From: Reuters
Published December 18, 2007 08:10 PM

Biggest U.S. solar panel farms open in Nevada, Colo

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The biggest photovoltaic solar panel array in the United States opened this week at a U.S. Air force base in Nevada and the biggest array that sells power to an electric utility began operation in Colorado, companies involved said.

A 14-megawatt solar farm covering 140 acres opened at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada on Monday. It will generate 30,000 megawatt hours a year and will supply about a quarter of the electricity used at the air base. About 12,000 people live and work on the base.

Nellis Base Commander Col. Michael Bartley said the solar array may be just one of many such projects by the U.S. military.

"The project also provides a future test bed for the Department of Defense to assess the benefits of similar arrangements on installations across the United States," said Bartley.

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Also opening on Monday was an 8.22-megawatt photovoltaic array covering 80 acres in Alamoso, Colorado. Its developer and operator, SunEdison LLC, signed a 20-year deal to sell the power to Colorado's largest utility, Xcel's wholly owned Public Service of Colorado.

Financial arrangements were not disclosed.

There are bigger solar farms in the United States, but they are concentrated solar thermal projects that use mirrors to heat water rather than to use panels to convert sunlight to electricity.

The Alamoso solar project in the southern part of central Colorado, near the border with New Mexico, will generate about 17,000 megawatt hours each year, enough no-emissions power to serve about 1,500 homes.

The Nellis project that also opened on Monday is a joint project of the U.S. Air Force, SunPower Corp, Municipal Mortgage & Equity LLC subsidiary MMA Renewable Ventures and Nevada Power Co.

The Nellis array is comprised of 72,000 solar panels using a single-axis tracking system developed by SunPower that allows the panels to track the sun, giving 30 percent more energy than fixed-tilt ground systems.

MMA Renewable Ventures financed the building of the Nellis array, and will operate the plant and sell power to the air base at a fixed price for 20 years.

Mark Culpepper, SunEdison vice president of strategic marketing, said SunEdison now has 28 megawatts of installed solar panel arrays that it manages in the United States.

SunEdison will maintain and operate the Alamoso project and deliver power, as well as sell renewable energy credits to Xcel. SunEdison is based in Beltsville, Maryland.

Renewable energy credits from the Nellis project will be sold to Nevada Power, a subsidiary of Sierra Pacific Resources.

SunEdison is developing a rooftop solar energy system for 63 of Kohl's 80 California department stores, which will total about 25 megawatts of photovoltaic power, said Culpepper. Once completed, the Kohl's panels will make more than 35,000 megawatts of power a year, enough to power almost 3,100 California homes.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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