Twelve miles from the small town of Fallon, Nevada, population 8,500, a unique solar plant is providing enough electricity to power all of the homes in Mesquite. The world's first and only solar geothermal hybrid power plant is designed to produce 26 megawatts of energy or enough to power 16,000 homes.
The Stillwater plant integrates two alternative energy sources that are abundant in Nevada, sun and geothermal, combining the strengths and weaknesses of both. Although combining an intermittent power source for the “base load” isn't a new idea, the Stillwater plant is the first to use two renewable energy sources for all of its power. Currently, utilities will use clean energy sources during hours of peak consumer demand then combine it with a “base load” source such as natural gas to ensure a steady supply of power.
The plant combines 26 megawatts of photovoltaic solar generating capacity with 33 megawatts of geothermal base load power. The original plant began as a geothermal energy source and completed the solar expansion in 2012.
At the inauguration of the plant, Interior Secretary Steven Chu said, “as the first of its kind in the world, this plant shows how we can tap renewable energy resources and deploy every available source of American energy to stay competitive in the global race for clean energy.”
This project was a top priority for Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval who made a major effort to encourage pursuing Nevada's “green economy” after the financial crisis caused devastation among Nevada's four major industries; gambling, tourism, housing
“This facility was permitted and brought into production in just six months,” said Sandoval.
“When people throughout the globe see what we have accomplished here, they will see that our state is setting a good example.”
During the construction phase, 375 workers were employed and about 100 came from Fallon. Republican State Assemblyman Tom Grady of Yerington said the project is helping the overall economy and added that the goal of the 2011 legislature was to promote more alternative energy programs throughout the state. Grady said the economy of Northern Nevada will benefit from this type of project and in the next couple of years the area will do well.
“If this project works out, we will become the green energy capital of the U.S.,” said Norm Frey, Chairman of the Churchill County Commission. He said the plant marked the beginning of a long relationship with the solar industry for Churchill County and what solar energy can do for the community.
Churchill County Stillwater plant and its sister plant, Salt Wells Geothermal, are the only two plants in the world to use large scale electrical submersible pumps for the extraction of geothermal fluids. This environmentally friendly process has no losses or consumption of water as well as no air emissions during normal operations.
Nevada's renewable energy target of 25 percent by 2025 has gone a long way to promote renewable energy projects. Northern Nevada already gets about 24 percent of its energy from renewable resources, mostly from geothermal. The power generated by the Stillwater and Salt Wells plants was purchased by NV Energy to serve its customers.