Mexico is set to break ground on a massive solar energy plant in the state of Sonora next month. Officials say the first phase of the project will be up and running before the end of the year.
Mexico’s electricity commission (CFE) will start construction on the 1000-megawatt project just east of the popular beach town of Puerto Peñasco, or Rocky Point, on Feb. 1.
"It will be the largest plant in all of Latin America, and the seventh in the world," Sonora Governor Alfonso Durazo said during a press conference, adding that it would reduce energy costs and help mitigate climate change.
Leaders say the plant, which will be comprised of 2 million solar panels, will be finished in April 2027.
The first phase of 120 megawatts is scheduled for completion this December. That power is destined for users in Sonora. A second, 300-megawatt phase is set to come online in early 2024 and will be sent to Baja California, finally connecting the peninsula to the national electricity grid.
However, while environmental groups praise efforts to move toward renewable energy, some question the location of the project and the transmission planned to ship energy to Baja California. They say the area is located near important and delicate natural resources. Those include the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Alto Golfo de California Biosphere Reserve.
"We want to make sure that these important areas and the flora and fauna that depend on them are protected," said biologist Carlos Castillo, calling it careful balance between constructing new renewable energy plants and conserving the natural environment in the area.
"In many cases, we would rather see these plants built in areas that have already suffered environmental damage. And there is a lot of land like that in Sonora," he said. "That would be a win-win."
Authorities say they are taking environmental consideration into account, and have carried out an environmental assessment for the first two phases of the project. They have yet to determine where the transmission lines to Baja California will be built.