According to a story in the Washington Examiner, House Republicans, led by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, are taking aim at a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s energy policy, consisting of lavish subsidies for utility-scale solar power stations. Gohmert’s National Resources Committee is primarily concerned about the Ivanpah plant in California near the Nevada border. The facility has experienced a number of technical problems since it opened in 2014, including catching on fire at one point. The solar plant has also been criticized by environmentalists for impacting fragile desert ecosystems and killing migratory birds who fly into its concentrated solar rays.

Ironically, the Obama administration has conducted an assault on fossil fuels based on environmental concerns. Gohmert and his committee are doing the same to utility-scale solar power based on similar logic. The Obama administration has spent tens of billions of dollars on loan guarantees and outright grants in an attempt to jumpstart a solar industry that it hopes will supplant fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. The project ran into difficulties for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the collapse of natural gas prices due to the fracking boom.

In any case, the growth in the efficiency of photovoltaic cells and the steady decrease in installation costs may well make government subsidies unnecessary. Furthermore, some utility-scale solar power plants are being built on bodies of water, including reservoirs, which would tend to mitigate their environmental impact.

Plants such as Ivanpah do not use photovoltaic cells. Instead, they use huge mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays to heat a fluid that in turn run generators.

They need a vast amount of land to work, hence their location in out of the way deserts. The approach is different from the deployment of photovoltaic cells on rooftops that directly convert sunlight into electricity.

Engineers are struggling with the problem of power storage, necessary to allow solar energy to be functional at night and during inclement weather. The idea is that excess electricity would be stored in batteries that would then release power when the sun is not out.

Rooftop solar power systems also can return electricity to the grid during peak power periods.

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