Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

Currently: 42° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Solyndra scandal could scuttle two Nevada solar projects

Image

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison, left, and Chief Financial Officer Bill Stover, right, are seen in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 23 2011, prior to a House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing.

You won’t find their photovoltaic cells anywhere near Nevada solar projects, but the flap surrounding failed solar panel maker Solyndra could cause the federal government to pull the plug on two Nevada solar power plants by the end of the week.

The 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar power storage plant in Tonopah and the 20-megawatt Fotowatio solar power plant in northeast Las Vegas had both received conditional commitments from the government’s renewable energy loan guarantee program earlier this year. But according to the Department of Energy’s website, those loans haven’t been finalized and if they aren’t finalized by Sept. 30, the money, about $800 million total, just goes away with the approximately 900 jobs they were going to create.

The Nevada projects are two of 11 renewable energy projects nationwide coming under extra scrutiny as they await final approval of federal loan guarantees, because of a growing scandal.

California-based Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer and the first recipient of a “section 1705” renewable energy loan guarantee of $535 million in 2009, declared bankruptcy this month, shut down operations and fired all 1,100 of its employees.

The failure of the company the Obama administration once made a poster child of the new energy era has cast a dark cloud over the federal program that led to its existence. Solyndra executives are under an official congressional investigation by a House panel over whether they duped the government, and Republican lawmakers have speculated aloud that the Obama administration may have rushed the due diligence process not only with Solyndra, but with other loan guarantee recipients as well, overlooking problems that could end up costing billions.

Solyndra is less likely to reflect problems in the federal loan program as it is emblematic of the uncertainty surrounding new economic ventures. When the idea of crafting cylindrical, non-silicon photovoltaic cells was conceived, the cost of producing solar panels was still sky-high; but by the time production was up and running, solar panels had become so cheap that the Solyndra product just couldn’t sell. Investors -- including the government -- tried to buy the company more time to get cost-competitive, but in the end, couldn’t save it.

Still, the scandal has placed loan guarantee programs under the microscope, as Republicans strive to shave $100 million from the program as part of their proposed offsets for disaster funding. That’s just about the amount the government lost on the Solyndra bankruptcy declaration.

That $100 million is a pittance compared to what’s been spent: The government has approved $38.6 billion in renewable energy loan guarantees thus far, and the unfinalized projects represent another $7.1 billion, according to the Department of Energy’s loan programs office. It’s also likely less than the federal government will save by the time the project comes to a close: the government isn’t going to have to pay out anything on its single biggest conditional guarantee, a partial guarantee of $1.93 billion it made to the First Solar’s Topaz solar plant project in California. To finalize a loan guarantee, a project must have broken ground by Sept. 30 -- they won’t.

But that doesn’t appear to be a problem with Nevada’s pending projects.

“We broke ground earlier in September, so there’s a fair amount of work going on out there now,” Solar Reserve CEO Kevin Smith said in a phone interview Monday morning. Solar Reserve is the company behind the Crescent Dunes project in Tonopah.

He stressed that the company hadn’t paced their construction schedule just to make the government’s deadline. “There’s a real winter in Tonopah, and we need to have the tower complete by winter,” he said. “It was really a scheduling requirement for the project, regardless of the Sept. 30 deadline.”

While Smith wouldn’t comment on the status of his company’s loan guarantee application, he said there would be an announcement on that in the next couple of days.

A spokesman for SunEdison, which acquired the Fotowatio Renewable Venture project from the Spain-based company earlier this year, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 18 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Does the 900 jobs include the temporary construction jobs?

    I belive it does but regardless $800,000,000 divided by 900 jobs = $888,888.89 per job!

    Please kill this plan!

  2. How does this affect the project(s) that the Sun is associated with?

  3. If solar power was a proven competative product it wouldn't need any fedral money. All any of these programs do is raise costs for the tax payer on both taxes and energy usage.

    This program was destined to fail. Why don't we wait for a free market solution. Eventualy a company will develop a solar cell that will be cheep[ enough and produce enough energy to be effective. Meanwhile our lib lawmakers want to stuff fields of sub par pannels that will never be cast effective. Then when a pannel does come out that is profitable the old facility having never made a nickel will either be torn down or shut down to make way for a profitable one.

  4. Be very sure to throw out all babies with their bathwater!

    After all, if the internet were viable, we wouldn't have needed DARPA. A corrupt Congress was to blame for it, too!

  5. Another Reid/Obama success story?

  6. I would like to know which pol got NV these two solar contracts. I keep wondering if any of this green baloney works on a massive scale....NOW. After all, we know our military will never run on green. And lib Dems, Reid et al ,Bama hate our domestic coal, gas, oil, shale-tar-sand oil deposits plus nuclear plant building. Until Bama and his Dem Congress is gone, the US will not get the energy we need, cheaper, easily gotten, and useful for all.

  7. Kenneth,
    There are thousands of megawatts worth of projects going on all around the world. Germany, you know the country conservatives call fiscally sound, is a big supporter. If you go to Tehachapi make sure you don't miss the ~350 megawatt solar thermal plant that has been operating for a few decades.
    Meanwhile, 40 billion (with a B) dollars goes to subsidize the fossil fool industry every year. I guess, according to Commonsense101, fossil fuels are not "competative" (sic).

  8. Senator Reid helped Chemetall receive a $28.4 Million dollar grant part of the Electric Drive Vehicle and Component Manufacturing Initiative. Part of the grant is being used to build a new automated Lithium Hydroxide plant in Kings Mountain, North Carolina and will become the USA's only operating Lithium Hydroxide processing plant when the new plant becomes operational in February 2012 as Silver Peak Lithium Hydroxide plant is scheduled to shut down by June 2012.

    Questions remain as to why Senator Reid would secure funding to help move jobs and tax revenues from Silver Peak, NV contrary to Reids radio re-election campaign ads.

  9. Paul,
    Please point readers to the source of your information so they may judge how valid your assertions are.

  10. Mark, I don't believe they should be giving any money to fossil fuels either. They don't need it. But you can't blame them for taking it as long as the gov. will give anyone who asks a check.

  11. If these are such great projects let Wall St invest in them. I am glad the facts are coming out this green jobs thing is a scam, about $1,000,000 per job? Please, just send them $300 a week checks that is cheaper..like the handheld calculator that cost $300 in 1960 and $3 now this will evolve on its' own terms.

  12. Mark, here are some of the sources. . .

    http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/oth...

    http://reid.senate.gov/newsroom/pr_10071...

    http://shelby.wbtv.com/news/business/30-...

    August 17, 2011 in Silver Peak, NV at the community center, Chemetall Corp Managers from Kings Mountain,N.C. and Silver Peak, NV presented a 1 hour presentation. "The Kings Mountain, N.C New Lithium Hydroxide plant will be operational February 2012 and the Silver Peak Lithium Hydroxide plant is scheduled to shut down by June 2012" according to Chemetall's presentation.

    Senator Reids news release conveniently leaves out any information about expansion at Kings Mountain,N.C. Quote from Reids news release "expansion of its lithium production operation in Silver Peak" how does moving the only operational Lithium Hydroxide plant in U.S.A. at Silver Peak, NV increase jobs or tax revenues in Nevada?

    PRupp-wife laid off from full time job in Silver Peak, NV at Chemetall since 2009, called back 4 times per year for 120 days work per year? What kind of an expansion is this?

    U.S. Government including Senator Reid speak with forked tongue. . .

  13. Hi Paul,
    The DOE document does not support any part of your paranoia but is required by law to assess environmental impacts of a project. Strike one.

    Reid's press room release is straightfoward and acknowleges the fact that DOE was responsible for the grant. What actual evidence do you have that Senator Reid steered money and knew the company would do what it did? Also, this quote from the press release is interesting: "This means more jobs in renewable energy. As of last month, 20 new jobs have been created either at Chemetall Foote or contractors directly working on projects for the site. During the peak of construction in 2011 and 2012, the project will employ 50 additional people. At the conclusion of the project in 2013 the site will employ fifty people, doubling the number of employees from 2009." These would have been estimates. Strike two.
    Your third link is to a simple press release by the company in question showing what exactly? That a private corporation is unreliable and duplicitous? We already knew that. Strike three.

    Given the ineptitude of your posts here I wonder what else was at work with your wife? Please keep your irrational hatred of Senator Reid to your self.

  14. Mark-thanks for your comments however incorrect they are. Its good to know that people like you are out there to name call when they can't accept the truth. Since you know so much, how many people did Chemetall employ yearly from 1966-2009, well Mark About 50 so where is the gain? And where is the drilling program to double the Lithium Carbonate production? Or where is the geothermal plant. And wondering what else was up with my wife?

    The facts about Chemetall and Reid may not square with political agenda, and that is a problem that you will have to deal with.

  15. So your claim is that Senator Reid is a BAD MAN because, without supporting evidence, the estimates were different at some level from what occurred. And the links you gave only support such a contention because you want them to. And Senator Reid somehow forced Chemetall to do something to move to the East. Well alrighty then...

  16. "Unfortunately, electric cars are about to do a barrier crash into economic reality, and all the airbags in the world won't be able to save them. The taxpayers' $2.4 billion is destined to join Obama's $535 million investment in solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra at the bottom of the crony-capitalism "stimulus" rat hole". source>http://www.personalliberty.com/conservative-politics/electric-cars-a-bad-idea-whose-time-has-come/?eiid=&rmid=2011_09_28_PLA_[P11167147]&rrid=238472977

    $2.4Billion is part of Obama's-Dept of Energy "Electric Drive Vehicle and Component Manufacturing Initiative"
    of which Chemetall's $28.4 Million grant comes from.

    Mark- I would love to see Chemetall succeed as it would benefit everyone locally and national. At some point one must ask if Senator Reid is naive for wishing a different outcome.

    Has Senator Reid been honest about about the DOE $28.4 M dollar grant and the consequences to the Nevada economy? Senator Reid did not force Chemetall to relocate to North Carolina, he(Reid) merely helped provide public money to do so at the expense of Nevada jobs and tax revenues.

  17. Paul,
    Nice propaganda site you are linking to. The author of this uninformed article is:
    "John Myers is editor of Myers' Energy and Gold Report. The son of C.V. Myers, the original publisher of Oilweek Magazine, John has worked with two of the world's largest investment publishers, Phillips and Agora. He was the original editor for Outstanding Investments and has more than 20 years experience as an investment writer. John is a graduate of the University of Calgary. He has worked for Prudential Securities in Spokane, Wash., as a registered investment advisor. His office location in Calgary, Alberta, is just minutes away from the headquarters of some of the biggest players in today's energy markets. This gives him personal access to everyone from oil CEOs to roughnecks, where he learns secrets from oil insiders he passes on to his subscribers. Plus, during his years in Spokane he cultivated a network of relationships with mining insiders in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. "
    He has no expertise in the subject he is writing about and has oil connections. Shouldn't this make you suspect his motives? And his integrity?

  18. Oh and Paul,

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/busine...

    "Extracting lithium from brine is a standard way to produce the metal. The only American lithium producer, Chemetall Foote, in Clayton Valley, Nev., makes the material by pumping brine into ponds and waiting months for the water to evaporate. Two other companies have announced plans to produce lithium in Nevada using the more conventional method of evaporation.

    Simbol officials say they have developed a proprietary filtering process that takes minutes and will be located on piping that is a minor detour for brine that the geothermal energy company is pumping anyway. Costs are low enough to compete in the world market, company officials say, and environmental impacts are small since the geothermal plant is already in operation."