35,000 tons of CO2 annually equals insignificant environmental impact (solar #18)


The Ivanpah solar facility will need to increase the amount of natural gas burned in order to keep the facility running efficiently. Using an extra 601 million cubic feet of gas each year will not have any significant environmental impact.

Chris Clarke reports on the plant owner’s request on 3/27: Ivanpah Solar Plant Owners Want To Burn a Lot More Natural Gas. The application is found here. Most of the application is over my head, but I was able understand much of it.

To keep each of the three powerplants running requires having a gas-powered turbine running 4.5 hours a day. This is to help warm up the water and maintain production as the sun goes down.

One big thing I learned is those gas burning turbines cover the output when the sun goes behind a cloud. Thus, the backstop for make up for the sun disappearing for moments or minutes or hours is to burn natural gas onsite. That means we burn natural gas to boil water to turn turbines to generate electricity.

The Ivanpah project had previous approval for running the turbines an hour a day. All the engineering experts thought that was all it would take. A few months experience has shown that it takes about 4.5 hours a day. It takes far more natural gas than they thought.

As a result, each of the three power plants will need permission to burn up to 525 million cubic feet of gas a year (MMSCF), up from previously allowed 328 MMSCF. That increases total gas usage for the three towers from 974 MMSCF to 1,575 MMSCF, or 601 million.

The good news is that thanks to fracking, all that gas won’t cost as much as it would have five years ago. Also, won’t be any problem getting that much extra gas, since so much of it is available today.

Extrapolating from the calculations provided by Mr. Clarke, this means the Ivanpah facility will use an additional amount of natural gas equal to:

  • 34,960 tons of CO2 output, or
  • power needed to supply 13,300 households year, or
  • CO2 footprint of 6,270 average cars

That is in addition to the carbon from what’s already been improved. Keep in mind the application would bring the total carbon footprint of the gas turbines to about 92,200 tons a year.

So what is the owner’s assessment of that additional carbon output?

From the application:

The proposed changes referenced in this (application) will not result in any additional potential significant impacts beyond those already identified

The facility will need to increase the allowed hours of natural gas burning from 1 hour a day to 4.5 hours a day. They didn’t fully understand the power needs of their solar plant. I get it. Actual operations always show the flaws in what you thought would happen. That’s fine.

The entertaining part is claiming 35,000 tons of additional carbon output is “no significant impact.”


Remember that next time we talk about the incredible reduction in carbon impact from solar. Keep in mind 35K tons is insignificant.

Also, check the math on carbon savings to see whether the calculations take into consideration the ‘no significant impact’ of that extra 35,000 tons at Ivanpah.

(Photo by James Ulvog)

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