Salt River Project went live on a 19 megawatt solar plant in Queen Creek last week, raising the company’s retail electrical needs from renewable sources to 10 percent.
“As we look for ways to diversity our portfolio, it’s also important that we continue to invest in the state and the local economy,” said Mark Bonsall, SRP general manager. “Queen Creek Solar not only provides our customers with clean energy, but it’s also a resource that is located right here in Arizona.”
The Queen Creek Solar Farm, located on 148 acres off of Queen Creek Road, contains about 90,000 panels operating on a single-axis tracking system that follows the rising and setting of the sun. With this addition, 10 percent of all electricity produced by SRP is from sustainable practices.
“This project helps us meet our sustainable goal of 20 percent (of retail electrical needs) by 2020,” said Chico Hunter, principal planning analyst for SRP Resource Planning and Development.
The utility provider voted in 2010 to raise the goal to 20 percent by the next decade, Hunter said.
The solar power generated by the Queen Creek plant is enough to power 3,300 homes for a year and offsets approximately 21,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, the equivalent of taking approximately 4,100 cars off the road.
SRP has a 20-year agreement to acquire all of the plant’s energy, which is owned by PSEG Solar Source, Hunter said. Juwi solar Inc., built the site and will continue to provide operation and maintenance services for the project.
“We are pleased to be providing clean, solar energy to Salt River Project,” said Diana Drysdale, president of PSEG Solar Source. “Arizona has the attributes we look for when choosing a project—good sun, a receptive regulatory environment and supportive local officials.”
The plant is one in a number of renewable and sustainable practices used in reaching the 20 percent goal, which also includes wind power, landfill gas, geothermal energy, biomass energy, low-impact hydroelectric generation and traditional hydroelectric generation for which SRP gets its name.
Additionally, the plant will require very little water and upkeep costs, said Kelly Hoyt, the construction manager for the site.
“There are too many things called haboobs here,” Hoyt said with a laugh. “The panels stay relatively clean. The storms don’t affect the output.”
“Wind and solar don’t us water for cooling, which leaves water for other things,” Hunter said.
Construction and planning for plants began years ahead of the need, said Hunter.
“We’re ahead of schedule” when it comes to reaching the sustainability goal, Hunter said. “The economy slowed customer growth down.”
So while customer demand has slowed, Hunter believes it is only a matter of time before it revs up again.
Solar plants are relatively quick to construct and becoming more cost effective, Hunter said.
“With wind farms, the permitting alone can take years,” he said. “Building can take at least a year or two. With a new nuclear plant, you’re talking about 15 years.”
In contrast, SRP began accepting proposals in 2010, Hunter said.
Construction for the site took about eight-and-half months, Hoyt said.
“The price for solar have come done in the last few years,” he said.
And while wind farms have to be built far away from towns and cities, which necessitate the construction of new transmitters, solar sites can be built right next to neighborhoods and fit into existing infrastructure, Hunter said.
“Even right across the street from the mayor’s house,” Hoyt said.
SRP is the third-largest public power utility in the nation and serves nearly 950,000 electric customers in the Valley.
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