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48MW Solar Plant, Nation’s Biggest, Comes Online in Nevada

Sempra Generation has opened a Nevada solar photovoltaic plant that it says is the country’s largest.

Nevada governor Brian Sandoval was on hand to help dedicate the 48 MW Copper Mountain Solar plant, located adjacent to Sempra Generation’s 10 MW El Dorado Solar installation on 380 acres in Boulder City, Nev., about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The Copper Mountain project uses nearly 775,000 thin-film photovoltaic solar panels, enough to power about 14,000 homes, Sempra said.

The power from Copper Mountain and El Dorado is being sold to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) under two 20-year contracts. Together, the two projects use nearly a million solar panels supplied by First Solar, PG&E said. Construction on Copper Mountain Solar began in January 2010.

PG&E’s service area stretches from Eureka in California’s north to Bakersfield, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, and from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra Nevada mountains. The utility serves 5.1 million electric and 4.3 million natural gas customers.

Copper Mountain’s record won’t stand for long. Sempra now plans to expand the complex by more than 200 MW, a plan recently approved by Boulder City.

The San Diego-based, Fortune 500 energy company has even bigger plans: it expects to begin construction on the first phase of a 600 MW Arizona solar project next year. The first 150 MW is contracted to PG&E.

And Sempra recently announced that it became an equal partner with BP Wind Energy in the development of a 250 MW Colorado project now under construction, and that it received approval for a 200 MW solar farm in Kern County, Calif.

Other huge projects in California include the Desert Sunlight and Desert Stateline projects in Desert Center and San Bernardino, totalling 550 MW. Southern California Edison has received approval for two 20-year power purchase agreements for the projects, according to Solar Server.

The projects are due online in 2015, and the utility says that the cost to ratepayers will not exceed the benchmark set to approximate new fossil-fuel generation costs during that time.

PG&E also has approval for a 20-year power purchase agreement with Alpine Suntower, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, for a 66 MW solar PV facility being developed in Riverside County, Calif. That project is expected to begin delivering power in 2013.

And solar panel manufacturer SunPower is planning to start construction on the 250 MW California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County this year. NRG Energy will own the project once complete, and sell the energy to PG&E.

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