Solar Energy: AZ Sun Program

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Pat Dinkel, VP of Power Marketing and Resource Planning for Arizona Public Service Company, talks about the Paloma Solar Power Plant, the first solar plant to reach commercial operation as part of the utility’s AZ Sun Program.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments that in the case challenging the ouster of Colleen Mathis from the independent redistricting commission. The IRC is responsible for redrawing Arizona's congressional and legislative districts. Mathis served as the commission's independent chairwoman alongside two Democrats and two Republicans. But earlier this month, the governor, with consent of the state senate, removed Mathis from the IRC claiming she violated the state's open meetings law and constitutional rules for redistricting. Attorneys for Mathis say her ouster is unwarranted and politically motivated. No word on when the high court will rule, although an expedited decision is expected.

Ted Simons: In 2006, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a renewable energy standard that requires public utilities to generate 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. Arizona public service company has been working to meet that standard in a variety of ways. One of its initiatives is the AZ sun program, which calls for a major investment in new utility-scale solar plants. The first two AZ sun solar plants went online just last month. Both are located in Gila Bend. Here to tell us more about the AZ Sun Program is Pat Dinkel, vice president of power marketing and resource planning. For Arizona public service company. Thanks for joining us.

Pat Dinkel: Good to see you, Ted.

Ted Simons: The AZ Sun Program, that's what we're talking about here?

Pat Dinkel: Yes.

Ted Simons: And give us more information. How long it's been in development and the eventual goal.

Pat Dinkel: It's APS's investment in solar energy for Arizona and it's specifically us providing financing for utility scale, which is really kind of short for larger solar projects in Arizona.

Ted Simons: And this is -- what? -- a four-year plan?

Pat Dinkel: It was approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission last year with a commitment for us to invest up to half a billion years for 100 megawatts over a four-year period. We brought two of those projects -- actually, two and a half projects online already this year and we're excited about that and the rest is coming online the next couple years.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the plant. This is the Paloma plant. Where is this?

Pat Dinkel: The project, as well as a couple of sister projects located outside of Gila Bend. Actually in Gila Bend, but on the periphery. The Paloma and cotton center, located north of Gila Bend.

Ted Simons: And what kind of solar plants? What are we looking at here? What is that?

Pat Dinkel: The two I just mentioned cotton and Paloma uses two different types. One of them constructed by first solar uses a fixed panel that doesn't move, it's stationary during the time and the other project at cotton center actually uses what we call a single access. And -- axis, and will rotate during the day to follow the sun and that was constructed by a company out of Tucson. Little different technologies and efficiencies but a way to take two comprehensive and efficient technologies.

Ted Simons: How much energy?

Pat Dinkel: Each of the projects is 17-megawatts and that's a good size for the projects because what's really important about these projects and quite honestly, earth shattering we constructed the projects in may and went in service in August. That's unheard of. Our partner for solar, a major developer, says they've never done anything like that in the world and we're proud of that.

Ted Simons: First solar develops and builds these and APS owns and operates them?

Pat Dinkel: There's a tight participation. Gila Bend was a key partner in this. They have proactively and progressively managed their zoning process to where you can get the permitting in four weeks or less. So we specifically targeted that area because we knew they were very progressive. But APS went out ahead of time and bought the land and started the process to get it ready for the project and went out for a comprehensive solicitations. And then they do what's called a turnkey project for us. When it's done, we go ahead and operate it for the customers.

Ted Simons: I know there's concern when it comes to solar generating stations, especially far away from water. That the water needs would be great, A, and B, it would be disruptive to try and get water in the area by drilling or piping. Whatever the case may be. What are the water needs?

Pat Dinkel: We're conscious of the water conservation. The customers want affordability and the photovoltaic essentially uses next to no water. The grounds don't need to be maintained and we built these on farmland.

Ted Simons: This is thin film technology. This is their first involvement?

Pat Dinkel: The first project, a thin film, for solar. The other is not. It's a POLY technology. But, yes, the Paloma project is the first into thin film but it's a mature technology, first solar has been deploying it for years around the globe and makes an economic solution.

Ted Simons: Is that a concern -- by the time you invest and develop and build, A, here comes B down the pike and it's more efficient and better operating system. Is that a concern?

Pat Dinkel: That's something that we pay attention to and when I go back to about five or six years ago when we started rapping up our renewable power, that was something we were very concerned about. So we assessed each of the technologies to make sure we're putting in technologies that are viable. On these technologies they are. These are mature viable technologies, photovoltaic panels made in the gigawatts internationally and they're very mature technologies.

Ted Simons: Before you go, sounds like Gila Bend is becoming a central focal point for solar energy in Arizona and around the country, really. Talk about Gila Bend's partnership in the projects.

Pat Dinkel: They've been wonderful. Very progressive. Thinking back several years ago and a lot of cities and towns want to be progressive. Gila Bend is a model that I like to talk about because they've allowed us as a utility to bring the commercial players together to make the projects happen and I hope others learn from their lesson then.

Ted Simons: Some jobs at least during the construction phase.

Pat Dinkel: It does, about 300 jobs during construction and that's good for Gila Bend and those communities around.

Ted Simons: All right. Pat, good to see you, thanks for joining us.

Pat Dinkel: Thank you.

Pat Dinkel:VP of Power Marketing and Resource Planning for Arizona Public Service Company

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