WASHINGTON - A wave of announced plans to build large solar power facilities throughout the United States seems to indicate that relatively large-scale systems are becoming more commonplace in this country, notes the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The trend is most apparent in concentrating solar power (CSP), with a number of facilities in the planning stages with capacities greater than 100 megawatts (MW).

One example is a plan to build a 106.8-MW CSP plant near Coalinga, Calif., about 60 miles southwest of Fresno. Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) signed a power purchase contract for the facility with a subsidiary of Martifer Renewables Electricity LLC. Slated to start operation in 2011, the facility will produce power from biomass fuels when the sun is not available, allowing for constant power production. In addition, the four largest utilities in New Mexico issued a request for proposals (RFP) to build a CSP plant in that state on the scale of about 100 MW. Bids are due by Sept. 26, and a contract should be issued by January 2009, with the goal of commercial operation by 2012. Both the California and New Mexico facilities will use parabolic trough-shaped mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat.

Meanwhile, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is moving ahead with its plans to deploy solar power in Florida. The utility plans to build a 75-MW CSP facility at the site of its gas-fired Martin Plant in Indiantown, just east of Lake Okeechobee. The solar thermal facility will help to reduce natural gas consumption at the power plant. But FPL is also making a major commitment to solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, with plans to install 25 MW of solar panels at a site in DeSoto County, east of Sarasota. Construction will begin by the end of this year on what will be the world’s largest PV power facility (although larger projects are now planned for Europe). FPL will also install a 10-MW PV project at the Kennedy Space Center.

Publication date:08/04/2008