the most venal defense contractor padding the charges or farmers paid for not growing crops. Tens of thousands of dollars for an installation when the inverters last less than ten years and the panels not much longer, requiring new capital investments. Unless and until the technology radically improves and the costs really drop, we need to cut off the addiction to ratepayer and taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy hucksters looking to line their pockets. The jig is up and the hoax has been exposed.

  5. What did you say? The laws of physics can’t be repealed. Try telling a “progressive” that.

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