Solar Puts A Shine On Dirty Tucson Power Plant

Many of America’s coal-fired power plants date back to the 1950s and ’60s. In addition to having an inherently dirty fuel source, these “legacy” power plants often suffer from decades of disinvestment, and have not undergone essential efficiency improvements to make them cleaner-operating and more efficient.

But Tucson Electric Power (TEP) has found an innovative way to increase the output of its H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station in Tucson: The 156-megawatt (MW) coal- and natural gas-fired power plant, which was constructed in 1958, is getting a 5-MW boost from concentrating solar power (CSP) technology.

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image via Areva Solar

According to TEP, the “Sundt Solar Boost” project will increase plant production and efficiency. The project will use Areva Solar’s Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector (CLFR) solar steam generators to increase generation during peak daytime demand periods, without increasing emissions.

This technology uses rows of flat mirrors to reflect sunlight into a water-filled “linear receiver” supported above the mirror field. The water is boiled by the reflected sunlight, generating high-pressure, super-heated steam, which is then fed into the coal-fired power plant. According to Areva, the technology is the most land-efficient CSP technology, and also conserves water.

The Sundt Solar Boost facility is expected to produce enough additional power to serve more than 600 Tucson homes, and avoid 4,600-8,500 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually. Construction will begin on property adjacent to the power plant in the spring of 2012, and the project is expected to be operational by early 2013.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).