When San Antonio’s newest PV solar farm Alamo 3 opened a few weeks ago, it fired up with a unique history: Almost all of the system’s components — from the panels to the dual-axis trackers to the inverters — were manufactured in the central Texas city.
It’s a direct result of local utility CPS Energy’s strategy to bring in more jobs and investment to the economy via its New Energy Economy initiative — or, in other words, a way to squeeze in an added bonus from getting more renewables online. Alamo 3 is the third of seven solar farms to be built from a 2012 deal between the municipal utility and project developer OCI Solar.
“All the components of those solar farms would have to be built here in San Antonio,” said Cris Eugster, CPS Energy vice president, who added that, to his knowledge, it’s the only such program set up by a U.S. utility. When complete, the Alamo farms will add a total installed capacity of 400 MW to the Texas grid.
As a result of the New Energy Economy initiative, approximately seven companies have set up shop in San Antonio over the course of a few years, including panel maker Mission Solar Energy, LED manufacturer Greenstar and KACO New Energy, which moved its headquarters from California to San Antonio to produce inverters under the Texas sun. (Just last week, KACO announced that it will be expanding operations in San Antonio).
And the impact on local job and economic investments? Over 2,600 jobs — both direct and indirect — have been generated in the area since 2011, according to a September report (PDF) from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Five hundred of those jobs, which were directly created from the initiative, represent a combined salary of $26 million, the analysis found. In total, the report estimates that the utility’s partnerships with these clean energy companies have injected $808 million to the local economy.
Eugster says that from a broader perspective, the New Energy Economy initiative is part of CPS Energy’s desire to set itself up as a utility of the future by shifting its energy mix to more renewables and distributed energy resources.
“In the last 5 years or so we’ve become much more forward-thinking and progressive in power and energy and serving our customers. We have a vision that by 2020, 65 percent [of our energy mix] will be coming from low-carbon resources,” he said, adding that the utility expects to reach this goal next year — in part thanks to two coal plants (generating a combined total of 871 MW in energy) that the utility plans to retire in 2018.
So far, the projections for San Antonio solar and the New Energy Economy initiative continue to be sunny. CPS predicts that by 2019, its impact will reach $1.6 billion.
And Eugster forecasts that the utility will continue to look for ways to tie its low-carbon quest to creating not just new jobs, but new kinds of jobs — such as when the pair of coal plants shut down five years from now.
“We’re committed not to lay off anyone [from the retired plants], so we’re thinking about training some of our workers on new skills and getting them to maintain a solar farm instead,” he said.
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