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Arizona's Day in the Sun

The past year has brought a remarkable resurgence of an old idea — using mirrors to harness the heat of the sun to generate power. Such so-called concentrating solar power (CSP) plants are huge affairs, with acres and acres of mirrors and a hulking steam turbine. Pacific Gas & Electric and Florida Power & Light are among the utilities that have signed up to purchase hundreds of megawatts of solar thermal power from such plants. ( And on Feb. 22, the newest completed plant, a 64 MW facility in the Nevada desert, is being dedicated in a ceremony that includes green advocate Ed Begley, Jr., Dr. Sally Ride, and Steve Wozniak.

Now comes the latest reminder that these big solar facilities may become more than a niche source of the nation’s electricity. On Feb. 21, Arizona Public Service announced plans for a 280 MW powerplant to be built 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. “This will be one of many solar plants,” predicts Don Brandt, president of Arizona Public Service. “We’ll look back on this as one of the turning points.”