Get Ready for Crescent Dunes

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) project in Tonopah slated to open this year

Concentrating solar power uses fields of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a structure in which the solar heat is  collected to generate electricity. Unlike the more common photovoltiac (PV) solar energy technology – the kind found on rooftops – CSP has the capacity to store energy, in the form of heated material, so electricity can continue to be generated after the sun sets.

How does concentrating solar work?  A picture is worth a thousand words, and we found this great video that gives us the story on Crescent Dunes CSP.


More than 800 megawatts of CSP plants currently operate in the United States. Four new CSP plants, including Crescent Dunes CSP and the recently-opened Ivanpah plant in California’s Mojave Desert will soon increase the total CSP capacity in the United States to 1.8 gigawatts. These new CSP plants will provide enough electricity for nearly half a million homes.

Crescent Dunes CSP  is expected to generate 485,000 megawatt hours per year, enough to power up to 75,000 homes during peak electricity usage periods.

In a recent project update video, Solar Reserve’s site manager Brian Painter says, “Crescent Dunes will be a game changer. This plant can do anything any other power plant can do, but with this power plant there’s no fossil fuel involved – it’s strictly the power of the sun.”

Here’s a picture of the almost-completed Crescent Dunes CSP project. The plant is in the commissioning phase now – testing and calibrating the various systems from the heliostats to the steam turbines – and is expected to go online in the fall.

Aerial photo of Crescent Dunes CSP project, January, 2014. Photo courtesy SolarReserve

Aerial photo of Crescent Dunes CSP project, January, 2014. Photo courtesy SolarReserve

Energy in Nevada: Tale of three power plants

Energy in Nevada – Do you know where your electricity comes from?

Energy in Nevada – the lights turn on when you flip the switch. So does the computer if you even bother to turn it off anymore. And yes, we do, most of us, have at least some idea of where our electricity comes from. It comes from those power plants somewhere – well, somewhere out there.

Last week while driving along I – 80 on my way back from Utah, I decided to take a look at some of the generating stations out there. It was surprisingly easy to get really close to these big industrial facilities. In fact, at Beowawe my husband wandered inside the control room to ask if the road we were on would eventually rejoin I-80. The plant operators at the remote facility were startled to see him, and gave him directions to Battle Mountain.

Geothermal energy in Nevada: Beowawe Geothermal Power Station

Geothermal energy in Nevada: Beowawe power station

Beowawe geothermal power station: photo Anne Macquarie

Beowawe is one of 19 geothermal power plants in Nevada that provide electricity to NV Energy customers under power purchase agreements with the company. Together, the plants provide over 385 megawatts of installed geothermal capacity. NV Energy also has contracts for another 150 megawatts of geothermal power from plants either planned or under construction.

Beowawe is one of the smaller geothermal plants in the state, with a 17.7 megawatt capacity. Owned by Beowawe Power LLC and operated byTerra-Gen Power, Beowawe started producing energy in 2006. The company’s power purchase agreement with Sierra Pacific Resources expires in 2025.

The Beowawe plant was named Geothermal Project of the Year in 2012 by Renewable Energy World for “the first commercial use of a low temperature bottoming cycle at a geothermal

Geothermal energy in Nevada: Beowawe geothermal power plant

Beowawe is a combined binary, bottoming-cycle and double-flash geothermal plant. Photo Anne Macquarie

flash power plant in the United States.”

According to NV Energy, “Geothermal power is a premium renewable energy source because it provides reliable, around-the-clock power with no specific ties to fluctuating fuel costs.”

The production of electricity from geothermal energy emits few greenhouse gases compared to fossil-fuel-fired electrical generation. The EPA shows no greenhouse gas emissions from Beowawe in 2012.

Geothermal energy in Nevada: Beowawe geyser in 1971

Beowawe geyser in 1971: Photo courtesy Northeastern Nevada Museum

The Beowawe plant did, however, destroy the Beowawe geyser field, one of only two geyser fields in Nevada, when it became operational. Nevada’s other geyser field, the Steamboat Geyser Field south of Reno, was also destroyed by geothermal development.

Beowawe is located in Eureka County a few miles west of the former hamlet of Beowawe.


Coal energy in Nevada: North Valmy Generating Station

Coal energy in Nevada: North Valmy Generating Station

North Valmy generating station: Photo Anne Macquarie

The North Valmy generating station is a lot bigger than Beowawe, and it is powered by coal shipped by railroad from mines in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Valmy is jointly owned by NV Energy and Idaho Power.

The North Valmy Generating Station is a coal-fueled, steam-electric generating plant with two operating units. Unit No. 1 went into service in 1981 and Unit No. 2 went into service in 1985.

Both Valmy units combined have a capacity of 522 megawatts. NV Energy says the plant can produce enough electricity to serve approximately 315,000 Nevada households.

NV Energy and PUCN disagree about Valmy retirement date

When, as required by SB123, the last unit of the Reid Gardner coal-fired plant in southern Nevada closes by the end of 2019, Valmy will be the only remaining coal-fired power plant in Nevada.

The retirement date for the Valmy plant was the subject of an interesting discussion in Nevada Public Utilities Commission testimony last December, when NV Energy argued for an earlier closure date than the PUC was willing to allow. PUC and Bureau of Consumer Protection staff argued that the company’s plan to close Valmy Unit 1 in 2021 would mean that higher annual depreciation costs would be borne by NV Energy customers. Commissioners agreed, and directed the company to move back the older Unit 1’s closure date to 2025, which is the proposed closure date for the newer Unit 2.

NV Energy argued that earlier closure of the unit made much more sense in the prospect of eventual greenhouse gas and other pollution regulations – in fact, they said closing down the plant by around 2019 made the most sense – but commissioners told them that “issues that may arise from future legislation and/or environmental regulations” were only “hypothetical” and should not be considered.

coal energy in Nevada: North Valmy Generating Station

A closer view of North Valmy: photo Anne Macquarie

It appears the PUCN and Bureau of Consumer Protection are more concerned about temporarily providing NV Energy customers with lower rates by stretching out the depreciation period for an aging coal-fired power plant than they are interested in helping to protect those customers – and everyone else – from the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the EPA Total CO2 (equivalent) emissions in metric tons in 2012 from North Valmy were 1,579,682 metric tons. This makes Valmy the third-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, behind only Reid Gardner and the Lenzie natural-gas-fired generating station in southern Nevada.

North Valmy is located a few miles northwest of the tiny town of Valmy in Humboldt County.

Natural gas energy in Nevada: Frank A.Tracy Generating Station

natural gas energy in Nevada: Tracy Generating Station

Frank A. Tracy Generating Station: photo Charlie Macquarie

Tracy is not as remote as Beowawe and Valmy, in fact, it’s impossible not to notice it. Located alongside I-80 about 17 miles east of Reno, the Frank A. Tracy Generating Station is “a multi-technology natural gas-fueled power plant complex that includes 12 generating units. The newest and largest addition consists of two highly efficient General Electric combustion turbine generators, similar to the turbines that power jet airplanes. The exhaust from these two units is then recycled to power a separate steam turbine .”

Peak generating capacity at Tracy is 1,021 Megawatts.

In 2012 Tracy emitted 1,548,686 metric tons of CO2 (equivalent) (EPA), making it the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the state.

New readings in climate change

Paleoclimate of the American West, and what we know right now

I just finished reading two very good new readings in climate change. One tells you  what you might want to know about the past, present and future – and it turns out, very wild –  climate of the American West. The other is the perfect place to go for a general overview of what we know right now about anthropogenic climate change – something you might want to have handy  when you go to Thanksgiving dinner with that climate-skeptic uncle or to a town meeting with your climate-change-denying congressman.

First, the past: The West Without Water

This ambitious book, written for a general audience, sets out to tell us the state of what we know about the past, present, and future climate of the American West, and the influence of that climate on the region’s environment and society.

It’s a big job, but authors B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of Earth and Planetary Science at U.C. Berkeley and Frances Malamud-Roam, Environmental Planner and Biologist with the California Department of TransportationNCARE New readings in climate change manage it pretty well. The first section, “Floods and Droughts in Living Memory” reads almost like a thriller: did you know that in 1861-62 the city of Sacramento was under six feet of water for six months?

The meat of the book is the central section: “A Climate History of the American West,” in which we learn not only what paloeclimatologists have pieced together about the climate history of our region, we learn about the natural “archives”  that have allowed them to do it, from ocean sediments in the Santa Barbara basin, to wetland sediments in Suisun Marsh, to bristlecone pine growth rings, to analysis of the tree stumps rooted on the floors of Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake and Mono Lake.

The take-away: We live in a region with a wild climate that alternates between drought and floods, a climate that could well become even wilder with the addition of human-caused climate change. And is a region where millions of people now live in towns and cities that are entirely dependent upon a regionwide plumbing system for their water, a plumbing system that was developed during a short period of relatively benign climate conditions.

Ingram writes, “The American West faces a climatic future that is predicted to become generally warmer and drier, with deeper droughts interspersed with larger and more frequent floods.  The American West appears to be facing a potential climatic double-whammy: a cyclical return of drier conditions and new greenhouse-gas-induced warming.”

What we know now

NCARE New readings in climate change: Climate Change Evidence and Causes Climate Change Evidence and Causes is also written for a general audience. A joint publication of the National Academy of Sciences and Great Britain’s Royal Society, the aim of the publication is to serve as “a key reference document for decision makers, policy makers, educators, and other individuals seeking authoritative answers about the current state of climate-change science.”

Most of the 24-page booklet consists of questions and answers about climate change, from the most basic – Is the climate warming?  –  to the more complex – What is ocean acidification and why does it matter? There is also an eight-page booklet summing up the basics of climate change that would be useful for a high school science teacher – or to give to that skeptical relative.