WASHINGTON — Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, on a former cattle ranch and gypsum mine, NRG Energy is building an engineering marvel: a compound of nearly a million solar panels that will produce enough electricity to power about 100,000 homes.and
The project is also a marvel in another, less obvious way: Taxpayers and ratepayers are providing subsidies worth almost as much as the entire $1.6 billion cost of the project. Similar subsidy packages have been given to 15 other solar- and wind-power electric plants since 2009.
The government support — which includes loan guarantees, cash grants and contracts that require electric customers to pay higher rates — largely eliminated the risk to the private investors and almost guaranteed them large profits for years to come. The beneficiaries include financial firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, conglomerates like General Electric, utilities like Exelon and NRG — even Google.
“It is like building a hotel, where you know in advance you are going to have 100 percent room occupancy for 25 years,” said Kevin Smith, chief executive of SolarReserve. His Nevada solar project has secured a 25-year power-purchase agreement with the state’s largest utility and a $737 million Energy Department loan guarantee and is on track to receive a $200 million Treasury grant.And yes, there is no doubt that the deals are lucrative for the companies involved.
G.E., for example, lobbied Congress in 2009 to help expand the subsidy programs, and it now profits from every aspect of the boom in renewable-power plant construction.And I have no doubt that that last statement is 50% right. It is good for his company. But as for the country keep in mind,
It is also an investor in one solar and one wind project that have secured about $2 billion in federal loan guarantees and expects to collect nearly $1 billion in Treasury grants. The company has also won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to sell its turbines to wind plants built with public subsidies.
Mr. Katell said G.E. and other companies were simply “playing ball” under the rules set by Congress and the Obama administration to promote the industry. “It is good for the country, and good for our company,” he said.
A great deal of attention has been focused on Solyndra, a start-up that received $528 million in federal loans to develop cutting-edge solar technology before it went bankrupt