Pine Gate starts work on massive solar project in South Carolina

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It was only a matter of time. Due to a combination of heavy mid-day power use in the summer and the highest rates in the South, residents of South Carolina were paying higher monthly electric bills than anywhere in the continental United States.

And following a disastrous, abortive effort to build two new units at the VC Summer nuclear power plant, South Carolina has overhauled its power sector policies to open the market to solar in May.

So it may not be a coincidence that North Carolina’s Pine Gate Renewables has announced the start of construction on a massive 101 MW solar project in Orangeburg County. While Pine Gate has merely stated that it is “one of the largest” in the state, based on a look at SEIA’s major projects database and other sources, we haven’t found anything as large either under development or online.

Pine Gate is building the 850,000-module, one square mile Bowman project through its in-house engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) team, and expects to reach commercial operation in the first quarter of 2020. This means that the project should qualify for the full 30% federal Investment Tax Credit.

CIT’s Power and Energy Group has arranged construction and permanent financing for the Bowman project, and US Bank has arranged the tax equity portion.

 

Keeping up with the neighbors

In terms of installed solar capacity, at 781 MW (Q1 2019 figures) South Carolina is well behind North Carolina – which has the second-largest installed capacity in the United States at 5.5 GW – and Georgia, which has already reached 1.6 GW.

Regardless, South Carolina was the 5th-largest market for solar in the first quarter of 2019, and previous years have not only seen significant utility-scale installations, but also a relatively robust residential sector.

And following the passage of the Energy Freedom Act in May, South Carolina’s solar sector is expected to boom. Among other provisions, the bill permanently eliminates net metering caps, drives implementation of PURPA projects sitting in queues, and gives regulators the option to require all-source solicitations for projects larger than 75 MW – all of which could drive significant growth the state’s market.

And Pine Gate will likely be participating in this boom. Of the more than 400 MW of large-scale solar that the company has built to date, this is its 13th project in the state to date.