62 MW Solar PV Project Quietly Moves Forward

BP’s solar-energy division has remained surprisingly quiet about a solar photovoltaic (PV) energy project destined for Portugal that would dwarf any silicon-based solar project ever constructed.

In the planning stages for more than two years, the 62 MW project now appears to be moving toward construction. Called Girrasol, the project would be located in the municipality of Moura, in the interior region of Alentejo, Portugal, which is one of the sunniest regions in Europe but also one of the most economically depressed. The 62 MW project will be unprecedented in size — more than six times larger than the Bavaria Solarpark in Muhlhausen, Germany, the largest project operational today. The 10 MW project, built by California-based PowerLight, takes up 62 acres of space in the Bavarian countryside on three different sites. There are two major stakeholders in the new Portuguese venture, according to the European Union’s renewable energy initiative “Campaign for Take-off” (CTO). Amper Central Solar, S.A. is the lead organization for the project. The group is a municipal enterprise with 90 percent of public funds from the city of Moura (90% Council of Moura; 10% Renatura Network.com). CTO indicated this would be a stock exchange-listed entity. The other partner is BP Solar, which, according to CTO, will provide the modules and be responsible for construction and technical management of the plant. Sources indicate BP will also build an on-site solar cell and module production facility in Moura, as well as an inverter manufacturing unit. Amper will subsequently be in charge of its maintenance and operation. The overall project could create as many as 250 full-time jobs for the area at a time when Moura is seeking economic stimulus. The finance-oriented publication Forbes and the UK-based Guardian Unlimited were among a handful of mainstream publications reporting that government officials in Portugal had recently announced the green light for construction. Forbes cited Manuel Pinho, Portugal’s Economy Minister as having granted an operating permit for the facility, while The Guardian quoted Moura’s mayor, Jose Maria Pos-de-Mina as saying construction would begin in 2006. The British Portuguese, Chamber of Commerce also made a recent mention in one of their newsletters of the licensing grant from Minister Pinho and that BP solar would build a module facility on site. They further added that the project would cost approximately EUR 250 million (USD $292 million). Sarah Howell, a spokeswoman for BP Solar, verified that BP solar was indeed involved but would go only so far as saying that the company was “right now working toward an agreement with all the parties involved in this project. Portugal’s solar feed-in tariffs along with numerous investors and financial institutions will also play a major role. Just as Germany’s feed-in tariffs have driven large solar PV projects like the aforementioned PowerLight Bavaria SolarPark, a similar incentive structure is pivotal to Girrasol. The Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (PVPS), a solar R&D body under the International Energy Agency, said Portugal’s legislation promoting renewable energy (IPP law) is quite favorable for grid connected PV applications, with buy-back rates of about 0.32 EUR/kWh for systems above 5 kW installed size and 0.54 EUR/kW for systems below 5 kW (USD .37/KWh and .62/kWh, respectively. These returns are guaranteed for the lifetime of the plant, with automatic adjustments based on the inflation rate. Utilities are in turn required to buy the power from the solar producer. The project is expected to be completed in 2009.
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