Community choice aggregator signs PPA with First Solar for 40 MW-AC

While waiting for national and international leadership which in many cases has not come, a number of cities and counties across the United States have decided to take matters into their own hands and set their own goals to move to renewable energy.

As one of the most direct policy options to do this, six states across the United States have passed laws enabling community choice aggregation – under which local governments and non-profits can side-step their utilities and procure renewable energy in bulk from developers for groups of residents and/or customers.

Yesterday CCA’s significance as a source of new demand for solar increased as community choice aggregator MCE, which operates in six cities and counties in the East Bay and North Bay regions of California, announced that it has signed a contract to buy electricity from one of the world’s largest solar developers, First Solar.

Under the deal, First Solar will sell power to MCE from 40 MW-AC of its Little Bear PV project in California’s Central Valley. The developer has plans to build Little Bear out to 160 MW-AC in capacity, and First Solar expects to begin construction in 2019 and commission the project in 2020.

This follows a deal that MCE announced a month ago to buy power from a 100 MW-AC project which Recurrent Energy is developing.

“MCE is at the forefront of community-based power, a trend that is growing not only in California but across the United States,” said First Solar VP of Project Development Brian Kunz. “We are excited to partner with an early leader in this important energy segment, and we look forward to expanding the relationship as MCE’s customer base grows.”

MCE is a non-profit CCA that offers customers either 50% or 100% renewable energy options, from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydroelectric sources which it contracts.

GTM Research Solar Energy Analyst Colin Smith says that with the 140 MW-AC that MCE is procuring, CCAs in California have now signed contracts for electricity from over 200 MW of utility-scale solar. “The demand being driven for new solar project development, it is all in California,” Smith told pv magazine.

He notes that CCAs are growing rapidly. While there are currently only four in the state, another seven are expected to be formed in by the end of next year, and 22 local governments are in some stage of exploring forming a CCA.

He says that CCAs are particularly attractive to companies that want to procure more renewable energy, but lack the expertise to enter the power market directly.

“There are a lot of corporations that would like to reach 50-100% renewables, but don’t want to deal with signing off-take agreements,” notes Smith. “It saves them the hassle of dealing with the risks and the unknowns that they are not prepared to handle.”