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World's largest solar plant slated for Gila Bend

Solana solar facility gets $1.45 billion federal loan guarantee

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The "world's largest solar plant" planned near Gila Bend will receive a $1.45 billion federal loan guarantee, President Obama announced Saturday morning.

"This plant will be the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use – even at night," Obama said.

The 280-megawatt Solana Generating Station "will allow 70,000 Arizona homes to be powered with clean, renewable energy from the sun," said Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

"Solana will bring Arizona one step closer to becoming the solar capital of the nation." said Fred Morse, a senior adviser for Abengoa Solar, S.A., the company which will build and operate the plant.

"The plant also will create construction jobs and skilled permanent jobs which will add substantially to the Arizona economy," Giffords said, calling the $2 billion project a "historic facility."

"Solar is the right thing to do, for our country and our planet," Giffords said. "This will definitely put us on the map."

Solana will supply electric power to approximately 70,000 homes while avoiding more than 475,000 tons of greenhouse gases, the company says. The power generated will be purchased by Arizona Public Service.

Abengoa says Solana will be "the largest solar power plant in the world." The company estimates the plant could sell $4 billion worth of energy over 30 years.

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APS says "the solar resource in Arizona is virtually unlimited, with more than 300 days of sunshine each year."

Abengoa has long planned to build a 280-megawatt solar generating plant covering about 3,000 acres of former farmland near Gila Bend. The tight credit market has held up the project since 2008. The federal guarantee will allow the Spanish solar power company to construct the plant.

The plant, 110 miles northwest of Tucson and 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, will be named Solana, Spanish for "sunny place." The three-square-mile facility will be located near the northwest corner of Interstate 8 and Painted Rock Dam Road.

Solana will connect with an APS substation in the Gila Bend area, and use existing transmission lines from there to distribute power.

Giffords worked to secure the loan guarantee from the federal government, which is funded by "stimulus" money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"Congresswoman Giffords played an instrumental role in making this project a reality," Morse said. "She understands the importance of creating jobs in Arizona and the ripple effects that this project will create throughout the Arizona economy."

"We're accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and doubling our use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power – steps that have the potential to create whole new industries and hundreds of thousands of new jobs in America," Obama said.

Tax credits for investing in renewable energy could cover up to 30 percent of the project's construction cost.

Generate 'solar' power at night

Solana will use a "concentrating solar power" system in which curved mirrors in a trough concentrate the sun's rays, heating "transfer liquid" to 735 degrees and powering a turbine to create electricity. Each of the plant's 3,200 parabolic collectors will be about 25 feet wide, 20 feet high and as long as 1.5 football fields.

Unlike photovoltaic systems, which use sunlight to produce electricity, concentrating systems use the sun's heat.

Heat generated by the system also will flow into thermos-like storage tanks holding molten salt that can store up to six hours of heat.

Because heat is much more easily stored than electricity in batteries, the system, the first of its kind in the nation, will allow Solana to generate power on cloudy days or after sunset.

A 1996 test showed that molten salt can be stored at high temperatures for days without losing heat.

Although electric turbines can use large amounts of water, the plant will use less water than the farmland it will replace, Giffords said. Solana will use about one-ninth of the water that had been used in farming operations on the property.

Construction

The Solana project will employ about 1,600 during construction. More than 75 percent of the contractors are expected to be Arizona companies. The project will require 80,000 tons of steel – enough to build a second Golden Gate Bridge.

"Over 70 percent of the components and products used in construction will be manufactured in the USA, boosting jobs and communities in states up and down the supply chain," Obama said.

Construction time was estimated at 18 months in 2008.

Once Solana is in operation, it will require about 85 full time employees, the company says.

Abengoa operates a solar hot water system at a federal prison in Arizona and a solar-powered cooling and heating system at Cochise College. The company has installations around the world, including the largest natural gas co-generation plant in Mexico, solar plants in Spain and hybrid solar-gas plants in Algeria and Spain.

A 50-megawatt Abengoa plants near Seville, Spain, is capable of powering 27,500 homes. That plant is part of the Solucar complex, which will have a capacity of 300 megawatts.

The company is partnering in a $600 million 100-megawatt solar plant in Abu Dhabi, the first major solar venture in the Middle East.

Solana promo video

President Obama's Weekly Address

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Latest comments on this storyRead all 19 »

19
374 comments
Jul 5, 2010, 8:48 pm
-0 +0

@Joe Solar

Thanks, Joe.

We’ll certainly follow the Solana project with interest. Thanks also for throwing your two cents in; you’ve sparked an interesting conversation.

18
11 comments
Jul 5, 2010, 8:26 pm
-0 +1

Major Kudos to Dylan Smith for the significant level of technical detail in this article. 

Thank you very much!  Please keep it coming.

17
11 comments
Jul 5, 2010, 9:34 am
-0 +0

@lsjogren

lsjogren, I think your comments about the need for storage are exactly right.  Storage can help RE work economically.  Any ideas?


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Abengoa

A rendering of the Solana solar plant.

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President Obama's Weekly Address

This week, I spent some time in Racine, Wisconsin, talking with folks who are doing their best to cope with the aftermath of a brutal recession.

And while I was there, a young woman asked me a question I hear all the time: "What are we doing as a nation to bring jobs back to this country?"

Well, on Friday, we learned that after 22 straight months of job loss, our economy has now created jobs in the private sector for 6 months in a row.  That's a positive sign.  But the truth is, the recession from which we're emerging has left us in a hole that's about 8 million jobs deep.  And as I've said from the day I took office, it's going to take months, even years, to dig our way out – and it's going to require an all-hands-on-deck effort.

In the short term, we're fighting to speed up this recovery and keep the economy growing by all means possible.  That means extending unemployment insurance for workers who lost their job.  That means getting small businesses the loans they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers.  And that means sending relief to states so they don't have to lay off thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers. 

Still, at a time when millions of Americans feel a deep sense of urgency in their own lives, Republican leaders in Washington just don't get it.  While a majority of Senators support taking these steps to help the American people, some are playing the same old Washington games and using their power to hold this relief hostage – a move that only ends up holding back our recovery.  It doesn't make sense.

But I promised those folks in Wisconsin – and I promise all of you – that we won't back down.  We're going to keep fighting to advance our recovery.  And we're going to keep competing aggressively to make sure the jobs and industries of the future are taking root right here in America.

That's one of the reasons why we're accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and doubling our use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power – steps that have the potential to create whole new industries and hundreds of thousands of new jobs in America.

In fact, today, I'm announcing that the Department of Energy is awarding nearly $2 billion in conditional commitments to two solar companies.

The first is Abengoa Solar, a company that has agreed to build one of the largest solar plants in the world right here in the United States.  After years of watching companies build things and create jobs overseas, it's good news that we've attracted a company to our shores to build a plant and create jobs right here in America.  In the short term, construction will create approximately 1,600 jobs in Arizona.  What's more, over 70 percent of the components and products used in construction will be manufactured in the USA, boosting jobs and communities in states up and down the supply chain.  Once completed, this plant will be the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use – even at night.  And it will generate enough clean, renewable energy to power 70,000 homes.

The second company is Abound Solar Manufacturing, which will manufacture advanced solar panels at two new plants, creating more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs.  A Colorado plant is already underway, and an Indiana plant will be built in what's now an empty Chrysler factory.  When fully operational, these plants will produce millions of state-of-the-art solar panels each year.

These are just two of the many clean energy investments in the Recovery Act.  Already, I've seen the payoff from these investments.  I've seen once-shuttered factories humming with new workers who are building solar panels and wind turbines; rolling up their sleeves to help America win the race for the clean energy economy.

So that's some of what we're doing.  But the truth is, steps like these won't replace all the jobs we've lost overnight.  I know folks are struggling.  I know this Fourth of July weekend finds many Americans wishing things were a bit easier right now.  I do too.

But what this weekend reminds us, more than any other, is that we are a nation that has always risen to the challenges before it. We are a nation that, 234 years ago, declared our independence from one of the greatest empires the world had ever known.  We are a nation that mustered a sense of common purpose to overcome Depression and fear itself.  We are a nation that embraced a call to greatness and saved the world from tyranny.  That is who we are – a nation that turns times of trial into times of triumph – and I know America will write our own destiny once more.

I wish every American a safe and happy Fourth of July.  And to all our troops serving in harm's way, I want you to know you have the support of a grateful nation and a proud Commander-in-Chief.  Thank you, God Bless You, and God Bless the United States of America.

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