U.S. Interior Secretary Touts Giant Gila Bend Solar Plant’s Economic Impact

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling, always looking to bring you interesting cleantech reading, is proud to repost this article courtesy of new partner Cronkite News. Author credit goes to Jessica Testa.

While touring a solar power generating station that will provide power to tens of thousands of Arizona homes, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday that America’s embrace of renewable energy will create jobs and boost the economy.

“This is the kind of thing that could bring about a huge revolution in energy for the United States of America,” Salazar said after a tour of the Solana Generating Station, which is under construction and expected to be completed in 2013.

There will be 3,200 of these solar power modules when the generating station is complete in 2013. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Testa)

About 1,000 people are currently employed in construction jobs at the 3-square-mile station. Five-hundred more will be hired over the next few months, said Manuel Sanchez, CEO of the Abengoa, an international technology company that received a $1.45 billion loan from the federal government in 2010 to build the plant.

Abengoa has invested $100 million in research and development of solar energy and plans to invest $200 million more, Sanchez said. The company will sell the power to Arizona Public Service.

When the station opens, it will provide 65 permanent jobs, according to the Department of the Interior.

“The 1,700 jobs that are going to be created for this project are real jobs,” Salazar said. “We’re making believers out of the skeptics.”

The plant’s employees don’t just include the on-site construction workers, Salazar said, but also those of suppliers from 23 states across the country.

The plant, about 12 miles west of Gila Bend, is expected to generate 280 megawatts of power, enough for 70,000 Arizona homes.

The station will also be the largest U.S. solar power plant to store energy, with the ability to power its grid for up to six hours in the dark. When complete, it will look like a reflective lake of 3,200 sun-panel modules.

Salazar spent much of his tour in the plant’s solar collector assembly building, where enormous mirror troughs are being mounted on platforms in assembly lines to create the solar panels. Salazar drilled a screw into one of the modules and took a detour from the scheduled tour route to shake hands with a group of workers.

Since 2009, Salazar has approved 27 large renewable energy projects, including 16 solar power projects, four wind farms and seven geothermal facilities.

“You never saw this three years ago,” Salazar said, pointing to a massive line of solar panels.

Gila Bend, which has about 1,900 residents, is about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix along Interstate 8.

Mayor Ron Henry said he wants Gila Bend to be known as the solar capital of the world.

“Our economy has been hurt quite a bit,” Henry said. “A lot of younger generation people have moved out looking for jobs in other areas. But this has really helped out a lot.”

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    • Allen Hayes, Geezer citizen

                Obviously, this “Solana Generating Plant” is a very big deal ($ 1.45 billion!) and obviously, some favor it while other citizens oppose.  To me, the question is, how was the decision to go forward made?  What was the analysis and evaluation process that lead to making the loan?
                I don’t refer to the politics of it.  I am interested — as I think we all should be — in the technology, and the time estimate as to when the 1.45 billion loan will be paid back to the U.S. treasury.  I can’t, no layman can have enough relevant facts and technical knowledge to judge the soundness of the technology and its level of success.  What we can make a reasonable judgment about is the decision-making process, whether it is thorough or not.
                Except for “I hope he fails” Rush Limbaugh, I know that we all want clean, cheap  sustainable, American-produced energy.  This is not to say the Administration is correct or incorrect in awarding the loan.  Instead, it is to keep an open mind pending being better informed.  
                 The administration is composed of fallible humans.  Its decisions are good OR bad, or somewhere in between—some successes, some failures.  I want to know enough of the decision-making process to judge the likelihood of success.

                 So far as politics, my opinion is that Mr. Obama is a highly intelligent, sane man who has made mistakes and learned from them.  And his successes are notable—his deft handling of Libya and of our relations with China, leadership to save America’s auto industry;  his crucial decisions to further success—to kill Bin Laden.  
                 The U.S. economy is in much better shape than Europe’s is.  While his administration, which is to say Mr. Obama himself, under-estimated the severity of the recession that confronted him (us!), he met that crisis.  We now are definitely on track to recover from the Great Recession. 
                 Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have tried to institute some version of what Obama in fact did manage, namely:  patient protection and affordable health care—I am well aware that the law is far from perfect, AND I know that it is in place.  It likely will be improved on.
                 All things considered, I’m pretty sure I will vote for him in November.  As to clean energy that strengthens America, I think that the long range effects of his decisions are sound. I think that his decisions and leadership in his first term should carry over into a second.