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Transformation station: Foothills solar plant gleaming
The 400-acre patch of Foothills desert being transformed into a solar power plant is looking more official now.
On Wednesday, after about two months of prep work, the first of roughly 178,000 solar panels was installed on the site. It's a milestone the casual observer can see and appreciate, and of course, one that's exciting for Arizona Public Service, the utility that owns and will operate the facility.
APS spokeswoman Andrea Bereznak said the solar generated power will combine in the grid with electricity produced at the natural gas-fueled Yucca Power Plant northeast of town and some power that is imported in from the Phoenix area. The solar generated power will “diversify the portfolio,” making the overall local power base more robust, she said.
As panel set-up day neared, workers had installed footings, which stood sentry in rows awaiting the blue-black rectangular panels that will drink up a most abundant Arizona resource and convert it into power to run most valued needs and conveniences -- like lights, computers and air conditioners.
This is a relatively small plant — the sprawling Agua Caliente plant, under construction by First Solar Inc. near Dateland, will have a generating capacity of 290 MW when completed in 2014 — but at an ultimate 35 megawatts it is utility scale. The Foothills project is the largest so far under the AZ Sun program, which allows APS to spend $975 million to develop up to 200 megawatts of solar power in plants across Arizona. The emerging local plant occupies a stretch of state-owned, open creosote-dotted desert off 40th Street between Foothills Boulevard and Fortuna Road. APS has a $10 million, 35-year lease on the land.
Bereznak said the plant is about 10 percent done and on track to be complete about a year from now. The first 17 MW phase should start flowing into the grid by March, and the remaining 18 MW is expected to go online by next December. The electricity is enough to power about 8,750 homes, and it will stay local.
The photovoltaic panels are each roughly 4 feet by 6 feet and come from the Goodyear factory of Suntech. The building contractor, AMEC, is based out of Georgia but has made an effort to hire locally, partnering with the Yuma Private Industry Council to find workers. Right now about 40 people are at the site, and more will be added-- up to about 150 for the construction.
Hillary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6857. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSHillaryDavis or on Twitter at @YSHillaryDavis.