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Sun rises with Chino solar project
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Chris Chavey, an electrician with Wilson Electric works on wiring the first row of panels at the Chino Valley Solar Plant that is under construction and due to be online by Oct. 8.
6/23/2012 10:00:00 PM
By Ken Hedler
CHINO VALLEY - A vast, flat dusty construction site here will have an estimated 80,000 solar panels when completed and generate enough electricity to serve 4,750 homes.
And it is already providing jobs to 160 construction workers, said Ted Geisler, AZ Sun program manager for Arizona Public Service in Phoenix.
He said job fairs recruited more than 100 workers from the tri-city area.
"It is an Arizona-based work force," he said.
His employer, APS, owns the 19-megawatt Chino Valley Solar Plant, which is under construction on a 235-acre site off Road 4 south a mile east of Highway 89.
"We are most proud of the fact that we are installing a 19-megawatt solar facility to service our Northern Arizona customers while providing significant economic opportunities through construction of the plant in the local area." Geisler said.
APS hired SunEdison of Beltsville, Md., to develop the site, and SunEdison in turn hired McCarthy Construction, which has a division in Tempe.
One subcontractor, Wilson Electric of Tempe and Prescott Valley, hired 63 people to work at the site, said Christine Copeland, co-owner of WorkForce Solutions, which has recruited workers for WE.
WE began in early April with 20 employees at the project site, general foreman Koen Van Staeyen said. Copeland said she has hired 30 employees through WorkForce Solutions, including perhaps 12 to 15 people who worked on installing solar panels earlier this year at the water tank farm and sewer plant in Prescott Valley.
However, WE is not installing the solar panels in Chino Valley, Van Staeyen stressed. Instead, crews from WE and WorkForce Solutions are running underground piping and wiring torque tubes that are atop rows of steel piles that were mechanically driven six feet deep. McCarthy crews will install the panels atop the tubes.
WE crew leader Randy Dilbeck, 34, of Chino Valley said he was unemployed for about six months before Copeland recruited him at a job fair to work on the Prescott Valley project beginning in January. He started as a helper in Prescott Valley, and now supervises 14 people in Chino Valley.
Wearing a helmet, gloves and green vest, Dilbeck is digging decelerating-current trenches at a pad site.
"This is a lot of fun," Dilbeck said. "It is an outdoor environment. ... I like the outdoors. That is what I do for fun. I go camping."
Dilbeck has "a really good future ahead of him at Wilson Electric," Copeland said.
Copeland, her business partner Tamara Klimas and Van Staeyen took a reporter and photographer on a quick tour of the site Wednesday on dirt roads.
Van Staeyen pointed out rows of cardboard boxes that each contain 20 solar panels waiting to be installed.
The cardboard boxes are being "staged," Van Staeyen said, meaning workers will bring the panels to the right locations.
Van Staeyen also referred to 24 transformers with a combined 64,000 volts and an additional transformer with 12,460 volts that will be inside an underground vault. The transformers will match APS's high-voltage line, he explained.
The transformers connect to four medium-voltage circuits that are in a power yard on the premises, Van Staeyen said. The circuits connect to power lines.
The expansive solar farm site also is dotted with equipment rental vehicles. Overnight security protects the site from vandalism and intruders, such as youths riding on all-terrain vehicles, Van Staeyen said.
The official target date for the solar plant to begin generating electricity is in December, Geisler said.
Meanwhile, Copeland and Klimas have seven more jobs to fill this coming week. Copeland said the jobs pay $9 to $15 an hour, depending on experience.
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