SoftBank expands U.S. holdings with massive solar buy

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Japanese conglomerate SoftBank is known for many things, including the renewable energy ambitions of its colorful billionaire CEO, Masayoshi Son. But it is coming to be known as a big owner of U.S. solar as well.

Yesterday subsidiary SB Energy announced that it will acquire a portfolio of five solar projects under development by Intersect Power, an equally interesting if smaller player. Under the leadership of power trading guru and U.C. Berkeley Business Professor Sheldon Kimber, in three years Intersect Power has developed and engineered 2 GW of solar projects from inception to COD – not including the five projects it just sold to SoftBank.

The details of these five projects are as follows:

  • Aragorn, 250 MWDC: Culberson County, Texas. PPA with Austin Energy. Construction date: June 2020
  • Athos I, 350 MWDC: Riverside County, California. PPA with Direct Energy. Construction date: June 2020
  • Athos II, 300 MWDC: Riverside County, California. Hedge with an un-named company and a REC purchase agreement. Construction date: October 2020
  • Juno, 425 MWDC: Borden County, Texas. PPAs with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and one unnamed company. Construction date: February 2020
  • Titan, 375 MWDC: Culberson County, Texas. PPA with one unnamed company. Construction date: March 2020

This is not SoftBank’s first involvement in these projects, as it states that it was a developer on them as well. The projects will feature First Solar modules, NEXTracker trackers, and Signal Energy will serve as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor.

pv magazine has reported on these projects before, noting the significance that the Athos 2 project holds a hedge, but not a power purchase agreement (PPA), as one of several projects in Texas that has secured financing under this model. Most of the other projects hold 10-15 year PPAs, which are pretty standard these days, although we do not yet know the length of the contract that the Athos 1 solar project has signed with Direct Energy, which was announced yesterday as well.

And while these 10-15 year PPAs are shorter than what has been standard in previous years, in an interview with pv magazine as part of SunCast Media’s podcast studio at the Solar Power International trade show, Sheldon Kimber has noted that shorter contracts at higher rates can offer a higher level of secured cash flows than longer-term contracts at lower rates.

As for SoftBank, this is a big move in the U.S. market, but it is unclear what kind of solar portfolio SB Energy previously held United States. In a press statement SB Energy claims 5.5 GW of previously existing solar and wind projects under contract in the United States and India. Mixing two nations and two technologies means this doesn’t tell us the capacity – if any – of other U.S. solar holdings. The only renewable energy project outside of Japan shown on its website is a wind farm in Mongolia, and this is the only press releases it has published in 2019 relating to U.S. solar projects.

Regardless, with this purchase SoftBank has put a major stake in the ground in the U.S. solar market, working with a rising power in development. Watch this space.