via Jeremy T. Gerlach, MySanAntonio.com/San Antonio Express News
As foreign investment continues to power San Antonio’s production of solar energy, more and more local hands are building the pieces that produce the power itself.
At the recent opening of CPS Energy’s latest solar farm, Alamo 3, utility officials pointed out that the 70-acre farm near Loop 1604 and Interstate 10 is the area’s first to be built almost entirely with locally-produced parts.
Raiford Smith, vice-president of corporate development and planning for CPS, said San Antonio has attracted wholesale investment — and with it, a full-scale energy supply chain — with an all-in approach to solar power. CPS has made a major push toward having 20 percent of its generation capacity come from renewable energy sources as part of the city’s 2020 initiative.
“We’re not looking to do a small-scale pilot, but a sustainable ecosystem,” Smith said of the solar plants, a partnership between CPS and OCI Solar Power that aims to have seven Alamo-named farms producing 400 megawatts of electricity by 2017. “We’ve got everyone from installers to engineering firms to hi-tech manufacturers.”
Local manufacturer Sun Action Trackers, a joint venture between OCI and Korean company Paru Co. Ltd., produces dual-axis tracking technology at a Northwest Side plant. The trackers, which keep solar panels pointing in the right direction so they can soak up as much sunlight as possible, were installed at Alamo 3.
Danny Vega, an Sun Action Trackers human resources representative, said the company’s 77 employees are evidence of the solar industry’s local impact.
“Those employees represent about $3 million in payroll,” Vega said of his staff, who come from San Antonio and the surrounding area. “That’s $3 million we put into people’s pockets that goes right back (when spent) in the community.”
“This is a win-win situation for the residents of San Antonio,” Vega added. “Not only are we producing renewable energy … but we’re creating permanent jobs.”
Getting companies to commit to local production instead of shipping in the parts from out of state is a major focus for CPS, Smith noted.
“We looked to find ways to get our partners to bring manufacturing plants, permanent jobs here.” Smith noted. “That’s the plan…so we could source (materials) from those plants.”
The system’s apparent success has attracted more outside attention. Consolidated Edison Development, a New York-based company that operates renewable energy projects, recently purchased two area farms — Alamo 3 and 4 — and will operate them as part of a 25-year, power-purchase agreement with CPS.
“The community of San Antonio at large is very supportive and receptive to the renewable energy market as a whole,” said Mark Noyes, CED’s senior vice-president. “The conditions from a wind and insolation standpoint are very good for renewables.
“(Ongoing) production is a great opportunity for San Antonio and for the state as a whole,” Noyes continued. “Texas has a great solar resource and a good distribution system.”
“Growth here is going to be significant.”
Staff Writer Vicki Vaughn contributed to this report.