I stared out the charter bus window as we drove through the entrance gates of Blue Wing Solar Farm. Solar panels were stationed on the green grass for what seemed like miles. Lightning poles were scattered throughout the area.
I stepped off the bus with 33 other interns, geared up in our personal protective equipment: yellow vests, hard hats, and safety goggles. We were greeted by our tour guide, Lukasz Swierczynski, who explained to us the process of harvesting solar power.
This was the first stop on our tour of several of the power plants that produce energy for CPS Energy, where we are interning for the summer.
It was a chance to get out of our daily work environment and learn, hands on, just how CPS Energy produces the power we all use.
At the solar farm, we learned that by using a combination of nonrenewable and renewable sources, CPS Energy is able to maintain low rates for customers and improve the air we all breathe.
Back in the 1970s, CPS Energy was an all-natural gas powered company, meaning it made all of its electricity from natural gas. A fuel crisis caused prices for natural gas to drastically increase, causing utility rates to go up. To avoid a situation like that from happening again, CPS Energy made the decision to diversify its generation fleet, and today uses coal, nuclear, wind, solar, natural gas, and landfill gas.
Blue Wing Solar Farm is made up of more than 214,500 solar panels, which provide power to up to 1,800 local homes annually. By using solar power, CPS Energy is able to offset an estimated 18,200 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. That’s like taking about 3,800 cars and the pollution they create off the road.
Our next stop was Calaveras Power Station, which consists of four power plants; two natural gas and two coal plants, each with two units, that sit on Calaveras lake. That lake and nearby Braunig Lake were built in the 1960s to provide cooling water for the plants.
Railroad tracks allow 1,300 aluminum railroad cars to bring in coal from Wyoming. It’s deposited at a 45-acre coal yard, where a conveyor system transports it to the plant.
While there, we watched a presentation and video that explained how coal and natural gas are used to produce energy.
To wrap the tour visited CPS Energy’s Green Mountain location, where we learned about the future of the electrical grid through a presentation on smart meters, which are being tested onsite before CPS Energy begins installing them later this month. The smart grid will bring faster outage restoration, automatic notifications if your power goes out, automatic reads, plus quicker connects and disconnects.
But the best part may be that customers will have the chance to know how much power they’re buying day by day instead of waiting almost 30 days later to see their bill. I can hear my mom now telling me to cut off lights or bump up the thermostat.
The tour proved to be an educational yet fun opportunity for the interns as we spent a day visiting different power plants while building friendships and learning.
Personally, I learned that the worst enemy of a solar farm is lightning. The electric strikes can cause a lot of damage. That’s why there are lightning poles distributed around the solar panels at Blue Wing — so they can absorb the impact and prevent the panels from being damaged. I probably wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t gone on this tour.