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Solar plant in Boulder City gets $2.9 million grant

Updated Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 | 10:02 p.m.

The Spanish company that is expanding its Boulder City solar plant got a boost from the U.S. government recently when the Energy Department awarded it a $2.9 million grant, the Obama Administration announced tonight.

The grant for Acciona comes in lieu of the tax credit the company would have gotten for expanding its Boulder City solar plant. It is one of about 250 renewable energy projects that have qualified for grants in lieu of tax credits under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. About 72 percent of those projects are solar energy projects. The Federal Government has promised $550 million in allocations for projects approved since applications opened in August.

Three other projects in Nevada are also getting the grants but they are all geothermal plants in the northern half of the state. Nevada Geothermal Energy's Blue Moutain plant in Humboldt County is getting $57.9 million. Enel Green Power's Salt Wells and Stillwater geothermal plants in Churchill County got a total of about $61.5 million.

The grants allow developers to recoup 30 percent of the cost of building a commercial renewable energy generator. The developer must apply for the program with the Department of Treasury, and if approved can get the money once the project is completed.

The grants help renewable energy developers who may not have had enough tax liability to actually get cash back under the old system, said Energy Department Spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller.

The program allows developers to get the money much earlier than if they waited for the investment tax credit on their tax return. The renewable energy industry had lobbied hard for the option after the bottom fell out of the banking industry and financing for renewable energy projects became difficult to acquire. The guaranteed cash in a grant programs makes multimillion-dollar renewable energy projects more palatable for lenders who are still hesitant to lend to solar and wind developers because of the risk involved. Much of the technology in new solar and wind plants hasn't been widely developed, especially in the United States.

When it was completed in 2007 Nevada Solar One was the first solar power plant built in 17 years. It sparked interest in large-scale renewable energy development across the country. The 64-megawatt solar thermal power plant is the third largest solar power plant in the world.

Acciona in September expanded that plant, adding 40 solar troughs and increasing the electric output slightly.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect that Acciona was not the first developer to finish a qualified project. | (February 19, 2010)

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