Ariz. Thermal Plant Gets DOE Guarantee

The world's largest solar thermal project will employ 1,600 to 1,700 people during construction, and 85 permanent employees.

The world's largest solar thermal project has received a $1.45 billion loan guarantee today from the Energy Department, the project developer announced today.

Denver-based Abengoa Solar Inc. -- a subsidiary of Spanish-owned renewable energy developer Abengoa -- began constructing the Solana concentrating solar thermal plant 70 miles southwest of Phoenix earlier this month. The plant will include more than 90,000 mirrors that will concentrate the sun's heat to generate 250 megawatts.

President Obama announced conditional plans to back the project in July. Abengoa has another 250 MW facility pending in the Mojave Desert, but the Solana plant is the largest in the country to be financed and under construction. DOE is backing 80 percent of the $2 billion project under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 80 percent of which is being financed by the Treasury Department's Federal Financing Bank.

"As today's announcement and other recent announcements of completed loan guarantees for wind and solar projects demonstrate, the Department's loan program is gaining momentum, creating jobs in communities across the country while putting us on the path to a clean energy future," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement.

DOE has issued guarantees or conditional guarantees for 16 clean energy projects totaling nearly $16.5 billion.

The Solana project will combine concentrating solar technology with overnight energy storage to generate enough reliable power to supply about 70,000 homes, according to the company, while avoiding 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions as compared with a natural gas-burning facility.

Trough-shaped, mirrored solar collectors will concentrate the sun's rays to power a turbine, while chambers filled with molten salt will store heat in prime conditions and return it to the system in the evening hours and during cloud cover. The plant is the first large-scale solar facility in the country to store energy via the salt technology, which can hold up to six hours' worth of electricity.

Abengoa said the project will employ 1,600 to 1,700 people during construction, and 85 people once the plant is up and running. The mirrors will be supplied from a new mirror-manufacturing plant to be built nearby, employing another 180 people, and the company says that more than 75 percent of the components used for the facility will be sourced domestically (Greenwire, July 6).