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Clean Power Ivanpah CSP plant

Published on February 13th, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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Controversial Ivanpah Solar Power Plant Sets Record, Settles Controversy

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February 13th, 2014 by
 
You’re going to be hearing a lot about this one: today, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is officially dedicating the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System. The massive new facility, now up and running at Ivanpah Dry Lake in California after a series of successful shakedown tests, has set a record as the world’s largest CSP (concentrating solar power) plant of its type.

While the success of the Ivanpah CSP plant gains the US a claim to fame in the hotly competitive global solar tech market, here at home the massive project has gained notoriety for the whopping $1.6 billion loan guarantee it received from the Department of Energy’s much maligned (at least, by the usual maligners) Loans Programs Office.

Ivanpah CSP plant

Ivanpah CSP plant courtesy of NRG.

We’ve also been keeping a close eye on the 392 MW project because of its A-list array of developers including the company NRG (known for its EV charging stations and freestanding solar canopies), BrightSource Energy, and of course Google, which put up a cool $168 million to help build it, as well as the global engineering firm Bechtel.

About That Ivanpah CSP Controversy…

Back in 2012 Representative Darrell Issa (R- CA), head of the House Oversight Committee, put the Ivanpah CSP plant on the hot seat over a flurry of emails between the company and the Energy Department, as part of an investigation of “preferred treatment” received by six alternative energy projects.

The Committee appeared to be anticipating a Solyndra-style financial collapse by some or all of those projects, including the Ivanpah CSP plant, but rumors of its death were premature, to say the least, and the investigation fizzled out.


For the record, financial risk is a feature, not a bug, of the DOE loan program, which started under the Bush Administration in a push to cement public-private partnerships into the US civic structure. Overall, the program has been a stunning success.

Congress had actually set aside a $10 billion loan loss reserve for the DOE loan program to cover anticipated losses, and as of last year those losses only came up to less than ten percent of that amount.

Ivanpah CSP Plant Powers Up

We’ve been following the Ivanpah project since shovels hit the ground in 2010, with completion expected late in 2013.

Sure enough, in March 2013 the passed its first “flux,” test, in which the plant’s thousands of heliostats (a fancy word for mirror), focused solar energy onto the boiler, bringing it just below the point of steam.

The next step was a shakedown of the plant’s steam pathways, and by September 2013 it was ready for a critical first “sync” test, which it also passed swimmingly (sync refers to synchronizing power output from the plant to the grid).

Earlier this month, various headlines suggested that the plant is now fully operational, but to the best of our knowledge it is still engaged in what is obviously a longer process than simply flipping a switch.

Nevertheless, given the success of the project so far, DOE is on pretty secure footing by going ahead with today’s dedication ceremony.

It’s also a good opportunity for DOE to tout the success of the loan program, which aside from the world’s largest CSP also includes one of the world’s largest wind farms, the first solar thermal storage project and the first power tower with solar thermal storage in the US, and some of the world’s largest parabolic trough CSP plants.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Mike

    I wonder how long this plant will survive given the recent public interest in the losses of precious wildlife (birds, turtles, etc.). How many Streamers (Ivanpaw employee slang for charred birds) have to perish before these types of clean energy generation plants are shuttered? One million? Two million? Seriously how could this have mustered scientific support. And to think, as a conservative I have to choose between being sensitive to the needs of the birds or the needs of retarded liberals who obviously fear fizzy drinks more than they care about the ecosystem….troubling

  • Burnerjack

    The DOE loan program lost “only” $1 Billion…. “stunning success”. Yeah, great.
    If I lost that much I’d consider what I was doing as an abject financial disaster. But hey, I’m not in government, I’m in the real world.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I doubt you have much experience in the real world.

      50% of all American startups fail in the first four years. The real world of entrepreneurship would be thrilled if they could be even half as successful as the DOE program.

      • Burnerjack

        Almost 60. Been on most continents. Worked all my life. Lived long enough to know the government is a shitty businessman and a poor steward of the public’s money. I have enough experience to see that.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Well, sonny, let me point out a couple things you have yet to learn.

          First, 50% of all US startups fail in the first four years. What sort of good stewardship is that?

          Second, very major US businesses crash and burn (US Steel, Enron, Merrill Lynch). Good stewardship?

          Finally, having been on all continents that are inhabited by humans, I can tell you that our government does about as well as the best at running things. A few are better, but their citizens are willing to pay more in taxes in order to receive superior service.

          If we’d elect more people who want to make the country better and fewer who want to serve the very rich we’d be a lot better off.

    • A Real Libertarian

      Well Project Apollo cost $110 Billion.

      • Burnerjack

        Libtard, Apollo was not a start up. Many have suggested it eas a cover action to both mask the fact that hundreds of thousands of “aerospace” workers were actually working on ICBMs and because they all thought they were part of the National Space Program, they were greatly encouraged to maintain exemplary quality standards.
        Yours may qualify as one of the top 10 dumbest comments ever posted. Ever.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No name calling, please.

          • Burnerjack

            First off, you’re right. Name calling has no place in a genuine discourse.
            My apologies to “A Real Libertarian”.
            OK, back on point: Private Capital has every right to experiment, etc. After all, it’s THEIR money. Shareholders don’t agree? They can and do pull their positions as they see fit. I considered various ventures and one which showed promise in theory failed my fiduciary tests. One of my associates stated “Forget about the numbers! Just follow your dream!” That idealistic foolishness may explain the high failure rate.
            IMNSHO, The Government has absolutely no place in placing public money in speculative positions.
            Like the roads and borders, the Government should not engage in “picking winners and losers” as has been the criticism, rather create and enhance an environment conducive to economic growth and solid footing.

            Also, IMNSHO, the Government has shown to be both naive and possibly corrupt in not addressing the present “growth industry” of Trolling for Funding.

            California is trying to get funding (in the Billions, of course) for High Speed Rail. Sounds OK, I guess but take that same funding and put it toward desalinization plants and imagine the greater economic benefit throughout the economy. From Agriculture to industrial growth to property values. Just one example of foolishness over investment.

          • ZWB

            “The Government has absolutely no place in placing public money in speculative positions”.

            Really? So government should have never invested in, say, the computer, the internet, nuclear energy, GPS…

          • Burnerjack

            Internet: DoD initiative
            Computers: DoD initiative
            GPS: DoD initiative
            All DoD initiatives NOT involving guaranteeing loans that a bank would not accept.
            Capitalism has many avenues to bring promising ideas to fruition. Venture Capital is an industry unto itself.
            Government loan guarantees are like the old “Heads I win/ Tails you lose”. If successful, the Bank wins. If not, the Taxpayer loses.
            The examples you put forth were not loan guarantees but DoD initiatives with National Security at the heart of the action. For that, I have no issue.
            If a bank, VC, or stockholders wouldn’t back, why should I (we) with money acquired involuntarily?
            I DO however, have no issue with tax credits, etc. to put out development on par with other countries as to not leave us at a disadvantage.
            Then again, Government has taken government initiatives and “partnered” with Industry to facilitate introduction into the Marketplace. Nothing wrong there either, IMNSHO.
            Just don’t endorse paying to insure a bank’s loan portfolio. There was a time when banks did that on their own and incurring losses was an acceptable part of the business as was the ROI if things went well.

          • Bob_Wallace

            There are 330 billion of us in the US. A buck a piece a year is a nice large pot.

            There are lots of good ideas that can be job creators and wealth creators but aren’t “sure enough” for private money to fund.

            Use a tiny amount of public money and take some chances. We need innovation to keep ourselves in the game.

            The government picked winners and losers and created the space industry. Now private industry sees returns and is taking over. Look back at the history of just about any industry and you’ll see government money playing a significant role in the early days.

          • Burnerjack

            330 billion? As far as the space industry goes, once again that was a DOD initiative. Do you think Sputnik was just an early CommSat? Or was it a statement declaring the global capability of a warhead delivery system?
            Contractors like Rockwell, et.al. were picked on capability to deliver the specified components.
            Speaking of Commercial Space actions, Burt Rutan is a private entity doing more with less than the Government could ever dream of doing. Not saying the government can’t help, its just that whole “Heads I win (Bank) Tails you (Taxpayer) loses. The phrase “have your cake and eat it too” also comes to mind.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Exactly what industries have been created with zero help from the government?

          • De Neice Kenehan

            Channeling Elizabeth Warren
            : )

          • Burnerjack

            Great point. At the heart of this is what you wish as to the size of government and how heavy the thumb come comes down.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I take that as a compliment. A major compliment.

            If we had more wise Congress members like Warren and fewer doofuses like the two senators from Oklahoma this country would greatly improve.

          • Burnerjack

            Created or highjacked Bob?
            This nation is now 17 TRILLION in debt. This is only 250 years after literally stealing nearly an entire continent load with natural resources and wealth.
            Would YOU hire a management team with that on its resume Bob?

          • Bob_Wallace

            How about answering the question?

            As far as the national debt, look to the lack of adequate regulations for the financial industry and three oil wars and you’ll find the reason for our debt.

            I certainly had no role in hiring Ronald Reagan and either of the George Bushes. I helped hire the guy who is now getting us out of the Bust recession and his expensive oil wars.

            As for how the management team has operated over the last 250 years, I’d say it’s generally better than average. We’ve got some significant problems which are dropping us lower in the standings, but with some work we could get things turned around.

          • Burnerjack

            The automotive, oil and agriculture industries all began WITHOUT intervention. Intervention only occurred AFTER they had been initiated by PRIVATE enterprise.
            That answer your question Bob?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Who paved the roads in order for autos to become practical?

            Who built the railways for oil to be transported?

            Who gave land to settlers in order for them to start large scale agriculture?

          • Burnerjack

            The Automove industry was thriving long before widespread paving or even the Interstate System.
            Railways were built by the Land and RAIL Barrons that practically owned Congress during the 1800s.
            Agriculture was widespread (albeit not like the Archer Daniels Midland type Agribusiness it is now.).
            You asked what industries were STARTED without government help and I answered you.
            Is Elizabeth Warren your daughter or what?

          • A Real Libertarian

            “The Automove industry was thriving long before widespread paving or even the Interstate System.”

            Only 1 in 7 American families owned cars in 1920.

            “Railways were built by the Land and RAIL Barrons that practically owned Congress during the 1800s.”

            And the subsidies didn’t have anything to do with it?

            “Agriculture was widespread (albeit not like the Archer Daniels Midland type Agribusiness it is now.).”

            The homestead act.

          • Burnerjack

            “A Real Libertarian”? I thought the definition of a Libertarian was minimal government intervention and taxation to a point on par with some time in the 1800s?
            As far as subsidies go, Because they exist does in no way mean they are necessary. Right now there are those that claim the pharmaceutical industry needs subsidies to develop “post antibiotic age” drugs. You know, the one’s called “Big Pharma”? Would they take them? You bet. Better for the stockholders than a write down. Do the NEED susidies? PLEASE!…. Just another example of Big Government in bed with Big Industry when market forces would yield a far more efficient result.
            Now, back to Bob and the Debt thing : you blame it on republican presidents yet this occurred during democratic controlled Congress. No President operates in a vacuum. If they did, it would no longer be called a republic. With a straight face anyway. The whole Dem vs. Repub thing is smoke and mirrors. If the System was Legit, bills would focus on specific tasks, no bundling, no earmarks, no “nod nod, wink, wink”. Its a Machine and its out of control.

          • A Real Libertarian

            ” ‘A Real Libertarian’? I thought the definition of a Libertarian was minimal government intervention and taxation to a point on par with some time in the 1800s?”

            You thought wrong:
            http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2005/01/vulgar-libertarianism-watch-part-1.html

          • Bob_Wallace

            The roads that auto used, even the unpaved ones were built mostly by governments. Not by car companies.

            The government supported agriculture from the early days of the country. Including providing security for product shipping.

            Railroad companies were given public land, half of which they sold to get the money for construction.

            The federal and state governments have been involved in “picking winners” from day one.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “The federal and state governments have been involved in ‘picking winners’ from day one.”

            Just like Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures promoted.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Report_on_Manufactures

          • Burnerjack

            Each of your examples shows not “picking winners” but providing infrastructure conducive to civil and economic growth. This is the very function of government. Whether roads or borders. Civil engineering or military defense. This is the heart of legitimate government action. Backing questionable loans, removing financial accountability, IMNSHO, is vastly different and is a visual indication of corruption. Centralized government and economic power never ends well. History has shown that individual action and innovation, primed by an open market yields better results for all. If it were up to me, Government would be limited to Defense ,civil engineering Market oversight (keeping things on the “up and up” but no direct involvement.
            I also believe that Private Action is and always will be more effective and efficient than any Public Action. That being said, I also accept that there are some projects (such as the Interstate Highway System) that are just too great for any private enterprise to undertake.
            But hey, that’s just me. To each, their own.

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” I also accept that there are some projects (such as the Interstate Highway System) that are just too great for any private enterprise to undertake.”

            Which puts the federal government right into the role of picking winners and losers. Someone gets the contract for building the new exchange, someone doesn’t. We seem to differ only in degree.

            There’s probably no branch of the government that funds more winners than the Defense department. That, you approve.

            I am comfortable with taking a small amount of federal funds (overall only a tiny amount is used) to fund new ideas that could lead to good jobs and new industries in the US. Other countries fund their industries, we have no choice but to do some of the same or fall further behind.

          • Burnerjack

            The “interchange” and “defense” contractors (barring corruption, of course) are picked by cost/capability. If there is no corruption, there is no “picking”, merely leaning on the free market to get done what needs to get done. Not unlike taking your car to a mechanic. They were put in the position at hand do largely to previous Private action.
            I do, however, agree that we dis/agree by degree. I lean towards minimal government action.

            Imagine this: At every turn, government seems to grow, along with its attendant tax bill. If The Beast gobbles up the population like Walmart gobbling up the budget market place and nearly everyone in the workplace is either working for the government or a contractor working for the government, isn’t THAT communism?
            BTW, discounting Social Security, as that is (or was…) largely payments of deferred income, those on the public dole that are able bodied (and minded) I also consider “government employees. They just don’t provider goods or services.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I understand.

            You got yours. Screw everyone else.

          • Burnerjack

            I got my WHAT? I don’t take government money,
            I don’t WANT government money.
            What I would like is more to think like that.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I wish people who think like you would have to live a month or two at the “safety net” level. And could realize that they, too, could end up living the rest of their lives like one of “those” people.

          • Burnerjack

            I have lived in apartments, attics and basements. I don’t now. Why? when I lost my job and was nearly out of cash, I learned a trade, swallowed my pride, worked my ass off at less than “prevailing wages”. Bottom line: I live better than that because I refuse NOT to. Not by Government Money, but by “brute force”. I MADE my future happen. I don’t even care for what I do, and I’m always searching for alternatives. If I find one, I will take it as far as I can. If my pride would allow me to accept government money, I may have an easier life, but where is the pride of achievement in that?

          • A Real Libertarian

            So you actually got a job?

            And when was this anyway?

          • Burnerjack

            Got my first job at about 14 cleaning a dive-bar on Saturdays. Got my next job at 17 “Humping Forms” Brutal work building concrete foundations.
            Between that time and about 20yrs old I crawled through greasy ductwork at night because that’s the only time restaurants are closed. They turn down the ovens but not off so the work is very hot, very dirty. At 20 I got training and worked in High Tech until the Crash. Didn’t have the foresight then to see the big picture so I was screwed (by myself, no one else to blame) Got a job doing service work at about 28. Ran that out until I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do it anymore. Unemployed at 40. Got a job by a “kid” plumber. Gave me shit until I made it clear I was as old as his father and asked if his father could hustle like me. Never gave me shit again. He went away… Running out of cash! Shit, man! think of something!… Took my remaining cash and got trained in Air Conditioning. Ended up in the heating trade, not quite sure how… In each service job, the employers (mostly…can’t please them all) and customers especially rave about my work, my professionalism and my courtesy.
            Lots of menial work to be sure, swallowed a lot of pride and ate a lot of crow. But I made it, on my own. WHY? Because I never once considered begging or taking government money as a viable option. Of course, this battle isn’t over. It ends at the grave. But I’m sure it’ll end with palm trees and umbrella drinks or I’m going down swinging! That answer you question?

          • A Real Libertarian

            “That answer you question?”

            Nope.

            What year did these happen in?

          • Burnerjack

            first off, due to the personal nature of it, why do you ask?
            I have no reason to make any of it up. I don’t consider ANY of it heroic by any means, to that I give to my father who always had at least two jobs even during the Depression (albeit, sometimes by his own admission, often that “second job” was looking for that second job.) Not to mention the guys the unknowing called “bums” who rode the rails in search of work. Now, THOSE guys were heroes (to me anyway) Most never gave up searching for an honest day’s pay.

          • Burnerjack

            Got a question for YOU, Lib… What do YOU do, how did you get there and what exactly made you so cynical as to think people can’t make it on their own without the Nanny state? Fact is Millions upon Millions have and will continue to do so, for as long as it is allowed.
            Now that this society rewards failure and punishes success, I now wonder “for how much longer”.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “first off, due to the personal nature of it, why do you ask?”

            Because losing your job in 1967, 1998 and 2009 all have very different outcomes.

          • Burnerjack

            1st job in the bar 1973. Form work 1976 high tech 1978 to 1986. Industrial service 1986 – 2001. HVAC and related 2003 to present. While each was its own experience, Some skill sets were added to at the next step, true. In all cases, each position was completely different from anything previous. I looked, I saw, I was “lucky” to be given a chance, but luck had nothing to do with “making it stick”. It wasn’t until WAY later did someone introduce me to that ‘stupid’ book “who moved my cheese”. Turns out I was living it and doing it all along. That “it” I just call “Life”.

          • Bob_Wallace

            And when you incapacitate yourself by falling off a ladder, then get sued by your customer and lose it all you’ll be caught by the safety net you oppose.

          • Burnerjack

            Why would I get sued by my customer? Even thow your argument is skewed to the point of absurdity, your point is well taken and Workman’s comp (paid by workers and employers) is not a bad thing at all. Neither is PRIVATE, Marketplace driven insurance.
            But, I ask you this: How exactly is this tied to the government backing dubious loans that a bank should accept if the potential for big ROI compels them, again?

  • gabriele puccetti

    WHY CSP ?? But also CPV and traditional PV?

    “GRID-PA” https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5AniINmziL1bkUtT2JJR0dacTg/edit?usp=sharing

    Why this solution is better of all other solar solution?

    First of all because are economic and simple in technology than with low CAPEX and OPEX, with longer lifetime (>30 Years)

    Than can be disseminated where energy needs, cutting losses, transportation cost and not ecological. GRID-PA can be set-up from 200 KWp to >100 MWp plant

    Technologies as CSP or CPV are not convenient as CAPEX and much more complicate with high OPEX. Over it do not have the water saving but instead an high water needs for cooling.

    GEA PV solution with many plus, minimum MWh cost and simple to manage with an esteemed life over 30 Years with<11% avg decay in the period, having water saving plus “for free” and minimum degradation (-60% of traditional PV).

    Saving Land and Water, in any case the future solution in solar technologies with best performance and low complication, lower CAPEX and OPEX cost, about the half cost (included Storage system) of CSP technology.

    California Latitude: 100 MWp GRID-PA comparative with 100 MW CSP

    - 250 GWh/Y – CSP same production

    -100 MWp only 785,000 sqm – CSP double space

    -100 MWp plant (<$200 mln)/2015 cost – 2030 cost <$1,1 mln/ MWp / <110 mln for 100 MWp

    -200 MWh Storage system ($150 mln)/2015 cost – 2030 cost $200,000/MWh, than 200 MWh to 18 Hours Storage of 100 MWp plant = $40 mln Total.

    - up to 24 Hours autonomy at avg needs of 15 MWh CSP half storage hours

    -Set-up in 3 months (with only 30 workers 50% of which not specialized) CSP 2 Years

    -Total cost 30 Ys (storage >15 Ys) – CSP 20 Years

    -minimum OPEX(means other several mln saved in 25 Ys O&M, compared with CSP triple cost)

    * if with a 16 Hours autonomy (100 MWh Storage)

    2015 Total cost CSP double cost

    2030 Total cost CSP double cost

    CSP can arrive on 2030 at a minimum of $3 mln/MW).
    Than for a 100 MW Plant with only 6 hours storage >$ 300 mln (with high
    maintenance and management cost “for life”)

    Over all economic vantages, GRID-PA has also “water saving plus” up to
    million cubic meters per year of water saved form evaporation.

    Instead CSP ask for large quantity of water for cooling

    Also traditional PV as you know has several problem in high temperature latitude
    and wind (with dust/sand). GRID-PA solve also all these problems.

    GRID-PA produce +30% up to >+45% VS traditional PV, it depends from
    avg temperature and avg year production.

    It is why GRID-PA solution is today (and tomorrow) the most convenient worldwide, when requested give also a free water saving up to million cubic meters per year, in some case (Salton Sea) also an innovative way to reduce
    salinity.

    Some case study in USA:

    California case study https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5AniINmziL1UElxMnNYc19MQnc/edit?usp=sharing

    Arizona case study https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5AniINmziL1by1QNS1nX3FnVEk/edit?usp=sharing

    Gabriele Puccetti
    gabriele.puccetti@geaeurope.com

    • Surf

      “200 MWh Storage system ($150 mln)/2015 cost – 2030 cost $200,000/MWh, than 200 MWh to 18 Hours Storage of 100 MWp plant = $40 mln Total.”

      Ivanpah is straight steam cycle with no energy storage.

      “Over all economic vantages, GRID-PA has also “water saving plus” up to
      million cubic meters per year of water saved form evaporation.

      Instead CSP ask for large quantity of water for cooling”

      Ivanpah uses a dry cooling system , not the typically used water evaporative cooling systems used in many other places. A small brine well on site will provide all the water needed to run the plant. most of which is just used to clean the mirrors. Water use is expected to be very small.

      “Life time >30 Ys (storage >15 Ys) – CSP 20 Years”

      The worlds oldest operating CSP plant is also in california It was build about 30 years ago, has exceeded it’s design life and is still operating. With regular maintenance they will last 100 years. There are no plans to scare it.

      Design life is only used bankers to determine if a plant will last long enough to pay off the loan.

      Overall your cost estimate doesn’t apply to Ivanpah simply because the design avoids most of the costs you point to .

  • jburt56
    • sault

      Not a surprise given that a Saudi prince owns 10% of News Corp

    • Surf

      Keep in mind this is in the desert, no water and very few birds. Also in comparison:

      Cat kill200 million a year
      buildings kill 25 million a year
      power lines kill 25 million a year
      Cars kill 14 million a year

      all wind turbines in the US kill 16,000 birds.a year

      Birds like to land on high tower where they are safe from predators on the ground. Also they they can sometimes see their next meal from the tower without spending hours flying.

      The Ivanpah towers were completed about a year ago and birds have probably been landing on them for sometime. Without the mirrors focusing the light it was safe for the to do so. However now that the plants are operational a few birds may have been surprised and killed before they could get away.

      Now that the towers are operational most birds will turn away due to the bright light and long before they are in danger.

      The bird problem may not be serious

      • jburt56

        Indeed. But it is important to note this propaganda. Notice birds and tortoises are said to be at risk, so therefore NO ALTERNATIVE ENERGY can be built. How Koch is that?

        • j9clements

          They fenced the area and relocated all the tortoises. The relocated tortoises have been monitored and are all doing well…which includes reproducing.

          As far as the birds, I agree with Smurf.

  • vacmancan

    Where’s the video??????

  • one who knows

    The photo is not Ivanpah, it’s in Coalinga, California, a demo steam plant built by BrightSource for Chevron

    • saynomordor

      …for the purpose injecting heated fluids to extract oil

    • TinaCasey

      Fixed. Tx for the catch, can’t figure out how I mixed that up. I’m blaming the weather.

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