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Railroad testing site in Colorado to study potential for large solar array

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February 14, 2001

The Federal Railroad Administration plans to assess the potential to construct a large solar photovoltaic array at its Transportation Technology Center, a railway testing site in Colorado,, The Solar Home & Business Journal reports.

The administration has issued a "Request for Information" from solar developers "in order to assess the market potential for the installation of a photovoltaic electric generating facility at TTC that could be implemented using a power purchase agreement."

The solar PV array would be built on a site of about 50 acres. The initial information request calls for a rated production capacity of two megawatts, but the administration says any contract may be required to include an option to expand the project after the start of construction.

The Transportation Technology Center occupies a 52-square-mile tract about 21 miles northeast of Pueblo, Colo. The site is leased to the federal agency until at least 2070 by the state of Colorado. The railroad administration has an option to extend the lease to the year 2120.

The center is operated by a private, for-profit company, Transportation Technology Center Inc., a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, under a contract with the government agency.

The railroad administration says the site "includes laboratories and 48 miles of test tracks for testing a wide range of locomotives, cars, track structures and components for freight, passenger, transit, and high-speed rail operations."

A current project, for example, involves testing a passenger car that could travel at up to 200 mph between Boston and Washington, D.C.

The railroad administration, which has been assisted by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the initial planning for the potential project, says in its request that it is interested in receiving information on the price per kilowatt-hour for a power purchase agreement that would last either 10 or 20 years.

As with most power purchase agreements, the solar developer would install, own and operate the system. The developer also would apply for and retain any federal, state or local tax credits and any utility incentive that may be available, as well as any solar renewable energy credits to be generated by the installation. Although the PPA would be between the developer and the federal government, the private company that operates the center would be responsible for paying for the electricity, the Request for Information says.

The current average annual cost of electricity at the center is about 7.7 cents per kwh, and it uses about 9,023 megawatt-hours of electricity annually. According to PV Watts 1, a solar production calculator available at the NREL website, a two-megawatt solar array ideally situated in the Pueblo area may be able to generate as much as about 3,129 mwh in its first year.

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