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Gigantic Western Solar ‘Power Tower’ Project Gets Withdrawn

April 16, 2019, 8:00 AM

SolarReserve LLC has withdrawn its application to build the world’s largest concentrating solar-thermal power plant on public land in the Nevada desert, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The California renewable energy developer had planned to build a $5 billion, 2-gigawatt solar power plant north of Las Vegas using 10 “power towers” that would have used the sun’s energy to super-heat molten salt to produce electricity for 1 million Californians.

The project’s federal permit application was withdrawn on Jan. 31, BLM spokesman Derrick Henry said April 15.

The withdrawal effectively halts the federal approval process for the Sandstone Solar Energy Project.

The agency’s website listed the project as pending as of April 15, but when Bloomberg Environment queried the agency about Sandstone’s status, Henry said the site would be updated to reflect the application withdrawal. SolarReserve’s website lists the project as still under development.

SolarReserve didn’t return calls and emails seeking comment.

Mary Grikas, who is listed on the company’s website as SolarReserve’s vice president of global communications, said April 15 that she is no longer with the company and declined to comment about the project.

Contested Planning Process

“SolarReserve did withdraw their existing application for the Sandstone project, but they can still submit a new application for the same project in the future,” Mark Salvo, vice president for landscape conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

Salvo said BLM officials had told Defenders of Wildlife that the agency denied SolarReserve’s request for an exception to an Interior Department secretarial order requiring project environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act to be limited to one year. Typically the reviews go on for many years.

“We’ve informally heard from the Bureau of Land Management that SolarReserve was seeking a two-year planning process for Sandstone, but that was not approved by the agency,” he said.

The BLM declined to comment further.

Defenders of Wildlife criticized the project for its size and potential to harm birds and impact other wildlife.

Australia Project Scrapped

SolarReserve scrapped a 150-megawatt solar thermal power plant in Australia on April 5 after it failed to secure financing and the South Australian government canceled its power purchase agreement from the project.

SolarReserve co-founder and former CEO Kevin Smith is now an executive adviser with the company. Smith didn’t return an April 15 request for comment.

The Sandstone Solar project was to have begun construction in 2020 or 2021 and completed in phases over seven years.

The project’s molten salt would have been able to store the sun’s energy for up to 10 hours, allowing the plant to generate electricity long after the sun sets.

“The impetus [for Sandstone] really is energy storage,” Smith told Bloomberg Environment in August 2018. “Our technology is really built for large-scale bulk energy storage—moving four, to six, to eight hours of generation from the morning to the evening.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Chuck McCutcheon at; Rob Tricchinelli at