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Apache Solar Project to provide solar energy to Cochise County and beyond

10.04.17

Original article: http://www.willcoxrangenews.co...

By Carol Broeder Arizona Range News, Oct 4, 2017

Now, when the sun shines over the Willcox Playa, near Cochise, it also shines “across more than 77,000 solar panels at the Apache Solar Project,” located on the Playa’s west boundary.

That’s how AzGT Communications Manager Geoff Oldfather poetically described the 20-megawatt capacity solar array that went online this month.

Rep. Martha McSally gives the keynote address during Friday’s Apache Solar Project dedication, near Cochise. McSally called the project a “great example of member-driven co-ops, from the bottom up, figuring out ways to provide reliable power to the community, instead of top-down bureaucrats telling them what to do.”

Electric power from the panels now flows into the nearby Apache Generating Station, and then onto the power grid, he said.

Rep. Martha McSally, who was the keynote speaker at the project’s dedication Friday, gave her own description, calling it a “major investment in the future of renewable energy in Cochise County.”

McSally applauded the project as a “great example of member-driven co-ops, from the bottom up, figuring out ways to provide reliable power to the community, instead of top-down bureaucrats telling them what to do.”

Congratulating everyone involved in the project, McSally said, “This should be a case study for the rest of the country,” which provides customers with “low-cost, competitive renewable power.”

As to being competitive, AzGT CEO Patrick Ledger called the project a way “to compete in a new market, bringing to bear the assets we have, to be competitive with — or even better than — the competition.”

State Rep. Drew John, R-Safford, and U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Apache Solar Project, near Cochise, last week. The electric power from the project’s 77,000 solar panels now flows into a transformer at the Apache Generating Station, and from there, to the power grid.

He described cooperatives as having the qualities of “being small” and “working together.

“We focus on what’s in the best interest of our membership,” he told the audience. “We think that’s the ‘co-op way.’”

Calling it “exciting,” as well as a “career highlight” for him, Barry Brown, AzGT executive director of engineering and transmission maintenance, described how the project works.

The 77, 053 solar panels are grouped in modules of 29 panels each, with each panel producing 320 watts. Nine 2.5 MW inverters take the direct current the panels generate, converting it to alternating current for delivery to the power grid.

Planning for the project began in 2015, with the construction permit granted in April 2016. The contract for engineering, procurement and construction was awarded in November 2016 to Swinerton Renewable Energy.

Initial concepts varied among two MW, six MW, and 14 MW projects, but interest among Class A cooperative members for portions of the power grew it to the point that a 17 MW project was planned, Oldfather said.
It was finalized with the members in November that year.
The board of directors for Arizona Electric Power Cooperative then decided to offer some of the solar project to other organizations.

In February 2017, the project increased to 20 MW, when one additional customer, Electrical District No. 2, subscribed for three MW.
In March 2017, preparation began with clearing the site, which is a total of 134 acres — all existing AEPCO property.
After the land was cleared, 11,000 piers were set, and then pipe torque tubes were attached to the top of each line of piers.
The project created jobs for more than 100 area residents during its construction.

AEPCO and Sierra Southwest collectively make up Arizona G&T cooperatives.

AEPCO owns and operates the 605-megawatt (combined gross) Apache Generating Station, and also owns and maintains more than 610 miles of transmission lines and 50 substations, which provide wholesale electric power from Apache to six member distribution cooperatives in southern Arizona, western New Mexico, northwestern Arizona and California.

The Class A member cooperatives that receive wholesale power from AEPCO include Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative, Willcox; Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative, Duncan; Graham County Electric Cooperative, Pima; Trico Electric Cooperative, Marana; Mohave Electric Cooperative, Bullhead City; and the California member, Anza Electric Cooperative.

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