Fire at solar power plant leads to partial shutdown

AP/Fuel Fix:
A small fire shut down a generating tower at the world’s largest solar power plant, leaving the sprawling facility on the California-Nevada border operating at only a third of its capacity, authorities said.

Firefighters had to climb some 300 feet up a boiler tower at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California after fire was reported on an upper level around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, fire officials said.

The plant works by using mirrors to focus sunlight on boilers at the top of three 459-foot towers, creating steam that drive turbines to produce electricity. But some misaligned mirrors instead focused sunbeams on a different level of Unit 3, causing electrical cables to catch fire, San Bernardino County, California fire Capt. Mike McClintock said.
The plant can produce enough power for 140,000 California homes, but a second tower is shut down for maintenance, leaving only one running. It was not immediately clear what impact that would have on California’s electricity supply.

It was the first fire at the plant, which opened two years ago on federal land in the Mojave Desert about 45 miles southwest of Las Vegas. The $2.2 billion complex has nearly 350,000 computer controlled mirrors — each roughly the size of a garage door — that sprawl over roughly five square miles of desert.
The plant has been troubled for some time and is not producing electricity at the anticipated rate.   In March of this year, there was concern that the plant would default on its power contracts.  Environmentalist also raised concern about all the birds that have been cooked flying near the facility.

The $2.2 billion plant was financed with $1.5 billion in loans from the federal government.  It is looking like another loser for Obama's green energy initiative.

The cost of electricity from the plant is exorbitant.  The price ranges from $135 to $200 per megawatt hour compared to $35 per megawatt hour for natural gas plants.


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