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DOE Finalizes $737 Million Loan Guarantee to Tonopah Solar Energy For Nevada Project

October 11, 2011

On September 28, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) finalized a $737 million loan guarantee to Tonopah Solar Energy, LLC, to develop the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. The project, sponsored by SolarReserve, LLC, is a 110-megawatt concentrating solar power (CSP) tower generating facility. Crescent Dunes will use molten salt as the primary heat transfer and storage medium and will feature the tallest molten salt tower in the world. Tonopah Solar Energy anticipates the facility will fund 600 construction jobs and 45 permanent jobs.

Located 14 miles northwest of Tonopah, Nevada, on land leased from the Bureau of Land Management, the facility is expected to produce enough electricity to power more than 43,000 homes and prevent nearly 290,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere annually. The project includes 17,500 heliostats (mirror assemblies) that collect and focus the sun's thermal energy to heat molten salt flowing through an approximately 640 foot-tall solar power tower.

The high-temperature molten salt will circulate from the tower to a storage tank, where it will then be used to produce steam and generate electricity. Excess thermal energy will be stored in the molten salt and can be called upon to create additional steady, clean, renewable power for up to 10 hours, even in the evening and when direct sunlight isn’t available. This increases grid stability and reduces the need for carbon-pollution-emitting generators, which currently supplement intermittent renewable generation technologies during periods of no or low solar resource. The molten salt technology was previously tested and demonstrated at the Solar Two CSP facility, in south-eastern California, in conjunction with DOE’s Sandia and National Renewable Energy Laboratories.

Power from the project will be sold to Nevada Power Company, a utility subsidiary of NV Energy, Inc. and will help NV Energy meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard goals for Nevada, as well as its evening load requirements.

When he announced the finalization of the loan guarantee, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said, “If we want to be a player in the global clean energy race, we must continue to invest in innovative technologies that enable commercial-scale deployment of clean, renewable power like solar,” said Secretary Chu. “Solar generation facilities, like the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, help supply energy to local utilities and create hundreds of good, American, clean energy jobs.”

For more information, see the NREL summary of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project and the September 28 article published by DOE.

—Karen Atkison