The Copper Mountain Solar 1 photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant is located in Boulder City, Nevada, US, approximately 65km south-east of Las Vegas. The 48MW plant is one of the largest utility-scale PV power plants in the US.
The facility generates emission-free electricity to power nearly 14,000 homes. It is owned and operated by Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy. It was built at a cost of $141m.
San Francisco-based combined natural gas and electric utilities company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation, has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) for the plant’s output.
The PPA was signed in July 2009 and approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in December 2010.
The plant was officially dedicated in March 2011 by the Nevada governor, Boulder City mayor and Sempra Generation president and chief executive officer.
The plant was named ‘Solar Project of the Year’ by Renewable Energy World during a conference and expo held in Tampa in March 2011.
Sempra Generation received $42m in tax credit from the federal government, which covered 30% of the project cost.
Incentives amounting to $12m came in the form of sales tax abatements for equipment purchases and a 55% property tax reduction for 20 years. These incentives were provided by the state officials.
Construction of Copper Mountain Solar 1
The Copper Mountain Solar 1 plant is located on a 380-acre desert site in Boulder City. It is situated next to Sempra Generation’s 10MW El Dorado Solar plant that came online in December 2008.
The El Dorado Solar plant is built on an 80-acre site and is installed with more than 167,000 PV modules.
Construction of the 48MW Copper Mountain plant was commenced in January 2010. It was completed in less than a year and the plant went online in December 2010.
The plant began delivering renewable electricity to the power grid after the installation of the first 8MW block of solar panels in June 2010. The project thus achieved a major milestone within five months of construction. A total of 103,000 steel posts were erected to hold 775,000 solar panels.
In order to ensure the rows of panels remain straight, the steel posts were installed using lasers and a global positioning system (GPS).
First Solar was the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor of the project. The company also supplied the solar panels for the plant.
Key benefits of the photovoltaic solar power plant
The plant is located near existing power plants and transmission lines. Local, state and federal governments will get $135m in new revenue over the life of the project. Around 350 construction jobs and five full-time jobs were created.
Sempra Generation has planned to expand its existing facility by more than 200MW. In August 2011, the company announced it was to build Copper Mountain Solar 2, an expansion of Copper Mountain Solar 1.
The 150MW plant became fully operational in 2015. It produces renewable energy that is enough to power approximately 53,000 houses.
Copper Mountain Solar 2 occupies a 1,100-acre site. It came online in two phases.
The Copper Mountain Solar complex also houses the 250MW Copper Mountain Solar 3 and 94MW Copper Mountain Solar 4 projects.
The additional electricity generated by the expanded unit is purchased by PG&E Company under a 25-year PPA that was signed in August 2011.
First Solar, which previously had worked on El Dorado and Copper Mountain 1 plants, has been contracted again to serve as the EPC contractor for the solar project. First Solar also supplied the ground-mounted thin-film panels.
Cupertino Electric installed more than one million solar photovoltaic (PV) modules for the Copper Mountain Solar 3 project. Amec Foster Wheeler was the engineering, procurement and construction (EPM) contractor for the Copper Mountain Solar 3 project.
SMA inverters provided 46 Sunny Central inverters for the Copper Mountain Solar 4 project.