The Salt River Project (SRP), a not-for-profit utility and electricity provider, has partnered with renewable energy company Clenera to develop a new large-scale solar plant in Coconino County. This plant, officially named CO Bar Solar, will increase the percentage of carbon-free energy produced by both companies. 

CO Bar Solar will be built on 2,400 acres of private land owned by Babbitt Ranch. Located northwest of Flagstaff, Babbitt Ranch has a variety of renewable energy projects in planning stages, including a 161-megawatt wind energy farm and a 60-megawatt solar field. An exact location for development has yet to be determined.

While operational, CO Bar Solar will produce approximately 400 megawatts of solar energy reserved for SRP customers. Clenera will hold the authority to distribute any remaining power as the official owner and operator of the plant. 

Barry Petrey, the manager of resource acquisition at SRP, said this quantity makes CO Bar Solar SRP’s largest solar project to date.

“Once complete, CO Bar Solar will generate enough power to meet the energy needs of 80,000 average-sized homes,” Petrey said. “In comparison, the next-largest solar plant that SRP has in operation is 100 megawatts, which generates enough power to provide energy to about 22,000 average-sized homes.”

Construction is scheduled to begin late this year and the plant will be fully functional by June 2025. 

Erik Nielsen is an associate professor at the School of Earth and Sustainability at NAU. With additional experience as NAU’s chief sustainability officer, he said he finds the spread of solar energy through plants like CO Bar Solar in northern Arizona to be largely positive. 

“Flagstaff and northern Arizona are really good environments for solar energy,” Nielsen said. “Solar production has zero emissions and making solar panels is becoming less and less carbon energy intensive. You also don’t need water which northern Arizona has a shortage of.”

Announced in late 2021, this collaboration between SRP and Clenera arose as a reasonable and achievable way to help SRP reach its goal of crafting 2,025 megawatts of new utility-scale solar resources by 2025. To reach this objective, SRP drafted a 20-year power purchase agreement with Clenera to ensure CO Bar Solar meets relevant performance targets during its lifespan.

Additionally, with its size and volume, CO Bar Solar will reduce state-wide dependency on other carbon-emitting power resources. As a result, one billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions will be offset annually and lessen the impacts of climate change throughout the region.  

“In a state growing as fast as Arizona, it’s important to continue adding power resources like these to meet rising energy demands of residents and local businesses,” Petrey said. “These added generation resources will also help SRP achieve its board-established goals of reducing carbon intensity by 65% by 2035 and by 90% by 2050.” 

Clenera officials have also connected with county representatives and the Arizona Game and Fish Department to discuss methods of furthering the project’s sustainability and confirm construction will not inhibit surrounding ecosystems. 

Though Clenera has not completed a formal economic impact analysis at this time, their latest projections estimate the plant will generate 400 jobs during the peak of construction and two to four permanent jobs for the plant’s operation and maintenance. Petrey said this economic stability also extends to the project's cost.

“Adding new generation resources of any kind comes at a cost for production and distribution that is recovered by the electricity rates SRP customers pay,” Petrey said. “This will be one of our lowest-cost solar resources to date due to the economics of scale.”

Northern Arizona has a history of using coal plants for energy production. With many of these plants closing in recent years, Nielsen said it was only a matter of time before coal energy sources were replaced with something renewable. 

Connections to coal mines have also ensured Coconino County has a considerable amount of space and multiple transmission lines for repurposing solar energy in future years. These pre-established energy pipelines could potentially make solar expansion near Flagstaff more economically viable for solar companies hesitant to draft new projects with limited resources. 

“Every energy resource has its tradeoffs environmentally, socially and economically,” Nielsen said. “There is no silver bullet, but this is a step in the right direction.”

SRP and Clenera will continue to develop and expand upon CO Bar Solar’s objectives until the start of construction in the fall. More information about either company’s Arizona-based energy projects can be found on SRP and Clenera websites.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated the wind energy farm and solar fields were finished with development. The article now reflects that they are still in development stages. The Lumberjack is committed to factual correctness and accuracy. If you find an error in our publication, please contact Emily Gerdes at

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