Arizona Western College flips switch on 5MW multi-technology solar array

Arizona Western College flips switch on 5MW multi-technology solar array  The sun can’t shine much harder than it does and Yuma, Ariz., home of Arizona Western College, a campus that just turned on a unique 5-megawatt, five technology solar system. The college flipped the switch on the five installations on Dec. 6 at a ceremony attended by, among others, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R).

Afterwards the school held a panel where the people who made the project possible discussed how the project came about.

The installation was made possible through solar incentives from Arizona Public Service (APS), coordinated by PPA Partners and owned and operated by Main Street Power, which secured financing from Morgan Stanley for the project.

It’s the only school to have integrated so many  solar technologies, which include concentrated photovoltaic systems on dual-axis trackers from SolFocus and GreenVolts, Inc., thin-film PV from Sharp Solar, SolarWorld monocrystalline panels and SunTech’s polycrystalline panels.

The panel consisted of the College’s Director of Facilities Bill Smith, Main Street Power Senior Vice President Jonathan Postal, PPA Partners CEO Bruce Mercy CEO, utility APS Senior Technical Account Manager Rex Stepp, installer Rosendin Electric Division Director David Lincoln, SolFocus Vice President of Marketing Nancy Hartsoch and GreenVolts, Inc. Vice President of Strategic Development Eric Romo.

APS has been looking into supplying more of its energy with distributed generation through projects like this, according to Stepp.

“We're providing incentives that are covering over half the costs of the program,” he said. “We're excited about the projects. We look at long term as a utility, and over the next 15 years or so we'll have probably an increase of electricity of about 50 percent. The plan is to have 80 percent of that met through things like this.”

The utility is looking to distributed generation and energy efficiency for the majority of that new energy.

PPA Partners’ Mercy approached Main Street and the school with the project plan.

When Main Street’s Postal received the proposal, he went through it to see if it met what the company was looking to invest in.

“Does this match our mission? Can we weave in our curriculum piece, which I already spent money building into the project? Do we have an element where the community and educational institution can benefit long-term from this facility?” Postal said.

Postal determined that it did and spoke with his financing bank.

“Our banker over the phone said, 'I kind of like CPV. That could be something different for us. We could look at that,'” said Postal.

CPV is a relatively new-to-market form of solar generation that has made headlines this year as companies move forward with commercializing their technologies.

One of the interesting things about the project is the use of CPV and two different CPV technologies.

Hartsoch noted that SolFocus’ products have been tested in the field for about four years.

“You have to go to a tremendous amount of length of advanced testing,” she said. But this type of project will help make them more bankable in the future.

Over the 30-year term of the project, it’s expected to generate a fair amount of energy savings.

“In round numbers, we expect about $62 million [in savings],” Smith said.

To learn more about the project and companies involved, you can watch the panel discussion at:

Photo: Jared Dort / AWC.