Generation key to big plan in Winnemucca
Winnemucca Farms, the largest farming operation in the state, is developing a multi-billion-dollar yes, billion with a “b” plan to enter into fields ranging from large-scale power generation to hydroponic production of vegetables.
Development of big data centers in central Nevada could be among the long-term results of the company’s ambitious plans.
Completion of the Ruby Pipeline across northern Nevada provides one of the key elements needed by Winnemucca Farms as it looks to diversify beyond its core business of growing and processing potatoes.
Sam Routson, chief administrative officer of Winnemucca Farms, detailed the company’s plans last week:
The major natural gas pipeline crosses along the northern boundary of Winnemucca Farms’ irrigated potato fields near Highway 95 north of Winnemucca, and the company believes there’s enough unused capacity in the Ruby Pipeline to deliver fuel for a 500-megawatt power plant.
(For comparison, the generating plant that NV Energy operates at Tracy along Interstate 80 east of Sparks produces 625 megawatts.)
With the transmission infrastructure in place to serve the gas-fired power plant, Winnemucca Farms believes it could economically add solar-generation facilities to the project.
And Winnemucca Farms expects that it can add another 800 megawatts of pumped-storage generation.
In a pumped-storage system, water is pumped into high-elevation reservoirs at late at night when energy prices are low.
The water is released to flow through hydroelectric turbines during peak-demand hours during the day, then pumped back up at night.
“In essence, you build a giant battery,” Routson said.
Winnemucca Farms has begun applications to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the permits it needs for the pumped-storage facility.
There’s a growing need for power in the region.
The Hycroft Mine in Humboldt County, for instance, will be among the largest power users in the state perhaps the single-largest with its demand for 100 megawatts to power expanded facilities. The mine is a project of Reno’s Allied Nevada Gold Corp.
But Routson said executives of Winnemucca Farms believe that data centers are likely to be major consumers of the power that the company hopes to generate.
While Winnemucca might not immediately leap to mind as a technology center, Routson noted that the area offers many of the attributes that drew Apple’s attention to a data-center location east of Sparks.
Winnemucca, like the Reno area, sits astride four major Internet pipelines that follow Interstate 80, it provides the same security from natural disasters, and rural locations allow for high security.
The nearby availability of major power supplies, Routson said, may seal the deal with technology companies that are quickly building data centers across the country.
“They suck up huge amounts of energy,” he said.
If the 500-megawatt gas-fired plant, solar generation and pumped-storage generation isn’t enough, Routson said Winnemucca Farms believes it could add another 500-megawatt gas-fired plant at the property north of Winnemucca.
Other possible developments that could accompany development of the electric-generation facilities, he said, are a facility to convert natural gas delivered by the pipeline into liquefied natural gas used in trucks, buses and other transport vehicles.
The nearby Union Pacific main line provides a way to move LNG to markets in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast regions.
And the availability of hot water and hot air from the power plants could provide the cornerstone of hydroponic or aeroponic growth of fruits and vegetables for West Coast and Asian markets.
Routson didn’t put a specific price tag on the development, although he said the complete project likely would require an investment he described as “a couple of billion dollars.”
He quipped, “This is a way for poor, simple farmers to diversity the assets they have.”
The company employs about 150 in its current farming and potato-processing operation, and Routson said the company looks to maintain its position in that business.
He said the company is in negotiations with potential investors as well as potential users of the electricity that it hopes to generate.
Some development might be under way within 12 months, he said.
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