Texas is living up to its proverbial “bigness” as it is set to take over as the largest solar market in the United States. A triumphant 36 GW buildout is expected by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) over the next five years, building on the 16 GW that is active to date.
Much of this investment in solar, which nears $20 billion, is going towards big solar farms, often exceeding 100 MW in capacity. Over 10,000 Texans are employed by the solar industry, and those jobs numbers will sharply rise as more utility-scale projects are built. Today, nearly 5% of Texas electricity is generated by solar.
The solar buildout is promising for Texas, though it does come with some mounting challenges in transmission costs and congestion, climate resilience, and price stabilization.
Relatively low land costs and high solar irradiance in West Texas makes it one of the premier hotbeds of solar development. This development is pushed along by high demand from East Texas, which houses five of the top 15 largest cities in the U.S. Below are some recent utility-scale solar developments across the Lonestar State:
Orsted 471 MW
Ørsted, a utility-scale renewable energy developer with a large footprint in Texas, announced it will break ground this month on the 471 MW Mockingbird solar center. The project is the development company’s largest solar facility to date.
The facility is expected to produce the equivalent of 80,000 Texas homes’ electricity demand, interconnecting with Texas utility Oncor Electric. The project will create at least 200 jobs during construction and will require long-term staffing for operations and maintenance. The project is expected to be completed in 2024.
Mockingbird will inject an estimated $215 million of new revenue into the state’s tax base, promoting local economic development in Lamar County, and providing long-term financial support for North Lamar and Chisum Independent School Districts.
As part of the project, Ørsted announced it is collaborating with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to protect nearly 1,000 acres of native tallgrass prairies in Texas.
Plenitude 263 MW
Plenitude, a solar development company operated by Eni SpA, the Italian energy firm, activated the 263 MW project in Brazoria County, Texas for retailer Target this week. The Golden Buckle Solar Project is located on 1,483 acres about 50 miles south of Houston. The Italian developer installed the project in just over one year. Golden Buckle will produce 400 to 500 GWh per year of solar energy, enough clean energy to support 45,000 households annually.
“We have inaugurated the largest photovoltaic plant ever built by Plenitude in our short but successful history of renewable energy development,” said Stefano Goberti, chief executive officer of Plenitude. “It is a further step towards our renewable energy capacity, which exceeded 2 GW at end of 2022, in line with our goal to achieve over 6 GW globally by 2025.”
Golden Buckle was developed with the support of Novis Renewables, LLC, a partnership between Eni New Energy US, Inc. and Renantis North America.
EDF 256 MW
EDF Renewables North America announced the execution of a 20-year virtual power purchase agreement with Thermo Fisher Scientific. The contract covers the full output of the 256 MW Millers Branch solar project, slated for commercial operation in 2025.
The power purchase agreement, added to its other renewable assets, is expected to match 100% of Fisher Scientific’s annual electricity consumption in the U.S. by 2026.
Once complete, the project is expected to generate 545 GWh of renewable energy annually, enough to meet the consumption of nearly 51,000 average homes. This is equivalent to avoiding over 386,000 metric tons of carbon emissions annually, representing the greenhouse gas emissions from over 83,000 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven over the course of one year.
“The purchase of low carbon electricity from Millers Branch Solar supports Thermo Fisher’s progress toward its net-zero commitment. The project will also contribute to the local economy – the construction phase will provide job creation, local spending with vendors, and an expanded tax base,” said Valerie Barros, senior director of origination and power marketing at EDF Renewables.
Pristine Sun 5 GW portfolio
Pristine Sun announced a $250 million capital commitment from private equity and family office investors to develop, finance, and build up to 5 GW of solar projects. The commitment will support proposed and active projects in Texas, California, and Louisiana.
Since 1995, the company has been developing solar and wind farms in rural and suburban areas in 22 states and several countries around the world. Pristine Sun is 100% owned by the Helming family office and has built more than 350 solar facilities.
WEC Energy 250 MW
Wisconsin electric utility WEC Energy Group announced a $250 million investment in a portion of the five-part Samson solar portfolio, which combined will contribute 1.3 GW of solar capacity to the grid. The utility will purchase 80% of a 250 MW project segment.
The project was developed by Invenergy and has been in operation since May 2022. It currently has an active power purchase agreement with AT&T. Together with its wind power contracts, WEC Energy Group has committed to over 2 GW of renewable energy.
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