I am writing this letter not as a CEO, but as an energy professional with 40 years dedicated to advancing energy technology to power our world. I’ve built projects in more than a dozen countries on five continents with technologies including nuclear, natural gas, coal, oil, municipal waste, wind, and for the last 12 years solar.
The Crescent Dunes power facility referred to in a recent letter to Your Views in The Lima News used innovative U.S. technology developed by my previous employer, SolarReserve. Note, SolarReserve and the Crescent Dunes project used completely different technology than is being proposed for the Birch solar project. The engineers at SolarReserve, a small startup company in 2008, looked to commercialize a first-of-its-kind technology, originally developed in partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA’s largest rocket engine company, Rocketdyne. The technology, called Concentrated Solar Power or Solar Thermal, proved that you could store energy from the sun in molten salts and generate electricity from the sun 24-hours per day.
I am proud of the work we did at SolarReserve, and I am proud of the dedicated engineers at SolarReserve that developed this groundbreaking American technology. The SolarReserve team and its investors took some risks to advance the clean energy market, and to try and provide a more sustainable future.
The Crescent Dunes project operated for the past seven years, and is expected to restart operations in early 2021. The project has had operational issues, not unusual for a first-of-its kind project and technology. SolarReserve was privately funded, and borrowed no money from the U.S. government. The project investors in the Crescent Dunes facility, which SolarReserve was a minority investor, utilized the DOE Loan Guarantee Program to fund a portion of the billion dollar project costs. A fraction of those overall borrowed funds remains outstanding, despite the incorrect reporting from Bloomberg.
The DOE Loan Guarantee program, originally initiated by President Bush and moved forward under President Obama, funded tens of billions to incubate new technology projects for our country’s energy future (including electric vehicle companies, such as Tesla). The overall DOE Loan Guarantee program has been a major success, now generating positive income for U.S. taxpayers, even though there were a few advanced technology projects that have struggled. To date, only a handful of solar thermal projects have been built worldwide, as the dramatic fall in prices for solar panels (assisted by the DOE Loan Guarantee Program) have essentially made this “space-age” technology uncompetitive against other forms of electricity generation, at least for now. You see this happening across the energy spectrum, as dozens and dozens of coal and nuclear projects have also become uncompetitive as compared to solar PV and low-priced natural gas. The energy markets will continue to evolve.
The Birch solar project planned for the Allen and Auglaize counties uses the same (boring) photovoltaic (PV) panel technology that exists on millions of homes, offices, hospitals, and schools and in thousands of large scale solar facilities. This technology has now proven to be the winning solar technology, largely driven by advances in efficiency and manufacturing cost reductions. This proven safe, quiet, and clean technology that’s been around since the 1950’s is now powering many millions of homes in the U.S. and around the world. Communities across America are supporting this technology to not only reduce pollution from electricity generation, but to take advantage of the other local benefits, including the generation of substantial local tax revenue, creating jobs, and diversifying the incomes of local farmers.
The state of Ohio is expected to benefit from billions in additional tax revenues from building solar in the state. Solar projects are one of the highest new sources of revenue for local governments, and can serve as an economic engine for Ohio.
Kevin Smith is the CEO of Lightsource bp in the U.S.