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Nevada solar plant back online after eight-month outage

A first-of-its-kind solar plant in Central Nevada is back online and generating power after being down for repairs for eight months.

The Crescent Dunes power plant, 225 miles northwest of Las Vegas, returned to service July 12 and is delivering renewable energy to customers in Nevada, even at night, according to NV Energy spokesman Mark Severts.

The $1 billion facility backed by $737 million in federal loan guarantees is owned and operated by Santa Monica, California-based SolarReserve. NV Energy is the plant’s sole customer under a 25-year power-purchase agreement.

The 1,600-acre solar plant entered commercial operation in November 2015 after four years of construction on federal land. It was forced to shut down in late October when a small leak developed in a tank filled with molten salt.

In December, Mary Grikas, SolarReserve’s vice president of global communications, downplayed the problem and said the plant would be back online and operating at its full, 500,000-megawatt-hours of annual power delivery in January. Instead, the facility remained offline for another six months.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Grikas declined to discuss the cause or exact length of the delay.

“We don’t provide specific operational details for the media, nor do our competitors,” she said in an email. “The plant is up and running — generating electricity, and storing energy for generation during peak demand periods.”

Grikas said the company expects Crescent Dunes to continue operating for the next 40 years at least.

The plant uses more than 10,000 mirrored heliostats to focus sunlight on a 640-foot-tall central tower and heat the molten salt inside to more than 1,000 degrees. The super-heated mixture is then used to boil water and drive steam generators to produce power day or night.

SolarReserve says its patented storage system can deliver electricity on demand like a traditional coal or natural gas power plant but with zero emissions, little water use and no hazardous waste.

The company is developing similar arrays with storage capabilities in South Africa and Chile.

SolarReserve also has big plans in Nevada.

The leak that shut down the Crescent Dunes facility in October was discovered just days after SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and then-Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall gathered at the plant to announce plans for as many as 10 more of the arrays at an as-yet-undisclosed location in Nye County.

If built, the $5 billion endeavor, known as project Sandstone, would rank as the world’s largest solar energy facility with an output of 1,500 to 2,000 megawatts, enough to supply about a million homes.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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