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Five things you should know about Copper Mountain Solar before President Obama’s visit

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 (2 a.m.)

President to visit Boulder City

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KSNV coverage of President Barack Obama stopping in Boulder City on Wednesday to talk about alternative energy, March 19, 2012.

Despite covering more than 450 acres of land near Boulder City, the panels that make up the Copper Mountain Solar plant — nearly 1 million of them — are easy to miss when driving on nearby U.S. 95.

What looks from afar like a mirage in the middle of the desert is actually one of the largest operating fields of photovoltaic solar panels in the country, and on Wednesday the nation will get a close look at the site when President Barack Obama stops there as part of a four-state tour promoting his energy policies.

Owned by California-based Sempra Generation, Copper Mountain Solar went online in 2009 and was expanded in 2010.

The Sun spoke with Sempra spokesman Scott Crider to learn more about the Copper Mountain installation President Obama will visit Wednesday:

    • Why Boulder City?

      Boulder City was founded in conjunction with the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, and its current population is around 15,000 people. Its economy relies heavily on tourism. But the town has the potential to be reborn as a hub for renewable energy, Crider said, because of the large amount of available land in the city, the nearly year-round sun it receives and easy access to transmission lines from the dam.

      “In other desert regions, you may have to build a long-distance transmission line to connect it to the grid. That has environmental impacts; that has increased costs,” Crider said during an October interview. “There are few places in the world that are better suited for this than Boulder City.”

      So far, two commercial solar fields are up and running in Boulder City, with five more potential projects in the planning phases.

      For more: The history of Hoover Dam

    • How big is it?

      On Wednesday, Obama will visit Copper Mountain Solar 1, the first of three projects Sempra has planned for Boulder City. The panels at Solar 1 produce 58 megawatts of power, enough for more than 17,000 average homes, Sempra said. The recent 48-megawatt expansion of the site, completed in 2010, cost about $141 million and created 350 temporary construction jobs. However, only five people are currently employed there full time.

      Sempra has already broken ground on a planned 150-megawatt solar installation, dubbed Copper Mountain Solar 2, on land adjacent to Copper Mountain Solar 1. A third project, with a potential size of 220 megawatts, is currently in the planning stages, Crider said.

    • How was it paid for?

      Although financed mostly with private dollars, massive solar installations like Copper Mountain Solar still rely on government incentives to defray costs and make the upfront investment feasible, Crider said.

      Copper Mountain Solar 1 received about $40 million in federal investment tax credits and another $12 million from the state of Nevada in sales and property tax abatements.

      Crider said the state’s investment will be recouped over time, with the project expected to generate $35 million in tax revenue over the life of its 30-year lease.

      Boulder City will collect an additional $60 million over the course of the lease for renting the land to Sempra.

      “That’s a consistent source of revenue that can fund police, firefighters and city parks for decades to come,” Crider said.

      For more: Questions emerge over tax breaks for solar project

    • Where does the electricity go?

      Like much of the power from the Hoover Dam, electricity generated at the Copper Mountain Solar field is used to keep the lights on in communities in Southern California.

      Sempra, a wholesale power generator that sells electricity to utility companies, only builds new solar installations when there is demand, Crider said. So far, that demand has come almost entirely from California, which has some of the strictest renewable-energy standards in the country, he said.

      “When any developer starts a solar- or wind-power project, what they first need to do is secure a long-term contract to be able to sell that power,” Crider said.

      For more: Silver State solar powering California utility customers

    • How does it produce power?

      While there are several methods for converting solar energy into electricity — including using the heat to create steam that drives turbines — Sempra’s Copper Mountain Solar 1 uses photovoltaic panels, similar to those seen on homes and businesses throughout the valley.

      “It essentially converts sunlight, the photons, directly into electricity,” Crider said.

      The panels are arranged in a fixed grid and are more durable because there are no moving parts. If a panel breaks, Crider said, it’s as simple as swapping out the old panel and snapping in a new one.

      The panels also use no water, an important consideration in the desert.

      “Water scarcity is an issue,” Crider said. “We don’t require water to generate electricity … and that ultimately leads to lower prices for consumers.”

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    Discussion: 44 comments so far…

    1. Reno spent $1,000,000 on windmills and saved.....$2,785 in electrical costs.


      I don't need to be lectured by the President about "renewable energy" sources. How about recouping the taxpayer wasted money on scams such as Solyndra.

      And how big will his "carbon footprint" be just to make these speeches?

    2. What if? What if in 1935 they decided the Dam couldn't hold water, It was supposed to cause earthquakes, cause the ground to sink and flood the valleys below it! Listen up ABLAZE, WE ARE DEPLETING OUR NATURAL RESOURCES, If we don't get started now, Look far ahead to the future and make definite plans, we are going to miss the boat! In 1935 the Dam cost 75 million, during the great depression, and nobody had any doubts that it couldn't be done. Now it's all paid for, and it works, so stop you're complaining, gird your Loins and help with the project or get the hell out of the way...... Whiners have never done this Country any good-------------

    3. Bimmerdude, you and most greenies need to realize that we are many decades away from any technology that will replace fossil fuel in a meaningful way. That day will come, but we should be using our own oil until we can cross over, not oil from countries that want to kill us. A tillion windmills draped with 100 trillion cheap Chinese solar panels is not going to happen.

    4. All these stupid comments, even Jaun knows they cost money for green energy. the point is not the costs, but saving american lives by weaning ourselves from mid East oil. it is not always about the Almighty buck, and when you die, the money you save today does not go with you.

    5. If I read correctly it costs 141m to power about 14,000 homes, so $100,000 per home? Would it not be cheaper just to install the panels at each home for about 50k per?

      It seems using onsite is better, ie, factories/ big box stores having the roofs with panels, HOA's maybe having roofs with panels,solar hot water to deliver onsite. To spend twice as much for stand alone plants seems to be wasting twice as much energy and money..

      I like the idea of being able to connect to the grid nearby, it makes sense. The cost does not. I hope someone will be able to ask President Obama my question when he is there as I will not be able to attend.

    6. Bimmerdude, answer me back with some logic will you. Most greenies just want to complain about the horrors of fossil fuels, but will not offer many solutions other than wind and solar. They also believe we can replace fossil fuels within a few years. Is this what you believe? That is a pipe dream. Don't just spout the "we need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels" mantra as that is getting old. There are thousands of scientists and engineers working on new technologies as we comment. We are not there and won't be for decades, but we will get there. Let's get and use our own oil until the future technologies are here.

    7. juansanchez, if Obama and the democrats would let oil companies here in America actually drill for oil, we wouldn't need ANY foreign oil.

    8. Noindex, short, but sweet comment and right to the point! The liberals will not explain or offer real solutions on how to do it. Also include the environmental extremists as they do wield much power, but for the life of me I don't know how,lol And Juan, please explain how you think we can substitute the energy we need while we "wean ourselves from mid-east oil" Please tell us how, no I mean it please tell us how. Offer a plan!

    9. Jerry and Thomas are energy experts with degrees and are working in the field of energy production right? Because if they were they would know that last year Bloomberg reported that spending for renewable energy exceeded fossil fuel spending worldwide. They would know that researchers are proposing many plans that are being implemented to move us away from heavily polluting fossil fuel production and use to clean tech. They could have looked for such plans before commenting here but why bother to educate yourself when spouting uninformed opinions is sooo much easier. They could start with these two tidbits of information:


    10. And when they drive down to California on I-15 they will see this at Ivanpah:

    11. From my link:
      "When policy debates go global and rely on information from a foreign source, it is often difficult to assess its credibility. By any measure Professor Calzada's report cited by you and the Heritage Foundation is not reliable or credible. Moreover, Professor Calzada is not an eminent scholar from a renowned Spanish think tank, as the American press has been led to believe, but rather a virtually unknown figure who works for a small research institute with clear links to the energy industry and the extreme right-wing of the Spanish Conservative Party.

      Second, any serious debate should be based on an unbiased assessment of available scientific evidence. The aforementioned report clearly fails this crucial test. Professor Calzada tries to find a long-term trend, but only cites employment data for the last year during Spain's serious recession. He argues that solar energy has destroyed 15,000 jobs in the last year, but neglects to cite official figures showing an increase in this job sector of about 500% in the preceding three years. The loss he refers to is thus nothing more than a minor downturn in an economy that is troubled by the recent economic crisis.

      Professor Calzada also compares subsidized with non-subsidized sectors and conventional sources of energies with renewable energies. This is a report which fails to meet even the minimum standards of academic integrity. But worst of all, Professor Calzada's report ignores--or hides - the positive figures in net employment creation of other renewable energy sectors, such as windmills, where Spain has truly become a world leader."

    12. Hey,

      what is wrong with incrementally increasing our supply of clean energy? Start now to solve long-term problem.....it's called sustainability. And the other leg is efficiency.....let's all use a little less FF(oil)

    13. Mark could also learn more about Germany and how much money they have been spending on solar subsidies and what little return they are getting from their investment. I am behind renewable energy 100% but we are not in a position, YET, to replace our existing infrastructure. I also believe that we have not discovered the eventual replacement for fossil fuel generation.

      As a side note: The article states that the site requires no water. It is my understanding that these panels must be washed periodically. If not their efficiency suffers. With the amount of panels used it would seem that the water required in not trivial.

    14. John,
      What do you know about Germany's experience and is your source reliable? How would you know?

      Re your side note: Why don't you ask the nice people building the plant for the answer instead of guessing?

    15. "After all, taxpayers have to pay twice for solar power: once when they use it, and another when they pay the taxes that fund the subsidies, which act only to hide the true cost of solar power in the artificially-lowered price."

      Ed Morrissey


    16. The link I posted above is regarding the German solar situation...please read it.

    17. Thomas believes what a crank writes:

      Now what is his expertise on energy again and why couldn't he get some basic facts straight? Is this your standard for who to believe Thomas? If it is it shows poor judgement on your part.

    18. Wow. I am really impressed on how effectively a visit by Pres. Obama draws all of the Renewable Energy Nay-Sayers who are also the Global Climate Change Deniers out of the woodworks and sends them spinning like sophomoric tops on their keyboards. It has been a while since I read such a collective stream of anti-reality in one place at one time since "The Birth Certificate" was last discussed.

    19. I note Jimmy's post is "...void of content..." and has a juvenile attempt at name calling by using the middle name of President Obama. The only people using, frightened or upset by such tactics are most likely racists.