MELBOURNE, Fla., June 30 (UPI) -- The race is on to choose the best location for the world's largest solar power complex in the United States.
Solar power proliferation is seen by the industry to be one of the key growth trends in the energy industry as corporate and government consumers seek ways of reducing fuel bills across the board.
Solar power experts have been working behind the scenes on a project that will see the most advanced and the largest solar power farm emerging to change the landscape somewhere in the southeastern United States.
By last count there were seven finalists left -- communities that are all vying to have the solar farm in their midst, a stark contrast to the reaction the very same communities would likely produce if presented with a nuclear power blueprint.
The International Energy Agency in this year's global outlook says renewable energy sources will raise their profile in the coming months and natural gas -- not quite renewable but less polluting than oil -- will become the leading hydrocarbon source and a likely global substitute for crude oil.
All seven communities named as finalists for the solar farm are located in southeastern United States, the company said.
National Solar Power, a utility-scale solar power developer, said four were in Florida, two in Georgia and one in North Carolina.
"We are excited about the progress we have made in narrowing the search for establishing our groundbreaking solar farm project that will provide a source for renewable energy for consumers while boosting job creation and economic health in the winning community," NSP Chief Executive Officer James Scrivener said.
"Over the next month we will continue our due diligence and make a final decision about where this revolutionary venture will make its permanent home. Every one of the communities on our finalist list is an attractive location for this project," he said.
The communities NSP has selected as finalists are: Gadsden, Hardee, Osceola and Suwannee counties in Florida, Sumter and Tatnall counties in Georgia, and Guilford County (Greensboro-area) in North Carolina.
NSP plans to establish a 400-megawatt solar project in the winning community, which would make it the world's largest photovoltaic power plant. The project is made up of 20 related 200-acre solar farms, with each generating more than 20-megawatts of renewable energy.
The world's largest solar power plant at present is an 80-megawatt solar project in Ontario, Canada.
By converting the natural power of the sun into electricity, NSP's planned 400-megawatt farm will be capable of providing enough renewable energy to power roughly 32,000 homes.
NSP said its criteria in selecting its community partner for the new solar farm location includes the availability of ideal available sites with adequate supply of undeveloped land that can properly meet infrastructure needs related to the establishment of the solar facility, appropriate business, government and community support, appropriate economic development and tax incentives and access to a qualified work force.
Scrivener said the company's final process for selecting a community partner will include a combination of ongoing site visits in some communities and strategic conversations with key political, governmental, business and community leaders.
The project will likely inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the winning community. NSP said its landmark project has the potential to create 400 jobs during the five-year construction phase and up to 120 permanent jobs that will all be based on a clean energy endeavor.
The first phase of the solar farm project is expected to be up and running within six months of construction commencing, Scrivener said.
Hensel Phelps Construction Co., a world leader in construction, will design, build and operate the solar farms. Once a site is selected, it will take about six months for the first segment of the farm to be constructed. Each of the 20 farm segments represents a $70 million investment. When construction of the solar farm is complete in six years, it will represent a nearly $1.5 billion investment in the winning community.
Once operational, the low-profile solar farms will be less than 7 feet tall and surrounded by vegetation, making them inconspicuous to the surrounding area.
NSP is a 3-year-old company but says its founders have more than 30 years of industry experience. The company has power supply agreements for more than 3,000 megawatts of solar farms across the southeastern United States. The company has headquarters in Melbourne, Fla.