Solar power is running into major problems on both sides of the Atlantic. This week we learned that the Ivanpah solar thermal plant, located in California’s Mojave desert, barely survived being shut down by regulators for not producing enough power as required by contracts with the local utility. The WSJ reports:
The California Public Utilities Commission approved without discussion forbearance agreements that would give the owners of the plant, BrightSource Energy Inc., NRG Energy Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, up to a year to work out its problems.The unconventional solar-thermal project uses more than 170,000 mirrors mounted to the ground to reflect sunlight to 450-foot-high towers topped by boilers that heat up to create steam, which in turn is used to generate electricity.But since opening in 2014, it has angered some environmentalists by killing thousands of birds, many of which are burned to death—and has so far failed to produce the expected power.
This is the same facility that’s been frying birds right out of the sky, reminding greens in the process that all energy sources entail some sort of risk. But Ivanpah isn’t the only struggling solar story this week: the Spanish solar firm Abengoa stands on the brink of bankruptcy. The NYT reports:
Saddled with debt from its expansion, the company is scrambling to avoid what would be the largest bankruptcy in Spanish corporate history. Creditors and shareholders are taking the company to court as losses mount and crucial financial support disappears. […][Abengoa’s] signature American projects still have around $2 billion in outstanding loans guaranteed by the United States government, and the company benefited heavily from subsidies in Spain. But its solar thermal projects have been slow to turn a profit and generate little income in the interim, amplifying its cash squeeze.
Lavish subsidies are naturally going to attract investors interested in making a buck in an industry being propped up by the government, but Abengoa’s shaky standing reminds us that rapid state-backed growth in wind and solar doesn’t mean these industries are healthy.