Solar Energy in Yuma
by Chris McDaniel
As the only place on earth confirmed to soak in more than 4,000 hours of sunshine a year, Yuma County is a prime location for solar power plants.
The Agua Caliente Solar farm - built on a 2,400 acre-site located in the northeast portion of the county - can generate up to 290 megawatts (MW) of electricity, and is one of the largest solar facilities in the world. Built by First Solar Inc., the plant generates enough power to serve more than 225,000 homes.
The plant's power is transmitted to California where it is sold to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. as part of a 25-year contract. Over that period, Agua Caliente is projected to displace about 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide - the equivalent of taking more than 40,000 cars off the road annually.
Arizona Public Service Company also operates solar facilities in or near Yuma County that generate about 85 megawatts (MW) of power, enough "to power approximately 21,000 homes," Ray Brooks, APS senior communications consultant, told the Yuma Sun.
The power may or may not be used in Yuma County.
"Energy that is produced from our solar projects flows to all of our service areas throughout Arizona wherever it's needed most," Brooks noted.
APS solar plants in the Yuma area include Foothills Phase II (18 MW) and Hyder II (14 MW). Both became fully operational in late 2013.
Foothills Phase II -- a 398-acre facility near Yuma owned and operated by APS -- uses more than 150,000 photovoltaic panels on a single-axis tracking system, which moves panels to follow the sun's path and optimize energy production. The facility generates enough energy for 8,750 customers.
The facility is the first solar plant built on Arizona State Trust land. APS has a 35-year lease on the land, at a cost of $10.9 million. The proceeds from land sales and leases of State Trust land go to the beneficiaries of the State Land Trust, primarily grades K-12 public schools.
Hyder II - located on 240 acres in eastern Yuma County - generates energy with more than 71,000 single-axis tracking photovoltaic panels, and creates enough electricity to serve 3,500 homes. APS owns and operates the plant, built by McCarthy Building Companies.
To the northeast of Yuma near Gila Bend, there are four solar plants operated by APS - Solana (250 MW), Gila Bend (32 MW), Paloma (17MW) and Cottonwood (17 MW).
"Gila Bend solar facilities overall total 316 MW of capacity and produce enough energy to power approximately 80,000 homes," Brooks said.
Currently, APS has no plans to expand existing solar infrastructure or to build new plants in Yuma County.
"Yuma is a great spot for solar, but the growth of solar power depends on factors such as the economics of the systems and the ability to efficiently (and) effectively integrate its intermittent production into our grid," Brooks explained, adding that "at the current time, with our existing projects, APS does not currently need additional solar to meet our Renewable Energy Standard requirements."
Pacific Solar Investments, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, LLC, had been exploring the possibility of building a 325-watt solar thermal plant on 4,500 acres in the Hyder Valley north of Interstate 8, but withdrew its application, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
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