World's largest solar-thermal plant planned for Arizona land sold by Rhodes

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- A Tempe-based firm intends to build and operate what it says will be the world's largest solar-thermal power plant on land in northwest Arizona that it has acquired from Las Vegas developer Jim Rhodes.

Mohave Sun Power LLC will later complete the purchase of the 4,160 acres 27 miles north of Kingman if it obtains the required permits and approval at the federal, state and local level, project director Greg Bartlett said.

Construction should begin late next year, providing up to 1,500 jobs, he said. More than 100 people would staff the plant during initial operation, forecast for late 2013.

Mohave Sun Power Executive Director Mitchell Dong said six square miles of parabolic mirrors will be built to harness the sun at a facility that will generate 340 megawatts of electricity.

The mirrors concentrate sunlight on long tubes of oil.

"It's a synthetic oil heated to 800 degrees by the sun's light," Dong said. "There are rows and rows of these collectors, and this 800-degree oil is pumped to a central power block, a central location where that hot oil goes to a boiler. It makes steam and drives a single steam turbine."

Dong said some of the generated heat will be stored in molten salt that will allow the plant to generate power at night when cloud cover diminishes solar radiation.

He also said the operation would require annual use of 1,500 to 3,000 acre-feet of groundwater. One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two Las Vegas Valley homes for one year.

Bartlett said company officials are well aware that use of groundwater is a sensitive subject. He noted, however, that the area had been targeted for residential development that would consume more water than the proposed solar facility.

Bartlett said water quality and quantity issues are the focus of ongoing hydrological study. The project will require zoning changes and plan amendments at the local level. He said company officials welcome public input and scrutiny.

"That's a very important part of the whole process," Bartlett said. "We embrace that."

Jack Ehrhardt, the leading environmental activist in northwest Arizona, guaranteed that scrutiny will be focused on water consumption issues as well as Dong himself, who was ordered to pay a penalty and interest sanction totaling nearly $2.2 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A January 2008 order by the SEC found that Dong and the Chronos Asset Management company he founded in 1995 engaged in a fraudulent market timing and late trading scheme. Dong was suspended for 12 months from investment adviser or investment company activity.

Dong explained that Chronos was a hedge fund with nearly $500 million in assets under its management at its peak. He said he preferred to reach a settlement with the SEC rather than litigate allegations of improper trading.

"We chose to settle the matter, without admitting any wrongdoing, rather than to litigate," Dong said. "We were pleased to close this chapter and move on."