Until just a few days ago, the Hatch five-megawatt concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) installation in New Mexico built and operated by NextEra Energy Resources held the title as the largest operating CPV plant in the U.S.

Hatch has now lost that title and must find solace in maintaining its status as "Chile Capital of the World."

The 30-megawatt Alamosa Solar plant on 225 acres in Colorado is now the CPV heavyweight champion.

Cogentrix, the developer and recipient of a $90.6 million loan guarantee for the Alamosa project, just announced that it had "successfully begun commercial operation." The Alamosa plant will sell its electricity output to Public Service Company of Colorado, an Xcel Energy subsidiary. Here's a Google Maps view of the site.

Cogentrix is a subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group and most of its previous projects have been for fossil fuel plants. Cogentrix used the concentrating panels from CPV veteran Amonix, the Kleiner Perkins- and Westly Group-backed solar hardware supplier. Ben Kortlang, the KPCB partner on the Amonix board of directors, spent eight years at Goldman Sachs prior to his investment in Amonix at KP.

This project uses more than 500 60-kilowatt tracker assemblies, each 70 feet wide and 50 feet tall. Inverters for the facility are supplied by Solectria, which issued a release saying, "The site is interconnected at the 115kV transmission level and uses a cutting edge PV plant controller, allowing the operator to choose between a variety of smart grid operating modes. The plant can provide large amounts of reactive power, closed loop power factor control, as well as AC voltage regulation. Moreover, the controller can throttle the site's solar energy output to help regulate the grid frequency, when needed."

Loan guarantees for solar energy production have a lower risk profile than loan guarantees for advanced solar manufacturing (see Solyndra), but CPV still needs to keep its price dropping to remain competitive with silicon -- and ultimately, with fossil fuels.

SolFocus has a project in development in Mexico that could eclipse the Colorado CPV farm. Soitec has large CPV plants in the works, including over 150 megawatts of PPAs with San Diego Gas & Electric and a 50-megawatt plant in South Africa.

We've asked NextEra Energy Resources for performance data on Hatch. We'll be asking the same of Cogentrix.


Alamosa photo by Ed Gunther, Gunther Portfolio