Two firsts in Stillwater: A visit by a head-of-state and a one-of-a-kind power plant

Published: Mar. 29, 2016 at 4:50 PM PDT
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Geothermal plants now dot the northern Nevada landscape, but none like one sitting in a remote corner of Lahontan Valley. In fact, there is no other like it in the world.

Built between the farms and the marshes at Stillwater east of Fallon, the plant has tapped into the earth's heat below since 2009, driving turbines that generate electricity. In 2012, more than a hundred acres of solar panels were added, turning the sun's rays directly into electricity. The two sources of energy compliment each other, one picking up power when the other is less efficient.

At one corner of the plant a new set of panels represents yet another innovation. These curved panels focus the sun's rays on pipes, carrying the geothermal fluid, heating it on its way back to the plant's turbines, making them more efficient, increasing their power output.

The Stillwater plant was developed and built by the American arm of an Italian company, Enel Green Power. It's a unique coupling of three sources of renewable energy, something--said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said--both countries could view with some pride.

"The real challenge of today is to combine together old values--my country is rich in old values-- with new energies."Renzi told the crowd. "Energy as in the energy in this place."

And the combination works. As we saw, the plant was producing enough energy to power more than 11-thousand homes. Governor Sandoval noted the plant represented a $200 million investment in the state and Churchill County.

It's clearly also a boost for the state's claim to leadership in the renewable energy field, a claim which took a hit recently with

the Public Utilities Commission's decision reducing incentives for residential roof top solar installations.

"I don't think we took a hit," insisted the governor, noting the number of homes in Nevada with rooftop solar installations and that the rate hikes resulting from the PUC's action would be phased in over years. Still, he acknowledged the issue needed addressing.

"I just appointed a new renewable energy commission that is going to be talking about that very issue and will be making recommendations to me that will likely be an important part of what my objectives and my goals will be in my State of the State address in 2017."

That's a battle for another day. Tuesday, at least, everyone gathered at this remote corner of Lahontan Valley could celebrate a combination of renewable energy technology found nowhere else.