Mexico’s Sunny Sonora State Fosters Solar PV Growth

Mexico’s Sonora state, which has the highest insolation rate in North America, is working steadfastly to foster photovoltaic power research, generation and transmission lines for demand within the state and for export, say several state leaders.

Last week in Hermosillo, Sonora State Governor Guillermo Padrés Elias announced that Sonora would host a new national solar research center, the Centro Mexicano de Innovación en Energía Solar, which would receive $25 million in funding. Padrés made the announcement here at the 19th Annual Border Energy Forum, organized by the Texas Land Office. The new center will engage collaboration among 49 educational institutions, private sector solar companies and government entities.

At the same venue, Padrés confirmed a letter of intent with SunEdison for a 50-MW PV plant. He also noted that France’s Heliotrop would soon install an $867 million concentrating solar facility within the state, commissioned by the national electricity agency, Comision Federal de Electricidad, CFE.

Among other new PV projects being developed in the state is a $75 million, 22-MW solar park to be sited along the 60-mile road between the state capital Hermosillo and Bahía de Kino, on the Sea of Cortez. Similarly, “the state government is planning to build the City of Knowledge as an integrated and sustainable urban real estate development that will host universities, housing and a 10-MW solar park,” according to State Secretary of Economic Development, Moisés Gómez Reyna.  

And Mexico’s first solar-powered wastewater treatment plant, Los Alisos, in Nogales, Sonora, will use a 902-kW grid-connected PV plant to supply the facility’s full energy demand, according to María Elena Giner, general manager of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission, based in Juarez, in Chihuahua state. Giner also spoke at the Border Energy Forum.

While much of the solar energy generated within the state will be consumed by CFE and by private sector buyers including corporations like Bimbo, Wal-Mart and others, the potential for exporting power to the United States is growing, according to Reyna. “Boundary states in Mexico have been betting on renewable energy since 2005. We want to be considered providers of wind and solar energy inside the country and to our foreign neighbors,” he said recently, in response to questions from Renewable Energy World.

“Sonora has plenty of government-owned land available for rent or lease, which can be used by private solar power plant developers, even though it’s important to mention that there is also land availability that is privately owned,” said Reyna. The private sector has acknowledged the opportunity and it’s also propelling the state in development of infrastructure for this purpose. At the moment Sonora doesn’t have a power line crossing to Arizona, but energy exports are included in the State’s vision towards the development of the renewable sector,” he said.

Cross-border transmission line infrastructure is a key project now, he noted. “This is happening now; there are private projects that are doing business with shared network owners to develop solar power plants. Business plans are being discussed and negotiated, demonstrating a current dynamism of this sector. On the other hand under the past Sonora-Arizona Commission we started working on the lack of a line to export/import energy, and we constituted a task force involving CFE, the Secretary of Economy, the Secretary of Government Affairs, and U.S. government representatives, including the Arizona state government authorities. This team will identify and track the steps they must take to construct this infrastructure,” Reyna said.

New transmission links will enable Sonora to export solar-generated power to several U.S. states, Reyna reckoned. “The energy corridor in Mexico is very well connected throughout the country and has the capacity to be fed with solar- or wind-generated power beside the amount already produced by CFE. The current network will not be a constraint, rather the opposite, as new investments in infrastructure are planned for the near future. Baja California will soon be connected to the rest of the Mexican transmission lines, enabling Sonora not only to export to Arizona but to the United States,” he said.

Federal cooperation between Mexico and the United States is already underway in this endeavor. “The U.S.-Mexico Cross Border Electricity Task Force could certainly be a way to grow the energy sector in the State of Sonora and develop the Arizona-Sonora area, because it would be possible that more projects be installed in Sonora. Rather than looking for opportunities in a specific area, the regional approach derived from a bi-national task force will maximize results through joint planning efforts and better resource allocation,” Reyna said.

The market for private-sector electricity sales, domestically or exported, is already established, Reyna underscored. “Our current legal framework makes solar development already possible. There are schemes by which companies can produce and sell energy. Regulations are not excessive; the companies simply must have previous trade agreements with customers to generate energy in Sonora.”

Financing more PV in Sonora will not be a problem, either, Reyna added. “It’s just a matter of presenting the banks with an attractive investment project. We have had contact with some development banks that are willing to support projects in Sonora. Some of these banks have already financed solar projects in Mexico,” he added. 

Lead image: Highway signs via Shutterstock

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Charles W. Thurston is a journalist who specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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