Nevada No. 2 in solar power development

Thanks to two giant solar projects, Nevada ranked second only to California in solar power development last year, the Solar Energy Industry Association said.

The two generators were the 64-megawatt Nevada Solar One project at Boulder City and the 14-megawatt solar panel array installed at Nellis Air Force Base last year. Together, the solar projects added 78.6 megawatts in solar-generation capacity for Nevada last year while 87.1 megawatts were added for California. The trade group did not have figures for total capacity in the two states.

Photovoltaic systems, like those installed at Nellis, rely on silicon panels to convert sunlight into electricity. Solar thermal plants like Nevada Solar One use the heat of the sun to boil a liquid that creates steam to spin electricity-generating turbines.

The prospect of selling electricity from solar thermal plants to California and other surrounding states represents a big opportunity for Nevada, said Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for the solar energy trade group.

"You're poised to be a net exporter of solar energy," Hanis said Monday. "Nevada is just poised for tremendous growth."

Ausra of Palo Alto, Calif., is building a concentrating solar power manufacturing plant near McCarran International Airport. It will use the facility to build solar power components for its own projects and for those of competitors.

Nationally, 245 megawatts of solar power were installed last year. Concentrating solar rose 18 percent with the completion of Nevada Solar One, the first utility-scale plant of that type since 1991.

Photovoltaic systems that are linked to utility grids grew by 45 percent to 750 megawatts. Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Best Buy, Safeway and Home Depot placed photovoltaic systems on their rooftops.

Around the country, another 4,000 megawatts of concentrating solar power were announced last year, enough to power 1 million households. The total includes the 280-megawatt concentrating solar power that Abengoa of Spain plans to build for Arizona Public Service.

Analysts attribute solar energy growth partially to tax credits, which end this year. Three pieces of legislation now pending in Congress, however, would extend the credit for several years. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., pushed action on an amendment that would extend tax credits for solar energy, along with wind, geothermal, hydroelectric power and fuel cells. It is part of the Housing Stimulus Bill, which the Senate passed by a vote of 88-8 on April 10.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at or 702-383-0420.