ARES' launch project is a rock-laden train of special electric cars that would run up and down a long hill in the Nevada desert near Pahrump, 60 miles west of Las Vegas, to demonstrate on-demand delivery of electricity. The $55 million, 50 megawatt project is gathering interest from utilities across the county as it moves into final funding phase, fulfilling the vision of investor friends Art Harrigan, a respected attorney, and Spike Anderson, successful businessman who describes himself as a serial investor.
The two have partnered since 2010 to provide the majority of the funding for planning and preparation for ARES and its ARES Nevada project's launch, which is planned for spring of 2017 with completion expected by spring or early summer of 2018.
Now they are in the final fund-raising push for the last $15 million of equity and $15 million of debt necessary to cap the $25 million already committed and begin construction on a six-mile long track with 7.5 percent grade on 43 leased acres of BLM land
ARES Nevada will be the prototype for future projects elsewhere in the country. The Nevada project is smaller (able to fully discharge for a period of 15 minutes at 50 megawatts) than future projects are likely to be, though William Peitzke, the company's director of technology development, notes it will be "the largest energy regulation management project ever in the West."
As word of the planned Nevada project has spread, a number of utilities have reached out to the leaders of ARES, who invited about 30 representatives of utilities and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to a March 1 demonstration of a functioning scale model.
The gathering at the quarter-scale, proof-of-concept project in Tehachapi, in the mountains east of Bakersfield, CA. prompted EPRI representatives to announce to the assembled utilities people that they would develop an EPRI demonstration project and seek funding from member companies.
Since then, the ARES project has attracted media attention from the likes of Forbes and Fortune and, in recent days, from a newspaper in Finland.
Part of the interest generated in ARES, which is a company headquartered in Santa Barbara with its initial project incorporated as ARES Nevada, is due partly to the quality of the management team Anderson and Harrigan have attracted. The CEO is James Kelly, who for almost four decades was a key executive at Southern California Edison, and the executive vice president is Steve Sullivan, who worked with Kelly at Southern Cal Edison and guided many of his projects there.
But given that the two principal funders of ARES have not sought to put themselves in the limelight on this project, despite the fact they were largely responsible for generating the $15 million necessary to reach this point and attract this management team, ARES has not gotten the extended visibility it might need for the closing rush to funding.
But that will likely change as media, both nationally and locally in Washington State, begin to focus on the principal investors because their past successes in business amount, in the minds of many potential investors, to an imprimatur of likely success of their projects.
I've written recently about Harrigan, who is chairman of the ARES board, relating to his legal involvement setting the stage for Seattle's two major league sports teams to be saved and brought under local ownership. But he was also closely involved with Craig McCaw's Eagle River, formed after the sale of McCaw Cellular to AT&T. And he provided the legal guidance that gave birth to Nextel Partners, one of the nation/s largest cellular companies in the late 1990s, was involved in setting up Nextel's IPO and served on its board.
Anderson, whose career in sales and marketing included building one of the most successful reps firms on the West Coast then co-owning and eventually merging his firm, by then Anderson-Daymon, and building Costco's largest supplier of goods and services. Recently he founded, is funding and acting aa CEO for Clean Global Energy, a Bakersfield-based firm developing a process its website describes as "redefining oil separation in a better, cleaner way."
Part of the emerging visibility for Harrigan and Anderson was a letter Anderson recently sent to prospective investors explaining the project in detail and soliciting investors for the final $15 million of equity needed to get ARES Nevada project underway.
Anderson explained, in the extensive narrative on the project to the audience of more-than-qualified investors, that he would take the investing lead in the project with $10 million of the amount needed to complete it.
"We believe we can raise $15 million in debt, and will offer the remaining balance on the exact terms of my personal investment," Anderson explained, adding that "we believe that we can achieve close to a 25 per cent return on equity with ARES Nevada over the next few years "
"By running a train up and down a hill, ARES can help utilities add and subtract power from their grid on demand," Anderson explained in his letter. "A 19th century solution for a 21st century problem, assisted by that abundant natural resource called gravity."
And inevitably, the image of a train loaded with boulders running up a hill has spurred the metaphor of Sisyphus, the king from Greek mythology who was punished by the gods by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.
Of course the Sisyphus image is flawed because the boulder being forced back downhill highlighted Sisyphus's forever failure whereas the trains loaded with boulders imbedded in sand rolling down the hill will exemplify the success of the ARES project.
Anderson explained that Shuttle trains, referred to as modules that are each made up of two electric locomotives and multiple weighted cars, will go up or down the track to either take electricity off the grid on the ascent or supply electricity to the grid by descending.
An example of the fact the Nevada project is on the small side of possible ARES projects, Harrigan and Anderson note that ARES can scale up to 3,000 megawatt, which would be a project as big as some hydroelectric projects. And Anderson noted that "the scope of the Nevada permit also allows for construction of a much larger system for an energy storage facility as well, essentially expanding the 50 MW system to add a 300 MW storage."
Said Anderson is his letter to prospective investors: The real problem we are addressing is providing an answer to the question of how do we generate more power since we can't build more dams, states are not permitting for fossil-fuel power generation and nuclear is enormously expensive."
Kelly suggests that a large part of the likely ARES appeal to investors and potential utility customers is that "ARES can be deployed at around half the cost of other available storage technologies and produces no emissions, burns no fuel, requires no water, does not use environmentally troubling materials. And it sits lightly on the land."