^Crescent Dunes solar power tower undergoing testing with a percentage of mirrors aimed at the tower receiver (not full), and other mirrors aimed at stand-by points near the tower, which can be seen visibly as slight whitish haze. This is the solar flux.
February 18, 2015 - Basin & Range Watch visited the Crescent Dunes solar power tower to observe testing on February 17 and we talked in person with Bureau of Land Management personnel in Tonopah to discuss a recent bird mortality event.
We learned that 130 waterbirds (although we have yet to see a purported video, other sources say they were passerines) were killed in the solar flux of the power tower during a four hour period on January 14, as the birds flew into the intense solar flux of a special test arrangement of mirrors above the tower receiver A January 2014 compliance report explains what biologists on the ground saw and reported to BLM, the species of bird is not yet clarified. During this survey, several biologists on the project site reported seeing the birds fly into the solar flux, "turn white, and vaporize." No remains were found. The solar field at a distance appears like a large lake in the basin as the mirrors reflect blue sky.
In addition, a raptor was seen flying around the concentrated solar flux, then leaving the area. It was possibly attracted by the flock of waterbirds according to our BLM contact.
During the same survey, two ravens were seen flying toward the solar flux, and one was reported by biologists to fly into the solar flux field, "turn white, and vaporize."
The flux at this tall project is hotter than the Ivanpah solar power towers because of the geometry of the heliostat array and taller power tower.
Solar flux is heat energy (kilowatts per square meter) transferred to an object, and not actually heated air. Testimony during the Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System project proceeding was very educational on this point.
What apparently caused this bird kill was a different array of mirrors on stand by in a "halo" array, where a majority of mirrors were aimed above the tower in a halo shape of intense solar flux. This flux was so intense and hot that it surpassed normal solar flux, and was only used for testing purposes as mirrors were being aimed and aligned at the tower. The flock of birds haplessly flew into this super-intense flux and perished immediately.
^Drawing of the "halo" solar flux created during certain testing phases which killed birds in January 2015, as illustrated to us by Tonopah BLM managers. During this test procedure, mirrors created the halo flux temporarily and then lowered the mirrors to aim the flux at the tower to produce eletricity. Yet even this was enough to accidentally kill birds.
^"Halo" solar flux, from the January 2014 compliance report.
This test array was determined to be dangerous to birds and was changed to a different array, the "pancake" array, after engineers tried to mitigate testing by using geometries of mirrors that would not create such an intense solar flux.
^After the bird kill event, engineers redesigned the test solar flux to a "pancake" array to try to mitigate bird mortality. This design during testing would align mirrors to point to numerous spots above the tower that were more distant from each other than the halo, therefore creating a less intense solar flux that would theoretically not kill birds. Only time and scientific monitoring will tell if this design will mitigate bird deaths.
What has not been mitigated is what we believe to be the "lake effect" of the solar mirror field out in the desert basin which may be attracting birds to a perceived water feature, then luring them to their death in the solar flux. This solar flux will be intense during operation as well as during testing, as witnessed at the Ivanpah solar project.
BLM also pointed out to us that NV Energy was sending this energy mostly to mines to the east, toward central Nevada, and not houses. So large strip mines are the beneficiaries of this "green" energy.
During bird mortality monitoring surveys biologists found few other remains, only a wing of a bird in the solar field area. Future mitigation will include surveys outside the project boundary to determine what effects the solar power tower might be having on surrounding bird habitats.
Biologists found remains of a barn owl that had apparently collided with a heliostat in October 2014.
The solar thermal plant with molten salt storage will theoretically store enough heat energy to produce electricity 16 hours after sunset. We will be interested to see how this plays out in reality.
^During testing the tower receiver becomes white hot as mirrors aim intense solar flux at it. Birds similarly turn white hot and superheat to their deaths.
^Mirrors reflecting sunlight off of steam generated at the solar plant.
^The edge of the mirror field.
^Arc Dome peak in the Toiyabe Range visible in the distance from the power tower during testing.
^Large mirrors aimed at the tower. But they reflect blue sky and create a lake effect.
^Steam release during the project testing.
See also the KCET article.
May 30, 2014 - Photos from April and May 2014, of the project nearing completion.
^Some mirrors angled and flashing glare in the sunlight.
^Crescent Dunes adjacent to the project in May.
^A Swainson's hawk, light phase, was seen circling over the desert a few miles from the solar power tower project in May. A species of concern breeding in spots in Nevada, we hope this bird will not suffer mortality when the intense solar flux is activated during operation.
^Power tower receiver and target below it where mirrors aim solar flux to test.
^Crescent Dunes in April.
^Thermal salt storage tanks under construction.
^Ventifacts in the desert next to the project. Rocks shaped by wind -- how will the mirrors fair in these harsh desert winds?
April 30, 2014 - Solar Reserve is now testing their Crescent Dunes Solar Project. This is a solar power tower built on public land near Tonopah, Nevada similar to the ones built in Ivanpah Valley, but incorporates molten salt thermal storage. They finished installing their heliostats (reflector mirrors) about a month ago. Now the heat is being aimed at the tower and the focus block beneath the receiver in tests. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), there is “solar flux” happening there now during the tests. Solar flux is the concentrated heat around the tower that can be lethal to birds and insects in a 2,000 foot radius around the tower. The BLM has assured us that no dead birds have been found yet. While it may be true that none were found, it should be noted that the Avian and Bat Protection Plan for the Crescent Dunes Project does not require focused monitoring until after the project goes on line. The mirrors have been sitting flat for about one year. Birds also collide with mirrors that create the lake effect, but no monitoring has taken place in a year.
The project also has very large evaporation ponds and none of the agencies are requiring that they be covered. They say they will fire water cannons to scare birds away. Water attracts birds, birds die in solar flux. Large California solar projects do cover their evaporation ponds with netting.
^Evaporation ponds beyond the solar field.
The Crescent Dunes are located near the Miller’s Rest Stop which is recognized as an important area for migratory birds. Now that the spring migration is about half way through, a variety of bird species are using the area. In spite of comments warning them about this problem during the review of the project, BLM mostly ignored the concerns. There is now great concern about the solar flux and both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nevada Division of Wildlife are meeting tomorrow to discuss the issue. No, it is not a public meeting. The BLM also approved a 16,000 acre solar energy zone surrounding the entire area, but little transmission exists.
Solar Reserve Power Tower Construction Continues
August 26, 2012 - The large-scale solar thermal project near Tonopah, Nevada has been delayed at times, and these photos show current construction in mid August. No heliostats are up yet, and the tower has another 100 feet to go. The operations and maintenance building is also under construction, and mirrors will be built inside and then placed in the solar fields.
^Power tower under construction in stormy weather (photo by Wayne Bundorf).
^ (Photo by Wayne Bundorf).
Dune Beetles Found to be in Peril
^Crescent Dunes Aegialian Scarab (Aegialia crescenta), © 2012 Janel Johnson (http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?enlarge=0000+0000+0212+0151).
July 18, 2012 - 12- US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a 12-month finding today on a petition to list six Nevada sand dune beetles as Endangered or Threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat would be designated.
During the FWS 90-day finding, substantial information was found to indicate four of the six species may be warranted for listing, including Crescent Dunes aegialian scarab (Aegialia crescenta), Crescent Dunes serican scarab (Serica ammomenisco), large aegialian scarab (Aegialia magnifica), as well as the Giuliani's dune scarab (Pseudocotalpa giulianii).
Two species were not found warranted for listing: Hardy's aegialian scarab (Aegialia hardyi) and Sand Mountain serican scarab (Serica psammobunus).
Fish and Wildlife Service will now undertake a status review of each of the four species to determine if listing should be done. The public is encouraged to submit comments.
Solar development was mentioned as one of the threats to the dune beetles: "Developing land for solar energy projects on or near the dunes may compact and remove both vegetation and sand, alter surface flows and infiltration of water, and affect temperature and wind patterns. Destruction of vegetation around dunes, disturbance of dune sand, and disruption of reproductive behavior would reduce or eliminate sand dune
beetle populations because the larvae of the four beetle species use decomposed organic matter as their primary food source and the adults mate on live vegetation. In addition, sand transport processes and other ecological processes that create habitat for these four species of sand dune beetles may be altered by structures blocking the wind
Roads and increased human presence associated with solar development result in indirect effects to dune beetles (e.g., roads and increased human presence may result in increased illegal ORV use, which impacts beetle habitat)."
The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project under construction is 1,619 acres and is located within the range of the Crescent Dunes aegialian scarab and Crescent Dunes serican scarab. Construction will remove approximately 1,500 acres or 2.3 sq miles, which is 10 percent of the total range of the Crescent Dunes aegialian scarab and 11 percent of the total range of the Crescent Dunes serican scarab. This is an unacceptably large chunk of habitat destruction for beetles that live no where else on the planet. This information was not available in the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Bureau of Land Management. Only in 2012, after construction started, were surveyscarried out to determine the status of the beetle species.
It is unlikely that the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project will disrupt sand transport processes at Crescent Dunes because the facility will not block the prevailing winds.
FWS notes that the proposed Miller's Solar Energy Zone 5 miles to the southwest of Crescent Dunes would apparently not impact the dune beetles' range or sand flow. But we question whether indirect effects would further endanger the beetles from cumulative industrial development in the region. This needs to be fully analyzed before more renewable energy projects are approved.
Since 2007, there have been five Right Of Way applications for solar development at Big Dune and none at Lava Dune, with all inactive currently. Solar development projects near Big Dune or Lava Dune could threaten the large aegialian scarab or Giuliani's dune scarab.
Mining and off-road activity are other potential threats to these sand beetles. Little is known about the biology of these beetles, but FWS acknowledges that climate change may impact the dune vegetation that the beetles depend on.
The petition was received on January 29, 2010 from WildEarth Guardians. Most environmental groups unfortunately did nothing to speak up, or protect or preserve these species and their habitat when these issues were brought up. We thank WildEarth Guardians for carrying this petition forward. We have talked at length about these unique beetles and their dune habitats with the late Derham Giuliani, who feared the destruction of these areas would be ongoing.
See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/search/getfrtoc.action, scroll down to Fish and Wildlife Service, download the PDF file or view text.
Power Tower Construction Under Way
December 20, 2011 - Solar Reserve has begun construction of the 600-foot solar thermal power tower in the middle of a broad basin northwest of Tonopah, Nevada. It dominates the landscape now, much taller than the nearby Crescent Dunes.
^The tower is the only tall structure in the landscape.
^Cement power tower that will be surrounded by mirrors.
^Sandy desert basin habitat surrounds the project.
^Shrub desert around the project.
^A chainlink fence surrounds the future circular solar field, not yet constructed.
^Crescent Dunes a few miles away from the project site.
^The power tower visible from a small road heading north from Highway 95.
^Distant power tower from a county road.
^The Toiyabe Range lies in the distance.
^Arc Dome in the Toiyabe Range, about 40 miles distant, can be seen to the left of the tower. Arc Dome is in a wilderness area.
^Base of the power tower.
^Arc Dome peak rises in the distance at 11,361 feet.
^Top of the power tower.
^Near the power tower, looking westwards towards the Miller's Solar Energy Zone proposed by Bureau of Land Management in its solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.
^The Solar Reserve power tower (left) visible from Miller's Rest Stop along Highway 95, an important birdwatching area where migratory songbirds are attracted to the small oasis in spring and fall.
DOE Awards Loan Guarantee to Crescent Dunes Project
September 28, 2011 - With the deadline looming on September 30 for the program to end, Solar Reserve squeaked under the wire to receive a $737 million Department of Energy loan guarantee. The 110 megawatt concentrating solar power tower generating facility with molten salt as the primary heat transfer and storage medium. It will be the first of its kind in the United States and the tallest molten salt tower in the world. Located 14 miles northwest of Tonopah, Nevada on land leased from the Bureau of Land Management, the company anticipates the facility will fund 600 construction jobs and 45 permanent jobs. The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy facility is expected to avoid nearly 290,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
The project includes 17,500 heliostats (mirror assemblies) that collect and focus the sun's thermal energy to heat molten salt flowing through an approximately 640-foot tall solar power tower. The high temperature molten salt circulates from the tower to a storage tank, where it is then used to produce steam and generate electricity. Excess thermal energy is stored in the molten salt for about 6 hours after sunset. The molten salt is not explosive, and any leaks would solidify.
Financing on the Edge
September 23, 2011 - Even with ground broken on the power block, according to Pahrump Valley Times, Solar Reserve needs Nye County to resolve a snag in the Development Agreement concerning the Bureau of Land Management Right-of-Way connecting the project to NV Energy's Anaconda Moly substation. NV Energy already signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with SolarReserve.
The U.S. Department of Energy made conditional a $737 million loan guarantee for the project last April. By Wednesday DOE must close the loan to finalize it, before the September 30 deadline, or Solar Reserve risks losing it.
Salazar Approves Project
December 20, 2010 - Seemingly before the end of the public comment period, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed the approval of Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, enabling the company to begin construction.
The project, proposed by SolarReserve's Tonopah Solar Energy, LLC of Santa Monica, California, is sited on approximately 2,250 acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) about 13 miles northwest of Tonopah in Nye County, Nevada.
“These energy projects exemplify the collaborative partnerships we have developed to help achieve our common goals to protect our natural environment while utilizing America’s wealth of renewable energy resources,” said Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey.
Draft Environmental Impact Statement Out
September 3, 2010 - Notice of Availability of Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Tonopah Solar Energy Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, Nye County, NV, by Bureau of Land Management.
SUMMARY: In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, Nye County, Nevada, and by this Notice is announcing the opening of the comment period.
DATES: To ensure comments will be considered, the BLM must receive written comments on the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project Draft EIS within 45 days following the date the Environmental Protection Agency publishes its Notice of Availability in the Federal Register. The BLM will announce future meetings or hearings and any other public
involvement activities at least 15 days in advance through public notices, media news releases, and/or mailings.
ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project Draft EIS by any of the following methods:
Mail: Timothy Coward, Renewable Energy Project Manager, BLM Tonopah Field Office, P.O. Box 911, Tonopah, Nevada 89049.
Copies of the Draft EIS for the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project are available at the BLM Tonopah Field Office and at the Battle Mountain District Office, 50 Bastian Road, Battle Mountain, Nevada, or at the following Web site: http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/battle_mountain_field.html.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Timothy Coward, (775) 482-7800, BLM Tonopah Field Office, 1553 South Main Street, P.O. Box 911, Tonopah, Nevada 89049; Timothy_Coward@blm.gov.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Tonopah Solar Energy, LLC applied to the BLM for a 7,680-acre right-of-way (ROW) on public lands to construct a concentrated solar thermal power plant facility approximately 13 miles northwest of Tonopah, Nye County, Nevada. The proposed project is not expected to use the total acres applied for in the ROW application. The project is located within the southern portion of the Big Smoky Valley,
north of U.S. Highway 95/6 along the Gabbs Pole Line Road (State Highway 89). The facility is expected to operate for approximately 30 years. The proposed solar power project would use concentrated solar power technology, using heliostats or mirrors to focus sunlight on a receiver erected in the center of the solar field (the power tower or central receiver). A heat transfer fluid is heated as it passes through the receiver and is then circulated through a series of heat exchangers to generate high-pressure steam. The steam is used to power a conventional Rankine cycle steam turbine, which produces electricity. The exhaust steam from the turbine is condensed and returned via
feedwater pumps to the heat exchangers where steam is regenerated. Hybrid cooling processes would be used for this project to minimize water use while continuing to maintain efficient power generation. The plant design would generate a nominal capacity of 100 megawatts.
The project's proposed facility design includes the heliostat fields, a 653-foot central receiver tower, a power block, buildings, a parking area, a laydown area, evaporating ponds, and an access road. A single overhead 230-kilovolt transmission line would connect the plant to the nearby Anaconda Moly substation. The Draft EIS describes and analyzes the proposed project's site-specific impacts on air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, water resources, geological resources, hazardous materials handling, land use, noise, paleontological resources, public health, socioeconomics, soils, traffic and transportation, visual resources, wilderness characteristics, waste management, worker safety, and fire protection. The Draft EIS also describes facility design engineering, efficiency, reliability, transmission system engineering, and transmission line safety.
Three action alternatives were analyzed in addition to the No Action alternative: the Proposed Action Alternative, Alternative 1, and Alternative 2. Alternative 2 is the BLM preferred alternative. Scoping of the project occurred from November 24, 2009 through
December 24, 2009. A total of 24 comments were received. Comments on cumulative impacts identified the affects to air quality to include criteria pollutant and "Dark Sky'' attributes on the effects of the viewshed, and the availability of water for current and future use. Other comments were that the proposed project is located in an area of
pediment adjacent to 2 highly mineralized mountain ranges which have identified molybdenum and lithium deposits. Maps of the proposed project area and the alternatives being analyzed in the Draft EIS are available at the BLM Tonopah Field Office, the Battle Mountain District Office, and at: http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/battle_mountain_field.html.
Please note that public comments and information submitted, including names, street addresses, and e-mail addresses of persons who submit comments, will be available for public review and disclosure at the above address during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.), Monday through Friday, except holidays. Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot
guarantee that we will be able to do so.
[Federal Register: September 3, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 171)]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
^Crescent Dunes in Big Smoky Valley, Nye County, Nevada.
Solar Thermal Power Tower Proposal
July 28, 2010 - Tonopah, Nevada - SolarReserve, a California-based developer of utility-scale solar power projects, begins next steps on its 100-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in conjunction with NV Energy's receipt of approval from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) today. This approval follows on last December's announcement that SolarReserve's wholly owned subsidiary, Tonopah Solar Energy LLC, and NV Energy had signed a 25-year power purchase agreement for the sale of electricity from the proposed 180 megawatt solar energy project located near the town of Tonopah, in Nye County, Nevada. The project would occupy 1,600 to 2,000 acres. Molten salt storage requires more water use for cooling than non-storage projects, and may be well over 500 acre-feet/year.
Utilizing an advanced molten salt system technology, the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project would be able to store 10 hours of solar energy and consequently would have the capacity to generate electricity during cloud cover or after the sun has gone down as well as the ability to shift power production to meet peak demand periods. When completed, the Crescent Dunes solar project will supply approximately 480,000 megawatt hours annually of electricity.
Electricity from Crescent Dunes would go into the power grid that serves Northern Nevada. But after NV Energy finishes its 235-mile One Nevada transmission network, possibly by mid-2012, then north and south grids will connect, and energy from Crescent Dunes will power homes in the Las Vegas Valley.
The project still needs to go through the Bureau of Land Management environmental review process, and even though it is Fast-tracked, we have not seen a Draft Environmental Impact Statement appear yet.
^Indian rice grass (Achnatherum hymenoides) forms a luxuriant desert grassland on the sand sheet next to the tall dunes where SolarReserve wants to construct its power tower.
^A female Long-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia wilizenii) takes a shade break under an Indian ricegrass bunch while out hunting for smaller lizards on the site.
^The project site north of Tonopah, Nevada, with Lone Mountain, an ancient volcanic core from the Age of Dinosaurs, in the distance.
Other SolarReserve Projects
In California, the SolarReserve's Rice Solar Energy Project would produce 150 MW on BLM land in Riverside County in remote Rice Valley, south of Ward Valley, the Turtle Mountains, and Vidal Junction. See the California Energy Commission website.
Residents of the San Luis Valley in Saguache County, Colorado, became aware of a similar 200 MW project recently, north of Center on about 6,500 acres of private land. Two 656-foot power towers would be surrounded by 25-foot high tracking mirrors. This project would also have molten salt tanks. Each plant would require 1,000 acre feet per year of water. See San Luis Valley Renewable Communities Alliance.
^Solar 1 at Daggett, California, where molten salt storage was tested in the 1990s. This plant has since closed and been dismantled.