Nevada Solar One builder sues developer over bill

A giant, $260 million solar power plant in Boulder City is up and running but troubles continue to plague the project.

Lauren Engineers & Constructors, an Abilene, Texas-based company that built the plant, is seeking an $18 million judgment against Nevada Solar One, based on claims that the power plant owner has paid only $120 million of $138 million owed for the project.

The disputed $18 million is due to changes in the contract requirements and retained funds.

The construction company also is suing Acciona Energy of Spain, which controls Nevada Solar One, and Boulder City, which leased 400 acres in the Eldorado Valley to Nevada Solar One for the plant site.

Acciona declined comment. Boulder City spokeswoman Rose Ann Miele said she was unable to contact the city attorney for his views on the ramifications of the lawsuit.

Boulder City theoretically could lose its land as a result of the lawsuit, said plaintiff’s attorney Chris Wicker of the Reno firm Woodburn and Wedge. But he considered foreclosure on either the power plant or the land unlikely, because only $18 million is at stake in the lawsuit.

Nevada Power spokesman Grant Adam declined to comment on how the legal dispute might affect the electric utility, which buys power from Nevada Solar One.

Nevada Solar One, which started commercial operation on June 27, has garnered national media coverage because of its use of solar power technology.

“The project as a whole is something Nevadans can be proud to have spring up in their midsts,” Wicker said. “It’s really sad that there’s a dispute, because the project is very cool,” Wicker said.

The solar power plant has sustained generation at about 94 percent of its 65-megawatt capacity for several days, Wicker said.

Wicker said he believes the dispute only involves the $18 million in question, not any claims of construction defects.

Some renewable energy advocates fear the lawsuit could give solar power and Nevada’s energy program a black eye, but others say the dispute should not effect the image of the renewable power industry.

Dan Schochet, vice president of geothermal power developer Ormat Nevada, agreed. “Will this affect renewable energy? Not at all,” he said.

The issues are specific to Nevada Solar One and the contractor, Schochet said.

“I would be very surprised if it didn’t get sorted out,” he said.

Rick Hackman, a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission, doubted the lawsuit would have any effect on power production.

“The commission has no reason to believe that this contract dispute between private parties is going to interfere with the output of this solar plant to Nevada Power,” he said.

Commission Chairwoman Jo Ann Kelly said she could not comment on the contract dispute. But she added: “They are up and running. They were a little delayed.”

Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific Power Co. contracted with the 65-megawatt Nevada Solar One in 2002 in an effort to comply with Nevada laws requiring the use of more renewable power sources. Nevada laws and regulations require Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific Power to use more renewable energy, including solar, wind and geothermal power.

Nevada Power awarded a contract to Solargenix Energy, which was later acquired by Acciona, to supply solar power in 2002, but the project was stalled by efforts to finance the $260 million project.

The solar power company, and other renewable power companies, said it was unable to obtain financing because all of the power would be sold to a utility company with junk bond ratings stemming from problems that followed the Western energy crisis in 2000.

Regulators adopted a system that provided greater security to lenders, but the project continued to be delayed, causing Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific Power to fail to satisfy state laws requiring the utilities to use increasing amounts of renewable energy.

The project has attracted international press attention because it is the first solar thermal power plant of its kind in about 15 years.

The power plant uses mirrored troughs to capture heat from sunlight, which is used to spin turbines to generate electricity.

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