BLM pushing for solar projects to be developed

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management wants to see some progress from solar developers on a handful of projects along Highway 160 on the border with Clark County sometime around the middle of 2015.

Element Power, a company which last year bragged it developed 430 megawatts of renewable energy projects in the five years since its creation, has plans for a 300-megawatt, photo voltaic plant on the Nye County side of the county line, stretching south from Highway 160.

Across the Clark County line, Abengoa Solar submitted a plan of development with the BLM for a 640-megawatt solar project that was originally slated for Lathrop Wells.

Boulevard Associates, a division of NextEra Energy Resources, which got a record of decision for a 300-megawatt photo voltaic project south of Buckeye, Ariz., has a piece of land farther southeast down Highway 160 for its 250-megawatt, Sandy Valley Solar project. South of there, BrightSource Energy, which suspended plans for a 500-megawatt concentrated solar power plant on the Tecopa Road just across the California state line in April 2013, has a plan of development for a 1,000-megawatt solar plant, the Sandy Valley project.

Besides the BLM, solar developers are running up against a deadline at the end of 2016 to complete construction to qualify for investment tax credits, according to BLM Renewable Project Manager Greg Helseth. That barely leaves enough time to go through the National Environmental Policy Act process with the BLM, he said.

The federal government designated a series of renewable energy zones, including one in western Amargosa Valley. But the only movement on the designated solar energy zones in Southern Nevada was an auction at the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone in Lincoln County. Parcels were snatched up by InvEnergy, First Solar and NV Energy.

After that environmental work is completed the BLM will examine 10 projects that were already in the pipeline before the solar program environmental impact statement was issued in 2010, Helseth said, “to see if they’re going to move forward or terminate their application.”

“They’ve built their business models around that credit and that’s an important piece, 30 percent. That’s a large amount of financing that they get back. So it costs a lot of money to make these plants and that’s a very large incentive that’s out there that they can get,” Helseth said.

He said those applications have been on the books four years.

“Five years ago there was a huge rush for solar and we started with, just in this area, approximately 142 applications. So in five years we’ve permitted 1.92 gigawatts of energy and we have 10 applications left to work on processing,” Helseth said. “If you’re not in the process and you’re looking to be on federal land or have any kind of federal involvement at all, you’re pretty much at the end of your timeline to get it done with enough time to get the credit. That’s why you’re seeing a downturn.”

The Silver State North, Silver State South and Moapa K Road solar projects have been approved by the BLM.

But near the Nye-Clark County line, Helseth said FirstSolar now owns the Element Power project and may move forward with a project. He said Abengoa Solar also could proceed, but he suspects some potential projects may terminate their applications.

One possible termination could come from BrightSource Energy, which began providing power from the Ivanpah project in February, the major solar project to go on line in this area just across the California state line along I-15 near Primm.

But the Associated Press recently reported that Ivanpah, the largest solar power plant of its type — enough to provide electricity for 140,000 homes — has only been producing half of that expected annual output for 2014, according to calculations by the California Energy Commission.

The agency in a statement said that was due to factors like clouds, jet contrails and weather. A spokesman for NRG Energy, which co-owns the project with Google Inc. and BrightSource Energy, said they are confident the plant will hit peak targets. The company was allowed to increase its use of backup natural gas by 60 percent.

Construction of the SolarReserve project at Crescent Dunes, 40 miles west of Tonopah, is complete and commissioning of the plant is about 75 percent complete, according to the company.

SolarReserve completed calibrating 98 percent of the 10,347 mirrors. SolarReserve is commissioning the receiver, and expects to be heating molten salt in the receiver – capturing and storing the sun’s energy – by the end of December with the stored hot salt used to heat steam and turn the turbines for electricity beginning in February.

Helseth said SolarReserve won’t have the same problem as Ivanpah when it comes to generating power, thanks to an innovative process.

“At Ivanpah they run the water to the top of the boiler that gets hit by the sunlight, by the mirrors, and then the boiler basically turns the water into steam and then it super heats the steam. Then they pump that steam to the turbine and that’s what turns the turbine. So it’s 100 percent dependent on sun power to create steam,” Helseth said.

By comparison, when it comes to the SolarReserve Crescent Dunes project, Helseth said, “the other plant is 100 percent reliant on molten salt to get the molten salt hot, but with molten salt it has a shelf life. It can stay hot for a very long period of time. So you could actually create power when the sun isn’t shining with the molten salt technology where you can’t with the water technology.”