Across the Sacramento River from the California state capital lies West Sacramento, a burgeoning, industrial city home to the Port of West Sacramento. The port is a large, if underused, inland seaway that serves as a hub for the international export of rice and materials such as cement and fertilizer.
During a Sept. 2, 2009, meeting of the West Sacramento City Council it was revealed that Spanish solar power development firm Otras Producciones de Energia Fotovoltaico (OPDE) had opened talks with the city about leasing 160 acres along the port's deep water channel on which to build a 24-megawatt photovoltaic solar power plant. The OPDE is one of the world's largest builders of solar power plants.
In an Aug. 20, 2009, letter to the city, Greg Brehm, director of distributed energy resources for OPDE's U.S. arm, proposed construction of a "single axis tracking solar power generation facility." Should the facility be built, Brehm wrote that in addition to powering 5,000 homes, it would have the environmental impact of taking more than 6,000 cars from the road and would sequester the same amount of carbon as would 8,000 acres of pine forest annually.
Brehm also noted that the 18-month project would create 50 full-time jobs during construction and 10 permanent positions once the facility becomes operational.
If built, the facility would be the largest photovoltaic plant in the nation. Photovoltaic solar power, as opposed to solar thermal, is what most imagine when thinking of solar power. Photovoltaic systems track the sun as it moves across the sky to collect solar radiation via solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. Solar thermal, meanwhile, relies on parabolic mirrors that reflect the sun's rays onto a boiler, which in turn generates steam to turn a turbine. Some solar thermal facilities direct the reflected rays onto oil-filled pipes instead of a boiler. The heated oil is pumped to heat engines, which convert the energy into electricity.