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Questions raised on whether solar jobs will go to Nye County residents

SolarReserve is moving forward with the plan to build up to 10 more solar thermal towers near Tonopah, but Nye County officials want to make sure the project provides jobs for Nye residents.

At the Nye County commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith and SolarReserve Director of development Adam Green talked about their plans to bring a large-scale project to the remote Nevada desert.

The proposed Sandstone project will deliver a total of 2,000 megawatts of power capacity, 20,000 megawatt-hours of energy storage capability, and 7 million megawatt-hours of annual output.

Nye County Commissioner Butch Borasky questioned whether SolarReserve will hire enough workers from Nye County for Sandstone, as he argued that the number of jobs at the existing Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project that were given to Nye residents was small.

“It’s wonderful that we will be host to this 10-tower conglomeration and everything else, but we should be getting something out of it first, citizens and our taxpayers,” Borasky said.

While Crescent Dunes had about 1,100 jobs during the construction phase from 2011 through 2015, and 45 permanent jobs, officials said Sandstone is expected to create 3,000 construction and 350 permanent jobs.

SolarReserve had a requirement in the development agreement to hire a certain number of Nevada workers for Crescent Dunes and had to pay a $458,000 penalty to Nye County for not achieving that requirement, according to Nye County records.

SolarReserve spokeswoman Mary Grikas said approximately 60 percent of the total number of subcontractors for Crescent Dunes were from Nevada.

“We did not keep specific Nye County specifics, nor were we required to,” Grikas said in an email Sept. 6.

Grikas said depending on the work, there wasn’t always the necessary skill sets available locally. For example, she said while 100 percent of the concrete work was done by Nevada residents, less than 5 percent of the heat tracing was done by Nevada residents, as this was specialized work and SolarReserve needed to go out of state for it.

Inside the numbers

In addition, SolarReserve officials said almost 90 percent of the total number of subcontractors were from the U.S., with some international contractors utilized as Crescent Dunes was the first molten salt tower project in the nation.

“There certainly was jobs and a substantial amount of commerce that was done in Nye County,” Smith said. “We did peak at 1,100 jobs on site. Probably close to 30 to 40 percent of those were Nevada jobs. It’s a big facility, and so there were workers that came from other parts around the region.”

Borasky argued that hiring Nevada workers often leads to getting union workers from Clark and Washoe counties, and doesn’t help Nye County.

About 62 percent of the hours worked at Crescent Dunes were non-union and 38 percent of the hours worked were union, according to SolarReserve’s records.

“I will be putting the arm on you guys on this one, and I hope the board will go along with me, but we will see what happens,” Borasky told Smith. “We are very happy to have people put the arm on us,” Smith said. “I think for Crescent Dunes, the facility was around 50 percent union and 50 percent non-union. It was probably a little bit more non-union than it was union, but there’s no question, there’s some specialty welding and other requirements, so there were union workers coming up from Las Vegas and Reno.”

Sandstone specifics

Officials said Sandstone will have 2 gigawatts of power capacity which puts the project on the same scale of generation as Hoover Dam in terms of capacity and strategic importance to the grid.

“It will provide 7 million megawatt hours per year, so roughly speaking, that’s supply for a million homes,” Green said.

The announcement about the additional 10 towers came after Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, 15 miles northwest of Tonopah, started generating electricity in July for the first time in more than eight months, after a salt leak caused a lengthy outage at the facility.

“We did have an outage that was well covered by the press, and while we certainly appreciate the support of Nye County, the negative treatment by the press isn’t so fun, but that comes with the territory,” Smith said.

SolarReserve, based in Santa Monica, California, is in the preliminary stage of the Sandstone project. Officials said it will require coordination between federal and state agencies. The company has yet to go through a lengthy permitting process that could take in excess of a year or two.

“We are looking at starting construction potentially by 2020, or shortly thereafter,” Smith said.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77

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