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Solar facility that could power 500 Marin homes

By Janis Mara, Marin IJ

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Roy Phillips, president of REP Energy, leads a tour of an abandoned quarry on June 9 in Novato. His company, REP Energy, wants to build a solar energy facility at the site near the McIsaac Dairy west of Novato. The quarry, no longer in use, was mined for the mineral serpentine, a source of asbestos. (Frankie Frost — Marin Independent Journal)

A proposed solar facility just outside Novato that could generate enough electricity to power more than 500 Marin homes is up for approval at the Marin Planning Commission meeting Monday.

Located on the isolated grounds of a former rock quarry, the solar farm would have 4,272 solar panels up to 6 and a half feet high on 11.5 acres of the 952-acre quarry. The $6 million project would generate 1.98 megawatts of electricity, delivered to Marin Clean Energy via nearby power lines.

The quarry was once mined for serpentine rock, which contains asbestos. Quarry operations shut down in 1990.

Installations like the solar project “are a good way to use formerly disturbed locations” like the quarry, said Andrew Campbell, the executive director of the Energy Institute at Haas, a research and teaching facility at the University of California at Berkeley.

Campbell said the proposed location also was beneficial because it is close to the people who would use the energy.

“Having the generation close to an area where consumers are also has benefits, since some power is lost when it is transmitted over long distances,” the executive director said.

The site is west of the city of Novato, east of Stafford Lake and about a mile north of Novato Boulevard. It is not visible from the road. County staff has recommended that the permit be granted, with some qualifications.

Crawford Cooley and Beverly Potter, who own the former quarry, would lease the land to San Rafael-based Danlin Solar, along with San Rafael-based REP Energy. Those two companies would own and build the solar installation.

“That’s a pretty typical arrangement,” Campbell said.

“Solar is a green energy source, no doubt about it. There is no pollution or greenhouse gas emitted at the place where you are generating the power,” the executive director said.

“This would be quite a win if it happened. The people who are very concerned about seeing beautiful agricultural land taken up with solar panels have a valid point. You’d hate to lose a lot of natural Marin. That makes this an ideal project because it’s sitting in an abandoned quarry essentially on bare rock,” said Bob Spofford, vice president of Sustainable San Rafael.

“Solar is in some ways the most ideal of all alternative energy because it doesn’t make noise, it doesn’t pollute, it produces power close to the time when it’s most needed, and it does not harm wildlife,” said Spofford.

Addressing Spofford’s last point, “Photovoltaic panels definitely do not kill birds,” said Michael D. McGehee, a Stanford University associate professor and a senior fellow at the university’s Precourt Institute for Energy. McGehee teaches classes on solar cells. Wind turbines such as the ones at Altamont do pose a danger to avian life, perhaps causing some to confuse the effects of this alternative energy source with those of solar, McGehee said.

No letters of opposition to the project had been received by the staff by Friday.

The state Office of Mines Reclamation and the Department of Public works oversaw the reclamation of the land since the 1990s, according to the county staff report. The project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act because it will not cause environmental impacts, the staff report said.

“My job is to work with clients to help them avoid environmental impacts,” said Dana Riggs, a project biologist with San Rafael-based WRA Environmental Consultants. “We planned it (the project) in a manner to avoid impacts on sensitive resources including species and habitat,” Riggs said.

If the permit is granted, construction could begin as early as mid-August and wrap up by November, according to Frank Gobar of Danlin Solar.

Defense Department releases energy conservation roadmap

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

 

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Department of Defense Seal.
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WASHINGTON (3/12/12) – The Defense Department Friday released an implementation plan for cutting energy consumption in military operations

Officials released a strategy in June outlining the need for energy conservation in military operations. In the plan released, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta reiterates that the department must do its part to reduce U.S. fuel consumption not only to save money, but also to have less reliance on foreign oil and to improve security for U.S. forces who transport fuel into battle spaces.

“Energy security means a reliable, secure and affordable supply of energy for military missions, today and in the future,” the secretary said.

The implementation plan outlines a three-part strategy of reducing the demand for energy, securing diverse options beyond fossil fuels, and building energy security considerations into all military planning.

“This is a question of making sure the whole department is executing this strategy and using energy to support military operations better and interoperable and in a way that supports the whole department better,” said Sharon E. Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs.

The plan creates a Defense Operational Energy Board to oversee the department’s progress. Military services and DOD agencies are to report to the board on their energy consumption last year and projected consumption for the next five years, the plan says. The board will work with the services and agencies on actions needed to improve their consumption baselines.

The services have reported goals for:

  • The Army to have 16 “Net Zero” installations by 2020 and 25 by 2030 — installations that do not use more energy or water than they produce and reduce waste by recycling;
  • The Navy to reduce fuel consumption afloat by 15 percent by 2020;
  • The Air Force to increase aviation energy efficiency by 10 percent by 2020; and
  • The Marine Corps to increase energy efficiency on the battlefield by 50 percent by 2025, and, as a result, reduce daily fuel consumption per Marine by 50 percent in the same time.

The combatant commands will then report to the board on how they guide their forces to improve energy performance and efficiency, such as the ability to field fuel quickly and the use of alternative energy technologies.

The board is to develop department-wide energy performance metrics in consultation with the DOD components and based on consumption baselines.

The assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering is to assess the department’s gaps in energy science and technology and report recommendations to the board.

The plan also calls for:

  • Improving operational energy security at fixed installations;
  • Promoting the development of alternative fuels;
  • Incorporating energy security considerations into requirements and acquisitions; and
  • Adapting policy, doctrine, military education and combatant command activities to support reduced demand of energy.

“Even though the strategy and implementation plan is new,” Burke said, “the department has been making progress for some time in using less energy – more fight for less fuel. We haven’t been standing still on this.”

Soldiers and Marines have reduced their energy consumption in Afghanistan by using solar rechargeable batteries, solar microgrids, more efficient tents and better fixed shelters, Burke said.

Also, the Army is using generators at its forward operating bases that are 20 percent more efficient, and become even more efficient by being wired together. The Navy, too, has made good progress by incorporating energy considerations into its acquisitions process, she said.

Less demand for energy and more conservation lessen the risk to troops to transport fuel through battle zones, she said.

“When you’re focused on the fight, the most important thing is that the energy be there — and that’s how it should be,” Burke said. “But people also are beginning to understand there is a cost to using and moving that much fuel.”

Stateside, Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colo., as well as the Oregon National Guard, are showing progress toward the Army’s Net Zero goal, the plan released today says.

“There’s a lot of good things going on, and a lot more needs to happen,” Burke said. The department’s energy conservation effort, she added, is both a challenge and an opportunity.

“Energy … shapes our missions, and we can shape it,” she said.
As part of the implementation plan, Panetta wrote that the rising global demand for energy, changing geopolitics and new threats will make the cost and availability of energy even less certain in the future.

“Energy security is an imperative – our economic well-being and international interests depend on it,” he said.

Hanwha Solar opens North American R&D center

By:  Becky Stuart

Korea-based Hanwha Solar has opened a new R&D center in Santa Clara, California. The goal is to develop next generation photovoltaic concepts, with a focus on efficiency and low cost.

Hanwha Solar ribbon cutting Santa clara R&D Facility

The new facility will first focus on thin silicon substrates, in particular, increasing efficiencies.

Hanwha Solar

The company has invested $14 million in the new, 30,000 square foot facility, 60 percent of which has been devoted to lab space.

The facility has been “built with room for expansion in mind,” said Hanwha in a statement released. It added that Silicon Valley was chosen, due to its being an “epicenter” of clean R&D technology. A total of 30 people will be employed there, thus bringing its U.S. workforce to 77.

The first project will focus on thin silicon substrates, in particular, increasing efficiencies. Chris Eberspacher, chief technology officer, Hanwha Solar, will oversee the work. “The lab is engineering methods of applying a thinner layer of silicon, which will make the panel less expensive while not compromising effectiveness and energy efficiency,” explained the company.

Hee Cheul Kim, president of Hanwha Solar, commented, “It is critical for a global company like Hanwha Solar to have a strong presence in California, because it is the epicenter of clean technology R&D. The investment being made in solar is a reflection of the confidence the Hanwha Group has in clean energy as a long term growth engine.”

Overall, the company says it has invested $50 million in the U.S. over the past two years, through partnerships with businesses like OneRoof Energy, Crystal Solar, Solar Monkey and 1366 Technologies. “Hanwha Solar will continue to increase the company’s footprint in the region over the coming years, making additional investments and increasing employment,” continued the statement.

Developing technology

In related news, Hanwha, well-known for its solar and chemical operations, exhibited its solar technology for the first time at the International Green Energy Exhibition in Daegu, South Korea, this March. Hanwha TechM used the event to showcase its newly developed equipment, which includes wire saws and a module production line. Next year, the company will head to the U.S. and Europe to tout its products at such shows as the SPI and Intersolar.

Jun-Suk Byun, manager of the sales team for the machine tool division told pv magazine that the company is beginning to focus its efforts on the upstream business. While the equipment is still in the early phase of development – “a baby” – he is confident that mass production on the module line, of which there is currently one in operation, will be reached in the next two years. Furthermore, he states that the equipment is cheaper than the competitors’, like Centrotherm.

With regard to its wire saws, which use diamond wire technology, they are said to be helping to both lower costs, by around 15 percent, and increase quality. Jun-Suk Byun adds that diamond wire technology is better than slurry, for instance, as there are fewer associated environmental problems.

Although Hanwha TechM is currently working on the production technology in Korea, it does intend to establish a manufacturing base in China in the future.
He says that the company is also looking to develop its own string technology. In terms of its key sales markets, China is sitting at number one, followed by Taiwan.

More California farmers invest in solar power

By Kate Campbell

Editor’s note: California farmers and ranchers lead the nation in use of solar power. At the same time, government renewable-energy mandates have added pressure for conversion of productive farmland for utility-scale solar energy projects. In a two-part series, Ag Alert® looks at the effects on agriculture from solar power. This week: how farmers have embraced solar power on their operations.

With harvest in full swing, trucks laden with bell peppers, watermelon and onions unloaded at a rapid pace last week at Morada Produce near Linden. Crews washed and packed the produce into boxes before a chain of forklifts carried the market-bound food to coolers.

Harvest activity is being played out across California right now, but there’s something different about Morada Produce: The company’s energy-intensive packing and cooling activities are costing a fraction of what electricity bills totaled in the past.

Skip Foppiano, owner of Morada Produce, pointed to a newly installed two-acre, 390 kilowatt solar energy system outside his office. The once-unpaved employee parking lot is now shaded by four canopies of solar photovoltaic panels that measure more than 40,000 square feet.

The company spent nearly a year researching solar technology to determine the best system for its needs and carefully analyzed the investment decision to determine cost benefits and eventual payback. Foppiano said the new system supplies 60 percent to 70 percent of the energy needed for the farm’s packing and cooling activities.

The solar energy is delivered from the onsite system when utility rates are at their highest, he explained.

“Our family has been farming here since the Gold Rush,” Foppiano said. “We’ve always tried new technology to stay competitive. Solar helps us do that and it’s the right thing to do for the environment.”

Foppiano said the farming operation worked very closely with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., county government and the equipment vendor to complete the project. An investment tax credit and historically low interest rates helped make the system “pencil out,” he said, adding that payback will take about nine years—or less—depending on future energy prices.

An increasing number of California farmers are doing the math and deciding that 20 to 25 years of reduced energy costs makes sense, solar experts say.

Already, California agriculture leads the nation in renewable energy production. But with state government incentives aimed at generating 33 percent of the state’s generating capacity from renewable energy sources by 2020, agriculture has been investing in solar technology at an increasing rate.

Many wineries, nut processing and packing operations have installed photovoltaic panels during the past decade. But now, lower-priced equipment and technological advances have encouraged more farms and agricultural businesses to consider solar power.

A 2009 U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that California leads the nation in on-farm renewable power generation in all categories: wind turbines, methane digesters and solar panels. But when it comes to using solar panels, California farms account for about 25 percent of the total installed on farms nationwide.

“It all comes down to finding the technology that makes financial sense,” said Holli Tamas of Granite Bay Energy, which designs and installs solar energy systems, including projects for agricultural customers.

“Farms are unlike many of our commercial customers who look at shorter payback times,” Tamas said. “Farmers whose families have been in business generations are more likely to think ‘I’m still going to be here in 10 or 20 years.’ Farmers are very savvy about these kinds of investments.”

There is a distinct difference between energy generated on-site for equipment operation and heating and cooling. This is different than power generated for sale and distribution on the electric grid.

In Sierra County, hay grower and cattle rancher Dave Roberti has been putting the finishing touches on a 500 kilowatt system that tracks sunlight to power nine 100-horsepower irrigation pumps.

“Originally, we looked at wind power because we thought we were in a windy spot,” Roberti explained. “But instead, at 5,000 feet, we found we’re in an ideal location for solar energy production year-round, even when it’s cold and snowy. After we ran the complete analysis, we found solar gave us the best bang for the buck.”

He said the technology offered a way to lock in costs for operating the ranch’s irrigation pumps.

“When the system goes online, we’ll be producing power for just about what our retail rates are,” said Roberti, who is a California Farm Bureau director. “It’s a no-brainer. In about 10 years, the system will be paid off. I’m trading payments to my utility for payments on an equipment mortgage. The difference is, there’s a payoff on the equipment.”

Because Roberti buys power from a rural electric district, he was not eligible for incentives from the California Solar Energy Initiative, which is overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The 10-year, nearly $3 billion program provides incentives for solar system installations to residential and commercial customers of the state’s three investor-owned utilities: PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.

Incentive funding for solar projects in PG&E and SDG&E service territory is no longer available for non-residential projects. Officials at the CPUC said commercial applicants will be put on a wait list.

Ventura County lemon grower Limoneira installed a 900 kilowatt solar array next to its processing facility about three years ago. Harold Edwards, Limoneira CEO, said the company had been exploring solar power generation for about 10 years, but couldn’t find a way to justify the investment economically.

“But, as the price of the panels has come down, and with a sale-and-lease-back arrangement, we began to see that the cost benefit was adequate,” Edwards said. “But it’s not just about dollars and cents. Not only is it good for the environment, but as we have the opportunity to host tours and school groups, it’s also a great opportunity to talk about agriculture and how it works with the environment.

“It’s amazing the way our investment in solar technology is working out,” he said.

Next week: Renewable-energy mandates touch off a new land rush, as developers of utility-scale solar projects propose to convert productive farmland.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

Spurned By DOE, First Solar Hunts For Solar Farm Buyer

By Cassandra Sweet and Ryan Tracy

-DOE says First Solar is not eligible for $1.9 billion loan guarantee for 550-megawatt Topaz solar farm

–First Solar says it is in “advanced talks” with potential buyers of the Topaz facility

–Shares close down 9% at $66.85, lowest level seen in more than four years

(Adds response from Royal Bank of Scotland in 9th paragraph.)

First Solar Inc. (FSLR) said Thursday that the Department of Energy will not provide a loan guarantee to help finance construction of a large California solar farm, but the company is in “advanced discussions” to sell the project.

The Tempe, Ariz., solar-panel maker and solar-farm developer said that the DOE informed the company that there was not enough time to process the company’s $1.9 billion loan guarantee application for the 550-megawatt Topaz solar farm to meet a statutory Sept. 30 deadline for closing the transaction.

“We weren’t able to meet the requirements in time for the deadline,” First Solar spokesman Ted Meyer said in an interview. He added that the company was in “advanced talks with potential buyers” to sell the solar power plant and would “utilize a different transaction structure that does not require a DOE loan guarantee.”

Meyer declined to name the potential buyers or provide details on the sale.

The DOE’s disqualification of First Solar’s Topaz project loan guarantee comes as the department faces intense scrutiny following the bankruptcy of solar-panel startup Solyndra Inc., which obtained a $535 million loan guarantee and a $527 million government loan to build a factory in Fremont, Calif. Solyndra is the subject of a federal criminal probe into whether the company misled the government in connection with the 2009 loan guarantee. It filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month.

The loss of the Topaz loan guarantee sent First Solar shares tumbling 9% to close at $66.85, their lowest close in more than four years.

In June, the DOE offered First Solar conditional commitments of guarantees for $1.93 billion in loans to help finance the Topaz solar farm. Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (RBS.LN, RBS) and a group of unnamed institutional investors and commercial banks agreed to make the loans, which were to be guaranteed by the DOE.

It was unclear whether RBS planned to abandon the project or work on a new financial package with different terms.

An RBS spokesman said the bank declined to comment.

A DOE spokesman declined to comment directly on the department’s disqualification of First Solar’s loan guarantee for the Topaz project, but said that closing such transactions is a rigorous process.

“We have consistently said that we will not close any deal until all of the rigorous technical, legal, and financial review has been completed,” said the DOE spokesman, Damien LaVera. “Failure to close a loan application does not indicate that a project doesn’t have merit or a strong business case to succeed, but rather that all of the extensive due diligence and legal documentation simply cannot be completed by Sept. 30.”

First Solar has two conditional loan guarantees still pending, a $1.8 billion guarantee for a 550-megawatt solar farm in Riverside County, Calif., called Desert Sunlight, and a $680 million guarantee for a 230-megawatt solar farm in Lancaster, Calif., called Antelope Valley.

Company spokesmen declined to comment on the outlook for obtaining loan guarantees for the remaining projects. Some analysts expressed hope that First Solar would snag the latter two loan guarantees, although they acknowledged that investors remained jittery following the Solyndra bankruptcy.

“The Solyndra fallout has created a black cloud around the company that is unlikely to clear until projects are announced as sold,” said Jesse Pichel, an analyst at Jefferies Group.

First Solar obtained a $967 million loan guarantee for the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente solar farm in Yuma County, Ariz., which the company sold to NRG Energy Inc. (NRG). PG&E Corp.’s (PCG) San Francisco-based utility has signed a long-term contract to buy the output from the facility, which currently is under construction.

Together, the four projects are expected to create about 1,750 construction jobs and 53 permanent jobs, and generate enough electricity to serve about 470,000 homes.

In July, First Solar obtained a key construction permit to build the Topaz solar farm on previously disturbed land in San Luis Obispo County, California. PG&E has signed a long-term contract to buy the output from the Topaz facility.

In August, two local citizens groups filed a lawsuit against the Topaz project with the San Luis Obispo Superior Court. The groups did not file a request for an injunction that could delay construction, allowing the company to start building anytime.

First Solar initially planned to start construction on Topaz Sept. 30 to qualify for the loan guarantee. But the company said Thursday that it does not have a timetable for starting construction.

The company is likely to start construction for most, if not all, its shovel-ready projects by Dec. 31, when a key government incentive for renewable energy projects currently is set to expire.

Pending DOE loan guarantees must be closed and construction must be started on funded projects by Sept. 30, under Section 1705 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Copyright © 2011 Dow Jones Newswires