The largest solar farm in Texas, Alamo I, began producing electric power this month.
Located in south Bexar county, it is 453 acres, as big as 300 football fields, and has the ability to generate enough power for 6,600 homes.
"Traditionally, we've (had) a coal and nuclear power plant portfolio over the decades past," said Cris Eugster, Executive Vice President and Chief Generation Strategy Officer for CPS Energy. "This allows us to move beyond those fuel sources."
CPS Energy has a power purchase agreement with the project's owner, OCI Solar Power. The public-private partnership drives the cost of the project down.
"There are federal tax incentives that we can't take because we are a municipally-owned utility," Eugster said. "We're not a for-profit entity. So we can't capture that value."
OCI Solar can capture that value, though. The savings can then be passed along to CPS Energy and eventually the utility's customers.
Traditionally, power from renewable energy has been more expensive to produce than other types of power, but the costs associated with solar production are coming down, and eventually solar energy will become very competitive with, if not cheaper than other forms of energy.
"If you look at a 20 to 25 year horizon, and rising (fossil) fuel costs, there's no rising costs with a farm like this," Eugster said. "Over the long term this will provide more affordable power to our community."
Boosting solar production also helps CPS Energy avoid anticipated costly regulations on fossil fuel-based sources of power.
According to OCI Solar Power's President and CEO, Tony Dorazio, solar power provides something that wind power does not.
"It produces when power is needed the most. When people wake up, the sun rises, people turn on their air conditioning, and start their coffee pot," Dorazio said. "That's when we are producing energy."
Another beneficial product of this project for San Antonio: nearly 800 locally-based jobs.
"The big thing about this, unlike our previous solar farms, is a lot of these components are going to be built right here in San Antonio," said Eugster. "Those jobs will stay here in San Antonio."
The solar panels are on a timer to tilt toward the Sun throughout the day for maximum efficiency.
There is also a severe weather plan. The panels can be positioned horizontally to weather winds up to 140 mph. The panels can be positioned vertically to avoid hail damage.
"Luckily, if you forecast it, we will put these in a position where hopefully they'll deflect and not take a direct hit," said Dorazio.
A second solar farm, Alamo II, will go on line in early 2014.