Xcel plans Colorado solar plant

Xcel Energy, a major natural gas and electric supplier operating across eight states, announced Aug. 9 it will buy solar power from a massive new plant planned for southern Colorado.

Xcel contracted with Cogentrix, a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs Group, to construct a concentrated solar plant on land in the San Luis Valley adjacent to one of Xcel’s transmission facilities.

The plant will take up about 225 acres on what is currently irrigated farm land and provide energy to 6,500 homes. It will be the largest plant of its type in the world when it’s finished, according to a press release from Xcel Energy.

Cogentrix said the project will employ mirrors and special lenses to maximize energy production, allowing this plant to produce more per acre than any other solar technology.

Cogentrix expects to begin construction on the plant in the first quarter of 2011, pending financing.

J.E. Freeman, vice president of development at Cogentrix told the Pueblo Chieftain in an interview that he doesn’t foresee any problems or delays in getting the necessary funding to finance the project, estimated to cost $140 to $150 million.

“We don't have any reason to believe it will be beyond where we have projected it to be," Freeman told the Chieftain.

Unlike other giant proposed solar farm projects in Arizona and California’s solar plant in the Mojave Desert, this one is entirely privately funded.

Amonix, a California solar panel manufacturer known for using lenses and mirrors to increase the energy production for each solar panel, has received more than $25 million in funding from Goldman Sachs for the project.

The Chieftain that the project is expected to employ more than 110 workers for construction and an unknown number of full-time workers once the plant is operational.

If all goes according to plan, the plant should be producing usable solar power by early 2012.

This project is the first since Xcel made a request for solar project proposals last year.

Tom Imbler, Xcel's vice president for commercial operations, said in a press release that the company is looking to solar for the future, favoring it over other renewable sources such as wind.

"Photovoltaic and solar generation have a better match to our peak load than does other intermittent renewables like wind," Imbler said.