Nevada continues to be ground zero for all manner of grand schemes to construct ever more grandiose renewable energy projects — egged on by Sen. Harry Reid and the global warming Chicken Littles in the Democratic Party, who are more than willing to spend other people’s money on grants, loan guarantees, tax breaks and give away federal public land to be paved over with solar panels, mirrors and windmills.
The latest announcement comes from SolarReserve, which says it plans to build the world’s largest solar thermal power generating facility — 1,500 to 2,000 megawatts of electricity —somewhere on public land in Nye County in the next few years.
The company has been operating the $1 billion, 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar thermal plant near Tonopah for about a year. Built with nearly three-quarters of its funding coming from a federal loan guarantee, Crescent Dunes generates power by using mirrors to concentrate sunlight on towers where salt is heated to a molten state. The molten salt then turns water into to steam to drive turbines.
But unlike the solar thermal plant in Ivanpah across the border in California that directly turns water to steam, the molten salt stays heated longer and allows the plant to operate even after sunset.
SolarReserve’s proposed $5 billion Sandstone facility would employ 100,000 mirrors and 10 towers, using the technology developed at Crescent Dunes. There is no indication yet how much federal backing would be needed, but the Crescent Dunes plant sells power to NV Energy at a wholesale rate of 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is two to four times the cost from a gas-fired plant, a cost passed on to consumers.
According to press accounts, the company estimates construction could create 3,000 jobs for seven years.
While we are reticent to back projects that require too many tax dollars to pencil out, far be it from us to turn Luddite and reject out of hand potential job-creating technology and innovation, but we do suggest that caution and a thorough analysis be used before plowing ahead with the SolarReserve proposal, which would require about 16,000 acres of public land, or about 10 times the footprint of Crescent Dunes.
Though Crescent Dunes claims its concentrated solar rays kill only 60 birds a year compared to 6,000 at Ivanpah, the environmental impact should be carefully weighed, because federal land bureaucrats are too often willing to slack off when it comes to approving renewable energy projects of which their bosses are so enamored.
Take for example the wind turbine project proposed for Searchlight in southern Clark County, which was recently in the news when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to set aside a federal judge’s decision to halt the project until a more accurate and thorough environmental analysis can be conducted.
The Bureau of Land Management had approved the construction of 87 400-foot-tall wind turbines by Apex Clean Energy, but the federal judge ruled the environmental analysis by the BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service was inadequate because its data failed to accurately reflect the impact of the project on desert tortoises and bats, as well as golden and bald eagles. Existing wind turbines already kill more than 100,000 birds a year.
The BLM claimed there were only three golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the project, but the Nevada Division of Wildlife reported there were 28 nests.
The SolarReserve project should be honestly reviewed for its environmental impact, as well as its feasibility to provide an adequate return on the taxpayer investment in both money and land.
A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.