First Solar breaks ground deep in the heart of Texas

First Solar has begun construction on the first phase of a 22 MW PV plant in the U.S. state of Texas.

The company reported on Wednesday that the Barilla Solar Project in Pecos County was expected to begin commercial operation in mid-2014.

The Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar will build, commission and operate the power plant, and offer the output to customers, including municipal utilities, electric cooperatives, and larger commercial and industrial users. The power will be integrated into the state’s grid, operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

The 22 MW (AC) project, located in West Texas, will have access to one of the best solar resource areas in the state and can provide electricity to more heavily populated areas with greater peak energy demand, the company added.

"The Barilla Solar Project demonstrates First Solar’s capability to rapidly develop, construct and commission a solar project offering clean, reliable energy at competitive rates to the market when and where it is required," said Tim Rebhorn, First Solar’s senior vice president of business development.

"The project will contribute to Texas’ immediate energy needs and demonstrate how solar power can provide a generating resource that can be effectively integrated into the ERCOT grid and help meet Texas’ energy demand, particularly during critical peak hours."

Brian Kunz, First Solar’s vice president of project development, added that PV was especially well suited for the dry climate of the region, noting that "solar power plants require no water to generate electricity. This is important in West Texas, where scarce water resources must be preserved."

Pecos County Judge Joe Shuster said it the area was eager to embrace solar despite its long history with oil. "This is an important step forward in our efforts to establish West Texas as a center for renewable energy," Shuster said. "We are not resting on our legacy of leadership in oil and gas. We welcome solar as the next new component in our portfolio of energy resources."

It was a sentiment echoed by Doug May, director of the Fort Stockton Economic Development Corporation. “Industry diversification is critical to this community’s growth. We’ve got the power and transportation infrastructure in place. This opportunity to harvest the ample solar resources of the region will encourage and support further development."

Rebhorn added that First Solar would consider eventually selling the Barilla Solar Project to a long-term owner.