CPS and Tessera Solar strike deal for 27 West Texas megawatts 

Luckfahr got CPS Energy to concentrate (solar)...

Greg Harman

gharman@sacurrent.com

CPS Board Chair Aurora Geis announced this afternoon that 27 megawatts of concentrated solar power â?? enough to power 4,000 homes â?? will start streaming along transmission lines toward Alamo City in 2010.

Relative newcomer Tessera Solar is entering the concentrated solar market with a group of solar farms, one of which will be sited in the Big Bend area of West Texas. CPS Energy has agreed to buy that power for 20 years under the terms of a Power Purchase Agreement.

Ultimately, City-owned CPS plans to have 100 megawatts of solar energy in the power mix.

“It's a good start. We're on our way to 100 megawatts,” Geis (right) said. “We will be negotiating and signing other solar contracts in the future.”

Here's Geis' introduction:

In a less-certain period several months back, Acting General Manager Steve Bartley was stressing to solar-energy advocates that the utility had only truly committed to “up to” 100 megawatts. However, today Geis, backed by utility press staff, stated the goal was firm.

Though initially the Tessera Solar “farm” would host 1,080 solar “dishes,” it would be possible to expand in the future by another 103 megawatts.

“Folks, this is not your father's solar technology,” Tessera CEO Robert Lukefahr told a small group gathered downtown today. “This is very different.”

And by all initial appearances, that's a good thing.

A welcome distinction from the large water needs of coal, gas, and nuclear plants (much less, other concentrated solar technologies, at left), the 27 megawatts of concentrated “SunCatcher” solar dishes would use about the same amount of water as three typical homes, Lukefahr told the Current.

While CPS officials did not want to comment on the expected costs of the 20-year deal, Lukefahr said he expected to be producing pollution-free kilowatts out of either Brewster or Presidio county at a cost of less than $3,000 a pop. A competitive figure.

While power will start flowing in 2010, the full installation is expected to be online by mid-2011, Lukefahr said.

Here's Lukefahr:

With today's addition of Tessera's sun heat, CPS Energy is on the hook for enough non-polluting renewable wind, solar, and biogas to make up 17 percent of its total generation capacity during the hours of peak demand, Geis said.

SunCatcher, manufactured by Tessera Solar's “sister company,” Sterling Energy Systems, concentrates sun's heat and concentrates it 1,300 times to run small piston engines at their base. Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico assisted Sterling in the development of SunCatcher.

The parabolic dish has the highest sun-to-grid efficiency in the world, Lukefahr said, clocking in at 31.25 solar-energy efficiency. It also has lowest water use among its kind.

In an improvement over Austin Energy's contract for 30 Chinese-built megawatts, the SunCatchers are being manufactured in the United States.

CPS Energy expects the Western Ranch Solar project to create 100 temporary construction jobs and 20 permanent jobs.

Tessera is also preparing to install 1,500 megawatts in two California projects in Imperial Valley and the Mojave Desert.

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