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December 20, 2014

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ENERGY:

Solar company to focus on manufacturing

Beyond the Sun

California-based solar energy company Ausra appears to be banking on its Southern Nevada manufacturing plant.

Last year, the company talked of developing solar plants in the Southwest in coming years on top of operating North America’s only solar thermal component assembly plant right here in Las Vegas.

But in a Jan. 30 statement, the company announced it will instead focus on the manufacturing side of its business. Ausra “is strategically positioning itself to achieve its goals and serve its customers by focusing on being a technology and equipment supplier rather than an independent power developer and owner,” as the announcement put it.

Manufacturing and equipment supply is a safer route for the company. It frees Ausra from the financial uncertainties of developing its own solar plants during a time when financing is almost nonexistent. Solar companies also expect continued delays in obtaining solar sites on Bureau of Land Management acreage and an increasing number of lawsuits from environmentalists.

Giving up its development side has meant personnel realignments, including reports of positions eliminated in California, but the company said the change would have little effect on its Las Vegas plant, which as of earlier this month employed 35 to 40 people, according to the company.

The plant can employ up to 50 people, and if the change in strategy is effective, it stands to reason that would mean increased activity at the plant.

Some of that increased activity is in the works. As part of its realignment, Ausra is expanding its product offerings to include medium-sized (50-megawatt equivalent) solar steam generating systems for use in food processors and enhanced oil recovery firms, as well as for power booster systems that deliver steam into existing fossil-fueled power plants.

Those are to be built at the Las Vegas plant.

“Ausra can quickly ramp up and install these low-cost projects as early as 2009 or 2010, while large power projects can take three to four years,” the company’s statement said. “For Ausra, this will allow the company to deploy its technology and generate revenue immediately, while the larger projects are obtaining permits and getting transmission access.”

No Ausra representative was willing to talk on the record about the change in direction — to the point of even contending this isn’t a change but “an evolution.”

But when Ausra launched its flagship Las Vegas manufacturing facility last spring, company executives said they were scouring the Southwest for solar development sites. The company said it was lining up solar projects across Southern California, Nevada and Arizona that were expected to piggyback on one another.

The company’s stated goal back then was to install a gigawatt of power each year over 10 to 20 years.

The company has a demonstration plant on line in Bakersfield, Calif., and a contract with a California utility to build a 177-megawatt solar power site near San Luis Obispo, Calif.

A version of this story appeared in this week’s In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Sun.

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