Monday, Feb. 2, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Power plant developer Sempra Generation, a division of California-based Sempra Energy, opened North America’s largest thin-film solar photovoltaic plant in Boulder City. El Dorado Solar, which generates enough electricity for about 6,400 homes, was constructed in six months to provide power to Northern California. Michael Allman, chief executive of Sempra Generation, talked with the Sun about the cutting-edge technology.
Tell us about the plant.
Thin-film PV technology is relatively new and provides for low-cost solar energy. The panels are mass produced and installed in assembly-line fashion, making this the Wal-Mart of solar plants. It generates the least expensive solar power anywhere in the world, but I can’t divulge the cost of the power because of a confidentiality agreement. We’ve sold the output to San Francisco’s Pacific Gas & Electric.
Isn’t thin-film PV mostly being tested for residential rooftop applications?
Our plant is large scale, big enough to provide power for a utility company. It’s 10 megawatts on 88 acres in El Dorado Valley. This is an ideal application for “utility scale,” and we hope to expand that site to 60 megawatts. Rooftops are a different story. They’re much more expensive because of the smaller area and how difficult they are to install.
Why did you chose to build a plant in Nevada to power San Francisco homes?
Solar energy production is not as good along the coast because of cloud cover. Desert real estate is also less expensive. Installations in the desert can be less than half as expensive as rooftops on the coast.
You have another power plant in Boulder City, too, right?
Yes, El Dorado is located next to a 480-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant completed in 2000.
Did it help that you built the plant on private land?
Yes. The area is owned by Boulder City and zoned as a solar development area. We need construction and land use permits. But federal Bureau of Land Management Land is much harder to develop.
Do you plan to build more solar plants?
Definitely. Our goal is to be the leading solar provider, the first company to develop, own and operate 500 megawatts of solar in the U.S. There is room for more in Boulder City, and we have other sites in Arizona, California and Nevada.