A $1 billion solar power plant is operating again in the Nevada desert after it went into bankruptcy and shut down in April 2019.
The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project began producing electricity for NV Energy in July with little fanfare after failing to turn a profit in its first four years of operation. The plant’s owners entered into a bankruptcy settlement with the U.S. government in July 2020.
Unlike most solar farms, the plant uses more than 10,000 heliostats — mirrored devices that track the sun through the sky — to concentrate sunlight on a 650-foot-tall tower, heating molten salt inside to boil water, driving power generators with steam. It was the world’s largest solar plant with the technology to store power, producing electricity day and night.
Inquiries to NV Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy have produced no information, but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) provided some information about the project’s restart.
Power production resumed on July 17 after synchronization with the steam turbine was successful. The turbine went through an overhaul after the plant shut down during bankruptcy.
The plant has been operating at 40% to 50% capacity, according to a BLM source. The plant has a contract with NV Energy to produce power to meet demand during the high-demand summer months.
The plant was designed to operate for 30 years.
A website for the company that owned the plant, Solar Reserve, has shut down. ACS Cobra, the Spanish company that built the project, has not responded to a request for more information.
In addition to its struggles to turn a profit, the plant also was criticized because birds were dying in the intense heat produced by the panels. Some reports indicated that birds had burst into flames in mid-flight.
Another problem surrounded a report that workers were hospitalized after they were exposed to nitrogen dioxide — a gas emitted from the hot salt tank.