Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Federal Program Leaves Taxpayers on the Hook for Another Green Energy Company Failure

Solar thermal sounds great but I have yet to hear of one that pays off.  The thing they are best at is chewing up subsidies from deluded governments

The best known example was the huge Ivanpah project in the Mojave desert.  It eats up 3,500 acres in the California desert where rare desert vegetation used to grow.  And it kills birds in their thousands.

You don't hear much about it now as it never functioned anywhere near its capacity and produced very expensive electricity.  And there has NEVER been any return on the couple of billion spent constructing it.

The most amusing thing about it is that it used vast amounts of natural gas to get itself going in the morning and when it was cloudy.  There was at one stage a proposal to reclassify it as a gas-powered power station because on many occasions more of its output came from burning gas than from its solar furnaces

Tonopah Solar Energy LLC, which built and operated a huge solar-thermal power plant in Nevada, has filed for a bankruptcy that is likely to cost U.S. taxpayers more than $225 million.

Novel Technology Fails

The Spanish infrastructure company ACS and Banco Santander SA, which jointly own Tonopah through companies they specifically created to develop the power plant, advertised Tonopah as the first concentrated solar power facility to be able to store solar energy for use at night or during cloudy days, thus removing the need for other power sources as a back-up.

Tonopah’s more than 10,000 mirrors were to focus the sun’s heat on a tower to produce steam and heat a tank containing molten salt that would generate power at night. However, the technology proved unreliable and expensive to build and operate.

Since it began operating in 2015, repeated leaks from its molten salt tank resulted in the power plant going off-line repeatedly. Unable to solve that and other problems at the facility, the power plant ceased all operations in April 2019.

During its best year of operation, Tonopah never produced more than 40 percent of its 400 Gigawatt per hour annual rated capacity, and in most years due to technology failures it produced considerably less power than that. Additionally, the cost of the power it was generating was two to four times the wholesale cost of power from existing conventional electric power sources such as coal and natural gas and even competing renewable power sources such as wind and solar photovoltaic power.

Failed, Costly Loan Program

Tonopah’s 1,670-acre solar facility received expedited approval from the Obama Administration for its construction on public land and $737 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

DOE’s loan to Tonopah came from a loan guarantee program created in 2005 under the Bush administration. The government designed the program to support development of new energy-related technologies that traditional banks and venture capitalists shied away from as being too risky.

And risky they have proven to be—for taxpayers, at least.

No loan guarantees were issued through the program for renewable energy projects until 2009, when the Obama administration issued a number loan guarantees for renewable energy projects as part of the federal economic stimulus program.

A 2012 analysis of the approximately $10 billion in federal loan guarantees and tax credits offered by the Obama administration to companies in the renewable energy field, found more than $3.2 billion of that support had been given to companies that subsequently declared bankruptcy. For instance, solar panel manufacturer Solyndra defaulted on more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees before it went bust in 2011. Other companies that received DOE loan guarantees and subsequently declared bankruptcy include lithium-ion battery manufacturer A123, which received $300 million in federal grants and $135 million in additional grants from the state of Michigan before declaring bankruptcy in October of 2012, and Fisker Automotive, which declared bankruptcy in October 2013, despite having received federal loan guarantees of nearly $529 million.

Tonopah can now be added to the list of DOE loan recipients to declare bankruptcy. If the court approves the company’s agreement with the federal government, Tonopah will have to repay $200 million of the remaining $425 million it currently owes the government, leaving U.S. taxpayers holding the bag for the remaining $225 million.

‘Pet Energy Projects’

Reuters reports DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes issued a statement saying the settlement decision “was made after years of exhausting options within our authority to get the project back on track.”

A senior Trump administration official said the settlement “secures taxpayer money that was squandered by the previous administrations’ failed energy pet projects,” according to Reuters.

Tonopah was supposed to be sited in an ideal location to generate cheap solar power, yet even with generous government support, it failed, providing further evidence solar power can’t compete with conventional electric power sources, says James Taylor, director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute.

“Here is yet another real-world answer to propaganda that solar power is now less expensive than conventional energy,” Taylor said. “Everywhere solar power is added to the grid, it raises energy costs.

“There is no clearer example than this heavily subsidized solar project located in a place supposed to be ideal for solar power generation,” Taylor said. “Despite massive taxpayer subsidies, including a federal subsidy paying for 30 percent of all its equipment, solar power cannot generate cost-competitive power even in the middle of a desert, yet, we are supposed to believe solar power will generate cost-competitive power in places like Michigan or New Jersey?”


Southern Ocean Site Has Just Cooled To Ice Age-Era Temperatures

A new temperature reconstruction indicates today’s sea surface temperatures are colder than all but a few millennia out of the last 156,000 years.

A Southern Ocean site analyzed in a new study (Ghadi et al., 2020) has averaged 1-2°C during glacials and 4°C during interglacials. Today, with a 410 ppm CO2 concentration, this location has again plummeted to glacial/ice age levels (2°C).

The site was 2°C warmer than now when CO2 concentrations were 180 ppm about 20,000 years ago, or during the peak of the last ice age.

During the Early Holocene (10,000 to 8,000 years ago), summer sea surface temperatures were also 2°C warmer than today.

There is no indication that CO2 concentration changes are in any way correlated with temperature changes throughout this entire 156,000-year epoch.


Greta Thunberg’s Message Of Doom Is Religion, Not Reality


In January, the great and not so good of the corporate elite gathered at Davos for another telling off from Greta Thunberg.

“One year ago I came to Davos and told you that our house is on fire,” the climate activist reminded delegates. “I said I wanted you to panic.” In the intervening year they had not panicked enough, she said.

Although the meeting of the World Economic Forum was dedicated to creating a “Cohesive and Sustainable World”, and corporate culture has gone obsessively green, the naughty capitalists and greedy governments refused to end the use of fossil fuels instantly.

The rotters refused to extinguish commercial lifestyles to save the planet from imminent immolation.

Ironically, even as the high priestess of the Extinction Rebellion religion preached her sermon, Covid-19 was sweeping in from China and weeks later would shut down the world economy.

Since then we have all been treated to a live experiment in what happens when economic activity is cut by 25 percent.

While there are undoubted upsides and lessons to be learned about cleaner air in cities, the downside is looming mass unemployment, the ruin of the global aviation industry, and worsening health and educational inequalities.

This is not enough for Extinction Rebellion campaigners who want to go even further in shutting down activity.

Earlier this month, Thunberg set out in an open letter a list of demands that, if implemented, would make the economic effects of Covid-19 seem mild. Her co-signatories included assorted celebrities, activists, and, inevitably, Coldplay.

Climate catastrophists are clearly keen to get the alarmist show back on the road, perhaps because they have been eclipsed by the pandemic.

I am not someone who denies that protecting the environment is important. Cleaner air is required. When it comes to more efficient energy, less wasteful consumption, and rewilding our countryside, I’m all for it.

But the hysteria of the XR crew, amplified by the media, is counterproductive because it frightens people and could lead to panicked policy-making.

The risk is that overreaction by governments will turn voters against any kind of environmental policy. It need not be this way. With the intelligent use of technology and mitigation measures, mankind is more than capable of adapting to warmer conditions.

This is one of the points made in Bjorn Lomborg’s important new book False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet.

Mr. Lomborg is a long-standing environmentalist regarded as a heretic by hardliners in the movement because he is an optimist who says that humanity is not doomed.

Global warming is happening, he says, but populations have been “scared witless” into thinking that it means the end of life on Earth.

“The rhetoric on climate change has become ever more extreme and less moored to the actual science,” he says. “The science shows us that fears of a climate apocalypse are unfounded. Global warming is real, but it is not the end of the world. It is a manageable problem.”

Lomborg advocates a “well-designed” carbon tax and reduced emissions but also more adaptation of the kind that, unheralded, is already happening. For 150 years sea levels have been rising and we have adapted by improving coastal protection.

We’re learning more about rivers and flood protection too. On heatwaves, economic growth will help to pay for better and more fuel-efficient air conditioning.

Cities can be adapted with more green spaces. Even something as simple as ensuring that roofs and roads are lighter in color — not black, which absorbs heat and warms urban areas — can make a difference.

For the sin of deviation from the apocalyptic consensus, The New York Times — woke bible and host of the Greta event at Davos in January — unleashed the eminent economist Joseph Stiglitz to lambast Mr. Lomborg, who has since responded with an amusing line-by-line demolition of Mr. Stiglitz’s claims.

But what may make the biggest difference to the debate is population decline.

A study published this month by the Department of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle suggested that a declining global fertility rate would cause population levels to plummet from 2064.

Twenty-three countries including Japan, Thailand, and Spain will have their populations more than halved.

This threatens to undermine one of the foundations of climate alarmism: the assumption that there are too many ghastly people and, by breeding and consuming resources, we will all soon destroy Mother Earth.

The prospect of population decline could be bad news for the fundraising efforts of the Greta crew if it becomes clear that climate change is even more manageable than thought.

I doubt that hardline climate campaigners will for one second allow this to dilute the purity of their doom-laden message, though. They have founded a religion and anything that distracts from it is heresy.

In that respect, they have much in common with woke calls for a social justice revolution. The best parallel for both of these is perhaps with the 16th and 17th centuries and the spread of Puritanism, a campaign to purify worship and signal virtue.

As the more extreme Puritans knew, declaring the apocalypse — a simple message — is strangely seductive and exciting.

Once again, on climate, the less intoxicating and more cheeringly mundane reality is that human beings are ingeniously adaptive. We’ll find a way through if we all keep our heads.


Federal Court Denies Oakland’s Efforts to Block Coal Shipments to Port Terminal

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has lost the latest bid by public officials in the state to block shipments of coal through the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT).

Becerra gambled and lost, betting if the state of California joined Oakland in opposing the shipment of coal through the terminal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would overturn a district court’s ruling as well as its own, which decided Oakland could not bar shipments of coal through the city to the terminal for export.

Terminal Contract Upheld

The city of Oakland approved Phil Tagami’s development of the $250 million OBOT, located on Oakland’s outer harbor, in 2013. Tagami subsequently signed a contract with Utah coal producers in which they would transport their product by rail to OBOT to be shipped overseas. In July 2016, in an attempt to block coal shipments to and from the terminal, Oakland’s city council voted unanimously to prohibit the storing and handling of coal within city limits.

Tagami filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in 2016, arguing Oakland’s ordinance violated his agreement with the city to develop the land.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria heard the case and ruled in Tagami’s favor, finding Oakland’s action amounted to an illegal breach of contract.

The city’s justification for the ban was “riddled with inaccuracies, major evidentiary gaps, erroneous assumptions, and faulty analyses, to the point that no reliable conclusion about health or safety dangers could be drawn from it,” Chhabria wrote.

Oakland appealed Chhabria’s decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in 2018, only to have the majority of a three judge panel of the Appeals Court hearing the case affirm the ruling.

“In affirming, we do not opine on the ultimate issue of any alleged health or safety impact of OBOT’s proposed plan,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lee, in his majority opinion. “Nor do we judge the economic or environmental merits of the agreement to develop a commercial terminal that may house and transport coal.

“Rather, we affirm … the district court’s bench trial ruling that Oakland breached the agreement,” Lee ruled.

The District and Appeals Courts rulings were well-founded in the law, Tagami said in a statement issued after the Appeals Court’s decision in May.

“The district court issued a thorough, thoughtful and comprehensive ruling invalidating the city’s action,” Tagami stated. “We remained confident that the Ninth Circuit would uphold that ruling, which they now have.”

California Jumps In, Denied

The latest action in the case came when Becerra appealed to the Ninth Circuit to reopen OBOT vs. The City of Oakland, allowing the state to intervene on Oakland’s behalf, either in a rehearing before the three original judge panel or before an en banc hearing of the full court.

On August 3, a majority of the three-judge panel denied Becerra’s appeal for a rehearing by the panel with additional arguments to be made by the AG’s office, and recommended against an en banc hearing by the full court.

The federal appeals court denied Becerra’s request for a hearing before the full court, writing in its August 3 docket, “The full court has been advised of the suggestion for rehearing en banc, and no judge has requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc. … The petition for panel rehearing and the petition for rehearing en banc are therefore DENIED.”

Oakland’s recourse at this point if they wish to prevent coal shipments from the OBOT terminal is to appeal their case the U.S. Supreme Court and win there, or to negotiate a settlement with Tagami that satisfies the developer and the Utah coal producers.

Attorneys for OBOT have filed a lawsuit against Oakland, seeking to be awarded court costs and damages for the delays created by the lawsuit.

“Now, after all this time and continued rejection by the federal courts, I would hope there is a responsible city official with whom OBOT can sit down and resolve its differences,” said Robert Feldman, of law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, the lead attorney for OBOT, in a statement.



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