Company wants to build huge solar array in Nevada desert

Source: By The Associated Press • Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2016


SOLAR RESERVE. Crescent Dunes, a thermal solar plant near Tonopah, is the world’s first utility-scale facility to feature advanced molten salt power tower energy storage capabilities.

A California company says it intends to spend billions of dollars to build the largest solar power plant in the world on a sprawling 25-square-mile plot in the sun-baked Nevada desert about 225 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

SolarReserve chief executive Kevin Smith outlined a plan Tuesday to create a 10-tower concentrated solar array dubbed Sandstone Energy X near the Nye County city of Tonopah.

Smith, with U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Deputy federal Energy Secretary Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, said the goal is to produce enough electricity to power about a million homes, probably in California.

SolarReserve already operates a single-tower project on 1,600 acres of federal land outside Tonopah called the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant.

It can produce up to 110 megawatts of electricity by focusing a 1-mile circle of mirrors on a 640-foot central tower to heat molten salt to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The superheated salt is used to boil water to drive power turbines.

The new project could cost $5 billion and would be larger by far than any existing solar facility in the world, Smith told the Las Vegas Review-Journal ( ). It would produce between 1,500 and 2,000 megawatts of electricity, comparable to a nuclear power plant or Hoover Dam.

It would resemble the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a three-tower concentrated solar thermal plant that has been operating for more than two years in the Mojave Desert about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas. That project, owned by NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy and Google, is visible to motorists on Interstate 15 just south of the Nevada-California state line.

SolarReserve officials said the Crescent Dunes and Sandstone projects differ from Ivanpah because they are designed to store heat without backup fuels or batteries to deliver electricity even in darkness, with zero emissions, little water use and no hazardous waste.

A 16,000-acre Sandstone site on federal land in Nye County could be announced next year, Smith said, with construction to begin by 2020. SolarReserve will need to build transmission lines to carry the electricity to market.

Smith told the Review-Journal the company, based in Santa Monica, California, will explore federal loan programs and private financing to pay for the new project.

Crescent Dunes cost about $1 billion, and was backed by $737 million in federal loan guarantees. Nevada’s dominant utility, NV Energy, agreed to buy that plant’s entire output at 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 25 years — roughly twice the cost of power from a natural gas-fueled plant.

Smith said no power purchase agreements have been struck yet for the Sandstone project.