Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another solar power generating plant in the works

Sure to make some news is the report of another solar power generating plant with plans to develop here in the Mohave County/Kingman area.

I thank Dave Hawkins for allowing me to post these articles. A couple of quick comments below.



by Dave Hawkins

A development company proposes a renewable energy project of unprecedented scale in Mohave County. Mitchell Dong, the Executive Director for Mohave Sun Power LLC, touts the $2-billion project in a 27-minute early April presentation at the Harvard Club that is posted on the internet.

"Our company is building the Hualapai Valley Solar project," Dong said. "It's the largest planned solar project in the world."

The proposed 340-megawatt facility would be constructed on private property near Red Lake, about 27 miles north of Kingman. The company has an agreement to purchase a 4,160 acre site from Jim Rhodes should it succeed in its effort to secure a vast array of federal, state and local permits and approvals required for project development.

Project Manager Greg Bartlett, headquartered at the Mohave Sun Power office in Tempe, said Rhodes is simply selling the property and is not involved in the solar-thermal project.

Dong explained that the sun would be harnessed through a network of solar collectors spread over a five square mile area.

"It's a parabolic trough, or a 'U'-shaped mirror that reflects or concentrates the sunlight by a factor of 100 to this thin tube of transfer fluid," Dong said. "In this case, it's a synthetic oil heated to 800 degrees by the sun's light. There are rows and rows of these collectors and this 800 degree oil is pumped to a central power block, a central location where that hot oil goes to a boiler. It makes steam and drives a single steam turbine."

Dong said heat will be stored in molten salt that would allow the plant to generate power at night or when cloud cover diminishes solar radiation to the desert floor. He said the operation would require annual use of 1,500-3,000 acre feet of water.

Bartlett said company officials are well aware that use of groundwater is a sensitive subject. He noted, however, that the area had been targeted for residential development that would consume more water than the proposed solar facility.

Proposed use of groundwater from the Hualapai Valley basin is noted in application materials the company has submitted with Mohave County.

"The Arizona Water Atlas shows an increase in the Hualapai Valley water basin's cultural water demand from 3,850 acre-feet/year in 1971 to 8,300 acre-feet/year in 2003," the application stated. "The increase of cultural water demand may correlate with a negative net water-level change in portions of the Hualapai Valley water basin, however, wells in proximity to the Project Site have experienced a net water-level increase from water year 1996-2006."

Bartlett said water quality and quantity issues are the focus of ongoing hydrological study. The project will require zoning changes and plan amendments at the local level and Bartlett said company officials welcome public scrutiny and input.

"That's a very important part of the whole process. We embrace that," Bartlett said. He added that the company looks forward to initial feedback when project related matters are initially expected to be heard in Mohave County sometime in June.

"If there's anything we can do to mitigate concerns over water usage---we've got what we think is the best engineering team in the world but---people might have some ideas for us," Bartlett said. "So to learn what the concerns are early gives us time to kind of integrate that into final design of the project."

Bartlett said up to 1,500 jobs would be provided during peak construction of the facility that should be generating power by late 2013. He said more than 100 people would staff the plant once it is operating.

"The impact on the country, the state and the county is pretty dramatic," Bartlett said. "There's lots of tax revenues that will be coming in. There's lots of jobs that will be created. It's an exciting time."

Bartlett said the project might attract businesses that manufacture mirrors and other components needed for the solar-thermal facility. The Spain-based Albiasa company plan to build a similar 200-megawatt solar thermal power plant about 50 miles southeast of Kingman could fuel additional demand for like products.

Bartlett said local production of such products would provide additional economic benefit for the region. Developers would also realize savings associated with cost of transporting the components.

The project site is within two miles of a utility corridor and Mohave Sun Power seeks interconnection to the power grid operated by the Western Area Power Administraton through a 500 kV transmission line. The company has also entered discussions with utility companies interested in securing electricity through a Power Purchase Agreement.

Bartlett said rapid project development is necessary to take advantage of the availability of federal stimulus package funding and tax incentives. The project is on pace to evolve from concept to reality within four years.

"It's a very aggressive timetable for a project of this size when you look at all of the permits you need---the Air Quality permit, the Aquifer Protection permit, the Environmental Impact Statement, the Certificate of Environmental Compatibility from the ACC (Arizona Corporation Commission)---all of those permits," Bartlett said. "That's a lot of work."



by Dave Hawkins

The Executive Director of the company planning to build the world's largest solar power plant north of Kingman has a monumental vision. Mohave Sun Power's Mitchell L. Dong believes the sun can be harnessed to produce all of the energy needs of the world.

In an early April presentation at the Harvard Club in New York that has been posted on the internet Dong stated the sun delivers enough energy in one hour to supply all that would be consumed on earth in an entire year. He said that the sun delivers to earth the amount of energy that would be produced by 174 million nuclear power plants.

The key, Dong said, is development of all of the infrastructure required to harvest the sun.

"If we covered 20,000 square miles of U.S. deserts with solar panels, solar collectors or mirrors...we can produce close to 4 million gigawatt hours a year, which is the energy consumption of the United States," Dong said. "So by using only 4% of our deserts, we can supply all of the electricity of the United States."

Through similar use of lesser portions of the Sahara, Kalahari, Gobi and Australian deserts, all of the world's energy needs could be generated through solar power development, according to Dong.

"The solar grand plan is a bold plan. It's visionary," Dong said. "Some think it's idealistic or too much of a dream, but I think it's feasible and doable."

Dong said ten large scale solar power plants are in operation and ten more are under construction. He said some 3,000 facilities could be constructed in the United States over the next 40 years to supply all of the nation's power needs.

Dong said some 50,000 miles of additional transmission lines would have to be constructed to achieve the feat. And he said research and development successes would be needed to lower the cost and increase efficiencies of solar energy production.

Jack Ehrhardt, northwest Arizona's leading environmental activist and renewable energy advocate, cautiously embraces Dong's vision.

Ehrhardt applauds the 340-megawatt and 200-megawatt solar-thermal power plant projects that Mohave Sun Power and Albiasa propose to develop in Mohave County. But he said he is conflicted or contradicted by concern that the projects could consume well more than 100,000 acre feet of water over their 25-to-30 years of operation.

Ehrhardt emphasized that a commitment to development and deployment of the most resource-friendly technology is a must. He said renewable energy must be developed with a premium commitment to water conservation.

"We have to be exceptionally smart and conscious how we are using our water," Ehrhardt said. "We only have our aquifers to survive on."

Ehrhardt is a proponent of development and application of what he called hybrid wet/dry cool technology that would render power plants less reliant upon water consumption. Dong said dry cool technology is more expensive and less efficient in energy production.

"It cuts the output by 10% annually and as much as 20-30% on peak when the power is most needed by the utility," Dong said. "I don't think that the utilities and their ratepayers would be willing to pay the price to make an air-cooled solar power plant financially feasible."

Ehrhardt said any commercial use or application of water in any form of energy production, regardless of economics, requires urgent attention and scrutiny with a premium and additional value placed upon conservation of the resource. Ehrhardt said Dong himself draws scrutiny given prior sanction by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The SEC announced in January, 2008 that it had reached a settlement agreement with Dong and Chronos Asset Management Inc., a company that Dong founded in 1995. The SEC issued an order imposing sanction and a cease-and-desist directive.

"The Order finds that Chronos and Dong engaged in a fraudulent market timing and late trading scheme. From January 2001 to September 2003, Chronos and Dong used deceptive means to continue market timing in mutual funds that had previously attempted to detect and restrict, or that otherwise would not have permitted, Chronos's trading," the SEC Order said. It said that Chronos and Dong willfully violated SEC trading rules.

The order imposed a penalty and interest sanction totaling nearly $2.2-million and Dong was suspended for 12 months from investment adviser or investment company activity.

"This represents to our community that he is someone who represents a company that we need to be concerned about," Ehrhardt said. "He (Dong) will have to be treated accordingly as someone who represents part of the greed that has crippled our country's economy."

Dong explained that Chronos Asset Management was a hedge fund with nearly $500-million in assets under its management at its peak. He said they traded mutual funds, equities, futures and other securities using a statistical arbitage approach and proprietary mathematical models developed by his partners, former statistics professors at Harvard and MIT.

"Eliot Spitzer, a regulator in NY State and the SEC, alleged that we traded improperly and after 5 years, we chose to settle the matter, without admitting any wrongdoing, rather than to litigate," Dong said. "We were pleased to close this chapter and move on."


I emphasized plenty in the first article. There will be an outcry about use of water and the resources from where water is going to come from (aquifers). I get that and believe it is on the developer of this development to make its case with the community. Should make for interesting times.

Some of us (including me) have been advocating for more jobs and growth and the fact of the matter is, if new jobs, opportunity, and investment come to the area -- more water resources will be used. Just can't get around that fact.

While the onus will be on the developer to prove that the water usage at the solar power generating plant won't adversely affect the Kingman and surrounding communities, to some degree it will also be on the folks that think new development will lead to the end of water resources in Mohave County. Those folks will no doubt be up in arms about these new water using developments and they need to effectively make their case if they take up the cause to limit jobs and opportunity in our community.

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