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Large Photovoltaic Plant Announced

A sprawling solar farm is planned for sunny central Washington State.
July 10, 2009

A private investment group called Teanaway Solar Reserve says that it plans to build a massive 75-megawatt solar facility that will sprawl over some 400 acres in Cle Elum, WA, a rural area about 80 miles east of Seattle. The solar farm will be by far the largest in the Northwest, and much larger than any existing photovoltaic plant anywhere. (A 60-megawatt plant in Spain now holds the world record, while a 14-megawatt photovoltaic facility at Nellis Air Force Base, in Nevada, is the largest photovoltaic facility in the United States.) However, the solar facility in Washington is only one of several larger photovoltaic plants that have been recently announced, including several in California that would exceed 200 megawatts; a 60-megawatt plant is planned for Chicago.

Washington appears to be an odd location for a solar plant. While central Washington is, unlike Seattle, actually quite sunny–Howard Trott, Teanaway’s managing director, estimates that the location has 300 sunny days a year–it is also home to some of the country’s cheapest electricity because of its hydroelectric capacity. However, Trott says, Washington’s consumers will favor photovoltaic-generated electricity because it is “very green,” and they will pay a premium for it, “which will make us profitable.”

Trott declined to disclose many financial details of the project or his company except to say that the costs of the solar farm will likely “run north of a hundred million.” His plan calls for a solar producer to build a manufacturing facility at the site to provide the 400,000 panels that the solar farm will need. Trott, who acknowledges that he has no previous experience in the solar industry, says that it has not yet been decided whether the new solar facility will use conventional silicon solar cells or thin-film photovoltaics. Indeed, it is still very early days for the private solar company and its Washington project. Says Trott: “Yesterday, we rented an office.”

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