Originally Published: December 17, 2010 9:56 p.m.
Two new joint projects between SunEdison and Arizona Public Service (APS) are turning the tri-city area into a hotspot for renewable energy.
SunEdison and the utility announced plans Friday morning during a press conference at the Hassayampa Inn to bring two solar farms with thousands of photovoltaic panels to the community beginning next year.
"Not only will it help diversify our state's energy profile, but it sends a very strong signal to the rest of the world that Arizona is serious about solar energy," said Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Kris Mayes.
SunEdison is working on a 43,000-solar-panel farm that will sit on about 120 acres roughly two miles north of the Prescott Airport, and will come online next year.
APS and SunEdison also are under contract for another farm in Chino Valley, with construction to begin in the first quarter of 2012 and finish later that year.
Add this to existing APS farms at Prescott College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a farm already at the airport, and it's easy to see how the solar industry is rising high in the county's skies.
Another element that laid the groundwork for these new farms is Mayes' work in increasing the renewable-energy standard, which mandates that utilities like APS get 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.
It's a coup for Yavapai, considering the fierce competition from other states including New Mexico, Colorado, California and Nevada to get the farms, according to Mayes, who said the county won out because it has a lot of private land, good elevation, existing solar projects and strong community support.
"I think this definitely moves the ball forward in Arizona," she said.
The farm in place at the airport generates 3.5 megawatts of energy and the panels at Prescott College and Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University generate about 0.2 megawatts.
The new farm SunEdison is building at the airport will generate up to 10 megawatts, and the Chino Valley farm will generate up to 20 megawatts.
Don Robinson, president and chief operating officer of APS, said it's a win-win for them, SunEdison and the community.
"It's a good project for everybody," he said. "Everybody's benefiting."
Robert Reichenberger, managing director of utility sales for SunEdison, said the new Prescott farm will keep about a dozen people working annually through construction, maintenance and management of the farm.
Reichenberger said SunEdison has 400 solar farms worldwide, and the new airport farm will be one of its larger farms. He declined to give a price tag for the farm.
Brad Albert, renewable energy manager for APS, said this week that the utility signed the contract for the airport farm in February as part of its effort to meet the renewable energy mandate.
"These other projects, the power goes on the grid and everybody gets part of it," he said. "This is solar energy where all of our customers get to participate."
The way it works, according to Albert, is developers like SunEdison look for favorable space that's flat and connects easily with power lines; contact land owners; and bring farm proposals to the utility.
Albert said the push for more solar farms continues.
"We're not at the end of the road; we've got more renewable energy that we've got to go out there and procure," he said. "There certainly could be more coming down the pipeline in the future."
Mayes, a Prescott native, said she's glad northern Arizona is taking a "leadership" role in renewable energy.
"It seems like Yavapai County is becoming a mecca for solar energy," she said.
Mayes will be leaving the ACC to lead an energy law program at Arizona State University next year (see sidebar).