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22 megawatt solar farm to be built in West Texas

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First Solar, one of the world's largest solar companies, said Wednesday that they have begun construction on phase 1 of the Barilla Solar project in Pecos County, in West Texas. The solar farm is expected to begin commercial operation later this year and First Solar will operate the power plant and offer output to municipal utilities, electric cooperatives, and larger commercial and industrial users.

"The project will contribute to Texas' immediate energy needs and demonstrate how solar power can provide a generating resource that can be effectively integrated into the ERCOT grid and help meet Texas' energy demand, particularly during critical peak hours", said Tim Rebhorn, Senior Vice President of Business Development for First Solar.

So far, the most significant constraint in the electric grid has been the result from the high electric demand oil and gas exploration- and production in the Permian Basin, West Texas, creates, and according to a report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released earlier this week, transmission providers in the ERCOT region expect to complete more than $3.6 billion in projects between 2014 and 2018. These include additions or upgrades to more than 3,300 miles of transmission lines and other equipment improvements to increase capacity and support reliability.

But although Texas ranks first in the nation in solar resource potential, with West Texas having 75 percent more direct solar radiation than East Texas, solar installations have been few. The 33 megawatt Austin Energy Project in Webberville is, so far, the largest solar installation in the state, and Texas ranks 12 nationally in installed solar capacity, far behind California, Arizona and New Jersey. Strange maybe for a state that leads the nation in wind energy production and has 7 of the country's 10 largest wind farms.

Still, the reason solar lags wind power installation many say, is the reliance on utilities to promote solar rather than state-level subsidies. In recent years numerous bills pushing for new incentives have been filed in the Texas legislature, but very few have passed. A recent bill proposing a statewide rebate for solar projects funded by additional charges on electric bills, for example, died in committee. According to U.S Energy Information Administration's (EIA) residential energy consumption survey, the average annual electricity cost per Texas household is $1,801, among the highest in the nation.

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