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SolarReserve Gets Approval for 150-MW CSP Plant in Maricopa County, AZ

Relying on the sun to produce energy always leads to the question: what happens when's the sun's not shining? Can the energy produced be stored? The good news is, companies like California-based SolarReserve know the answer to those questions, and they're busily implementing energy storage technology in innovative ways. Even better, local governments are getting behind those efforts in growing numbers.

Last week, SolarReserve announced that its newest undertaking, the Crossroads Solar Energy Project, had been unanimously green-lighted by the Board of Supervisors of Maricopa County, Arizona. Now that it’s officially received the Special Use Permit (SUP) required to move forward, SolarReserve is one critical step closer to realizing the construction and eventual operation of a solar thermal plant smack in the middle of some of the best real estate in the world for sunlight.

The project, which will be located on a plot of privately owned land just west of Gila Bend in Maricopa County (about 75 minutes southwest of Phoenix), will bring approximately 150 megawatts of capacity from concentrating solar power (CSP) technology and another 65 megawatts from solar PV panels. Energy storage for on-demand power delivery through non-daylight hours will be made possible through SolarReserve’s molten salt power tower technology.

“We’re using the leading technology in energy storage,” said SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith, whose company is currently building a 110-MW solar plant near Tonopah, Nevada that will also store power using molten salt.

Molten salts, which can be heated to extremely high temperatures and are capable of retaining that heat for extended periods of time, can be used to store thermal energy. This enables solar plants to churn out fresh electricity, even long after the sun has set.

“The Tonopah project will have 10 hours of energy storage utilizing our molten salt power tower technology,” Smith said. “When it goes into operation at the end of next year, it will be the largest and the first commercial-scale facility with a molten salt power tower in the world.” Smith added that once completed, the Crossroads Solar Energy Project in Arizona will utilize the same technology to offer similar after-sundown clean energy production.

Smith said he expects the Crossroads project to not only produce 500,000 MWh of electricity per year, but to also produce jobs in Maricopa County. During the building phase, which is likely to begin sometime in 2014, the project will create approximately 450 jobs during peak construction. The majority of those jobs will be filled by local talent.

“We expect that about 75 percent of the workforce will come from Arizona contractors and workers,” Smith said. Looking further down the line, Smith estimates that direct and indirect supply chain jobs created by the Crossroads project will number between 4,000 and 5,000.

The Crossroads Solar Energy Project has an estimated price tag of approximately $600 million to $700 million. Smith said the next step in the process is to secure a Power Purchase agreement, and that SolarReserve is in discussions with “a number of major Arizona players” to that end. “The project has the ability to get into the California markets as well,” Smith said, “so we’re having discussions with utilities in both Arizona and California.”

The project’s construction timeframe will mirror that of its Tonopah counterpart, and will take approximately 30 months from start to finish. Smith estimates that the majority of 2013 will be spent in an effort to secure a Power Purchase Agreement, with construction likely beginning in 2014 and full scale commercial operation taking place sometime in 2016.

Lead image: Arizona sunrise via Shutterstock

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Vince Font is a freelance journalist specializing in the fields of renewable energy, high tech, travel, and entertainment. Read his blog at www.vincefont.com or follow him on Twitter @vincefont.

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