Enbridge, First Solar to unveil world’s largest PV plant

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On Monday October 4, Enbridge and First Solar will unveil what is now the world’s largest operating photovoltaic plant in Sarnia, Ontario. The completion of the project comes as Enbridge tries to dig itself out of an oily mess in the United States, with numerous recent spills and leaks.

But the completion of the 80 megawatt (MW) solar power plant could be the first in a series of moves as the company moves from black gold to solar.

The new plant is an extension of the 20 MW that was completed in late 2009. Now extended to 80 MW, it provides enough electricity to power 12,800 homes in the area. The power produced at the 950-acre plant is being sold to the Ontario Power Authority.

“The project is up and running, and it started operating earlier this month,” explained Enbridge spokesperson MaryAnn Kenney. It’s Enbridge’s first foray into the realm of solar, she said. The company invested in the plant because First Solar and the incentives offered, including a feed-in tariff program “created the right economic climate” for the project.

When they first announced the expanded project in December 2009, Enbridge President Patrick Daniel said the company would produce “more than 470 megawatts of green power capacity” when the plant was completed.

Still, Enbridge’s legacy with oil is somewhat troubling, the company has had numerous spills in the United States, including a July 2010 spill that dumped a million gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo river, which resulted in congressional hearings earlier this month.

But the speed at which this plant was completed shows how quickly the industry is speeding up its ability to install large plants quickly. Particularly considering that the world’s largest PV plant was the Parque Fotovoltaico Olmedilla de Alarcón, a 60 MW plant in Olmedilla, Spain, which was completed in 2008 over a 16 month period.

First Solar will soon dwarf this plant when it starts developing the 550 MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in California.