Apple's secret solar plant could power 12.5K homes

PHOENIX — Apple Inc. has built a 300-acre solar power plant in Florence, Ariz., to make up for the electricity used in its Mesa data center, and Salt River Project finally released details of the secretive project Tuesday.

Apple wants its customers to know that when they ask the Siri app on their phones for directions, they aren't contributing to global climate change. The company has a goal of generating enough clean energy from multiple facilities to compensate for the power its global factories and other operations draw from the power grid.

Apple said in 2015 when it announced its command center project in Mesa that it would run the facility with solar power, but until now, the Cupertino, Calif.-based iPhone-maker hasn't provided any details of how it would accomplish that.

Power from the solar plant won't go directly to Apple's facility in Mesa, but the amount of power is meant to compensate for the power used there.

SRP's elected officials have met several times in the past year in executive session to discuss the project, but have not been able to release details until now, following an Apple executive's remarks on the project Monday at a conference in New York.

The Bonnybrooke solar plant has a capacity of 50 megawatts. That amount of capacity could supply about 12,500 homes at once, when the sun is shining on the solar panels.

SRP's board members voted recently to purchase the power from the Bonnybrooke plant, but at an undisclosed price. That will help Apple reduce its utility expenses.

When SRP announced a similar deal with the Sandstone Solar Plant near Florence, SRP disclosed the price for the electricity would be 5.3 cents per kilowatt-hour. SRP officials would only say the agreement with Apple is fair to its customers, who pay the cost of any power SRP purchases.

"We can confirm that SRP will be paying a wholesale or market price for the product that will not negatively impact SRP customers," spokesman Scott Harelson said Tuesday.

The Bonnybrooke plant will generate 151 million kilowatt-hours of power a year, according to Apple. If SRP is paying the same 5.3 cents per kilowatt-hour as the Sandstone project, it will cost SRP about $8 million a year, or $160 million for a 20-year contract.

Apple said in early 2015 it would invest $2 billion over 10 years at the Mesa command center, which is taking over the building at Signal Butte and Elliot roads previously occupied by Tempe-based First Solar Inc. and Apple glass supplier GT Advanced Technologies Inc., which both vacated the building.

The command and data project was expected to create 150 full-time Apple jobs and 500 temporary construction jobs reconfiguring the building.

Tempe-based First Solar Inc. built the structure in 2011 and planned to employ about 600 workers there but never fully occupied it. Next in 2013 came GT Advanced Technologies Inc., a sapphire-glass supplier to Apple. That company filed for bankruptcy in 2014 and moved out of the 1.3 million-square-foot building.

Apple then announced the command and data center project.

USA TODAY


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