Mid-American Solar has teamed with First Solar to create the worlds largest solar farm, Topaz.
Located on what is called “disturbed farm land” with limited productivity, Topaz consists of nine million solar panels on 9.5 square miles of land. The $2.5 billion dollar project that started two years ago was completed ahead of schedule with hopes it will soon be producing an estimated 550 megawatts per year, enough to power 160, 000 homes and displace 377,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
To get a better idea of the positive impact Topaz could have, California was 2nd out of 50 in a 2011 survey of overall U.S. carbon emissions with a whopping 365 million metric tons of carbon yearly.
The Topaz farms are a great example of the potential for solar power, though their location does give some pause. While the land the farm is built on may be of little use, it lies within short miles of Carrizo Plain, an ecological reserve sometimes called California’s Serengeti. The use of solar power can, and seemingly will, offset and eventually replace carbon based energy production, but as with any advance it could come at a cost.
In highly populated states like California, open land is at a premium. Areas like the Mohave desert, vast stretches of nothing, seem like the perfect candidates for solar farms, but in an effort to produce cheaper, cleaner energy any impact on the last acres of open land should be carefully considered so as not to displace the hundreds of species that call the flat lands of California home.
Currently the second largest solar electric generating system – having lost its crown to Topaz – Ivanpah, built near Oakland California in the heart of the Mojave desert, had several issues with accommodating local wildlife, including the local desert tortoise that inhabits the region. In spite of great care being taken to limit the impact on local flora and fauna, environmentalists and animal rights activists are still concerned about the evidence that flying animals may be in danger from the plant’s solar reflectors now that the plant is running. Biologists for the NRG, one of the main contributors to the project, have stated that it is too soon to predict the long term impact on avian species in the area given that the plant has only been running since February of this year.
Mid-American Solar may beat themselves at their own game when their Solar Star project, located in both Kern and Los Angeles counties, reaches its full potential in 2015. Solar Star has the potential to produce 579 megawatts, displacing 570,000 metric tons of CO2 a year occupying just over 5 square miles of land.
In a statement Mid-American Solar had this to say on their recent projects,
“We are fulfilling our promise … to help California meet its mandate to generate 33 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.”
Topaz and Solar Star are both examples of the direction California is shifting in an effort to offset their massive carbon footprint. As of 2009, California boasted 13% alternative source power production (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric facilities) and this year became the first state to ban single use plastic bags, cutting down on carbon use for their production and the impact resulting waste. California is home to one of the fastest growing markets for the domestic use of solar power, and the large scale projects like Topaz, Solar Star, and even Ivanpah show California is heading full steam into the future of alternative energy.
How do you feel about the potential for solar energy? Is the potential loss of open space and potential impact worth the offset of Carbon emissions? Let us know what you think in the comments below.