Obama to tout green energy ‘investments’ at solar facility employing 5 workers, relying on $54 million in taxpayer subsidies

Presidential visit to Boulder City solar plant shines light on high costs, small rewards of ‘green energy’ projects

BOULDER CITY, Nev. — President Obama will tout investments in “renewable” energy Wednesday at the local Copper Mountain Solar 1 plant, although the plant has only five full-time employees.

The plant, owned by San Diego-based energy company Sempra, was built in late 2010 at a cost of $141 million. Funding included $42 million in federal-government tax credits and $12 million in tax-rebate commitments from the state of Nevada.

Construction of the plant involved over 300 part-time jobs, but currently only five full-time employees operate the plant, a Sempra spokeswoman confirmed. That comes out to $10.8 million in tax-dollar subsidies per employee.

Solar 1 is the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant in the country and is regarded as a “revenue generator” by Sempra. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Boulder City expects to receive over $60 million in lease revenue from the plant.

Boulder City Manager Vicki Mayes, however, told Nevada Journal the $60 million was "highly inaccurate" and that the total lease revenue will be "much less."

Increasing green-energy production has been one of President Obama’s main goals since he took office. Politicians such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and officials including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu have zealously encouraged green-energy subsidies in Nevada.

In addition to wanting to create many new jobs, President Obama has claimed green-energy investment will decrease America’s energy costs and reduce the country’s dependency on foreign oil.

In Boulder City, however, renewables have produced no lower energy costs. Instead, in late 2009, the city approved a 35 percent rate hike, while power generated by Copper Mountain is to go to Southern California — rather than serve Nevadans whose taxes helped finance the plant.

The solar energy is being sold by Sempra to California, which has mandated that 33 percent of the state’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2020.

Nationally, solar energy is unlikely to help the president achieve his goal of lower energy costs. Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, the free-market think tank that publishes Nevada Journal, noted in his Solutions 2013 report that, even according to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar-PV energy will cost three and a half times more than energy from traditional sources such as coal.

“President Obama's visit to the Solar 1 Facility in Boulder City is the perfect illustration of why the president’s economic policies are such a failure," said Andy Matthews, president of NPRI. “The government has spent over $50 million to ‘create’ five permanent jobs and build a plant producing a product — expensive solar energy — that no one would purchase without a government mandate.

“That’s not a path to a vibrant economy; it’s the road to serfdom. This mindset — of government attempting to pick winners and losers in the economy through subsidies and regulation — is a major reason why the national unemployment rate is at 8.3 percent, Nevada's unemployment rate is 12.7 percent and the national debt is over $15.5 trillion.”

Nevada received over $1 billion in federal “stimulus” funds for energy and environmental projects, yet state ratepayers still pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Recently, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved yet another rate increase.

Solar plants aren’t the only government-funded energy projects in Nevada that haven't lived up to their proponents’ promises. The Reno Gazette-Journal recently reported that seven local windmills that cost taxpayers $1 million to install have only saved the City of Reno $2,785 in electricity costs over their 18 months of existence.

Kyle Gillis is an investigative reporter for Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more in-depth reporting, visit http://nevadajournal.com/ and http://npri.org/.

Media contact: Victor Joecks, NPRI Communications Director, vj@npri.org, 702-222-0642

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Nevada Journal, a member of the Nevada Press Association (NPA) and Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), is an independent nonprofit reporting effort that adheres to the SPJ standards of professional journalism and specializes in in-depth and investigative journalism.

For the last 20 years, Nevada Journal has been published by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan public-policy think tank.

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