DOE Dishes More Dollars For Big Solar

The much anticipated Mesquite Solar 1 project has been on a slow yet steady pace toward construction since we first reported on a power purchase agreement that cemented project sponsor Sempra Generation’s plans to build the mega-complex. Now, news from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) serves to indicate that the first phase of what could end up being the largest solar power plant in the U.S. is likely to enter the construction phase soon. A few days ago, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the DOE’s offer of a conditional commitment for a $359.1 million loan guarantee to Mesquite Solar 1.

Mesquite Solar 1 is to be located about 40 miles west of Phoenix near Arlington, Arizona. Once completed, the plant will generate about 150 megawatts of power. Completion of this first phase will likely earn Mesquite bragging rights as the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant in the U.S., but Sempra has even bigger plans for the complex, which it says offers enough space to ultimately generate between 600-700 megawatts total.

image via Sempra Generation

In its funding statement, the DOE calls attention to the fact that the plant will be the first to use a transformerless , liquid cooled inverter technology, which it believes will improve energy output, decrease operating costs and improve reliability. The DOE also mentioned that the inverters will be manufactured in the U.S., perhaps in an attempt to draw attention away from the fact that just under 10% of the solar panels that will be used at Mesquite will be made at a U.S. plant in nearby Goodyear, AZ, with the balance to be constructed in China.

Mesquite 1 is anticipated to generate nearly 350,000 megawatt hours of electricity within its  first full year of production, approximately enough juice to power over 31,000 homes.  The electricity from the project is contracted to be sold to California’s Pacific Gas & Electric Company under a 20 year power purchase agreement (PPA).