K Street and green failure
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My better half believes that no room is complete without myriad mirrors on every wall.

That is why she enjoys whenever we drive by the world's largest solar power production facility, the $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a 350,000-mirror facility built with $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from President Obama's Energy Department.

Just 50 miles from Las Vegas and less than a mile from the busy Interstate 15, Ivanpah is seen by millions of people on their way to Las Vegas or to Southern California. It is impossible to miss.

The 350,000 mirrors are computer-directed to focus their reflected sunlight onto tall towers, where the cumulative 1,000-degree heat turns water into steam that turns electricity-producing turbines. It is designed to produce electricity for 140,000 homes.


It looks great; it "empowers" a "green" person. The problem: It is failing. It is producing but a quarter the electricity it is designed to produce. It is a flop.

It is channeling the experience of another Obama-inspired high-tech sun power company called Solyndra, which lost $500 million in taxpayer-guaranteed funds on its way to bankruptcy. At least two dozen other renewable energy start-up companies financed by the Obama administration since 2009 have gone bust or are on their way to bankruptcy.

Solyndra's application for federal loan guarantees was turned down by the George W. Bush administration, so how did it manage to get Obama's people to approve the $500 million?

It happened because Washington's infamous K Street, home to the multibillion dollar lobbyist industry, harbored an energy expert who used to work for Democratic senators interested in energy. Steve McBee is his name and he founded McBee Strategic Consulting.

He, like other lobbyists, worked under a 2005 law that required companies to attach a "down payment" of their own money to application for federal grants or loans.

When Obama was elected in 2008, McBee leaped into the fray to purportedly change that law on behalf of energy companies. Obama approved.

Timothy Carey wrote in the Washington Examiner that "K Street is the epicenter of this green-industrial complex, and ground zero might be the firm founded by Democratic revolving-door earmark lobbyist Steve McBee."

What McBee did: He convinced enough Congress people to pass into law the elimination of the down payment requirement of federal loan and grant applications and companies like Solyndra, a McBee client, lined up to the U.S. Treasury with moving vans to fill with federal cash.

So how does the Mojave Desert flower of Ivanpah fit in to this story? Easy — Ivanpah is owned by NRG Energy, Google and Bright Source Energy. McBee helped those companies lock down the $1.6 billion federal loan guaranty, without which Ivanpah would have never been built. When the energy triad's application was approved by Obama Energy officials that McBee helped arrive at the decision, they pulled up their own moving vans and made off with the money.

Ivanpah has been open for business for almost a year and it is falling short of its production goals and projections — falling short by 75 percent.

It has fallen so short that similar projects are being abandoned at the idea stage. The New York Times reported on Feb. 13, 2014 that "Senior analyst Matthew Feinstein of Lux Research says, 'I don't think that we are going to see large-scale solar thermal plants popping up, five at a time, every year in the U.S. in the long term — it's just not the way it's going to work."

On top of the disastrous electricity production and its recent California-approved increase in natural gas usage to turn its turbines, the facility has been inspected by federal and California wildlife officials and they have determined by personal observation that birds are being killed, one every two minutes of the day when the sun is out. Birds fly into the concentrated sunlight beams and are burned to death.

Ivanpah has been determined to be the largest killer of feathered wildlife in the United States. Strike No. 1.

Investor's Business Daily editorialized on Nov. 11 that "The sun doesn't always shine, and the electricity that is produced can't be stored for a cloudy day." Strike No. 2.

McBee made big D.C. K Street news at the end of 2014, when he announced that he had sold some of McBee Strategic Consulting to the gigantic K Street firm of Wiley Rein.

Almost at the same time, McBee announced that he was taking the job of CEO of NRG Home with 5,000 employees and a $300 million investment in the 350,000 mirrors of Ivanpah.

The interesting thing about this dual-barreled K Street bombshell was that McBee and Wiley Rein negotiated what appears to be a three-sided deal without telling McBee's partners and 60 employees. Wiley Rein specifically bought the grant writing procurement division of McBee Strategic, the part called the Government Capital Division. McBee walked away with the cash, took a high-flying job and Wiley Rein got the clients including NRG. Some of the blindsided employees were offered jobs; some were not.

Almost at the very moment McBee made his announcements, his new company, NRG Energy and its two Ivanpah partners, Google and Bright Source, announced that they had applied to the Obama administration for a grant of $539 million to help pay off their $1.6 billion loan that built the failing electricity facility in the Mojave Desert.

Who wrote the application and who will try to influence the lame-duck Obama administration to throw $500 million more good money after bad? An educated guess? Perhaps Steve McBee, new president and CEO of NRG Home.

Contreras formerly wrote for Creators Syndicate and the New America News Service of The New York Times Syndicate.