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Tesla plant may sparknew mining boom

Suddenly, Silver Peak finds itself smack in the middle of the Tesla discussion.

But just where is it, anyway?

Read the pile of press accounts describing Tesla Motors’ reasons for locating its lithium battery factory in Storey County outside Sparks, and you’ll learn the chemical is plentiful at an operation located somewhere in Northern Nevada. That almost makes it sound like the lithium mine is practically in Reno’s backyard.

At last check, the Rockwood Lithium extraction project in Clayton Valley near Silver Peak was known as the most viable and abundant producer of lithium in the country. That makes Silver Peak a special place, indeed, if Tesla is to have a bright future in the electric car business.

For the record, you’ll find Silver Peak on State Route 265 west of Goldfield and about 50 miles from Tonopah. In 2010, thanks in large part to activity at the mine, it boasted a local population of 107.

According to Google Maps, it’s 223.8 miles from Reno. Using that same source, Silver Peak is 213.4 miles from Las Vegas.

Why, that practically puts Silver Peak just outside the lights of the Strip.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that actually would place it in south central Nevada. If you live in Southern Nevada, and just watched a factory projected to employ 6,500 people get the go-ahead for our neighbors to the north, that’s something to remember should another lithium battery factory be needed. After all, we will all pay for the tax breaks that will benefit Tesla and Northern Nevada.

A Rockwood Lithium spokesman was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but the Tesla announcement already has another company in the area, Pure Energy of Vancouver, British Columbia, speculating about the bright future of the lithium battery market and its place in it.

The unabashed enthusiasm is in keeping with a long tradition of mining speculation in Nevada (much of it unsavory.)

“The transformation of the transportation industry from gasoline to electricity requires enough energy storage to power vehicles for hundreds of miles,” Pure Energy CEO Robert Mintak said in a statement. “The answer to meet these energy storage demands is advanced batteries that are made from lithium. Elon Musk’s plan for a multibillion-dollar gigafactory to fuel mass-market Tesla electric cars will consequently provide significant demand to the lithium industry and advance the development of domestic lithium exploration and production.”

Rockwood is in successful production. Pure Energy is successfully speculating. And the buzz generated by the Tesla announcement has reverberated internationally in business publications, journals and television networks. Expect a lot more speculating soon.

For its part, Silver Peak has been there before. Silver was discovered there 150 years ago. A town grew next to the nearest water source, a small spring, and not long afterward a stamp mill was crushing ore. The population drifted with the price of silver, and according to published reports, part of the townsite burned in 1948.

The Foote Mineral Co. began extracting lithium in 1966 long before the market was booming. From the look of things, it’s about to boom as never before.

Until now, not many people outside the tiny community have been too excited about any of it.

Is life around Silver Peak about to change forever?

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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