Abengoa Solar Solana Generating Station Sortie

[Gila Bend, Arizona USA]

Exclusive Aerial Photos of the Solana 280 MW (MegaWatt) Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plant.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

Planning my southwest road trip for the bonus week after New Years, a revisit to the Abengoa Solar Solana Project was preordained. When Abengoa Solar, a subsidiary of Abengoa SA (MCE:ABG), announced “Abengoa´s solar project Solana reaches 80 % completion” at the end of November, my thoughts turned to arranging something special to survey the project.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

Researching Phoenix area airports, I stumbled upon Airwest Helicopters who offered a small helicopter charter service with a specialty in aerial photography missions. I greenlighted the copter sortie to Solana after rationalizing the flight hour rate was only about one and a half times that of a Cessna for a unique experience.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

I flew in a large commuter helicopter many, many years ago, so I had some healthy anxiety before embarking on the latest In Search of adventure. The two (2) seat Enstrom Falcon F-28F had the passenger door removed to facilitate aerial photography. Great. The five-point harness seat belt alleviated immediate concerns about falling out of the aircraft though I kept my camera bag well away from the opening.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

The flight from Glendale Municipal Airport was pretty much as the proverbial crow flies over the Estrella Mountains and foothills to Solana west of Gila Bend. On the clear, crisp, sunny day, there were only minor thermals after clearing the mountains and to which my pilot said: “Whee!”

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

With the copter, my commercial pilot was able to fly below 1000 feet (~305 meters) during most of the flight, lower albeit slower than a Cessna. Unprompted, my pilot informed me he was rated to fly between buildings in downtown Phoenix. Aided by a tailwind, the copter arrived at Solana in about 45 minutes.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

From the air, Solana impresses by appearing much more than 80% complete. If my assessment of the northern boundaries is correct, the final parabolic troughs were being assembled on the eastern edge of the project. Only the troughs being assembled faced upward; all the other troughs were stowed perpendicular to due east or west. In other words, none of the north south oriented troughs were tracking the sun.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

The percentage of completion may reflect the additional work required on the Solana central plant, integrating the troughs, and interconnection. Commissioning, testing, and start-up of the 280 MegaWatt (gross) CSP plant with six (6) hours of thermal storage will no doubt take a number of months. Abengoa plans to start operation of the plant in the summer of 2013.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

While a few transmission towers were visible in the photos on the eastern side of the project near the substation, I forgot to ascertain the status of the new 230 kiloVolt (kV) transmission line being built to interconnect the Solana Solar Generating Station with the Panda Substation of Arizona Public Service Company (APS), a wholly owned subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital Corporation (NYSE:PNW). APS will purchase all of the electricity produced by Solana under a thirty-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

Abengoa Solar received a $1.446 billion loan guarantee for the Solana project from the US Department of Energy (DOE) under the 1705 Loan Guarantee Program. Unlike most CSP or even photovoltaic DOE Loan Guarantee peers, Abengoa did not flip the Solana project to investors and maintains 100% equity ownership. Abengoa expects Solana to generate Annual Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, Amortization and Exceptional Items (EBITDAE) of €65 Million or about $87 Million at today’s exchange rate per the company’s Third Quarter 2012 Earnings Presentation. Abengoa just consolidated Solana into a new subsidiary, Abengoa US.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

Of course, Abengoa has a habit of setting the sustainability example for peers. Solana has been developed on private, previously disturbed farmland and will consume about eight times less water than the prior agricultural usage.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

Eleven (11) days after the sortie, Fox10 Phoenix posted the video, “Inside look at the Solana Solar power plant”, including a tour of Solana and the RIOGLASS Solar Inc. factory in Surprise, Arizona, manufacturing parabolic mirrors at the rate of one every 20 seconds for Solana.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

On the return leg and against a headwind, I started to get cold at altitude with the open copter door. Throughout the flight, I saw numerous photovoltaic solar installations on homes, businesses, and schools in and around Phoenix, almost enough to warm me up! Even the Glendale Municipal Airport had a modest tracking solar array on the southern edge of the hangers.

From Abengoa Solana Generating Station Sortie

A number of the workers at Solana waved at our copter during our two passes around and over the facility.

3 comments

  1. NICE ARTICLE Gunther!

    Great to see industrial strength CSP going online. As much as I love PV, these thermal plants really do satisfy a deeper baseload with the storage and present a serious alternative to pathetic coal and nuclear alternatives. In 500 years, all power plants will be built this way and so its nice to see more going in in my own lifetime.

    I remember a quote from Newton Becker whom said the golden time for CSP was when interests are low and natural gas prices are high. Well, gas prices aint low right now but these plants still make sense.

    You can see the third largest plant (after Solana and Ivanpah) being built here http://www.csenergy.com.au/content-(50)-kogan-creek-solar-boost.htm

  2. Great pictures. Warms my heart too! Terrific to hear about storage of electricity as well, which is such a concern for energy companies.

  3. Too bad Solana could not have been built by an American Company.
    It was nice to learn that Abengoa did hire thousands of mentally challenged Spaniards to oversee this project. They only underbid this project by $ 560,000,000.00 (their account). Where are my Obama bucks?

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