530 MW-AC of solar projects come online in Utah

It was only one line in Dominion’s quarterly results which revealed information which has not been reported in the media regarding completion of over half a gigawatt of utility-scale solar projects in Utah.

The 320 MW-AC Four Brothers and 210 MW Three Cedars projects are some of the largest projects to come online in Utah’s booming solar sector, which has come out of obscurity to become one of the nation’s leading solar markets this year. During Q2 the mountain state installed 129 MW-DC of solar, but that will be dwarfed when final Q3 numbers come out.

Utah has only a voluntary renewable energy goal for its utilities, and such policies have not proved effective as drivers. GTM Research Solar Analyst Colin Smith says that much of what is behind Utah’s utility-scale market is PURPA, a 1978 law under which utilities must buy power from independent generators if it is cheaper than what they would otherwise pay for power.

“PURPA is not just giving developers the ability to build tons of small projects, it is also giving them the ability to negotiate size and price on projects,” Smith told pv magazine.

Negotiation may be what is behind the scale of the massive Four Brothers project, which comprises more than 1 million modules at four sites, covering 14 square miles in Beaver and Iron Counties. Like most large utility-scale projects, Four Brothers incorporates single-axis tracking. By close of day pv magazine was unable to determine or not Three Cedars, which is also in Iron County, utilizes tracking.

Minnesota’s Mortenson Construction built both Four Brothers and Three Cedars, which were developed by SunEdison and Dominion. SunEdison originally held a 50% stake in the projects, but recently sold its stake to NRG as part of a fire sale of projects in multiple states. NRG and Dominion are selling power from the two projects to utility Rocky Mountain Power under a 20-year power purchase agreements (PPA).

Dominion, a massive power company which owns both utilities and power generation subsidiaries, has been on a spree of project development in the last few years. The company has partnered in the completion of over 1 GW-AC of solar projects in eight states, while retaining ownership of 650 MW.

Dominion has another 116 MW-AC under construction at two projects, including one in Virginia that will sell power to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston Medical Center and a redevelopment corporation.