Facebook drives two big solar projects in Texas and Utah

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In recent years, corporations have emerged as a major driver of renewable energy in the United States. This is particularly true for the big tech companies including Google, Apple, Amazon and, of course, the social media behemoth Facebook.

Facebook has been signing contracts with renewable energy project for its data centers across the United States, from Georgia to Oregon and New Mexico. And now the company is the driving force behind two projects which announced milestones this morning.

And, in a turn of events, both will use First Solar modules.

 

Big time in Texas

We’ve been writing for several years now about how Texas is emerging as the hottest market for large-scale solar in the nation, with more than 50 GWac of solar projects in the interconnection queue of the state’s grid operator, more than 5 GWac of which already have interconnection agreements.

But it is not only projects on paper, as some – including a 497 MWdc solar project in Upton County – have already begun construction. Today the massive volume of solar underway in the state increased again, with developer Longroad Energy announcing that it has closed on financing and begun construction on its 300 MWac (379 MWdc) Prospero Solar project in Andrews County, Texas.

Facebook is no stranger to buying power from renewable energy projects, as it is one of the largest corporate solar off-takers in the world. However, this time Facebook is not the buyer, but is directly investing in the project by supplying the entire tax equity component of the $416 million financing package.

Instead, Shell has signed a 12-year contract to buy the electricity that will be generated by the project when it comes online in 2020, and Shell and Facebook will share the renewable energy credits.

Facebook has indicated that this may not be a one-off.

We hope such investments can be a new avenue of meaningfully engaging with projects, which might be easier for some companies than a long-term power purchase agreement, thereby unlocking new options for more organizations to meet their goals and grow the market,” notes Peter Freed, Facebook’s energy strategy manager.

Swinerton Renewable Energy is serving as the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for this project. Swinerton will be installing First Solar’s legacy Series 4 modules on NEXTracker single-axis trackers, accompanied by TMEIC inverters.

First Solar has shifted most manufacturing to its large-format Series 6, but has retained some Series 4 production, and the Prospero project supports its statements that there is still demand for this product.

 

Another 122 MWac in Utah

This move to direct investment does not mean that Facebook is not also buying power from solar – far from it. The company has a commitment to power 100% of its data centers with renewable energy by 2020, and is still participating in deals towards this end.

This morning First Solar announced that utility Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) has signed a contract to buy the power from its 122 MWac Cove Mountain 2 solar project in Iron County, Utah, so that it can supply Facebook’s nearby Eagle Mountain Data Center.

This will happen under the auspices of RMP’s Schedule 34 Renewable Energy Tariff. Such “green tariff” arrangements – where a utility serves as the contractual off-taker to supply a large industrial customer – have become a standard way for corporations with renewable energy mandates to get their power from solar projects, while utilities get to remain in the financial loop.

First Solar is supplying its large-format Series 6 PV modules for the Cove Mountain 2 project. The thin film PV maker expects to begin construction on the project by the end of this year and to put it online in 2020.