Ausra opens first manufacturing plant in Nevada

LOS ANGELES Mon Jun 30, 2008 7:08pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Solar thermal power developer Ausra on Monday officially opened its first U.S.-based manufacturing plant for reflectors and other components of utility-scale solar power plants.

Ausra says that once the plant gets to full production in a couple of years it will be the largest plant making solar thermal power components in the world.

The opening in Las Vegas, Nevada, near the McCarran International Airport, featured Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader who wants to keep nuclear power out of the state and keep coal-fired power plants from expanding.

"Nevada is poised to be a leader in the clean energy revolution," Reid said.

Reid has said that renewable power including solar, wind and geothermal can be developed in lieu of nuclear or coal plants.

The new Ausra plant will be able to make enough components for 700 megawatts of solar collectors, which are the mirrors that reflect the sun onto pipes containing fluid that in turn makes steam to turn turbines to make electricity.

"This is a crossover point for this industry," said Ausra CEO Bob Fishman. "Here in southern Nevada alone, developers are planning over $50 billion of future solar power plants."

The U.S. Southwest, particularly in the deserts of California, Nevada and Arizona, are considered the best areas for solar power development in the United States and are close to big power demand centers Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The plant will employ 50 workers at full production and now has about half that number. Fishman said the plant won't be at full pace until 2010 or so because of a backup in orders worldwide for steam turbines for power plants.

Ausra says that its concentrated solar power technology has the ability to make power on the same scale as conventional coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.

Fishman said Ausra is hoping that it can sell reflectors to utilities with coal-fired plants as a way to make incremental steam for its turbines. He also hopes to sell reflectors to oil refiners and oil drillers as a way to make steam cheaper than can be made from burning natural gas at its current price of $13 per million British thermal units.

Ausra started in Australia and now based in Palo Alto, California. It is a privately held company funded in part by Khosla Ventures and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Beyers.

Ausra is one of a handful of developers of the burgeoning U.S. solar thermal industry. Solar power advocates tout its ability to make power without pollution and say it is already price-competitive with natural gas plants and one day if global warming legislation passes in the United States price-competitive with coal-fired plants.

Once Ausra's plant is running fully, Nevada will be the top producer of solar power plant components in the United States. Now, Ohio is tops followed by Michigan and Tennessee, said Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch.

Ausra last November announced plans to build a 177-megawatt solar farm in central California for PG&E Corp.

"This is the first of several factories we plan to have in the United States and around the world," Fishman said during a press briefing on Monday.

(Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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