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Solar Project Puts Antelope Valley at Energy Forefront

The Antelope Valley may be well on its way to becoming the cradle of alternative energy for Southern California. In April, Pasadena-based eSolar, Inc. closed on a five-year lease of 51,112 square feet of space in the Fairway Business Park in Palmdale. “This new space is going to be an operations and project logistics center,” said Robert Rogan, executive vice president of corporate development for eSolar. The company is planning to build at least three solar power plants in the Antelope Valley. Last week, Southern California Edison announced it had signed an agreement to purchase power from eSolar when the plants come online in 2011. These announcements came just after a $130 million investment in eSolar by Google.org, business incubator Idealab, Oak Investment Partners and others in April “for the construction and deployment of pre-fabricated power plants.” Rather than those big arrays of solar panels that gather energy through photovoltaic cells that most of us are familiar with, eSolar and other companies are now generating power by using heliostats (specialized mirrors) that focus the sun’s power to heat water and generate steam to produce electricity. It’s called solar thermal power generation. While Edison already purchases about 90 percent of the nation’s solar energy, this will be the first time it will come from a “power tower” type of solar installation, said Stuart Hemphill, vice president of Renewable and Alternative Power with SCE. <!– The Antelope Valley goes solar. –> The Antelope Valley goes solar. “eSolar’s (plant) is smaller and more modular and prefabricated,” he said. “What that means is, hopefully, it’s installed quicker and can be installed in more locations because it has a smaller footprint.” Each eSolar module can generate about 33 megawatts of power, which Hemphill said could meet the electrical needs of about 23,000 homes. SCE declined to provide any financial information about the power purchase agreement and eSolar did not want to provide details on when and where construction of the plants would occur. But the City of Lancaster is definitely getting some type of installation. In November, Rogan made a presentation to the City’s Redevelopment Agency and the City Council about the company’s solar thermal power systems. At the time, the company was looking at building on a proposed site called Fox Field. But on February 5, eSolar applied for a construction permit for a “demonstration project” at a different site. According to a City of Lancaster Planning Department memorandum dated March 11, eSolar had decided the Fox Field site was not viable, in part because it was under the aegis of the County Airport Land Use Commission. Work is now underway on a 95-acre site south of Avenue G. That evening, the City Council unanimously approved a new City planning ordinance to allow solar electric generating plants to be built in heavy industrial (HI) zoned areas of Lancaster. “The game plan is they’re going to start smaller and they’re going to eventually grow into doing several power plants out there,” said Tristan Greenleaf of Colliers International who represented eSolar in the Lancaster lease transaction. “Land is very, very cheap out there.” According to Edison’s Hemphill, they are expecting to purchase 105 megawatts of eSolar-generated electricity by 2011. That much juice can power about 23,000 homes, said Hemphill. The eSolar website states that each of their modular 33 MW power units needs about 160 acres. That means that at least three plants need to be constructed over the next three years to meet Edison’s expectations. Regardless of the specific location of the installations, Rogan said that “dozens and dozens of local construction jobs” will be created. Additionally, “Each power plant development also creates dozens of skilled permanent positions for plant operators, plant engineers and things of that nature.” Hiring is well underway for people who live in the Palmdale/Lancaster area, a very welcome event for an area that has been one of the hardest hit in California by residential foreclosures.

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