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$3 billion Energos project to build largest carbon-neutral industrial park in US near Reno

Reno-Gazette-Journal logo Reno-Gazette-Journal 1/6/2021 Jason Hidalgo, Reno Gazette Journal
a group of people riding on the back of a car in the desert: The site of TerraScale's Energos project in Churchill County just east of Reno. The project aims to be the largest industrial-commercial development in the U.S powered by locally produced renewable energy. © TerraScale The site of TerraScale's Energos project in Churchill County just east of Reno. The project aims to be the largest industrial-commercial development in the U.S powered by locally produced renewable energy.

An ambitious green technology project in Nevada’s high desert aims to build the largest carbon-neutral industrial park powered by locally generated renewable energy in the United States.

TerraScale, a firm that specializes in clean energy design, announced on Tuesday that it plans to develop up to 3,700-acres of land in Churchill County just east of Reno for its Energos project. The project will start out with $220 million worth of development on 10 acres of land near Fernley for its first phase.

The initial phase involves building a 20-megawatt, zero-carbon footprint data center that will initially use a mix of renewables and natural gas. Construction will start in early 2021 with an expected completion of March 31, 2022. TerraScale is partnering with AlphaStruxure, an energy-as-a-service company, for designing, building and financing an integrated energy solution for the project site.

By its second phase, TerraScale expects the cost of development to reach $1 billion as it expands to 100 megawatts. The company is also in talks with several companies that are interested in constructing their own facilities at the Energos project site. The parties include a couple of energy storage firms and some manufacturing and logistics operations, which could bump the total development dollars for the Energos project past $3 billion, said TerraScale President Mark Schonberg.

“I can’t speak for those companies but we expect some of them to make a decision within the next six to 12 months,” Schonberg said.

Project described as a potential ‘game-changer’

Once built out, the Energos project will be the largest carbon-neutral industrial development based on “megawatts generated behind the meter,” Schonberg added. The phrase refers to energy produced locally onsite at a facility as opposed to energy from the grid.

Nevada Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall described Energos as the kind of forward-looking project that the region needs. Marshall was especially excited by the idea of using the project as a pilot site for emerging and new green technologies.

“It highlights the fact that Northern Nevada is very welcoming to innovation for doing something new and cutting edge,” Marshall said.

Brian Sandoval, president of the University of Nevada, Reno, touted the potential partnerships between the university and the Energos project. Sandoval was a huge proponent of economic development and as well as joint efforts between tech companies and schools for R&D during his tenure as Nevada’s governor from 2011 to 2019.

Economic diversification is even more important at a time when innovation continues to shape the new economy, Sandoval added.

“Clearly if Nevada is to create jobs, we have to seize opportunities for industries of tomorrow,” Sandoval said. “(This) couldn’t come at a more opportune moment.”

The project has applied for the standard incentives Nevada provides to data centers, such as tax abatements on equipment, which it will likely receive. The abatement, which reduces the tax on equipment down to 2%, will not affect the school funding component of the tax, said Mike Kazmierksi, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. About a third of the Energos project’s land is also located within Churchill County’s opportunity zone.

Kazmierski described the Energos project as another “game-changer” for the region, likening its impact to several high-profile projects that raised Northern Nevada’s profile in recent years.

“If this builds out as planned, this project will be in the order of a Tesla (Gigafactory), a Switch, an Apple or Google — all the big names as far as the impact on our region,” Kazmierksi said. 

“It’s another significant addition to our economy that allows us to continue to diversify and bring quality jobs for years to come.”

‘Smart city’ residential development a possibility

Despite the support from state and local government as well as economic development circles, TerraScale also has several challenges it needs to overcome to meet its goal of becoming the first large-scale industrial development that uses 100% renewable energy behind the meter.

One is dealing with solar and wind energy’s drawbacks when it comes to providing energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 365 days a year.

“You can have all the wind and solar that you want but during days when there’s no wind or the sun doesn’t shine, it’s a problem,” Schonberg said.

One potential solution is using geothermal energy, which can be generated continuously to bridge the gap from solar and wind. Although that’s a possibility in the future, geothermal exploration is expensive and does not get the same tax breaks that oil drilling does, Schonberg said. Instead, TerraScale is looking more at battery storage as a solution. 

Battery backup, however, also comes with its own set of challenges. The biggest is having enough available to supply a large amount of power that lasts several days.

“Everybody is looking at lithium-ion batteries right now but the science is just not there (for extended backup) … especially when you’re looking at storage for big urban areas,” Schonberg said. “So the technology we’re looking at is not lithium-ion but something completely different.”

Back in November, TerraScale signed an agreement with battery company Ambri to use its liquid metal battery technology as a storage solution for the Energos project.

Developing a viable battery backup solution will also allow TerraScale and its partners to help build smart cities, something that could be possible at its Northern Nevada site. It’s something that the company has been already approached for, according to Schonberg.

“We talked a little bit with the Churchill County representatives about (including residential in the project),” Schonberg said. “We’re not working on residential today but it’s something we’re open to looking at to see what we can do to help with that.”

Currently, TerraScale is more focused on building out the infrastructure for the commercial and industrial aspects of the Energos project, according to Schonberg. Nevertheless, the concept of a residential component as part of a smart city is something that the company finds intriguing and is not ruling out. Schonberg says that the company has already approached one of its partners to explore the viability of future residential development.

“It’s not our area of expertise but one of the good things about being a smaller company that works as part of a consortium is that it allows us some flexibility,” Schonberg said. “It’s very easy for us to pick up the phone and call somebody to look into that for us.”

Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.

This article originally appeared on Reno Gazette Journal: $3 billion Energos project to build largest carbon-neutral industrial park in US near Reno

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