By Jennifer Montazzoli
Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Natural Resources oversight and investigations subcommittee, charged in a hearing on 14th June that the Ivanpah solar facility in California’s Mojave Desert has received special treatment from the government. While Gohmert and others at the hearing pointed out legal and financial disparities, the witness from the Bureau of Land Management, Mike Nedd, Assistant Director of Energy, Minerals, and Realty Management, showed his lack of knowledge through his inability to answer most questions.
Chairman Gohmert pointed out that the Ivanpah plant was intended to create electricity from solar energy in order to replace natural gas plants and thereby reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But Dr. David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation in his testimony showed that a large percentage of the electricity produced by Ivanpah comes from supplemental burning of natural gas. Kreutzer estimated that if the gas used at Ivanpah were instead used to run a combined-cycle gas plant, it would provide over 25% of the electricity being produced by Ivanpah.
Mr. Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research in his testimony stated that the owners of Ivanpah—Google, NRG Energy, and BrightSource Energy—have a market capitalization of over $500 billion and could easily have paid for the $2.2 billion project themselves. Instead, $1.6 billion came from federal loan guarantees. Thus the owners risked little of their own money, but stand to make huge profits. PG&E is paying Ivanpah up to $200 per kilowatt hour, which is far above the national average for solar of $57 (which is higher than conventional sources).
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) asked Mr. Nedd whether BLM would have issued permits for the project if they were not aware of the federal loan guarantees. He hesitantly responded that he did not know the answer to the hypothetical question—even though it had everything to do with his department. Nevertheless, other companies that request funding from the Department of Energy must pay for their projects themselves if they have the ability to do so.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Colo.) pointed out that Exxon violated the migratory bird treaty act and paid a fine of $600,000 for 85 birds killed on its property. Meanwhile, 1,000 migratory birds have been killed at the Ivanpah facility and a fine was not charged. When asked why there were no consequences for the Ivanpah bird deaths, Nedd claimed he did not know enough about the program to talk about it and had no specifics. When asked if he knew why solar companies were getting preferential treatment, he brusquely responded, “I don’t know if they’re getting preferential treatment, so therefore I cannot respond to that.”