Arizona Solar Power Plant Taking Shape

A new solar array will soon blanket part of the desert near Prescott, Arizona as one of the largest solar power generating facilities in the world takes shape.

Prescott, Arizona – October 11, 2002 [] By the end of this month, a multitude of conventional and concentrated photovoltaics (PV) will be adding .5 MW into the Arizona power grid from Arizona Public Service’s (APS) Prescott Solar Power Plant on 50 acres near the Prescott Airport. The first phase of the project is nearing completion as power lines are connected and fencing is added. By summer 2003, 1.5 MW should be installed and within the next three to fours years APS plans to expand the array to 5 MW making it one of the largest solar arrays in the world. While the impetus for the project comes from the Environmental Portfolio Standard approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which outlines a goal for utilities to derive one percent of their power from Renewable Energy sources, it also makes sense in many ways, according to project developers. “I think there’s a strong and very broad sentiment supporting Renewable Energy – especially solar,” said Herb Hayden, solar program manager for APS. “After last year’s energy crisis in California, people have realized that they can’t take energy for granted. It might not be as competitive as other sources, but people are learning that it’s well worth it.” Hayden said APS was originally skeptical of generating solar power, but were pleasantly surprised when two percent of their customers volunteered for the company’s Solar Partners Program. Essentially casting a vote with their dollars in support of Renewable Energy, participants opt to pay US$2.64 a month for a 15 kWh block of electricity generated with Renewable Energy. The revenue from the Solar Partners Program as well as a Renewable Energy surcharge on all electric bills are largely funding solar power plants for APS. The surcharge ranges from US$.35 a month for residential users up to US$39 for large industrial users. “It won’t happen overnight,” Hayden said. “But the fact that two percent signed up made a real impression on APS managers. As long as it’s done gradually, solar power will be completely viable.” The APS solar array is comprised of PV equipment from leading PV manufacturers including Sharp, BP Solar, Kyocera, Amonix and others. While many solar power projects use products from only one company to supply PV, Hayden said APS prefers to use several suppliers to help support competition and innovation within the industry. “We believe it’s a healthy step to ensure competition,” Hayden said. This practice also offers APS a chance to compare the different performance characteristics between manufacturers, since there’s often a difference between the nameplate rating and actual performance, according to Hayden. While recent innovations in technology have greatly improved the efficiency of solar cells, Hayden said an increasingly positive public attitude toward solar power has made projects such as this practical. The Prescott Solar Power Plant will be unique for more than just its size. Not only is APS linking a variety of solar panels from different companies, but they are also employing a variety of progressive solar technologies. Two-thirds of the panels will be modern PV panels that operate between 10 and 13 percent efficiency. The other third will be concentrated PV from Los Angeles-based Amonix, which use lenses to focus sunlight – 250 times its normal strength – onto .5 inch square PV cells. The 5 MW output anticipated within the next four years will still pale in comparison to the average 5,000 MW that flows through APS lines at any given moment but it’s a step in the right direction, said Hayden. “It’s a fantastic time to be involved in solar,” he said.
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