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Green Tech Plus Red Tape Yields No Hope

Where better to set up solar panels than California’s Death Valley? The sun’s always shining and from May to September the temperature doesn’t stray much below a whopping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yet even in Death Valley government-funded solar projects are floundering.  The L.A. Times has the story:

A new $800,000 solar project at Death Valley National Park, photovoltaic panels at the state-of-the art visitors center at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and a solar power system at the U.S. Forest Service’s new facility at Mono Lake are among dozens of taxpayer-funded projects in Southern California on hold as the federal agencies try to hash out an agreement with SCE to tie the projects to the state’s electrical grid.

The apparent stumbling block involves contract restrictions imposed by federal law, but utilities elsewhere in California have signed similar agreements with the agencies with few problems or delays.

According to the article, the solar panels in Death Valley have been unplugged for at least two-and-a-half years due to the various agencies tripping over one another.

The article ends with a reassurance: “The 2,800 solar panels should produce approximately 800,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Yosemite officials estimate the system will save $50,000 per year on electricity bills and generate an energy rebate of $700,000 from PG&E over the next five years.” Maybe, but the government will need a permit to flick the “on” switch first, and given the delays and staff time consumed in the dozens of inter agency meetings and other bureaucratic hurdle jumping associated with this project, it is very unlikely that a green project plus red tape will ever produce a project that runs in the black.

And in the meantime, one has to wonder: if the wrangling, process crazed bureaucrats wrestling with the conflicting, nonsensical regulations and requirements issued by various state, local and federal bureaucracies can’t work out reasonable solutions to the relatively simple question involved in a no-brain solar installation in the desert, what chance is there that these same bureaucracies will redesign the American energy grid and take us to the low carbon utopia that always seems just out of reach?

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  • Kris

    “Green Tech Plus Red Tape Yields No Hope” [jpg]

  • Bruno Behrend

    One position on energy that should be popular would be to

    a) uncap and dramatically expand energy production from all US sources

    b) Create a low, flat, and broad carbon-based BTU tax on energy usage. Make it high enough to spur conservation and investment in non-CO2 alternative energy sources.

    c) abolish/zero out ALL other energy subsidies.

  • vanderleun

    It’s about the decades of low-level intellects who have been “employed” in all the various redundant departments keeping their jobs and benefits. As Governor William J. Le Petomane says so insightfully in “Blazing Saddles”:

    “Holy underwear! Sheriff murdered! Innocent women and children blown to bits! We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph! “

  • Gene

    Why liberals who believe the government ought to have a major role in solving a vast array of problems–which is to say, most of the people I know–have not adopted the repair of governmental dysfunction as a top priority is astonishing to me. It’s not only a massive intellectual failure, it’s political stupidity on an epic scale.

  • J R Yankovic

    I have no idea how popular it would be. But Mr Behrend’s 3-point program above seems like one of the most sensible frameworks for wise energy production/conservation – given, of course, the right safeguards in place for point A – that I’ve run across in quite some time.

    Though I admit to being no terribly discriminating client on these matters. Almost anything that lessens our dependence on those murderously righteous Saudi kings (not to mention priests, prophets, disciples and imitators) without magnifying the intensity of our earthquakes would be one serious load off my mind.

  • Mark Michael

    WRM last sentence ends, “what chance is there that these same bureaucracies will redesign the American energy grid and take us to the low carbon utopia that always seems just out of reach?”

    I hope WRM was being sarcastic when he said ‘”just” out of reach’! Solar provides less than 0.1% of our electric power today. Windmills provide less than 2% today. If that’s “just” out of reach, I wonder what really of out reach might be?!

    A recent U.K. study claims that the backup natural gas powered electric power plants actually generate more CO2 than they would if they turned off the windmills and just used the gas-fired power generation plants! I wondered how that could be, and the answer (they claimed) was that it was inefficient to turn them off and on, or even vary their output to compensate for the variations in power coming from the windmill farms.

    Those are the two primary alternative power sources on which many leftists focus. Nuclear power is a practical alternative, but many on the left refuse to embrace nukes.

  • Luke Lea

    Natural gas puts roughly half as much CO2 into the atmosphere as coal per BTU. You’d think people who are convinced global warming will be bad would be hot to at least research the possibilities of the new fracking technology, which promises to make natural gas abundant. But so far they are not. That says something.

  • Jeff77450

    For some reason I’m reminded of a bumper-sticker I saw some years ago: “If you like the postal-service then you’ll just *love* socialized medicine.” (Actually, I think that the postal-service does a pretty good job and has for many years).

    How about “If you like the federal government’s forays into alternative energy then you’ll just *love* Obamacare.”

  • Jim.

    Someone should do some research on how much paperwork was required to build the Hoover Dam, then estimate how much would be required today to accomplish the same goal.

    It would drive an interesting wedge into the Blue, Green, and Red Tape models. 🙂

  • Megaera

    Jim: My understanding, which may be faulty, is that while Hoover Dam was authorized by federal legislation, it was planned and built by private contractors with minimal to no federal oversight or intervention. Which would explain a lot.

  • DontPlayRockyTop

    Wait a minute. All this plus $800,000 and several acres of land for 800,000 kWh a year? Let’s see – 24*365=8760 hours in a year, so that’s 91kW average instantaneous power. If I go to Amazon, I need 11 portable household 8kW generators (Generac 5623 at $899 each from looks about right) to do the same thing. Total capital cost: 11*899 = $10,263.00. I can buy a lot of fuel for the other $789,000. Oh, and they light your house at NIGHT too; try that with solar panels.

  • DontPlayRockyTop

    Ok, OK, that’s what I get for using excel and not watching how it rounds off. Actually that would be 12 little Generacs (not 11.4), so total capital cost = 12*$899= $10,788. Still not rocket science, though. And still not $800,000, apparently already spent and sitting idle for 2 1/2 years.

  • Mitch_CALI_Sux


    The Post Office is the perfect example against Big Govt. 8bn in the hole every year and they are still unable to put my mail in MY PO Box. Multiple times a week the idiots at the PO put my mail in someone elses box. Seriously, your only [vulgarity removed — ed] job is sort mail and you cant do that correctly? Ive been waiting since Nov to recieve a rare book that the PO lost. Waited on hold and in lines for hours. I call your [scatalogical remark], the PO does not do a good job…

  • 98yh3tgv9

    All they need is a big switch. When the sun is shining during the day, disconnect from the grid and use their solar panels. When the sun goes down at night, switch off the solar panels and switch over to the commercial electricity.

  • DontPlayRockyTop

    See it for yourself, ladies and gentlemen. Go to Google, Maps, and copy these coords into the location box: 36.458129,-116.870821 . Google map scale shows the array is about 650 feet by 300 feet – that’s 4 1/2 ACRES of land in the nations sunniest spot, and $800,000, to power maybe a dozen homes. Except not at night. And only if they get it connected to the grid. Amazing. Solyndra executives were not available for comment.

  • DontPlayRockyTop

    And in defense of SCE, any electric company has to be grouchy about what I connect to their grid. If they have a crew out working all night to repair a transformer down the street they make sure that part of the grid is de-energized. But when the sun comes up and I switch on my big solar array, and start dumping power back onto the dead part of the grid, I just killed somebody.

  • Realist

    Why liberals who believe the government ought to have a major role in solving a vast array of problems–which is to say, most of the people I know–have not adopted the repair of governmental dysfunction as a top priority is astonishing to me.

    It would eliminate the role of government as the creator of middle-class-wage jobs for those favored minorities who would otherwise be unable to get anything but low-wage, unskilled or semi-skilled positions. Using tax money as a sop to the favored groups is the first priority.

  • mr166

    “Yosemite officials estimate the system will save $50,000 per year on electricity bills and generate an energy rebate of $700,000 from PG&E over the next five years.””

    I just love liberal/green math. The system will generate $50K dollars per year in electricity and cost rate payers $140K per year. Also, how many salaries must be paid in order to keep the plant functioning?

    Funny how the $50K in “savings” vanishes when you look just a little deeper.

  • Rus

    Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t the PLANNING for the project also include somebody putting together and coordinating the wherewithal to bring the project online when the construction and testing was completed?

    I will take the easy way out and say that “it must be government”. It’s not “their” money. If this happened with a private firm, using its own money, whoever didn’t bother to get the connection properly coordinated would join the unemployed pool. If it was a firm doing it for a private client, they’d have done it right for a bad reputation could stick with them for years after they’re done.

  • Bill Woods

    Apparently that generator isn’t supposed to run over 6.5 kW for extended periods. So 91 kW would take 14 units — $13k.
    And it burns 6.6 gallons of gas to generate 3.3 kW for 10 hours. So 5 kW-h/gal.
    800,000 kW-h takes 160 kgal, at $3.5/gal, costs $560k.

  • DontPlayRockyTop

    Good point. Thanks, Bill. I’m pretty sure there are cheaper, more efficient power sources available than what I found in 2 minutes on, though, that could have been up and running 2 1/2 years ago. And wouldn’t tie up $800k of capital cost. And wouldn’t cover 4 1/2 acres of land. An engineering degree really is a curse, isn’t it?

  • megapotamus

    So each panel seems to be about 6×5, costs about $280 (to install) and produces .8 kwh per day on average. This story actually represents a Great Leap Forward in honest reporting on the subject. Usually the talk is about “installed base” meaning the maximum generating capacity. Usually this is compared to gas/oil/nuke plants against solar/wind indifferently which is what has yielded the inflated predictions about our ability to count on so-called “renewables”. The fueled plants can achieve (and maintain) their capacity as long as fuel comes in. “Renewables” not so much. Solar relies on the sun, meaning night is forgotten in most assessments of solar’s viability. Not here but we have the tracking issue. The gadgetry that turns the panels towards the sun ALSO draws power which we have to subtract from that .8 kwh. Next comes issues of rectification (even worse with wind) that takes the somewhat variable inputs from 2800 panels and turns it into a continuous current configured for transmission. I guess it isn’t long distance transmission since this is an institutional vanity project but still it must be done, and then undone by transformers to run your Mr Coffee. And that is if you want coffee in the afternoon. Otherwise you are drawing from the grid or whatever the REAL power source for your ranger’s hut is. Don’t forget the panels must track the light, subtracting from that .8 kwh and then re-orient over night back to the east, drawing grid power again. Battery or other power storage is as of now not practical, I presume everyone knows. Now we contend with dust, the only sub-optimal aspect of the Death Valley location. Every speck eclipses the panels, reducing the input, and the dust is cumulative. Usually there is a crew that dusts the panels in the night and they, too, like their coffee. Then we have maintenance and replacement of these glass rectangles, of which expense there is no reckoning. Given the givens, which are obvious and inarguable as far as I can tell, I don’t see how this state-of-the-art installation is anything other than a rather uninspired sculpture placed in an inconvenient venue. At continuing public expense, needless to add. Down twinkles on solar. Down, down twinkles.

  • Bruce

    $1.00 per kilowatt hour subidy?

    Thats insanely expensive. I pay 6-8 cents (depending) for hydro power.

    Greenies are greedy.

  • James Mayeau

    I shaved my beard for that devil woman.

    Too many con artists in conflict over the one bag of gold.

    The solution is to recognize that any new installation, adjustments to old installations, or changes in policy of any kind, based on co2 output is a criminal act, whether it is currently legal or not, perpetrated by crooks, whether they are elected or not.

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    A no-brainer solar installation derailed by a no-brainer bureaucratic installation. Can anyone say they’re surprised with a straight face?

  • JB

    Photvoltaic cells are more effecient at cooler temperatures. 110f is cool in DV. Also, do they take into account the water used to keep the panels clean to maintain efficiency? Water is scarce in the desert. The wind blows alot of dust around out here. It also seems that only the Govt can use any land out here, a desert tortise or wild flower might live there. Did they do their environmental impact study?

  • Tom

    Solar power = 12 acres per household.

    To recoup your investment on solar power for your house (roof-top) in savings from your electric bill takes average of 25 years.
    The longevity of solar panels (roof-top)is 15 years.

    Yeah, I’ll buy into that investment opportunity. Pfffft. Oh, crap I already am “Buying into it” without my consent. We are all fools for allowing this “tom-foolery”

  • richard40

    “b) Create a low, flat, and broad carbon-based BTU tax on energy usage. Make it high enough to spur conservation and investment in non-CO2 alternative energy sources.”

    I would only consider this if it was revenue neutral, so the carbon tax was offset with other tax cuts. Otherwise it is just a good excuse for the leftist to being in more taxes to prop up their excessive spending. Perhaps use this carbon tax to offset a premanent extension of the Bush tax cuts.

  • Jim.

    In California, politicians are talking about how to force high speed rail to succeed… right now they’re considering waiving the environmental impact laws that can tie up non-Green projects in the courts for years.

    Add hypocrisy to the list of Green sins.

  • Elane

    does anyone know the current status of this project?? I am currently at battle with SCE to issue proper credit to me for the 33 solar panels I installed at my residence in AUGUST 2011 ….SCE needs to be held accountable for these RIDICULOUS DELAYS

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