Suntech Solar Panels Head To Arizona Plant

The China-based solar panel giant Suntech has been selected to provide 800,000 multi-crystalline solar panels for the Mesquite Solar 1 power plant in Arizona – the first phase in what developer Sempra Generation hopes will be a much bigger project.

Suntech opened a manufacturing plant in Goodyear, Ariz., last year, and the company said recently that it had added a second shift, boosting annual production capacity there to 50 megawatts (MW), and employment to 78 people. That’s still small by Suntech standards, however, and the New York Times reported that less than 10 percent of the panels for the 150-MW capacity Mesquite project will be made in the United States.

Mesquite Solar 1, Sempra Generation, Arizona

image via Sempra Generation

Suntech, which calls itself the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels, had for years mainly focused on commercial and residential projects in the United States. But the company told the Wall Street Journal that it has already lined up 350 MW of sales to utility-scale developers for 2011, and expects such projects to comprise half its U.S. sales this year, up from one-third.

In its announcement, Suntech said San Antonio-based Zachry Holdings will oversee the installation and integration of the Suntech panels at Mesquite.

While located in Arizona, Mesquite Solar 1’s power will go to the California utility Pacific Gas & Electric under 20-year power purchase agreement (the California Public Utilities Commission has yet to approve the deal). Suntech said construction should begin the middle of this year and be completed by 2013.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.