Solar thermal farm developer lines up $27M

Roughly a month after securing a federal loan to build its first solar farm in the U.S., SolarReserve has raised $27 million in equity, according to a government filing on Monday. The company will need the funds to complete the solar power plant and work on additional projects.

Santa Monica-based SolarReserve is building its first plant — the 110 MW Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project — in Nevada, and it received a $737 million loan guarantee from the U.D. Department of Energy in September. The company’s technology, licensed from United Technologies’ Rocketdyne, uses flat mirrors to concentrate sun light onto a tank on top of a tower, which in turn generates steam and pipes it to a turbine generator to produce electricity.

The tank contains molten salt, which allows SolarReserve to bank energy for later use. The energy storage makes it possible for a solar farm to generate electricity and feed to the grid only when its utility customer wants it. NV Energy, which has signed a contract to buy Crescent Dunes’ power, has agreed to pay $0.13 per kilowatt-hour for electricity from the solar farm. Crescent Dunes will come with 10 hours of storage.

SolarReserve, founded in 2007, is part of a group of companies looking to build solar plants out of concentrating solar thermal power technology, and these developers are planning or building their very first projects in the U.S., largely clustered in Southwestern states such as California, Arizona and Nevada. The $737 million loan guarantee only meant to cover as much as 80 percent of Crescent Dunes’ cost; SolarReserve has also lined up ACS Cobra, a power plant engineering firm, and financial service firm Santander as investors in Crescent Dunes. SolarReserve expects the project to be completed and operational in 2013.

This latest $27 million round will support SolarReserve’s corporate expenses, and it will need the money not just to carry out Crescent Dunes but also to work on other  projects, such as the Rice Solar Energy, in California. That 150 MW project already has gotten approval for construction from the California Energy Commission, and SolarReserve has a contract to sell the power from Rice Solar Energy to utility Pacific Gas and Electric.

How the company will finance Rice Solar remains to be seen. The company was hoping to get a federal loan guarantee for Rice Solar, but the DOE ended the loan guarantee program last month without approving financing for Rice Solar. SolarReserve also has a 150 MW project in Arizona. Other previous corporate fundraising efforts by SolarReserve have included a $20 million round announced earlier this year.

SolarReserve isn’t only interested in developing solar thermal power plants. Last November, the company said it would team up with Chinese polysilicon producer GCL-Poly Energy to develop power plants in the U.S. using solar panels. GCL owns a 20 MW solar farm in China. Some solar developers have recently switched to installing solar panels for utility power plants, instead of using solar thermal, because of the drop in solar panel prices and because it can take a long time for solar thermal plants to get approval.