Texas is known for going big. In a state with so much land and so much sun it’s no wonder that the state is starting to warm to solar. And while much of the news surrounding the giant solar farms (100 megawatts or more) in the U.S. and world is coming from California and Arizona, the 400 megawatt Alamo Solar Project will shine some of that light on the Lone Star state.
This morning OCI Solar Power announced that it completed the first, 41 megawatt phase of the gargantuan project, which is providing solar power to CPS Energy’s customers in San Antonio. Once completed this project alone will propel Texas to one of the leading U.S. states for solar. After all, when the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research released their “U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year-in-Review 2012” this past March only California, Arizona and New Jersey had more than 400 megawatts of solar online. Still, California’s amount of online solar is expected to exceed 2,000 megawatts of power by the end of 2013, so Texas has a way to go if it wants to catch up to California.
"Alamo I is an interesting milestone because it's now the largest solar farm in Texas, but it's still a small part of what is to come,” said OCI Solar Power President and CEO Tony Dorazio. "Alamo I is only step one to Texas' rise as a big player in solar."
Still, the approach in San Antonio is relatively unique. The utility, in calling for 400 megawatts of solar—to start, invited solar manufacturers to locate operations in the region. As such OCI Solar, a subsidiary of Korean-based OCI Enterprises chose to move its U.S. headquarters to San Antonio. It is also establishing manufacturing facilities in the area with its partner solar panel maker Nexelon.
The solar farm is the result of those actions and part of CPS Energy’s aggressive goals to use more renewables and cleaner energy. "By 2020, 65 percent of our community's electricity will come from resources that are low- or no-carbon emitting—reducing emissions in an amount that's equal to removing more than a million cars from local roads," said CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby. "Reducing pollutants in the air we breathe is a no-brainer, and we've been pleased to partner with OCI Solar Power in our efforts to make that happen."
San Antonio and CPS Energy are expecting big things out of the partnership. They and OCI Solar anticipate that the agreement will bring 800 permanent manufacturing jobs with an annual economic impact of $700 million to Texas. OCI Solar called it “The largest economic development agreement between a municipal utility and private company.” While hiring isn’t complete yet—the deal was struck in 2012, OCI and its three partners that have established headquarters in San Antonio have already created more than 150 permanent jobs and 600 temporary construction jobs in the area.
"San Antonio is fast becoming a leader in the New Energy Economy by combining economic development with environmentally sound practices,” said San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. "This solar farm expands our clean energy portfolio while adding hundreds of 21st century manufacturing jobs to the local economy."
Construction on Alamo I began early this year. Already OCI has started construction on second phase, Alamo II (a 4.4 megawatt project) slated completion in early 2014. Subsequent stages of the project will come online. With the whole project slated for completion in 2016.
While the news here is for a large project, establishing local manufacturing and employment in solar, will familiarize more people in the region with solar. It could also result in more homeowners and businesses in the region going solar with local installers. The city already has established itself as one of Texas’ solar hotspots with the support of Solar San Antonio, a local solar advocacy organization.