DoE-backed Crescent Dunes CSP, molten salt storage project goes belly-up


The owner of DoE-backed Crescent Dunes solar power project in Nevada, considered to be the first concentrating solar power (CSP) project paired with molten salt energy storage in the US, has filed for bankruptcy.

Developer Tonopah, a subsidiary of SolarReserve, had signed a 25-year PPA with NV energy in 2009, before being built.

At the time, it was selling energy at a price of 13.5 US cents per kilowatt-hour. Today that price is closer to 3 or 4 cents per kWh.

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Crescent Dunes uses mirrors to concentrate solar energy and use it to heat molten salt flowing through an approximately 640-foot tall solar power tower, similar to the system at the Noor Al-Dhabi solar plant in the United Arab Emirates.

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 and in theory, could be called upon at any time to create energy for up to 10 hours after the sun sets.

Various news outlets are reporting that the storage tanks were problematic from the start and the plant had stopped generating electricity in April of 2019.

Crescent Dunes was the recipient of a $737 million loan guarantee from the DoE in 2011. In 2014, the project was complete and entered the commissioning phase and in 2016, Renewable Energy World recognized it as a finalist for a Project of the Year Award.

The DoE reportedly announced that it negotiated a $200 million repayment from the owners of the project, which still owe more than $400 million to the US government. DoE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told the Las Vegas Review Journal that the deal must be approved by bankruptcy court.

“This project has consistently faced technical failures that have proven difficult to overcome. The department’s decision was made after years of exhausting options within our authority to get the project back on track, given the significant taxpayer investment the prior administration committed to this project,” she said in the article.

A senior Trump administration official reported said to Fox News that the settlement “secures taxpayer money that was squandered by the previous administrations’ failed energy pet projects.”

First published on our sister-site, Renewable Energy World.