Grijalva sees bright future at Dateland solar plant

Mar. 14th, 2012
Mara Knaub

As Rep. Raul Grijalva stood on a viewing tower overlooking five million solar panels, each one installed by hand, he expressed surprise at the magnitude of the 2,400-acre Agua Caliente solar facility. “I’m very impressed. I’ve seen aerial photographs but it’s nothing until you see it on the ground. My expectations were not as high as they should have been. Anyone involved should be very proud.” Grijalva toured the solar project near Dateland on Wednesday to congratulate site managers on being named Solar Project of the Year by Renewable Energy World, a leading industry magazine, and PV Project of the Year at Solar Power Generation USA, an industry solar power conference. The Agua Caliente project, being built by First Solar and owned by NRG Energy and MidAmerican Renewables, will be the largest solar photovoltaic project in the world when completed in 2014, producing a projected 290 megawatts. “The project connected its first 30 megawatt phase in January and is already sending clean, affordable energy to the power grid,” said Stan Barnes of Copper State Consulting Group, which represents First Solar. The $1 billion project has received a $967 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy and has already helped to create about 400 construction jobs. “Public-private partnerships like this are going to be one of the keys to a strong economic recovery, and I’m proud to have a chance to congratulate First Solar and its team in person,” Grijalva said. First Solar is headquartered in Arizona and is considered one of the world’s premier solar companies. Aside from building the solar facility, it also manufacturers solar panels. Grijalva noted the project has been a boon to Yuma County at a time when it’s sorely in need of employment and business opportunities. At the peak of construction, the project employed 1,600 workers; currently, 300 are employed at the site. The project has also meant more than jobs. Local businesses have became vendors and suppliers, he added. “It goes to prove when we have a project that is well grounded, this is what you get. This will be the largest in the country, and it’s in our own backyard.” He believes it should be used as a model. Solyndra has been in the news for failing, he said, but he wanted to point out that solar power can succeed when done correctly. He also noted that Yuma County needs to diversify and the area’s abundance of sunshine could turn it into the “Silicon Valley of solar power.” Fred Pech, First Solar construction manager, agreed. “This is the best place to have this.” Solar power is “the wave of the future because we have so much sunshine in Arizona. The sun is so constant, cloudless, sunny days day after day, and wide open spaces,” Barnes said. He also pointed out that solar power is “clean” because it doesn’t use water and fossil fuels and has no emissions. At its completion, the facility will produce enough electricity for 100,000 homes annually. California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has paid for the solar energy. Although on paper the output will go to California, electrons go wherever they want to go, “the path of least resistance,” Barnes explained. “So they might end up in Arizona. All Western states and from Vancouver (Canada) to Tijuana (Mexico) are all wired together in what is called ‘the grid.’ “In hot summer, we take electricity from (California) because we don’t generate enough in Arizona,” he added.

Mara  Knaub
Sun Staff Writer
Yuma Sun
Mar. 14th, 2012