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DOI Approves Ninth Commercial-Scale Solar Project on Public Lands

February 4, 2011

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project last month as part of an initiative to encourage development of renewable energy on U.S. public lands. The concentrated solar power plant is the ninth large-scale solar facility to be approved for development on public lands since last October. The proposed project will be located on several thousand acres in Nevada, which are owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). When built, the plant is expected to produce 110 megawatts, create hundreds of construction jobs, and help meet Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

Tonopah Solar Energy, LLC of Santa Monica, California, a subsidiary of SolarReserve, LLC, plans to construct, own, and operate the plant, which will employ a power tower system. A large field of flat, sun-tracking mirrors, known as heliostats, will focus and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on the top of the tower. An advanced molten salt system in the receiver will generate steam, which, in turn, will run a conventional turbine generator to produce electricity.

The molten salt technology, developed by United Technologies Corp., will exploit the superior heat-transfer and energy-storage capabilities of salt. Those capabilities allow the system to continue to dispatch electricity during cloudy weather or at night, which will help during the state’s peak electricity demand periods.

The project will be sited on approximately 2,250 acres administered by the BLM, about 13 miles northwest of Tonopah in Nye County, Nevada. Construction is expected to create about 450 to 500 jobs; once the plant is up and running it should support up to 50 permanent operations and maintenance employees.

The developer, Tonopah Solar Energy, has acquired a power purchase agreement with NV Energy. Electricity produced at the facility will feed into NV Energy’s grid through a transmission line to be built from the site to the existing Anaconda Moly Substation, about 6 miles north. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the developer can qualify for grants in lieu of tax credits – up to 30 percent of the project’s eligible costs – as well as U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantees to assist with the construction of the facility.

The electricity that the plant generates will help NV Energy fulfill the Nevada RPS, which requires the utility to use renewable energy resources to supply 25% of the total electricity it sells by 2015.
The BLM worked closely with state, federal, and military agencies on environmental aspects of the project. The bureau collaborated with the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the U.S. Air Force, and members of the environmental and conservation community. To minimize impacts to biological resources, the BLM selected an alternative plan that reduced the project size from 7,680 acres to 2,250 acres, with a development footprint of 1,776 acres. Following extensive public environmental review, the BLM published the Notice of Availability for the final environmental impact statement on November 26, 2010.

In recent months, the BLM has approved six renewable energy projects on public lands in Nevada—three solar, two geothermal, and one wind—as well as a long-distance transmission line that will facilitate the delivery of a variety of energy sources, including renewable energy, to consumers across the western United States. The nine commercial-scale solar energy projects that DOI has approved on public lands in California and Nevada are expected to cumulatively generate more than 3,600 MW, power more than 1 million homes, and create more than 7,000 jobs.

Salazar said that these projects “are opening a new chapter on how our nation is powered….Using American ingenuity, we are creating jobs, stimulating local economies, and spurring a sustainable, clean energy industrial base that will strengthen our nation’s energy security.”

For more information see the BLM fact sheet on the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project.

Source: December 20, 2010 BLM press release

—Karen Atkison