Paharump Valley Times - 11 Dec 09

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 11 Dec 09)

Comment Period Opens for Solar Project Near Tonopah

December 9, 2009

TONOPAH -- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has opened a public comment period for a third solar project in Nevada: a 180-megawatt solar plant called the Crescent Dunes project, planned by Tonopah Solar Energy, a subsidiary of Solar Reserve.

It would be located 13 miles northwest of Tonopah.

The BLM will accept comments on the project until Dec. 24. Public hearings have been scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Dec. 17, at the Tonopah Convention Center and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Dec. 18, at the BLM Southern Nevada District Office at 4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive in Las Vegas. Representatives from the BLM and Tonopah Solar Energy will be present to answer questions.

Comments submitted in writing have to be postmarked before Dec. 24. They may be sent to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, attention Tom Seley, field manager, Tonopah Field Office, 1553 S. Main St., PO Box 911, Tonopah NV 89049. Comments will also be accepted by fax, at 1-775-482-7810 or by e-mail to

A megawatt is roughly enough to power 200 to 250 homes, meaning the plant could supply power to almost 50,000 homes. Tonopah Solar Energy initially submitted an application to the BLM for 7,500 acres of right-of-way, which was reduced down to 1,600 acres for the mirror array and power block.

Tonopah Solar Energy will use an array of 17,350 mirrors called heliostats that follow the sun and reflect light onto the top of a 633-foot tower with a holding tank of molten salt. The salt liquid, heated to 1,000 degrees, is then routed to an insulated storage tank. When electricity is to be generated, the hot salt is routed to a heat exchanger to produce steam, which generates electricity.

The technology is a proprietary system developed by United Technologies Corp.'s subsidiary Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne.

The tall tower aroused concerns by the U.S. Air Force about interference with radar at the Nellis Test and Training Range. Previous sites planned at Mud Lake and Peavine Creek had to be scrapped.

Kevin Smith, chief executive officer of Solar Reserve, during a previous interview with the Pahrump Valley Times, said the Crescent Dunes site will be 25 miles from the boundary of the test range and on the other side of a 2,000-foot mountain range. The company hired the Aerospace Corporation, a consulting firm with extensive experience working with the military, to address any radar issues and held one-on-one meetings with the Air Force.

The site is off Pole Line Road, a mostly unpaved road which connects Tonopah with Gabbs. Smith said the main plus to that location is access to the Sierra Pacific Power Co.'s Anaconda Substation, eight miles north of the site, where there is a 230-kilovolt transmission line that supports a nearby mine.

The project is expected to use up to 700 acre feet per year of water. An acre foot is the amount of water needed to fill an acre of land one foot deep, or enough to serve two families for a year.

Smith outlined a plan to start construction in 2010, depending on the BLM permitting schedule. He hopes to have the plant open by 2012. The company said in its application to the Public Utilities Commission production is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2014 or earlier.

The capital cost would be about $700 million, Smith said. The plant would employ 400 to 500 workers during construction and have a permanent staff of about 40 to 45 workers when it's opened, he said.

Nye County commissioners last July passed a resolution supporting the Crescent Dunes project. The resolution said, "We have encouraged Solar Reserve to develop their site at the current location since it is located close to transmission lines and has a low environmental impact."

The comments will be considered in a draft environmental impact statement. The project was announced in the Federal Register recently.

The BLM announced a public comment period for the first solar project in Nevada in July, during a joint press conference by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Senator Harry Reid, D-Nev. at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in which they announced the designation of 24 solar energy zones where permitting of projects would be on a fast track. The first project under study by the BLM, however, was outside the zones, the NextLight Renewable Power projects called Silver State North and Silver State South in Primm.

The Crescent Dunes project is also outside the solar energy zones, which includes acreage around Miller's rest stop, about 20 miles due west of Tonopah.

After Silver State North and Silver State South, the BLM announced the start of a comment period for a draft EIS for the Solar Millenium project, two 250-megawatt solar plants planned in Amargosa Valley. The public comment period for those first projects was reopened Sept. 17 and closed a month later.

Greg Helseth, BLM renewable energy project manager for the Las Vegas BLM Field Office, said the draft EIS for the Solar Millenium project should be available to the public in February 2010.

Helseth said he expects a notice of intent to be published in the Federal Register soon for a 150-megawatt solar power plant planned east of Big Dune in western Amargosa Valley by Pacific Solar, a subsidiary of Iberdrola.