Big AZ Solar Online, Another Loan Program Win

Every big power plant running on renewable energy doesn’t deserve a story when it comes online, not these days; there are too many. But Mesquite Solar 1, a 150-megawatt photovoltaic solar array 40 miles west of Phoenix, gets special treatment because you, dear U.S. taxpayer, helped make it happen.

Yeah, this is one of those projects that was aided by the Obama administration’s frequently criticized loan guarantee program (a program, by the way, that actually has its roots in the George W. Bush days). While most people think of the Solyndra solar manufacturing debacle when they think of the loan program, the fact is nearly all of the projects it supported – and all of the ones to build power plants – are succeeding as planned.

mesquite solar 1

Mesquite Solar 1, in Arizona (image via Sempra)

Still, the loan program became so weirdly politicized that last year, the House GOP tried to enact a law called the “No More Solyndras Act.” Here’s a funny thing, though: The same law that brought us Solyndra brought us Mesquite Solar 1, and now that it’s online at least one prominent Republican and frequent critic of the president thinks it’s pretty cool.

That would be Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who once famously wagged her finger in President Obama’s face.

“Arizona continues to lead the nation in the production of clean, renewable solar energy,” reads the Brewer statement wedged into the press release put out on Wednesday by Mesquite’s developer, Sempra U.S. Gas & Power. “Projects like … Mesquite Solar 1 not only create clean energy, they also generate quality jobs for Arizonans. I am thrilled to see our great state at the forefront of this promising industry and I look forward to Arizona continuing to establish itself as our nation’s solar capital.”

Despite the Solyndra mess, an independent analysis of the loan guarantee program determined that it actually “holds less than the amount of risk envisioned by Congress when it created and funded the program.” Also, a Bloomberg Government analysis found that since nearly 90 percent of the loan program was invested in energy projects that had buyers for the power they will produce, the risk of big losses was minimal.

So in the end, construction of Mesquite Solar 1 almost certainly won’t cost taxpayers a cent, since the $337 million in loans that the U.S. backed will likely be paid off as the plant uses free fuel – the sun – to crank out electricity which will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under a 20-year agreement. Sempra wants to expand the power plant, too: “Future phases planned at the solar complex could produce up to 700 MW, making it one of North America’s largest solar power installations,” the company said.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.