We’ve been watching some activity by big oil companies in the renewable energy sector with interest recently. BP, for instance, operates a few wind farms, as does Shell. Last year, Chevron launched a solar testing project at one of its former refineries in California (if only to end up sending some of the power to one of their oil production operations). A more recent announcement from Chevron, however, would seem to indicate that the company is taking renewable energy pretty seriously. Chevron says that it began operation of a 1 megawatt concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) solar facility in Questa, New Mexico and that the power from the facility will be sold to an electric cooperative in the area.
Perhaps as interesting as the solar facility itself is the location that the plant is built on. Chevron Mining Inc. (CMI), whose business is mining coal and metals, and sister company Chevron Technology Ventures (CTV) have placed the solar facility on the tailing site of their molybdenum mine in Questa. The location choice is an interesting example of using previously impacted land for renewable energy plants, though the fact it is associated with a mining operation of this kind certainly won’t win it many extra brownie points from most environmentalists.
The installation, according to Chevron, is one of the largest CPV facilities in the US. CPV technology uses lenses to intensely focus sunlight onto solar cells. This type of solar collection works best with direct sunlight, so the CPV panels are installed with tracking devices that keep the lenses pointed at the sun as it moves across the sky. Chevron points out that the Questa, NM region is an ideal area for CPV technology because of its direct and frequent sun exposure, which the area sees about 290 days per year.
The field spans about 20 acres and involves 173 solar trackers which Chevron says measure at 18′ x 21′. The estimated 1 megawatt of power is said to be enough for about 300 New Mexico homes and is being sold to Kit Carson Electric Cooperative through a power purchase agreement.