"For the industry, it’s a huge project. And it’s extremely important because this industry is kind of unknown," Cohen said.
Don Soderberg, chairman of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, said the project is significant both for the solar energy industry and for Southern Nevada.
"It’s a big coup for Nevada because of its size, but also because of the technology," he said. "The generating unit is not dissimilar from what has been producing electricity today with fossil fuels plants and geothermal plants. That’s why we’re pretty excited. It’s not only large in size but it’s also a technology leap."
Cohen said that has raised Nevada Power Company’s comfort level with Nevada Solar One, which uses technology that mimics traditional power generation techniques except that it uses the sun as fuel rather than a fossil fuel.
"To have something this advanced in our own backyard definitely puts us on the map," Soderberg said.
Unlike photo voltaic solar technology common on roofs throughout the valley, the solar thermal technology being used at the plant uses parabolic solar collectors to heat to 750 degrees an oil-based liquid in pipes running throughout the complex. The heated liquid is then run through the pipes into a power generation complex, similar to a traditional power plant, and used to create steam which runs a turbine to create electricity.
"They’ve been pretty confident that it works like any of the other power plants that they have," Cohen said.
He said the project is also important for Nevada Power Co. because it will help the utility meet its renewable portfolio standard, a minimum percentage of energy generated from renewable sources set by the state.
Nevada Power Co. has contracted to purchase Nevada Solar One’s 64 megawatts and will use about 68 percent of the power in Southern Nevada and 32 percent in Northern Nevada. The northern part of the state is powered by Nevada Power’s sister Sierra Pacific Power Co.
A spokeswoman for the utility said the company is very excited for both the Nevada Solar One project and a solar project at Nellis Air Force Base to come online this year.
"Once both of these solar facilities are completed in 2007, Nevada will be the number one state in the nation on solar watts per capita and solar as a percentage of retail sales," said Sonya Headen, public information officer for the utility. "We’re very pleased that we’ll be able to diversify our portfolio and increase our percentage of renewables."
Cohen said an official opening ceremony is being planned for some time in June, but that power generation should begin by late April or early May.
The remaining work on the site is being done in the power generation area, where 400 people are still working two shifts per day. The oil, which will be heated by the sun and then used to heat steam to run the plant, was scheduled to be delivered this week.
Cohen said he also expects an occupancy permit to be granted this week.
Construction on the site began in February, 2006.
Once the plant is up and running, 28 people will staff it full-time.
The plant is located on 400-acres near the intersection of U.S. 95 and State Route 165 south of downtown Boulder City in the Eldorado Valley.
Phoebe Sweet covers banking and marketing for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. She can be reached at (702)259-8832 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.