URS to assist El Paso desalination solar project

The Public Services Board in El Paso, Texas, on 10 November 2010 voted to hire URS Corporation as a consultant to assist with the choice of a solar energy system to power part of the Kay Bailey Hutchison desalination plant.

The solar project would cost around US$ 8 million and allow three of the five reverse-osmosis trains in the 27.5 MGD (104,000 m³/d) brackish-water desalination plant to run on solar energy.

Around 10 major engineering firms were invited by El Paso Water Utilities, which the board oversees, to bid for the role, including CDM, Gannett Fleming and Malcolm Pirnie, but, for various reasons, only CH2M Hill and URS responded. The board’s evaluation committee chose URS.

The major tasks for the consultant will be to:

  • Prepare cost-benefit analyses of various solar technologies
  • Prepare performance specifications to promote the participation of various technologies
  • Perform technical evaluations of proposals
  • Act as EPWU’s solar consultant to ensure that the project evolves from concept to successful operation.
  • John Balliew, vice president of operations and technical services for El Paso Water Utilities, told the meeting the utility had talked to firms like eSolar and BP Solar, but that the new consultant would “help us find the best combination of partners to work with”.

    On financing, Edmund Archuleta, CEO of the utility, said that talks had been held with El Paso Electric about the possibility of an equity partnership. In another direction, the North American Development Bank was willing to look at the possibility of a zero-interest loan for the project.