PUERTO PEÑASCO, Mexico (AP) - In April, Mexico plans to power up the first phase of a huge solar energy project near a beach town popular with tourists making the short drive from the United States.
Once completed, the full $1.6 billion project will have a generating capacity of 1,000 megawatts - enough to power some 500,000 homes. It will be the largest solar project built by Mexico's state-owned electric company.
In Puerto Peñasco, near the top of the Gulf of California and border with Arizona, rows of solar panels that tilt with the passing sun run off to the horizon hovering above the sand. The project will eventually cover 5,000 acres in the transition where the desert flattens between the rugged brown mountains and blue sea.
The Federal Electric Commission plans to have the first 120 megawatts of the project operational by April 29, Juan Antonio Fernández, the commission's strategic planning director, said Thursday.
At a presentation to dozens of foreign diplomats in Puerto Peñasco, Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the project was a regional representation of Mexico's "new model of development."
Sonora Gov. Alfonso Durazo, who once served as a Cabinet minister alongside Ebrard before running for state office, made the case that Sonora should be the center of Mexico's electric vehicle production. In addition to the solar energy coming online - in total 5 gigawatts of solar capacity are planned for the state - Sonora has the country's largest known deposits of lithium, a key component in batteries for electric vehicles.
The turn toward renewable energy is at odds with other priorities of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The president has invested heavily in propping up the long-struggling state-owned oil company. He is building a big new oil refinery. And he has pushed legislation that gives advantages to the state-owned electric company over private energy production, which in many cases was cleaner. It is the subject of a trade dispute with the United States and Canada.
Ebrard is one of several people seeking the presidential nomination of López Obrador's Morena party for the 2024 national elections.