Get over it: We’re thinking that’s what the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente solar plant would say to the solar power naysayers, if it could talk. The gigantic solar array, which sits on 2,400 acres of land in Arizona, has achieved “substantial completion” and is cranking up to speed according to the Energy Department. When at peak capacity it will crank out enough electricity for 230,000 homes.
As the world’s largest photovoltaic power plant (for now, anyways), Agua Caliente plants another US solar industry on the world map, and that is a big deal because, after establishing its tech cred back in the space race days, until recently the domestic solar industry failed to compete in the global market.
The Loan Office Program And Agua Caliente
The US solar industry would still be floundering around in the doldrums if it wasn’t for the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office.
Dating back to the Bush Administration, LPO was created to accelerate innovation in the US energy sector, by providing loan guarantees to cutting edge technologies that are a bit too cutting edge to attract private investors.
From its inception, the program necessarily accounted for a certain amount of risk and it has stayed well within that platform, despite some failures such as the Solyndra bankruptcy. Certain members of Congress (you know who you are) tried to use that episode as an excuse to torpedo LPO and make political hay in the 2012 presidential election cycle, even though the company was in the loan approval pipeline during the Bush Administration for two years before President Obama first took office in 2008.
But, we digress. LPO, survived, President Obama was re-elected, and Agua Caliente blows a giant raspberry in the direction of the whole spooky Solyndra thing (anyways, the usual suspects have moved on to spooky Benghazi, spooky IRS, and spooky Affordable Care Act).
We Built This Tidal Wave Of Utility Scale Solar Power Plants!
Agua Caliente received a $967 million Energy Department loan guarantee, which is actually small potatoes compared to the $1.6 billion it dished out to the new Ivanpah concentrating solar power plant (also the largest of its kind in the world), along with $1.4 billion for the new Solana power plant in Arizona (world’s largest solar array – thermal storage combo), and $852 million for the new 250 MW Genesis concentrating solar power plant in California.
The private sector forces behind Agua Caliente are no small potatoes either, yet another demonstration that the US solar market has grown up. The developers are NRG Energy’s NRG Solar division in partnership with the MidAmerican Solar unit of MidAmerican Renewables (yes, that MidAmerican). First Solar designed and constructed the plant, and will operate and maintain it.
To give you an idea where we were back when President Obama first took office, according to the Energy Department the largest photovoltaic array in the US topped out at 14 MW, at Nellis Air Force Base, and nobody had built a concentrating solar power plant in the US in 20 years.
As planned, as the US solar industry matures it is beginning to attract more private investment. After LPO funded five utility scale projects another 10 projects that crash the 100 MW barrier were announced, all without help from the Energy Department.
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