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Posts Tagged ‘Nevada’

photo: Todd Woody

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

The Obama administration’s solar building boom continues. On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed the first lease to build a large-scale photovoltaic project on federal land in Nevada.

“Yes, it’s about jobs and finding a new way forward but it’s also about dealing with the crises of our time facing America,” said Salazar during a speech in Los Angeles at the Solar Power International conference, the industry’s big annual get-together. “America’s foreign policy is held hostage by the politics of oil. It is imperative that we grab this new energy future.”

It’s a significant move. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management controls a huge chunk of Nevada, prime territory for big solar power projects due to the state’s intense sunshine and a licensing process that is far less arduous than the one in neighboring California.

On stage at the conference, Salazar signed a lease for the 60-megawatt Silver State photovoltaic farm to be built by First Solar outside of Las Vegas. The secretary said it will supply enough electricity to power more than 15,000 homes.

In recent weeks, Salazar has signed off on leases for three other solar projects in Southern California that would generate 1,124 megawatts of electricity.

“We’re not done yet, we’re not done yet. Our work is just beginning,” said Salazar, who left his trademark 10-gallon hat back in Washington.

A report released Wednesday by the Solar Foundation, a non-profit research group, said that there are 93,000 people employed in the solar business in the U.S. and that a survey of employers found that they plan to add 24,000 more jobs by August 2011.

Rhone Resch, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, noted that a decade ago U.S. companies supplied 40 percent of the world’s photovoltaic products while today it’s just 10 percent.

“We hope this is a sign of a turnaround and that policymakers take note,” he said Wednesday, referring to the solar employment study.

While solar jobs exist in all 50 states, the study found that nearly 40 percent of them were created in California, the state with the most aggressive renewable energy targets.

But expect the federal government to be driving demand for solar power — for its own use.

“It’s important we all walk the talk,” Salazar said, noting that the Interior Department alone has installed more than 2,000 renewable energy projects.

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Solarthermische Parabolrinnenkraftwerke Andasol 1 und 2

Photo: Solar Millennium

Water is emerging as a make-or-break issue for solar developers hoping to build massive megawatt solar power plants in the desert Southwest. On Monday, Solar Millennium announced it would rather switch to dry-cooling its proposed 500-megawatt solar farm in the Nevada desert rather than fight to use more than a billion gallons of water a year to cool the power plant. As I write in The New York Times:

A solar developer caught in the crossfire of the West’s water wars is waving the white flag.

Solar Millennium, a German developer, had proposed using as much as 1.3 billon gallons of water a year to cool a massive solar power plant complex it wants to build in a desert valley 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

That divided the residents of Amargosa Valley, some of whom feared the solar farm would suck dry their aquifer. Others worried about the impact of the $3 billion project on the endangered pupfish, a tiny blue-gray fish that survives only in a few aquamarine desert pools fed by the valley’s aquifer.

Now Solar Millennium says it will instead dry-cool the twin solar farms, which will result in a 90 percent drop in water consumption.

“We trust that this decision to employ dry-cooling will accelerate the approval process and enable us to begin construction and stimulate the local economy by December 2010,” Josef Eichhammer, president of Solar Millennium’s American operations, said in a statement on Monday.

Water has emerged as contentious issue as dozens of large-scale solar power plants are proposed for the desert Southwest. Solar Millennium’s move is likely to put pressure on other solar developers to follow suit.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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solarh

Photo: BrightSource Energy

In today’s New York Times, I write about how Harvey Whittemore — one of Nevada’s biggest power brokers and a confident of Senate majority leader Harry Reid — has responded to the housing crash by leasing desert land at his mega-home development to BrightSource Energy for a 960-megawatt solar farm complex.

What to do when building a 159,000-home city in the Nevada desert and the housing market collapses?

Go solar.

The Coyote Springs Land Company this week expanded a deal with BrightSource Energy, a solar power developer based in Oakland, Calif., to carve out 12 square miles of it its 43,000-acre mega-development for solar power plants that would generate up to 960 megawatts of electricity.

Harvey Whittemore, Coyote Springs’s chairman, said his plan always was to include some renewable energy in the massive golfing community under development 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. But, Mr. Whittemore said, he decided to go bigger as the housing market crashed and solar developers like BrightSource began to sign deals with utilities.

“We’ve always said we’ll adjust the land use plan to the market,” said Mr. Whittemore in an interview. “At the end of the day we have approvals for 159,000 units and we looked at what we could do to reduce the number of units while at same time coming up with a functional business plan that takes advantage of private land.”

Private land is in short supply in Nevada, where the federal government owns about 87 percent of the state. That has forced solar developers like BrightSource – which is under the gun to supply 2,610 megawatts to California utilities — to seek leases on desert property managed by the United States Bureau of Land Management, a years-long process involving extensive environmental review.

By dealing with Mr. Whittemore, BrightSource is sidestepping all of that and acquiring an ally who knows how to get things done in the Silver State.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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First Solar Electric, 701 El Dorado Valley Dr., Boulder City, NV

photo: First Solar

Sempra Generation on Wednesday said it has signed a deal for the United States’ largest photovoltaic power plant, a 48-megawatt solar farm to be built by First Solar in Nevada.

The thin-film solar power station will add on to a 10-megawatt solar farm built by First Solar (FSLR) last year adjacent to a Sempra  natural-gas fired power plant in Boulder City, Nev., outside of Las Vegas. Sempra Generation CEO Michael Allman told Green Wombat that Wednesday’s deal is part of a strategy to bring 500 megawatts of solar electricity online.

“The initial focus is on projects that are next to natural gas fired plants in the desert Southwest,” said Allman, whose company is a division of San Diego-based power giant Sempra Energy (SRE).

By building solar farms on the site of existing fossil fuel plants, Sempra can plug them in to the existing power grid, cutting costs for land, permits and electricity transmission. The 10-megawatt solar plant in Boulder City went online six months after ground was broken. Allman said Sempra also owns land next to its Mesquite natural gas power plant outside of Phoenix suitable for solar development.

“Those two power plants provide us with a substantial competitive advantage in both timing and cost,” said Allman. “These two initial projects will be the lowest cost energy delivered out of a solar project anywhere in the world.”

He declined to say what that cost is but an executive with PG&E (PCG), which is buying the electricity from the 10-megawatt Boulder City solar farm, previously told Green Wombat that the California utility was “very happy” with the rate it negotiated.

Allman said Sempra owns more than 4,000 acres in Arizona that could generate 300 megawatts of solar electricity. The company has also filed lease claims on 11,000 acres of desert land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in California’s Imperial Valley. But Allman said Sempra’s preference is to acquire private land to avoid the years-long BLM permitting process. The company will consider a range of solar technologies, including solar thermal, for future solar projects.

The 48-megawatt deal announced Wednesday is contingent upon Sempra signing a power purchase agreement with a utility.

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solara

photo: BrightSource Energy

As the Nevada legislature debates extending tax breaks for large-scale solar power plants, a new report finds that ramping up solar development in the Silver State could produce thousands of good-paying green jobs while generating nearly $11 billion in economic benefits.

The study from San Francisco-based non-profit Vote Solar concludes that 2,000 megawatts’ worth of big solar thermal and photovoltaic farms — needed to meet Nevada’s electricity demand — would result in 5,900 construction jobs a year during the plants’ building phase, 1,200 permanent jobs and half a billion dollars in tax revenues.

“It is likely that such an investment in solar generating facilities could bring solar and related manufacturing to Nevada,” the reports authors wrote. “The economic impact of such manufacturing development is not included in this analysis, but would add significant additional benefits.”

Vote Solar’s job projections are based on an economic model developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to project the impact of solar trough power plants, the most common, if dated, type of Big Solar technology.

The different solar technologies set to come online in the next couple of years could change that equation. No doubt thousands of jobs will be generated by Big Solar but just how many will depend on the mix of solar thermal and photovoltaic power plants that ultimately come online. New technologies like BrightSource Energy’s “power tower,” Ausra’s compact linear fresnel reflector and Stirling Energy Systems’s solar dish may generate similar numbers of jobs. But then there’s eSolar’s power tower solar farms – which uses fields of mirrors called heliostats to focus the sun on a water-filled boiler, creating steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.  eSolar’s small and prefabricated heliostat arrays cut out much of the skilled labor typically needed on such projects as they can be installed by two workers using a wrench.

Photovoltaic farms essentially take rooftop solar panels and put them on the ground and thus don’t require highly skilled laborers to build turbine power blocks, miles of piping and other infrastructure needed in solar thermal facilities. (They also can be built much more quickly than a solar thermal plant, which is why utilities have been striking deals with companies like First Solar (FSLR) and SunPower (SPWRA) for PV farms.)

A second report released this week — from the Large-Scale Solar Association, an industry group — found that Nevada could gain an edge over Arizona and California in luring solar power plant builders if it extended and sweetened tax incentives.  The three states form something of a golden triangle of solar, offering the nation’s most intense sunshine and vast tracts of government-owned desert land that are being opened up for solar development.

The timing of the reports was no accident. The Nevada Legislature held hearings earlier this week on extending tax breaks for Big Solar that expire in June, and Vote Solar’s utility-scale solar policy director, Jim Baak, went to Carson City to lobby legislators, hoping to head off one proposal to tax renewable energy production.

The Large-Scale Solar report, prepared by a Las Vegas economic consulting firm, found that if legislators let the tax breaks sunset, as it were, the developer of a 100-megawatt solar power plant would pay $55.1 million in taxes in Nevada during the first 15 years of the facility’s operation compared to $26.1 million in Arizona and between $36.1 and $37.9 million in California. If the current incentives are kept, tax payments drop to $25.1 million. A bigger tax break would reduce the tax burden to $14.3 million.

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Thin is in when it comes to solar power plants.

First Solar, the Walton family-backed (WMT) maker of thin-film photovoltaic modules, on Thursday announced its second solar power plant. The latest project is a 10-megawatt photovoltaic power station to be built for Sempra Generation (SRE) in Nevada. Two weeks ago, California regulators approved a 7.5-megawatt – expandable to 21 megawatts – First Solar (FSLR) power plant to be constructed in the Mojave to generate electricity for utility Southern California Edison (EIX). Thin-film solar technology layers solar cells on plates of glass or flexible materials, a process that lowers production costs with the trade-off being lower efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity.

What’s notable about the Nevada First Solar project is that it will be constructed adjacent to a Sempra natural gas-fired power plant near Boulder City, Nev. That will allow the solar station to share transmission lines and other infrastructure and minimize land use. Those are no small considerations these days as the solar land rush continues in the Mojave and environmentalists grow uneasy over the impact of industrializing the desert.

Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar has already broken ground on the project with completion expected by the end of the year. That’s record time, given that solar thermal power plants – which tend to be larger by orders of magnitude – can take years to receive regulatory approval and build. Also of note: The solar modules for the project will be manufactured at First Solar’s Ohio factory, one of only two commercially operating  thin-film manufacturing facilities in the United States. (The other is Energy Conversion Devices’ thin-film factory in Michigan.)

Sempra Generation, a division of utility giant Sempra, will own and operate the First Solar plant, which will supply electricity to Nevada and California.

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