Arizona Solar Station Will Rival World's Largest - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Arizona Solar Station Will Rival World's Largest

APS announced plans Feb. 21 for a $1 billion solar power plant 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, near Gila Bend.

The Solana Generating Station will be among the world's largest solar generation stations. Solana -- Spanish for "sunny place" -- will produce 280 megawatts of solar energy, more than three times the current renewable energy capacity for APS.

Abengoa Solar will design, build, own and operate the solar plant. APS, which serves more than 1 million customers in 11 counties, has signed a contract to purchase the entire output of the plant for the next 30 years for about $4 billion. The station is expected to be operational by 2011.

APS President Don Brandt said Solana will be worth its billion- dollar price tag. Solana will benefit customers for at least the next 30 years, he said.

Traditional energy sources, he said, are dependent on the cost of resources like oil and gas. "[But] the sun's free," he said, "There is no price risk."

Jim Arwood, director of the Arizona Department of Commerce's energy office, said Solana will bring tax benefits to the state, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help regulate the price of electricity.

"It won't be at the mercy of escalating prices that we've seen in the natural gas market of the last few years," he said.

The plant also brings another benefit, Arwood said. "It will lend to our reputation as being the solar capital of the world."

The plant falls in line with plans made two years ago by the governor that called for 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy by the 2020, Arwood said.

"You can see already we're going towards meeting that goal," he said.

Unlike the more common method of converting sunlight directly into electricity, Solana will use concentrating solar power.

The technology uses mirrors that focus solar energy onto a heat- transfer fluid. The heat in the fluid is then transferred to water, creating steam to run turbines. The heat energy can also be stored for later use.

And although the plant will only have the capacity to produce 280 megawatts of power, Brandt said, "It's a big drop in the bucket" of APS's energy production.

On Feb. 1, APS estimated its capacity of renewable energy is enough to power more than 37,000 homes. With the addition of Solana, APS will generate enough renewable energy for more than 100,000 homes.

Arwood said that three decades ago solar energy was made through machines like homemade solar ovens, not sophisticated equipment.

"Now, in 30 years time, we've gone from a backyard industry to where it is mainstream," he said. "It's a sunny day in Arizona."

Santiago Seage, CEO of Abengoa Solar, said Arizona is the right place for a plant of this type because of the climate.

Solana harvests heat, not just daylight, he said. And because the process uses mirrors and sunlight, there are no negative effects on the land, he said. The resources used to run the plant will be similar to any other type of plant without the repercussions, Seage added.

Abengoa Solar has several smaller plants in the U.S. using the same process to generate steam and several similar to Solana in Europe. But none are as big as Solana will be, Seange said.

"This will be the largest plant in the world," he said. There are plans from other companies for large solar plants in the future, he said, but none will be bigger than Solana -- which is slated to cover three square miles of land.

David Drennon, director of community and public affairs for the Arizona Department of Commerce, said the economic impact of the plant will be immediate.

"It's a billion dollar capital investment made in the state," he said.

During construction, Drennon said, 1,500 jobs will be created in a market where, with the slowdown of housing and the delay in construction, there's been a downturn.

And when construction is over, the plant will foster 85 full- time, high-wage jobs. Those jobs are the first of 3,000 outlined in the governor's plan, Drennon said.

"This is kind of like the first significant step in that roadmap," he said.

(c) 2008 Arizona Capitol Times.

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