Red Bluff High Schools near going solar marathon finish

[Red Bluff, California USA]

White knight Gestamp Solar saves project begun by Solar Development Inc.
Project includes 309 kiloWatts of Solaria Corporation 2x Low Concentration PhotoVoltaic (LCPV) modules.

From Red Bluff High School Solar Project

At Intersolar North America 2011, Solaria Corporation Chief Commercial Officer Marco Garcia mentioned a photovoltaic (PV) system being constructed in Red Bluff, California, using around 400 kiloWatt (kW) of Solaria modules, less than originally planned. That tidbit set in motion my In Search of Solaria activities.

For once, a simple search in July 2011 of California Solar Statistics found a 750.7 kW DC commercial project Confirmed Reservation for a government customer by Solar Development Inc. using 3264 Solaria 230 Watt (W) modules.

Before continuing with the narrative, I’ll review the project timeline and details I discovered.

Project Timeline
The Red Bluff Joint Union High School District entered into a twenty (20) year solar PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with Solar Development Inc. in December 2009 to deploy solar at the Red Bluff High School covering 100 percent of electricity consumption while lowering costs from $0.16 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to $0.145 per kWh. The PPA included an option to purchase the system after six (6) years for one-third of the installation cost per “Red Bluff school district expects savings from solar power” by Damon Arthur for The Record Searchlight.

Per “Solar panel construction begins” by Ashlan Brunello for The Bluffer, Solar Development began project work in March 2010 at the Spartan Ranch Road site with expected completion by June 2010. Later in the year, “Solar Project Delayed” states the project was halted because of Solar Development financing problems.

Solar Development failed to resolve the financing issue by a January 2011 deadline, and Gestamp Solar, a Gestamp Renewables company, submitted a PPA proposal to the Red Bluff Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees meeting in February 2011. At the March 2011 meeting, the Gestamp Solar PPA was approved with a contingency even though Gestamp had purchased the development rights from Solar Development and had a contract outside the PPA to pay the subcontractors, vendors, and the district’s legal expenses.

Gestamp Solar resumed construction this summer and expects to complete the project by the end of October 2011.

Project Details
Gestamp Solar has made a few changes to the project by splitting the 811 kW DC installation across both the Red Bluff High School and the Salisbury High School with 750 kW and 61 kW each respectively. Also, the PV modules will not just be from Solaria but also Hanwha SolarOne Co., Ltd. (NASDAQ:HSOL). 309 kW of Solaria modules will be installed on the trackers at Red Bluff High School and the 502 kW balance will be Hanwha SolarOne SF220/230/240 modules. More details on the module counts and the Power-One, Inc. (NASDAQ:PWER) inverters selected are available in the updated California Solar Initiative (CSI) Confirmed Reservation.

View Red Bluff High School Farm Spartan Ranch Road in a larger map

Solar tracker field of dreams
After verifying and locating the exact position of the Red Bluff solar project, I conducted a site survey towards the end of August just before EU PVSEC. As shown in the Picasa slideshow, I found two fenced fields populated with a novel solar tracker design integrating a backside inverter mount. However, I was disappointed not even one of the trackers had Solaria modules installed.

I first thought the tracker was a new Solaria design. I spoke with Solaria during EU PVSEC and no one recognized or was willing to discuss the trackers or the project. I asked Ideematec Deutschland GmbH about the tracker because of the June 2011 press release: “Ideematec and Solaria sign contract for 40MW PV Tracker Systems”. The Ideematec spokesperson said this “is not an Ideematec tracker” and the arrangement focused on a SafeTrack Tracker variant designated the Solaria STS-1 single-axis tracking system. I also consulted with knowledgeable PV folks who also did not recognize the tracker. Later, Gestamp Solar settled the question by identifying the PVT 7.2DX dual-axis solar tracker was from PV Trackers and were part of the Solar Development package and equipment purchase. The exercise made me wonder if a collection of solar tracker mug shots or an online Jane’s type recognition guide is needed?

Gestamp Solar told me 30-40% of the PV modules are now installed at the project sites and tracker commissioning has begun.

For those critical of my last post, the PPA arrangement shielded the Red Bluff Joint Union High School District from most of the drama created by the travails of Solar Development Inc. even with the selection of bankable PV technologies.

Build it, and they, the Solaria modules, will come, eventually.

Here is a bonus Picasa slideshow from the April 22, 2011, Earth Day dedication of Solaria Corporation’s headquarters, manufacturing facility, and 110 kW solar array in Fremont, California USA.

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