IRS: Renewables Companies May Be Double-Dipping Federal Subsidies

Wind turbines near Tehachapi | Photo: db's travels/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Federally subsidized wind turbine and solar facility owners may be double-dipping federal subsidies, according to a report by a division of the Internal Revenue Service, and the taxing agency has no way of sorting out which companies may be doing so.

Owners of wind turbines that were subsidized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the federal Stimulus program, are ineligible for wind power tax credits for those turbines. The same goes for stimulus-funded solar facilities and the Investment Tax Credit. But the Internal Revenue Service currently has no way of determining which companies got stimulus subsidies, raising the possibility that wind and solar companies may be receiving tax credit payments for those ineligible turbines.

If that's the case, then those companies could be engaging in a form of "double-dipping," either by error or design, that brings them more federal subsidies than the projects warrant. And according to a report by the IRS Inspector General, more than half of the ARRA grant recipients examined merit closer audits as a result.

Feds Green Light 2 More Solar Projects in Ivanpah Valley

Young desert tortoise emerges from ground. | Photo: mbtrama/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Interior Department announced Wednesday it was approving two large solar projects in the Mojave Desert that may displace or harm more than 2,000 desert tortoises.

In a formal Record of Decision, or ROD, issued February 19, Interior approved two projects on more than six square miles of public land in California and Nevada for the Stateline and Silver State South solar projects, which the Arizona-based firm First Solar wants to build near the Mojave National Preserve south of Las Vegas. They are the 49th and 50th large renewable energy projects approved on public lands during the Obama administration.

According to an assessment of the projects released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013, the two projects are expected to displace, injure, or kill up to 2,115 federally Threatened desert tortoises. Most of the mortalities will happen to young tortoises and will likely be killed without even being detected, the agency noted.

Mainstream Media Slams Ivanpah, California's Latest Solar Project

Photo making the rounds shows a bird injured last year by solar flux at Ivanpah solar | Photo: BrightSource Energy, filed in public documents bwith California Energy Commission

If the owners of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System assumed the plant's formal opening last week would generate a wave of positive press, they're certainly regretting their assumption this week.

Though the ribbon-cutting on February 13 did prompt some uncritical praise from a few sectors, the overwhelming response from mainstream press around the world focused attention on an issue ReWire's been covering almost since we started up in 2012: the risk to birds and other wildlife from the project's concentrated solar radiation.

The project, which formally went online Thursday after three years of construction, uses more than 170,000 mirrored heliostats to focus sunlight on boilers atop three 459-foot towers. As we've written extensively in past months, the concentration of "solar flux" creates extremely high air temperatures near the towers. Those superheated zones around each tower may pose serious risk to birds and other wildlife that fly through them, and it looks as though the world press is taking notice.

Milestone: Ivanpah Solar Plant Formally Opens

It's been a long road for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), from its formal proposal by BrightSource Energy in 2007 through the well-publicized problems with desert wildlife, some of which actually brought construction to a brief halt in 2011. And this week, in a formal ceremony on Thursday, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz ushered the 377-megawatt solar power plant into its next phase, as he formally opened the plant for business.

Moniz lauded the plant in a press release issued before the ceremony, to which ReWire was not invited for some reason. "The Ivanpah project is a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy," said Moniz. "As the President made clear in the State of the Union, we must continue to move toward a cleaner energy economy, and this project shows that building a clean energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions, and fosters American innovation."

The Department of Energy backed Ivanpah's construction with $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from its Loan Programs Office. At the ceremony, NRG Energy president Tom Doyle credited that loan guarantee with the plant's successful completion. (Though BrightSource developed the tech used at ISEGS, the plant is co-owned and co-managed by NRG Energy with Google owning part of the plant as well.)

Power Lost by Shuttered Nuclear Plant May Be Replaced With Renewable Energy

The state grapples with how to replace power from the closed Son Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. | Photo: the city project/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The state agency responsible for regulating California's public utilities has proposed a plan for adjusting to the loss of power from the shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant, and part of that plan involves generating a lot more renewable energy -- though environmental activists say the plan could be a lot better.

The proposed decision, released Tuesday by the California Public Utilities Commission, authorizes Southern California Edison to procure from 400 to 700 megawatts of electrical power from energy efficiency, demand response programs, energy storage, and renewable power generating capacity by 2022. San Diego Gas & Electric would be allowed to procure between 200 and 700 megawatts from similar sources.

That should go quite a ways toward replacing the power lost to the system when the beleaguered San Diego County nuclear power plant went offline in 2012, taking more than 2.2 gigawatts of generating capacity off the grid. But at least one environmental group involved in the proceedings is saying the proposal still allows the utilities to buy more gas-fired power, representing a net loss for the state's climate footprint.

Californians Asked to Save Energy Due to Bitter Cold Back East

You know what to do. | Photo: Mike/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The bitter cold that's locked down much of the United States is having an effect even in relatively warm California: demand for natural gas for heating and extra power back east is cutting supplies to Southern California gas-fired power plants. That's prompted the state's grid operator to ask us all to cut down on the power we use.

In other words, the California Independent System Operator Corporation is issuing a statewide Flex Alert for Thursday, February 6, lasting until 10:00 p.m.

"While the natural gas shortage is only impacting Southern California power plants," says CaISO in its announcement Thursday, "statewide electricity and gas conservation will help free up both electricity and gas supplies for Southern Californians. Customers in both Southern and Northern California are asked to reduce their energy use between 1:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m."