SYDNEE WILSON Cronkite News
FLAGSTAFF — The Salt River Project has partnered with private renewable energy company Clēnera to bring Arizona’s largest solar plant by 2024.
Construction of the CO Bar Solar plant will begin this year on 2,400 acres of private land northwest of Flagstaff in Coconino County. Once complete, it is expected to offset 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide annually while generating electricity for 80,000 Arizona homes.
The project is designed to help SRP achieve its decarbonisation goals. It expects about 50% of the energy it provides to customers to come from carbon-free sources and to reach 2,025 megawatts of solar power by 2025.
CO Bar Solar will provide a total of 1,000 megawatts of solar power, while SRP customers will receive 400 megawatts. Clēnera will operate the plant and control who gets the rest of the power. Jared McKee, Clenera’s vice president of business development, said this will benefit all Arizonans and lower the cost of clean energy.
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According to him, this project establishes sustainability for the entire development process.
“When we look at the scale of this project, there really aren’t any projects like this in the U.S. where you put together a 1,000 megawatt project,” McKee said. “We developed this project in coordination with county officials, Arizona Game & Fish to ensure that we have wildlife corridors, to ensure that all sustainable construction is done, so that we can have a project that we can all do. be really proud.”
In addition to being environmentally sustainable from start to finish, McKee said it will be sustainable in terms of costs and reliability.
“Unless it’s done at a cost that makes sense for every ratepayer, every switcher, you’re never going to get full market transformation,” McKee said.
SRP’s relationship with solar has been rocky for years. The utility initially encouraged customers to install rooftop solar, but in 2015 began charging higher rates for customers who installed solar systems after December 2014. In response, four customers filed an antitrust lawsuit in 2020. The suit was dismissed by the lower court. that year, but earlier this year overturned a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the appeals court’s ruling, Judge Eric D. Miller wrote that the plaintiffs “suffered direct and economic harm from SRP’s predatory pricing scheme, which was designed to stifle competition by discouraging customers from installing solar energy systems.”
SRP is still charging higher rates to solar customers, but that may change now that the lawsuit may be pending.
Michael Reynolds, manager of resource analysis and planning at SRP, said the company balances affordability, sustainability and reliability.
“When the sun is shining, we have great benefits from solar power coming online,” Reynolds said. “Many of our customers came to us and wanted something that could serve their sustainability goals throughout the day. They don’t just want something that will help when the sun comes up. They want something that can last into the night.”
SRP is investing in wind power and long-term solar storage to make clean energy more reliable and sustainable, Reynolds said. These two solutions can help provide carbon-free energy at night and in more unpredictable weather.
“We really have to think about some of the very rare cases where we have multiple days of weather that could affect how things work,” he said. “It will be important for us to make sure we have online resources that can be accessed in the event of an emergency or unexpected weather system demand. Therefore, we must have a diverse portfolio of resources, and we do.
“Now, as we look into the distant future, I believe we can think about what it would look like to be completely carbon-free. But we need to think about how we can maintain reliability and diversity across resource types as we continue this decarbonization.”
Solar energy is Arizona’s number one renewable energy source and SRP is a leading energy provider in metro Phoenix. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the state ranks fifth in the nation for solar-powered electricity. Making Arizona 100% solar or completely carbon-free would be difficult given today’s technology limitations, but it’s not out of reach.
Barry Petrey, SRP’s manager of resource procurement, said it is possible to see a clean energy future for Arizona.
“I can certainly imagine a carbon-free portfolio in the future,” Petrey said. “100% carbon-free resources.”
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