US solar growth in 2020 is driven by giant utility-scale projects


While the oil and gas industry is having a difficult year facing the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of decarbonization, solar is headed for a growth year — and it’s driven by utility-scale projects.

The Holstein solar project on a 10,000-acre West Central Texas cattle ranch is emblematic of this epochal shift.

Rancher Garland Richards used to rely on Exxon oil wells drilled on his ranch. Now Richards leases a 1,300-acre tract of his property to a solar farm to pay the taxes on the 10,000 acres. “It’s worth it,” says the rancher of the 200-MW project that began operating in July, according to reporting in the Texas Observer.

Here’s our rapidly evolving list of Texas solar projects with greater than 100-MW capacity. And here’s recent news on another Lone Star State solar behemoth:

Recurrent began construction on the 144-MW Pflugerville Solar Project in Travis County, Texas last month. The electricity generated by the plant will all go to Austin Energy, with Austin Energy and Recurrent signing a PPA for the Pflugerville Project back in 2018. Austin Energy is looking to go coal-free by 2022.

Property tax abatements help drive big-solar growth in Texas — allowing project developers to pay less in taxes in return for municipal improvements. These abatements can be the difference between a project making financial sense or not — but abatements can be legislated out, just as they were legislated in.

In any case, a 2019 report from ERCOT outlined 43.5 GWac of solar project applications in its interconnection queue, of which 5.1 GW had interconnection agreements and plans to complete construction by the end of 2020. For now, if you’re a utility-scale solar developer — you’re working in Texas.

Indiana solar summer

Officials in the Hoosier State (NB: The origin of the term “hoosier” remains unsettled) approved a proposal by Capital Dynamics and Tenaska to build the 150-MW Ratts 1 solar project across 1,200 acres near Petersburg. Construction on Ratts is set to begin next summer, with an expected commercial operation date in 2023. The project proposal includes a decommissioning plan that looks to return the land to its pre-construction use, once the project’s 35-year lifespan is over.

The 200-MW Emerald Green Solar Farm being developed by Engie also has a decommissioning plan and the goal of restoring the land for agriculture at the plant’s end-of-life.

The 200-MW Brickyard Solar in Boone County and the 100-MW Greensboro Solar (paired with 30 MW of energy storage) in Henry County are being developed, constructed, owned and operated by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources. Both projects are expected to go online in 2023 and both have 20-year PPAs with Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO).

Indiana has installed a middling 445 MW of solar through Q1  2020 — but that will change with these massive solar projects.

Nevada and Virginia sun

US-based IPP sPower closed a $350 million tax equity commitment from Wells Fargo to support the ongoing construction of the 620-MW Spotsylvania Solar Energy Center project — the largest solar project east of the Rockies. sPower claims the project will be one of the largest standalone tax equity commitments in the solar sector’s recent history. The project is also sPower’s largest project to date. Located in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, the project is slated for completion in summer 2021.

EDF Renewables North America signed a 22-year PPA with NV Energy, the Nevada electricity and natural gas provider, for the supply of electricity from the planned 200-MWac Chuckwalla solar farm. The proposed solar project, paired with a 180-MW, 4-hour battery storage system, will be developed, built and operated by EDF Renewables. Chuckwalla is 35 miles northeast of Las Vegas in Clark County, Nevada on the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians Reservation. The 690-MW Gemini solar project is also proposed to be located on the Moapa River Indian Reservation.

Here’s some of our continuing coverage of utility-scale solar projects in the U.S.

If you have news or rumors about big solar or big energy storage projects — contact the editor:

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