The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced that it’s clawing back $200 million from the now-defunct Crescent Dunes solar power plant near Tonopah, Nevada.
The bad news, however, is that the Obama-era debacle cost taxpayers $737 million in crony loan guarantees, and the project’s developer was unable to repay another $224.7 million it owes the government pursuant to a settlement agreement.
Crescent Dunes, located 200 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was a fiasco from the outset.
The same administration and Democrat-controlled Congress that lost billions funding renewable energy losers like Solyndra and Fisker Automotive, committed to making Crescent Dunes the largest solar-energy plant of its kind.
Using Great Recession stimulus funds meant to revamp a devastated American economy, the Obama administration guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars and leveraged $140 million from the freshly bailed-out Citigroup bank to build the so-called future of solar power.
Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader and senior senator from Nevada, cleared the way for SolarReserve, Inc., the project’s developer, to build on public land.
Ron Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s brother-in-law, sat on the board of an investment partner.
At a Washington, D.C., celebration of SolarReserve’s public funding bonanza, Kevin Smith, the company’s CEO, told a group of assembled politicians, “We’re proud to be doing our part to win the future,” Bloomberg Businessweek reported.
That was arguably the high point of the entire Crescent Dunes affair.
Launched in 2011, the project failed to operate until 2015. It was supposed to deliver 110-megawatts of solar-generated electricity to 75,000 homes. But it rarely generated anything close to the project’s touted benefits.
In fact, by the time Crescent Dunes opened, it was already obsolete.
Despite the impressive appearance of ten thousand solar mirrors spiraling almost two miles wide around a lone skyscraper in the Nevada desert between Las Vegas and Reno, the project’s basic technology-plan was faulty.
Crescent Dunes relied on sunshine to generate heat in order to turn steam generators and store energy in the form of molten salt. The process was expensive, labor-intensive and low yield at its best—but somehow deemed worthy of massive taxpayer investment.
The shiny outer image was effectively a desert mirage.
Newer, cheaper, more efficient technology had already surpassed Crescent Dunes before the plant went online in 2015, ensuring its eventual demise.
The plant’s only customer, NV Energy, was owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which in turn was owned by Obama-friendly multi-billionaire Warren Buffett.
In April 2019, NV Energy cut ties with SolarReserve and the solar energy money-pit went out of business.
The Trump administration was forced to assume responsibility for the bankrupt venture in August 2019, and the Trump-led Department of Energy forced a settlement last week.
The plant’s builder, ACS Cobra, blamed the debacle on “technical issues,” according to federal court records.
The terms of the settlement allow ACS Cobra to upgrade the remnants of the Crescent Dunes plant and sell electricity as long as the DOE recoups the $200 million and can garnish future proceeds to make taxpayers whole.
DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said the Trump administration had tried to salvage the project given the obscene amount of taxpayer losses involved, but it was ultimately unworkable.
“The Department’s decision was made after years of exhausting options within our authority to get the project back on track, given the significant taxpayer investment the prior Administration committed to this project,” Hynes said.