Ivanpah in California is the world’s largest solar project. The project is owned by Google and NRG Energy, and is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Ivanpah originally received a $1.6 billion loan from the Department of Energy (DOE) in 2011. Now the company is asking for another government subsidy to pay off its original loan.
Ivanpah’s loan guarantee came from the Section 1705 program created by the 2009 stimulus law. Section 1705 provided up to $18 billion in loan guarantees to “certain renewable energy systems, electric power transmission systems and leading-edge biofuels.” The program was temporary, with loans available until the end of fiscal year 2011. Unlike previous energy loan guarantee programs, Congress even provided subsidies to borrowers to pay the fees on loans.. As a consequence, firms were able to get a federal loan guarantee without any direct expenditure, providing a large incentive for firms to take advantage. By the end of the Section 1705 program in September 2011, DOE approved 27 projects totaling $14.5 billion.
Business failures among these loan recipients were common, the most famous being Solyndra. Solyndra, a solar-panel manufacturer, received a $535 million loan guarantee before filing bankruptcy. An analysis by the Reason Foundation found that 10 of the 27 recipients under Section 1705 experienced some sort of financial trouble.
The survival of Ivanpah is still up in the air. The project came online in December 2013. From January to August 2014, the project generated just one quarter of its predicted amount of electricity.
In February, the company asked DOE for permission to delay payments on its loan. According to the Wall Street Journal, DOE gave Ivanpah a one-year extension on the $132 million first payment. A second subcomponent—the loan is divided among three subcomponents—delayed a June payment of $159 million to December.
Now, Ivanpah is asking for $539 million in cash from the federal government. This time, Ivanpah is targeting a Department of Treasury tax credit program that reimburses renewable energy projects for up to 30 percent of project costs.
Ivanpah would use the proceeds to pay off a large portion of its $1.6 billion loan. The company is asking the federal government to provide it with an enormous amount of cash to be used to payoff its debt to taxpayers. DOE actually requires Ivanpah to apply for a tax credit to aid loan repayment.
The process is absurd. First, the government uses tax dollars to provide a loan guarantee to a risky firm. Then, it functionally forgives a large share of the outstanding balance after providing a large tax credit. This is an unjustified giveaway to investors in Ivanpah and a horrible deal for taxpayers.
Energy subsidies have a long history of waste and mismanagement, but Congress ignores the record and keeps the money flowing. If approved, the Ivanpah tax credit would be another $539 million flushed down the drain.