Latest Posts





The One Billion Dollar Solar Failure in Nevada

A solar thermal plant in Nevada is the latest in the long list of Obama administration energy failures. The Crescent Dunes solar facility remains on the hook to repay $737 million in loan guarantees from the federal government, according to Bloomberg. Unlike solar facilities in Minnesota, which use photovoltaic (PV) panels to turn sunlight into electricity, the Crescent Dunes plant used an array of mirrors to heat a tank filled with molten salt that would then heat water to generate steam and electricity.

The difference between solar pv and thermal solar plants like Crescent Dunes is important because PV panels have seen a reduction in cost of about 80 percent since 2010, causing solar thermal plants to fall out of favor with developers. As a result, solar thermal projects like Crescents Dunes are going belly up. But according to the Obama administration, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

According to Bloomberg:

In 2011 the $1 billion project was to be the biggest solar plant of its kind, and it looked like the future of renewable power. Citigroup Inc. and other financiers invested $140 million with its developer, SolarReserve Inc. Steven Chu, the U.S. Department of Energy secretary at the time, offered the company government loan guarantees, and Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader and senior senator from Nevada, cleared the way for the company to build on public land. At a Washington celebration of SolarReserve’s public funding, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Smith told the assembled politicians, “We’re proud to be doing our part to win the future.”

It appears the future was lost, as the facility has been shut down since last April after the facility lost its last customer because the solar installation was too unreliable. According to the Bloomberg article, the cost of generating electricity from Crescent Dunes was $135 per megawatt hour, which is about 4.2 times more than the electricity generated at the Sherburne County coal plant in Becker, Minnesota.

Solar advocates will argue that the declining cost of solar PV is reason to continue building it, but they are missing the point. It is true that solar PV costs have fallen about 80 percent since 2010, according to Lawrence Berkeley Labs data, but solar panels are still more expensive (and less useful) new natural gas plants.

The main problem with the government getting involved in subsidizing and mandating particular energy sources is that these policies try to prevent winners from winning and keep losers from losing. In the case of the Crescent Dunes solar array, even nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money wasn’t enough to keep it afloat.





Upcoming Events

  • Morning in Minnesota Breakfast Series: Winona

    Location: Signatures Restaurant, 22852 County Road 17, Winona, MN 55987

    Please join Center of the American Experiment Friday, March 6 at Signatures for a FREE breakfast with economist John Phelan.

    Register Now
  • Lunch Forum with Amity Shlaes

    Location: Hyatt Regency Minneapolis 1300 Nicollet Mall Minneapolis, MN 55403

    Buy tickets for March 2nd HERE. About This Event: Enjoy our Early Bird Ticket Special through February 23rd! After this date, ticket price will increase to $30. Doors open at 11:30 AM, program and lunch begin at Noon. In Great Society, the New York Times bestselling author of The Forgotten Man and Coolidgeoffers a stunning revision of our last great period of idealism, the 1960s, with burning relevance for our contemporary challenges. Today, a battle rages in our country. Many Americans are attracted to socialism and economic redistribution while opponents of those ideas argue for purer capitalism. In the 1960s, Americans…

    Register Now
  • 2020 Annual Dinner Featuring Sarah Huckabee Sanders

    Location: Minneapolis Convention Center Ballroom 1301 2nd Ave S Minneapolis, MN 55403

    American President: The Unorthodox Approach to Politics that Changed the World. Sarah Huckabee Sanders served as White House Press Secretary for President Donald J. Trump from 2017 to 2019. A trusted confidant of the President, Sanders advised him on everything from press and communications strategy to personnel and policy. For two and a half years, Sanders was at the President’s side, battling with the media, working with lawmakers and CEOs, and staffing the President on every foreign trip, including dozens of meetings with foreign leaders. Sanders is only the third woman and the first mother to hold the job of…

    Register Now