June 12, 2009

NV Energy to buy power from Searchlight solar plant

By Steve Green
Las Vegas Sun

The small town of Searchlight in Southern Nevada moved another step toward becoming a big energy center Thursday with the announcement of a deal by NV Energy to buy power from a big solar plant planned for the community.

Searchlight, on U.S. 95 between Boulder City and the California town of Needles, is already proposed to be the site of a big wind energy farm to be operated by Duke Energy. With 161 turbines producing 370 megawatts of power on public land totaling 26,000 acres, that project could serve 100,000 homes.

NV Energy and American Capital Energy announced Thursday they have entered into a long-term power purchase agreement for the sale of energy produced from ACE's 20-megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant to be constructed in the desert near Searchlight, 55 miles south of Las Vegas.

The project, expected to be completed by mid-2010, will be larger than the 14-MW photovoltaic plant completed in 2007 at Nellis Air Force Base. The Nellis plant, toured by President Obama on a recent visit to Las Vegas, is the largest photovoltaic facility currently operating in the United States, NV Energy said.

At 20 megawatts, the Searchlight plant will serve about 4,000 homes, said Tom Anderson, ACE's director of Southwest Business Development. In comparison, Acciona's Boulder City solar plant generates 64 megawatts. It uses a different technology in which concentrated sunlight heats a liquid.

"This is another major step in our commitment to bringing power from renewable resources to the citizens of Nevada," Michael Yackira, NV Energy president and chief executive, said in a statement on Thursday's deal. "Our state is blessed with abundant solar, geothermal and wind resources, and expanding the use of these resources through power purchases of this kind or direct investment in renewable projects is one of our top priorities."

Terms of the power purchase agreement, which is subject to approval by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, were not disclosed.

The agreement will assist NV Energy in meeting Nevada’s renewable energy standard, which was recently increased by the Legislature. The standard now requires that 25 percent of energy be generated by renewable resources and energy efficiency and conservation programs by 2025.

The companies said all of the electricity output from the plant will go to customers of NV Energy’s southern service territory.

Construction of the project is expected to create more than 120 jobs and will further develop Nevada’s burgeoning renewable energy workforce, the companies said.

"American Capital Energy is excited about the Searchlight Solar I solar PV project. We are honored to have been selected to work with NV Energy to deliver clean, renewable solar energy to Southern Nevada," Tom Hunton, CEO of Massachusetts-based ACE, said in a statement.

In a presentation earlier this year to the Searchlight Town Advisory Board, ACE officials said the plant is planned for 215 acres of private land 1 mile northwest of U.S. 95 and state Highway 164 headed toward Nipton, Calif.

Anderson said the cost of the project isn't being disclosed and that the deal with NV Energy will help the company obtain financing for the project.

The company plans to work on construction permitting this year and start building the plant in early 2010, assuming the power-purchase deal is approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

ACE, he said, has built about 20 energy projects while its executives combined have built hundreds of such projects.

He said ACE has been working with the Searchlight community and feels it has support there for the project.

"NV Energy is becoming one of the more progressive renewable energy utilities," he added.