Mark Meshulam is an expert witness and consultant for windows, glass and building facades.
Your Chicago Window Expert recently had an opportunity to visit a real, working solar power plant in Richmond, California. The Richmond site, a wastewater treatment plant, now obtains one-third of its electrical energy needs from solar power.
Aside from the great story-value of a municipal agency (The West County Wastewater District, or WCWD) creating its own energy on its own land, there are interesting backstories, too.
For instance, the WCWD site is the largest solar power plant in the US that uses 2-axis trackers to aim the PV panels toward the sun at all times. “2 axis” means that the panels not only move East to West (the azimuth direction), as the sun crosses the sky every day, but also North-South, as the sun’s position varies over seasonal cycles.
The manufacturer of the solar trackers, as these aiming devices are called, is ET Solar. They generously arranged this tour.
Another story worthy of mention is the financial structure of the deal. WCWD entered into a contract with a “solar developer” Solar Power Partners, Inc. to furnish and install the entire installation. They, in turn, contracted with a “solar contractor”, Premier Power Renewable Energy, Inc. for the performance of the work.
The solar developer retained ownership of, and responsibility for the maintenance of, the entire installation. WCWD agreed to buy the electrical output of the plant at a predetermined rate for 20 years in a PPA – a Power Purchase Agreement.
At the end of the 20 year term, WCWD may purchase the power plant from the solar developer at market rate.
Another interesting story: the use of trackers, whether 1 or 2 axis, will be an increasingly familiar part of the PV landscape because of its ability to increase power output by 20-40%.
Land usage was also of interest. The land was somewhat unstable and prone to flooding. The trackers used a ballasted base that required little excavation, yet provided stability for the trackers up to 110 mph.
The 1.1 megawatt plant uses about 5 acres of land.
Each tracker measures approximately 22-by-36 feet each and carries 56 panels with a total peak power of about 11.24 kilowatts (kW) each. The system is designed to produce approximately 1.97 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually. That annual output would be enough to meet the annual needs of 3,654 California homes.
Now you can tread among the trackers. See our video now…
UPDATE: Chicago now has the US’s largest urban solar power plant: Excelon City Solar
Owner: Excelon (parent company of ComEd)
Location: 1201 W. 120th Street, Chicago, IL (West Pullman neighborhood)
Site is owned by City of Chicago, leased to Excelon.
It was an unused, polluted industrial “brownfield” that was off the tax rolls for 30+ years.
Now it will generate tax revenue.
Lot size: 41 acres
Capacity: 10 MW
Production: 14,000 MWH/year
Powers: 1200-1500 homes
Trackers: 2 axis guided by GPS by SunPowerÂ®
# Panels: 32,292
Jobs created for construction: 200
Ongoing jobs for maintenance: 7-8
July 2009: Site work began
December 2009: Commercial operation commenced
February 2010: All solar panels online
March 2010: All panels tested and in service
July 2010: Final site work completed.
Designer: Sun Power, San Jose, CA
Cost: $62 million
Want to talk solar?
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