‘Steel forest’ in Uvalde to bring solar power to San Antonio

By on May 18, 2015

Out in Uvalde, a new forest is rising from the ground. How can a forest come to life and flourish in South Texas? When it’s made of silicon and steel.

The forest is actually a solar farm. It’s more of a ranch, really – it covers roughly 900 acres. Like other solar farms around the area, it’s designed to bring more renewable power to CPS Energy customers. The new farm will generate 95 megawatts (MW) of sun power – twice as much as any current farm now delivering power to greater San Antonio. It will be the largest solar farm in Texas.

OCI Solar Power, developer of four of the eight farms currently generating power for San Antonio, is continuing its commitment to provide 400 megawatts of solar to CPS Energy. These four farms are now producing 90 MW of clean power – with the largest producing 41 MW. The Uvalde farm, deemed “Alamo 5,” will eclipse the first four combined and will be complete later this year. Two more farms are on the way by 2017.

Roughly half of the Alamo 5 farm was built over the last eight months, despite the challenges of rocks, rain and rattlesnakes. Large steel assemblies, known in industry terms as “trackers” and manufactured by San Antonio-based Sun Action Trackers, line much of the acreage like steel tree trunks. Every day, more take root in the rocky terrain. In the end, there will be 9,000 of these steel trees, each holding a canopy of 42 silicon solar panels. Many of these panels were produced in San Antonio at the new Mission Solar Energy manufacturing facility.

9,000 steel "trees" will cover the finished Alamo 5 solar farm.

9,000 steel “trees” and 378,000 panels will cover the finished Alamo 5 solar farm.

Each tracker uses advanced technology – sensors to help the canopy of panels follow the sun’s arc both up and down and side to side, allowing the panels to generate more energy than fixed panels which only move in one direction. Inverters located across the site, made by KACO new energy, another New Energy Economy partner, convert incoming direct current, or DC, power from the panels to the alternating, or AC, power that customers use in their homes and businesses. When the farm is complete, a mind-boggling 378,000 panels will collect and convert sunlight into electricity. The 95-MW farm is expected to generate enough power for 17,000 homes.

“This farm is much like a steel forest,” says Scott Kaminski, OCI Solar Power’s project manager for Alamo 5. “The steel structures are actually quite innovative. The design allows us to build each tracker quickly and efficiently. When you have thousands to build, such innovation can be beneficial to the completion of the project.”

So why build a solar power station for San Antonio in Uvalde, some 80 miles west of the Alamo City?

“The best solar sites are close to transmission lines or sub-stations, are flat and relatively unobstructed, are close to transportation links and, of course, have the best possible solar irradiation,” says SH Yoon, President and CEO of OCI Solar Power. “We found an excellent site in Uvalde that fits these criteria.  It will be a tremendous solar farm.”

OCI Solar Power developed Alamo 4, a 39-MW farm already in commercial operation, in Brackettville, just west of Uvalde. The state’s electric grid makes it easy for CPS Energy to stake a claim to any and all of the solar generation produced by these remote locations.

CPS Energy, through power purchase agreements with several solar farm operators including OCI Solar Power, currently has 134 MW of sun power in commercial operation – the most in Texas. The remaining two “steel forests” yet to be built by OCI Solar Power will be even larger farms. They will help us reach our goal of obtaining 20 percent of Greater San Antonio’s energy capacity from renewable energy, like solar and wind, by the year 2020 and further our plan to have 65 percent of our generation come from low-carbon sources.

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