An Australian-based company says it intends to build a towering solar power plant in western Arizona that will be 2,600-feet tall - the equivalent of more than a 210-story building - capable of generating 200 megawatts of power annually or enough to power 100,000 average homes.
"It's a big project," said Chris Davey of EnviroMission, which plans to build the project. "But it's pretty simple to understand how it works."
EnviroMission, headquartered in Melbourne and with an office in Phoenix, plans to spend $750 million on the project, Davey said.
The tower, just 100 feet short of the world's tallest building, the 2,700-foot Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, would be the first of its kind in the United States.
At its base, the solar tower would stretch more than one mile in diameter. That area would be covered in a plastic greenhouse-like structure.
The technology works by convection. The sun heats the area of the greenhouse throughout the day and the tower at the center draws up the raising hot air.
The heated air turns a series of turbines at the tower's base that create energy.
A prototype of the technology was built in smaller scale in Spain in the 1980s. That solar tower operated for several years before its support wires corroded and failed causing the tower to fall.
"We're extremely confident with this technology working to spec," Davey said.
He said the company has been working at improving solar tower technology for the past 16 years.
The company chose Arizona for the project because of an abundance of sunshine and open space. EnviroMission has a long-term lease with the Arizona State Land Department for the La Paz County property.
La Paz County Administrator Dan Field said the county supports the project.
"Our board is excited about the project," Field said. "Especially now during the economic downfall, we need as much new development as we can get."
Davey estimates the building project would provide jobs for about 1,500 people in the construction phase and 50 ongoing jobs operating the facility after completion.
Field said the fact that the solar tower would be a non-polluting "green" power plant makes the project even more appealing.
"There hasn't been a lot of controversy about it," Field said.
That's true in part because of the remoteness of the proposed tower.
The solar tower would stand in a wide swath of state-owned land near Quartzite off of Highway 95.
The tower's closest neighbor would be a county owned regional landfill.
The rural make-up of La Paz County also benefits the project. At 4,500 square miles, La Paz has a mere 20,000 year-round residents. That works out to an average population density of about four people per square mile.
"A construction project that lasts a long period of time is even better, everyone benefits," Field said.
He said the only challenge would be to find housing enough for the influx of construction workers likely to descend upon the area once the building starts.
Davey said the solar tower would generate enough electricity to supply power to about 100,000 homes.
The project's first customer will be the Southern California Public Power Authority. Davey said that in the future the company plans to sell the power the solar tower generates to customers in Arizona.
He estimates that construction on the tower would begin in 2012. The facility would begin to deliver electric power in late 2014 or early 2015.
Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at email@example.com or (520) 295-4259.