Tonopah solar plant remains offline but CEO says repairs done

TONOPAH — SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes solar plant, which went offline last fall for repairs, remained offline as of this week, but all repairs are done, the company’s CEO reports.

“We expect to be back online in a few weeks,” CEO Kevin B. Smith said.

A hot salt tank issue “took a while to get it fixed, but it’s a pretty low-tech issue,” Smith said. “We’re going to be back up and running. The repairs are actually 100 percent complete, and now we’re back in recommissioning the plant to restart.”

“I understand you guys have got to figure out what’s going on, but you just seem so infatuated with this hot salt tank issue,” Smith also said. “It’s a maintenance issue. We’re dealing with it. We’ll be up and running in a few weeks. But it doesn’t change the fact that our tax bill is due in the next couple of weeks. I think it’s close to a $1 million payment.”

He said that the company, based in Santa Monica, California, is the “No. 1 highest taxpayer in Nye County.”

“Our total tax bill that on an annual basis that we pay is close to $3 million,” Smith said.

‘World’s leading technology’

SolarReserve’s Smith said he recently traveled to South Africa and China. “Everybody is focused on the technology,” he said. “This is now the world’s leading technology in solar-thermal storage, and it’s in Tonopah, Nevada, and I don’t see that in your articles, either.”

“It’s just a little bit disturbing to me that I don’t see any of the good news in any of your articles of what this has done for the town and tax revenues and the 40 people that we’ve got working out at the site, the 1,000 people that we had during construction that helped kind of re-invigorate the town,” Smith said.

“As far as I’m concerned we’ve been an incredibly good neighbor in Tonopah,” he added. “We have contributed to the town very well. This is the leading solar energy technology in the world.”

“We’ve got people visiting from China, from South Africa, from France, from Germany, from Saudi Arabia, from Chile,” Smith said. “People from all over the world are coming to Tonopah, Nevada to see this project.”

The Crescent Dunes plant includes a $10 million annual budget for facility maintenance, Smith said, “and that includes property taxes in there, as well, which is close to $3 million.”

“It’s a high-tech facility,” he said. “It’s got lots of maintenance requirements, and that’s going to be going on for 30 years.”

“We are not going to report on minute-by-minute, day-to-day activities,” Smith said of plant maintenance updates to the media. “Whether it’s a seal on a pump or the toilet in the men’s room isn’t flushing, we’re just not going to comment on this stuff day to day.”

“For anybody’s whose operating a power plant, it’s not normal to do that,” providing that type of information to the media, he said.

Earlier, while not providing specifics, Smith expressed concerns about Times-Bonanza reporting.

“I can tell you there are inaccuracies in your reporting,” he said. “When you write this report, and if there’s inaccuracies in there, we will take action on that.”

In early December, company spokeswoman Mary Grikas confirmed that the newly opened Crescent Dunes solar plant in Tonopah was offline, a shutdown triggered by a salt spill.

At the time, she had indicated plans called for the solar plant to be fully online in January.

When the Times-Bonanza contacted Grikas in January about the status of the plant and repairs, Grikas wrote in a Jan. 18 email: “Repairs are nearly complete and we expect to be back in full operation shortly.”

“We don’t provide specific information on project daily operations or timing,” her email said.

Last week, in seeking an update for the Times-Bonanza’s Facebook page on the plant’s status, the Times-Bonanza tried multiple times to speak via telephone with Grikas, who requested questions in writing.

Grikas later reported via email that Smith was returning from out of the country and would speak with the Times-Bonanza on Feb. 27.

“Why are you so fascinated with the day-to-day operations of the plant?” Smith asked in the Feb. 27 phone interview. “I never see anything on all the benefits we that provide to the town.”

NV Energy

NV Energy pointed out to the Times-Bonanza on Feb. 24 that the utility has a 25-year power purchase agreement “to take all of the energy from Crescent Dunes Solar.”

“Regarding the Crescent Dunes Solar project, I’m sure you are aware of the problem that they are resolving with one of their main storage tanks,” NV Energy official Mark Severts said in the email.

“As I’m sure you know, the plant is not currently producing energy until a repair is made in one of the molten salt storage tanks,” Severts wrote.

“SolarReserve is also doing some pre-planned maintenance on their plant,” he said.

As for the impact on customers, NV Energy’s Severts wrote, “There will be no measurable impact to our customers. These types of new technology challenges are expected and NV Energy has multiple traditional and renewable energy resources available to meet the needs of our customers.”

Contact reporter David Jacobs at djacobs@tonopahtimes.com