$3 billion clean energy project on tap for Churchill County
RENO — Danny Hayes couldn’t get to Reno fast enough.
It was late this summer and Hayes, CEO of TerraScale, a Southern California-based clean infrastructure design and development company, just got off the phone with Stan Thomas at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.
Thomas, EDAWN’s Executive Vice President of Business Development, was pitching TerraScale to launch its ambitious green technology project in Northern Nevada. Hayes, who hadn’t even considered Reno-Sparks, liked what he heard so much that he had to see it for himself.
With COVID-19 cases surging, he bypassed the airport and hit the interstate.
“The next week, I jumped in my car and drove there,” Hayes said in a Monday video interview with the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. “And now I have to admit to Stan that it’s a shame he had to call me to come look at the area.”
Northern Nevada had everything TerraScale was looking for in a setting for the company’s clean energy project, Hayes said: vast amounts of open land; plenty of sunshine; robust fiber infrastructure; untapped geothermal opportunities; proximity to five major West Coast ports; and a business-friendly attitude.
Hayes was sold. Soon after his late summer visit, the Culver City-headquartered company, co-founded by Philip Eggen (CTO) and Soheila Yalpani (COO), was all-in on designing its green infrastructure blueprints for the Silver State.
“We want to do the biggest of the big infrastructure, and (Northern Nevada) welcomes that, they made that clear,” Hayes said Monday. “They’re not afraid of infrastructure there. We were right at home.”
The next day, TerraScale officially made that known, introducing the pilot project, Energos Reno, for its global clean energy strategy during a virtual press conference hosted by EDAWN on Tuesday.
FIRST OF ITS KIND
Energos Reno will include development of a data center that will leverage the site’s renewable energy infrastructure to make it a fully carbon-neutral, off-grid facility, said former U.S. Army Col. Mark Schonberg, president of TerraScale.
“As demand for data centers and related infrastructure grow, so, too, have key environmental and social challenges,” Schonberg said. “Energos Reno builds the critical infrastructure required to keep business running, logistics moving and people secure and connected.”
At full build-out, Energos Reno intends to be the largest industrial/commercial development in the U.S. powered by hybrid renewable energy, he added.
The company plans to develop 3,700 acres of land in Churchill County, hugging the Reno-Sparks Interstate 80 corridor, with one-third of the property marked as an Opportunity Zone and the entire patch of land designated as a Federal Foreign Trade Zone.
The development would include a scalable data center and logistics hub with 500 megawatts of renewable power generated on site within 10 years to power an inside-the-fence microgrid, according to TerraScale.
“Frankly, coming from the federal government, I don’t know why anybody else hasn’t done this before,” Schonberg said. “We should have been doing this for years, because if you lose all power, your data center still keeps on running.
But, nobody else has done it before, and we’re going to be the first to do it.”
A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT
Schonberg said TerraScale is currently working on the project’s design, which he expects to wrap up in early 2021, adding: “We would like to have a shovel in the ground sometime in late March” for the project’s first phase.
AlphaStruxure, an energy-as-service company, is helping TerraScale design, build, finance and operate a “behind-the-meter” energy system for the project, Michael Oprzadek, senior VP at AlphaStruxure, said during Tuesday’s press conference.
“We are very excited about the project for several reasons,” Oprzadek said. “The ability to scale from 5- to 20- to 100-megawatts data center; a supportive and enabling government; the location; and, finally, the climate enabling us to maximize renewable contents of the energy system.”
The site currently has a fiber optic trunk line installed, as well as co-located geothermal power and solar power, according to TerraScale, which plans to be fully operation in the first quarter of 2022 with its first phase — development of a 20MW data center on 10 acres of land, Hayes said.
In the process, TerraScale and its partners plan to use Ambri batteries, a liquid metal battery chemistry that facilitates “low-cost renewable energy across the day in an efficient power system,” Adam Briggs, COO at Ambri, said during the press conference.
The collaboration, Briggs said, includes delivery of 250 megawatt hours of Ambri systems to “serve as the backbone” of the renewable energy and generation for the project.
“These batteries work well for this because they’re much safer and lower cost than lithium batteries,” Briggs said of Ambri batteries, developed at MIT, which use calcium and antimony chemistry. “And they’re also designed to deliver 20 years of life without losing energy capacity.”
Schonberg said TerraScale is collaborating with global partners in engineering, technology, real estate, fiber and energy construction to “ensure maximum value delivery across the lifecycle of our projects.”
The total cost of the Energos Reno development is expected to exceed $3 billion, according to the company. Hayes, who noted project would reach $1 billion once it hits 100MW in its second phase, anticipates the amount of financed development to be closer to $6 billion “if everything were to work out.”
Hayes said the project applied for the standard tax incentives the state provides to data centers via the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), adding: “We didn’t dare ask for anything more during a pandemic.”
WORKFORCE FOR THE FUTURE
Schonberg said the company plans to create roughly 50 jobs over the next three to five years. Further, he said the carbon-neutral development could lead to 300-400 jobs “if not significantly more” between TerraScale’s hires and those of its partner companies that eventually join the park.
Hayes said the average salary for employees that TerraScale hires in Nevada has not yet been determined.
He added that the Energos project is looking forward to developing a strong relationship with the University of Nevada, Reno.
UNR President Brian Sandoval echoed that sentiment during Tuesday’s press conference, noting the university is “very excited about the myriad of possibilities” of a partnership with TerraScale.
“Clearly, if Nevada is to create jobs today, we have to seize the opportunities and industries of tomorrow,” said Sandoval, who advocated for diversifying and advancing Nevada’s economy during his time as governor (2011-2019). “(Today’s) announcement, which signifies a really important step forward in the world of data and renewable infrastructure, couldn’t come at a more opportune moment.”
To that end, Mike Kazmierski, CEO of EDAWN, said Energos Reno is “a big deal” and “important addition” to the community. In fact, he put TerraScale’s plans for the region in the same category as the big tech companies that have plugged into Northern Nevada over the past five years.
“This is on the scale of a Tesla or a Switch or a Google for several reasons,” Kazmierski told the NNBW. “We’re looking at a significant, not just national, but international recognition as a viable place for business in, specifically in this case, renewable data centers.
“It also reinforces our effort to brand this region as a place for future technology synergies between some of the big tech names. And a project like Energos shows that we are on the leading edge of green energy development and storage.”