Flagstaff is in the process of hosting what could potentially be the largest solar farm in America. Clenera, a company based out of Idaho, has scouted Flagstaff for the construction of this facility.
Jared McKee, Clenera’s Director of Business Development, said the exact size has yet to be determined. It could range from 3,500 to 7,000 acres and produce 400 to 1,000 megawatts, which can power thousands of homes. McKee explained why Flagstaff is a hot spot for renewable energy.
“In Arizona, there are ample amounts of sun, but that typically comes with a lot of heat which makes solar panels less efficient. Flagstaff’s lower temperatures due to higher elevation, and vast spaces of land makes it a great spot for this kind of facility,” said McKee.
According to Clenera’s website, they have 15 solar facilities in eight states, supplying energy to over 100,000 homes. City council member Jim McCarthy said this will definitely contribute to reducing carbon emissions and generating cleaner more sustainable energy in Arizona.
“You have to be careful where you put it, there’s only so much land in the world. I think we’re going to have to set some places aside for solar farms because we can benefit greatly from it,” said McCarthy.
McKee said there will be an influx of construction jobs and other employment opportunities to build the solar farm. Construction could last anywhere from six to 18 months depending on the size of the project, and more available jobs to maintain the facility once it is up and running. You also have the ability for those workers in construction and also the added the jobs of those who maintain the facility.
However, there is a long road ahead before any construction begins. McKee explained there are four stages that must be processed before building begins, and the whole process can two to four years. The first searching for suitable land, making sure there is enough space to host a solar farm. They are currently negotiating with Babbit Ranches for an area of land 30 miles northwest of Flagstaff.
Next is conducting environmental and biological studies. The local ecosystem cannot be put at risk due to the presence of the facility, and there must not be any endangered species in the area. Moreover, rockbed is not suitable to build a solar farm on.
The third step is applying for interconnection. This is the process of ensuring that the power gathered will be dispersed accordingly.
“Whether its in Flagstaff, Sedona, or Phoenix, that power will move fluidly throughout the system wherever it needs to be,” McKee said.
McKee explained once power can be connected to the grid, the utility organization that owns the transmission lines is capable of transferring power to needed areas. This leads into the final step, known as the power purchase agreement.
An organization must come to an agreement with Clenera regarding payment for the power being collected and used. McKee said there are a variety of groups who are eligible, like municipalities and corporations. The Arizona Corporation Commission ultimately decides who is eligible to collect and transfer energy, like APS and SRP.
“It’s a significant investment. Every organization will factor in the cost to build through a specified and confidential model,” McKee said.
Currently, Clenera has just begun the third stage as they applied for interconnection. It may be a few years until this project comes to fruition, but it McKee said that both Clenera and Flagstaff will benefit from the solar farm.
“With more green energy on the transmission system, the less dependent we are on energy generating methods that produce carbon emissions.” Mckee said.