The Soitec Concentrator Photovoltaic Newberry Springs Uprising

Newberry Springs highlights the travails of distributed utility scale solar developments.
The Soitec Spring solidifies their high concentration photovoltaic leadership.

Soiteclogo While checking on the status of the Soitec SA (EPA:SOI) Newberry Springs Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV) project first mentioned in the Soitec Concentrator Photovoltaic Factory Grand Opening Tour, I stumbled upon “Newberry Springs residents blindsided by solar farm” by Brooke Self for the Desert Dispatch.

Residents of Newberry Springs are upset because the project plans were amended from 6 to 7 foot high conventional solar arrays to CPV Systems with a height of up to 27.5 feet including the pedestal. Furthermore, the San Bernardino County project notice on the revision was reported to have been “sparsely issued” and emphasized the request “to modify the photovoltaic technology to use less equipment; thereby resulting in a smaller Project footprint and less disturbance on the 27-acre portion of the 80-acre site.” However, three paragraphs later, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Addendum for the 3 MWac (MegaWatt-alternating current) project does state:

The primary difference between the original technology and the revised technology is the height of the equipment. The Concentrix Solar CPV equipment, once installed, will reach a maximum of 28 feet (as measured from the ground surface) compared to the six-to-seven feet proposed in the original Project design.

Mixing number symbols and written numbers in the same sentence does not facilitate an easy comparison. In the subsequent “Table 2: A Comparison of the Original and Revised Project Impacts”, the quadrupled array height is not mentioned although for sun glare, the project claims to have “None”, a fact that is disputed here.

NewberrySolar1SitePlan

In explaining the decision, San Bernardino County said:

The revised Project proposes equipment ranging in height from approximately 21-to-28 feet. While the maximum height exceeds what was originally designed for this site, it is still below the County Code height restriction of 35 feet (maximum) in the RL zone. It remains true that the solar panels are much less visually intrusive than other compatible uses.

The light and glare from the equipment onsite and potentially from security and other lighting on the Project site would remain less than significant. The lighting standards contained in the Aesthetics/Visual section of the original Project would be adequate to mitigate potentially significant light and glare impacts associated with the revised project.

KABC-TV Los Angeles interviewed local residents about the project in “Newberry Springs solar farm: Residents say they were duped” or watch the video.

When I asked if Soitec had done anything to address resident concerns regarding the project, the Newberry Springs Community Alliance said:

The new solar neighbor has done NOTHING to address the community’s concerns.

Their plan (we believe) is to expand upon the large parcel they own and an adjacent parcel; however, they have enraged the community and with a newly elected county supervisor that represents the community (and who agrees with the community), the solar developer will likely have a much more difficult time acquiring permits.

Per “San Bernardino County Bans New Solar Power Plants Temporarily” by Chris Clarke for KCET ReWire, the county has placed a minimum 45-day hold on new solar projects to develop a county policy because of “complaints about commercial solar developments in residential areas” like Newberry Springs.

Concentrix, now part of Soitec, acquired the project from Solutions for Utilities, Inc., in October 2010, and later transferred the project to Newberry Solar 1, LLC, a subsidiary of Soitec Solar Development LLC.

Soitec has been slow to answer my questions about the Newberry Springs project but told me Newberry is in final testing and will be inaugurated in July.

The Soitec Spring
During the Soitec Spring of 2013, Soitec has achieved a number of Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV) milestones since my San Diego manufacturing facility tour.

In April, Soitec completed the inaugural ZAR 1,000,000,000 (South Africa rand) solar bond financing in order to construct the 44 MWp (MegaWatt-peak) CPV plant in Touwsrivier, South Africa. Construction of the over 1500 Soitec CPV systems has begun, and the Touwsrivier project should be completed by June 2014.

On the technology front, Soitec announced the first four-junction III-V solar cell with 43.6% efficiency at 319 suns concentration. “Power of concentration” by Solar Curator Tom Cheyney has further details. Later in May, Soitec teamed with the Minera El Tesoro Mining Group on a CPV pilot plant consisting of four CX-S420 systems with 64 kWp (kiloWatt-peak) capacity installed in the Sierra Gorda district of Chile.

Just last week, Soitec made a trio of CPV related announcements in three days. First, Soitec completed a 25 kiloWatt demonstration installation in Usib, Namibia, and connected to the grid of the national utility, NamPower. Next, Maxwell Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ:MXWL) teamed with Soitec on a $1.39 million contract awarded by the California Energy Commission’s Research and Development program funding the design and integration of an energy storage system based on ultracapacitor technology with Soitec CPV systems at UCSD (University California, San Diego) and “at Soitec’s solar power plant in Southern California.” And last, Khaled Juffali Company and Soitec announced the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco) had chosen Soitec’s CPV technology for a 1 MegaWatt pilot plant in the northwestern Tabuk region of Saudi Arabia.

I have a question about page 4 of the full year results for 2012-2013 announced by Soitec on May 23, 2013. For the Solar Energy Segment, Soitec said:

The development and investment phase for the Solar Energy ended in March 2013. As of March 2013, the division has an installed capacity of 210 MWp and a pipeline of solar power plant projects of over 400 MWp of which a large part to be delivered and installed over the next 36 months.

I think the installed CPV capacity is nowhere near 210 MWp since the larger utility scale pipeline projects have not yet been completed. Perhaps a decimal was shifted and the number should have been 21.0 MWp or have I missed something lost in translation? Soitec did not reply to this question either.

Sorry about the dearth of original posts since early May. I’ve been busy and, in all honesty, a bit distracted. Maybe a short hiatus was in order?

Please vote in my new PV Blog Poll: Will China or Japan be the largest PV market in 2013 by installations?

10 comments

  1. Tom Konrad says:

    Switching to CPV should indeed solve any glare problem, since CPV requires trackers, and as long as they are functioning, the only place that will receive any glare is the sun itself.

  2. admin says:

    Road trip! To check out the glare situation.

  3. Donna Tisdale says:

    Close to 7300 of Soitec Solar’s larger experimental CPV modules are planned to cover about 1,500 acres (2.3 Sq miles) of our rural community in eastern San Diego County.

    Despite repeated denials by Soitec / Concentrix representatives and hired guns, a significant and distracting glare generated by their single existing larger experimental CPV module located on the UCSD campus in La Jolla has been documented in photographs. Anyone living within sight or sound of these monster tracking modules, whether directly across the street or on from an elevated location , as planned here, will be adversely impacted. Any one that denies that the glare is real is either speaking out of ignorance or flat out lying.

    I know this to be true because I Chair the elected advisory Boulevard
    Planning Group and we are strongly opposed to these commercial industrial energy projects and the new power lines and substations that go with them. We have done our research and don’t want to be the sacrificial lab rats for these unstudied large-scale generation projects.

    Existing wind turbines here already generate electrical magnetic interference, increased electrical fields and ground currents/stray voltage, noise, and complaints of adverse health impacts. Large solar projects and related infrastructure generate similar electrical and low-frequency noise pollution that migrates off-site. Soitec Solar will be no different–and will probably be worse than PV due to the size of the CPV modules, dual tracking motors, inverters, and fans.

    Feel free to contact me at 619-766-4170.

  4. Marc Dubreuil says:

    The 210 MW you mentionned above is the current factory capacity totaling Rancho Bernardo ( 140 MW/year) and Freiburg (70MW/y) factories capacity.
    I agree with TOM, the only possibility would be glaring when the system is off at dawn or dusk. In that case a way to prevent the system from glaring is to put it facing the sky in the off position.

  5. admin says:

    Marc, you are probably right. The sentence should be clear and say installed production or manufacturing capacity then instead of being vague.

  6. Solvida says:

    THIS IS BAD SOLAR!

  7. THEMIGHTYQ says:

    Nobody in Boulevard Ca wants it. Put it in your own backyard you hypocrites, if you think it is so harmless. Why not put it on the acres around your factory, around your houses, or around where the energy would be used, which is not in Boulevard. Alternatively put it where no one will see it.

  8. R. McMullin says:

    Living just down the street from this monstrosity, I had gone to a meeting at the CSD in which the original owners had said it would bring jobs to the community. Jobs?? They then said a part-time security guard and maintenance man would be hired. They also stated that the solar panels would benefit the community. Really? Can I plug into it and receive solar power? Can I get rid of SCE company? No, u can’t. This solar plant isn’t going to benefit anyone but those who actually own it.. not any of the residents who live here.

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