Category: News

Duke snaps up Canadian Solar’s 200MWac Texan bifacial PV project

Duke Energy Renewables has clinched another major solar acquisition in Texas, bringing its PV project count up to four in the Lone Star state.

The developer announced this week the completion of its takeover of Canadian Solar’s Rambler solar scheme in Texas’ Tom Green County, a four-hour drive southeast from the city of Dallas.

The project designed with a capacity of 200MWac – or 266MWp – will feature over 733,000 of Canadian Solar’s bifacial BiKu modules, also recently earmarked by the firm for a separate project in Canada.

Rambler’s sale from Canadian Solar subsidiary Recurrent Energy to Duke Energy will pave the way for construction works at a 1,700-acre site, with the plant scheduled to go live around mid-2020.

Once up and running, the 200MWac scheme will generate enough power to cover the needs of 40,000 households, securing supply under a 15-year deal with an unidentified customer.

Duke Energy will remain Ramblers’ operator and oversee maintenance for the installation in the long term, the buyer and seller explained in a joint statement earlier this week.

The project, the firms said, will employ 400 staff at the height of construction and bring “several million dollars” to Tom Green County throughout its 40-year lifespan.

The hour of Texas

Duke Energy’s purchase of its fourth solar project in Texas is also the second in the space of two months, having bagged in late July 8minute Solar Energy’s 200MW scheme.

Earlier this summer, the firm claimed to have taken its solar portfolio past the 1GW threshold. Its North Carolina home state remains its top US PV market, followed by California.

For Canadian Solar, the PV divestment is the latest in a global series in recent months, including the sale of a 68MW Mexican plant to BlackRock and further exits in Italy (195MW) and Brazil (482MW).

The module maker expects to recoup most of the revenue from this latest Texas sale throughout the third quarter of 2019, according to this week’s statement.

The Ramblers deal marks the latest twist in a bustling solar scene in Texas, predicted by industry reps to become the US’ third fastest growing PV market as it installs 4GW within five years.

The Southern state is now gearing up for the completion of its self-styled largest PV project to date, a 315MWac venture in western Texas by Canadian firm Innergex.

The Phoebe Solar project, built at total costs of US$337.7 million, will supply 89% of its power to Shell Energy North America via a 12-year power purchase agreement.

US solar prospects will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Californian panel maker reaps US$40m in bid to double production

Solaria Corporation is to work towards a doubling of its panel manufacturing capabilities this year, a push financed by a new capital raise.

The Californian panel maker recently bagged US$40 million from individual investors, including a solar-focused duo – T.J. Rodgers and Isidoro Quiroga – who joined the firm’s board of directors after the transaction.

“I have the privilege of seeing and evaluating a wide range of solar technologies, and it quickly became clear to me that Solaria’s approach is unparalleled,” said Rodgers, who founded Cypress Semiconductor Corp. in 1982 but was controversially ousted as the firm’s CEO in April 2016.

Should Solaria succeed in doubling production by the end of 2019, it would mark the second time the Oakland-headquartered panel maker reaches the milestone in the space of a year.

In mid-February, the firm claimed its production was to increase two-fold after signing a deal to supply its PowerXT panels via the facilities of South Korean player Shinsung E&G.

Founded in 2000 in New Mexico, Solaria transferred operations to Silicon Valley in 2003. It started up a solar tracker production business in 2011, which became standalone unit NEXTracker in 2013 and was acquired by Flextronics two years later. 

Meanwhile, Solaria’s panel-making business goes back to 2006, when it built its first production line for utility-scale solar applications. The transition to residential and commercial systems would come in 2014, after NEXTracker’s spin-off.

US solar prospects will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Truce with Michigan utility frees 584MW PV pipeline from planning limbo

US solar players have scored a victory in Michigan this week after regulators ratified a deal to unblock a 584MW PV pipeline, held up by years of standoff with a utility.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved a settlement ending a protracted dispute between the solar industry and utility Consumers Energy, over the latter’s delays in complying with renewable purchases mandated by 40-year-old federal legislation.

The bill in question – the PURPA [Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act] of 1978 – requires Consumers and other public utilities to purchase energy from small energy producers but the Michigan firm struggled to comply, prompting a raft of complaints from solar developers.

The utility had justified its failure to grant connection points to solar projects citing an “unprecedented” build-up of requests, arguing the multi-gigawatt queue was difficult to process in a timely and safe manner.

Now that it has been backed by the Michigan regulator, the truce will see Consumers start linking the 584MW pipeline in 2020, connecting 150MW per year. The solar projects – each in the 0.1-20MW capacity range – should all go live by 2024 and will have Consumers Energy as the PPA offtaker.

PV moves against ‘monopoly’ dangers from PURPA reform

US solar body SEIA – which helped negotiate the Michigan cease-fire – has been recently vocal on the dangers PURPA’s “loopholes” pose to the broader clean energy agenda, beyond individual disputes such as the one pitting the industry against Consumers Energy.

In late August, the association urged the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure the looming reform of the act is not used to further entrench utilities’ dominance, which SEIA feels is stopping independent producers from competing in vertically-integrated markets.

Contrary to SEIA’s wishes, statements by FERC suggest the regulator would back the removal of mandatory purchases by utilities. “Renewable generation is not a fledgling industry anymore…[it] no longer needs to be supported by PURPA,” FERC argued as it launched its review in 2016.

SEIA, however, countered in August by claiming PURPA protection remains “crucial” today to protect independent solar producers from some utilities’ “monopoly” ambitions. The association said utility breaches of existing PURPA rules is already “widespread”, calling on FERC to step up enforcement.

“FERC must close the loopholes that allow utilities to skirt competition and states to be lax in their implementation of PURPA’s key tenets,” SEIA’s regulatory affairs VP Katherine Gensler argued last month.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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US National Fire Protection Association’s energy storage standards published

The second draft of the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) energy storage system guidance on fire hazards and safe installation best practice for stakeholders has been published.

The standard, NFPA 855, “provides requirements based on the technology used in ESS, the setting where the technology is being installed, the size and separation of ESS installations, and the fire suppression and control systems that are in place,” according to a NFPA release yesterday.

The association said it seeks to inform “designers, builders, facility managers, manufacturers, responders and others” about fire hazards. The NFPA noted that some ESS technologies are becoming increasingly energy dense, increasing their potential usefulness but also presenting challenges that require the first responders and the industry to “become educated and proactive about ESS safety.” 

The standard has been in development since 2016 and has taken into account more than 600 public inputs and 800 public comments, while the NFPA also offers online training for fire service members, conducts research, offers factsheets to policymakers and makes resources available online.  

Analysis – Andy Colthorpe, Editor, E-S.n

It is thought that the development of more unified standards across industry could not only help with safety but also help streamline installation and permitting processes among other benefits, if done correctly.

Previously, Roger Lin at NEC’s Energy Solutions division has told of his role on the standards committee at NFPA, commenting that “there’s a lot of great stuff in there [ NFPA 855],” including “seemingly trivial” considerations that can end up causing serious problems. Lin noted also that in New York, considered to be the US state with the most stringent fire codes, NEC is testing lithium-ion battery systems to UL standards with New York’s fire department.

On an international note, Tesvolt CEO Daniel Hanneman told earlier this year that for the German systems manufacturer and integrator, gaining certification across diverse regions remains the biggest challenge in forming strategy today.

More to follow on this story.

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174 Power Global bags funding for utility-scale solar in Texas

174 Power Global has wrapped up construction financing for the US$210 million, 150MW first phase of its solar farm in Ector County, northwest Texas, clinching funding from a group of global banks.

France’s Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank and South Korea’s Korea Development Bank are supplying construction and term debt for the Oberon solar project. J. P. Morgan Chase is providing an eight-year solar hedge in exchange for a share of the project’s output, while an unnamed investor is providing tax equity for the first phase.

The developer, which is the US solar arm of South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Group, broke ground on the project in June. It expects phase one of the project to be complete by the spring of 2020.

The facility will be equipped with more than 560,000 Q CELL modules made by its parent company.

174 Power Global switched on its 182MW Midway solar project, also in Texas, in December 2018. It also owns the operational 100MW Laguna solar site in northern Mexico and is currently building a 300MW project in Boulder City contracted to supply power to both of Nevada’s operating companies.

The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that 4GW of capacity will be installed in the sun-drenched state over the next five years, making it the third fastest growing market in the US.

It currently ranks sixth in overall solar capacity, a drop from second place in 2018 that the SEIA attributes to “environmental regulations and various market pressures”, forcing a significant amount of generation out of the market.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Major solar projects change hands in Colorado, California

The US renewables business of Japanese oil and gas major Idemitsu Kosan has bought a 100MW solar project in Colorado from GCL New Energy, a subsidiary of China’s GCL New Energy Holdings.

Construction of the Pioneer solar project is expected before the close of the year. It is contracted to provide energy to local electric distribution cooperative Intermountain Rural Electric Association through a power purchase agreement (PPA) signed in June.

Solar Frontier America’s acquisition of the Pioneer solar [roject is the latest in a string of US activity for the company over the past 12 months. This includes the purchase of the 210MW Mustang Two solar project in California, and the inking of a 15-year agreement to supply power from its 56MW Luciana solar project, also in the sunshine state, to utility East Bay Community Energy.

Charles Pimentel, CEO of Solar Frontier Americas’ independent power producer business, said in a release that the latest acquisition was evidence that a “shift is underway with traditional fossil fuel providers to support investments for clean energy that benefit the future of our environment and society.”

Allianz turns to 8minute project for first US solar buy

US solar and storage developer 8minute Solar Energy has sold the equity interests of the under-construction 67MW Lotus Solar farm in central California to investment management firm Allianz Global Investors.

The farm, which is contracted to provide energy to utility Southern California Edison through a 20-year PPA, is Allianz’ first US solar project. Its annual output is expected to exceed 125 million kWh per year.

In news coinciding with the sale, the project bagged US$140 million of debt financing from NYC-headquartered bank CIT Group and German bank NORD LB. The banks are providing a construction loan, letter of credit and term loan facility for the project.

Construction of the farm began in August and is expected to be completed in May 2020. Tennessee-headquartered Signal Energy is contracted to build the site, which will be equipped with NX Horizon solar trackers by NEXTracker and more than a dozen TMEIC central inverters.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Planning win for 8minute’s ultra-cheap LA solar-plus-storage colossus

A project billed as the cheapest solar-plus-storage venture in US history has cleared a major planning hurdle, bagging power purchase agreements (PPAs) after overcoming unions’ resistance.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Board of Commission unanimously voted to purchase power from 8minute Solar Energy’s Eland hybrid for a 25-year period, at record-breaking fixed tariffs for solar (US$0.01997/kWh) and energy storage (US$0.013/kWh).

The adopted PPAs – still requiring the LA City Council’s all-clear – commit 8minute to shouldering all costs from developing, running and maintaining the complex, featuring 400MW of solar arrays and battery systems of up to 1,200MWh.

According to the newly approved 930-page PPA proposal, the Eland 1 stage will boast 175MW of solar and 87.5MW/350MWh of storage batteries, with a possibility to boost the latter to 150MW/600MWh. A share of 25MW of PV and 12.5MW/50MWh of batteries will be supplied to GWP – a utility servicing the LA County city of Glendale – under this first stage.

For its part, Eland 2 is designed to comprise 200MW of solar and 100MW/400MWh of storage batteries, with the option to increase the latter systems to a maximum of 150MW/600MWh. The two-stage hybrid, planned at California’s Kern County, should be commercially operational by 31 December 2023.

Describing the PPA endorsement as a “critical step”, LA mayor Eric Garcetti said on social media he is “looking forward” to working with LADWP and the LA City Council to ensure Eland gets past the finish line. The complex will help LA “keep the lights on without the help of dirty fossil fuels, even when the sun isn’t shining,” Garcetti remarked in a separate statement.

Eland faces union detractors and industry skeptics

Eland is meant to play a pivoting role in the LA Green New Deal proposed by Democrat Garcetti, which will should see the sprawling metropolis become fully renewable-powered by 2045. The mayor – who has moved to phase out three natural gas plants by the coast – is keen on Eland’s ability to dispatch power at evening- and night-time, when reliance on non-renewable sources is greatest.

The hybrid’s economics seem, however, to also have played a central role. As this week’s LADWP statement explained, fixed tariffs of below two US dollar cents per kWh were decisive in 8minute’s bidding victory out of 130 proposals. According to the utility’s estimates, the newly-signed PPAs will set each of its customers back less than US$5 per year.

However, some in the solar ranks have questioned whether ultra-cheap Eland can remain money-making for 8minute. Writing for PV Tech in August, Gensol Group vice president Ali Imran Naqvi examined how the US$0.01997/kWh bid will play out economically based on assumptions over component choices, investment tax credit (ITC) support, energy yield and other factors.

“Plugging these numbers in our model threw an equity return of 5%, which leaves very little room for applying sensitivities for these important factors,” Imran Naqvi remarked. “We were filled with enthusiasm at the beginning of this effort to understand the mind of the bidders but burning the midnight oil does not yield much light, it appears.”

For 8minute, the talk on Eland’s economic uncertainty adds to the pressure exerted in recent weeks by union detractors. This week’s PPA green-light by the LADWP Board follows its opposite move in late August, when the L.A. Times reported the utility had opted not to approve the project, purportedly owing to concerns from labour unions critical of Garcetti’s Green New Deal plans.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Bipartisan bill looks to simplify distributed solar permitting in US

A Republican senator from Maine and a Democratic senator from New Mexico have introduced legislation that aims to slash costs and red tape currently complicating local permitting for distributed renewable energy, energy storage and electric vehicle (EV) charging systems.

The bill, which comes with a federal price tag of US$20 million annually for five years, hinges around the creation of a free online permitting portal where local governments could receive, review and approve distributed renewable energy applications.

The goal is to “expedite, standardise and streamline” the permit-to-build process of residential, industrial and commercial distributed solar PV and wind systems, as well as batteries and EV charging systems with storage capacities of 2kWh or more.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimates that more than two-thirds of the cost of a rooftop solar system in the US relates to permitting, application, inspection and interconnection. This includes indirect expenses tied to physical trips for permitting and inspections, completing and submitting permit applications, and the loss of customers frustrated with lengthy government or utility approval times.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the SEIA, said that the “win-win-win” bill would remedy many such unnecessary overheads for installers, customers and authorities. “Local governments and building inspectors don’t always have the resources they need to go from permitting a kitchen remodel to permitting a solar system,” she said. 

“This bill will provide tools to improve the solar permitting process across the nation, reducing costs for consumers while enhancing safety and quality. This means more people and businesses can deploy solar faster and better,” Ross Hopper added. 

Bipartisan lifeline as ITC support nears phase-down

The new bipartisan legislation, dubbed the American Energy Opportunity Act, would establish a non-profit ‘Distributed Energy Opportunity Board’ – comprised of local, state and federal authorities, trade associations, companies, building code organisations and “other codes and standards organisations” – to manage the activities encompassed by the law. 

The board would be responsible for developing a national inspection protocol for distributed energy systems, in particular investigating the potential for remote or sample-based inspections. It would also be charged with weighing up whether a system of certifications for installers and systems would further streamline activity.

While the processes outlined in the bill will be voluntary, the federal government would have the power to award “competitive grants” to incentivise communities to adopt the model and standardised inspection processes.

This bill comes just four months before the 14-year-old federal investment tax credit (ITC) approaches phase-down.

The subsidy, which allows businesses and individuals to deduct 30% of the cost of installing new solar panels from their taxes, will taper to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021 and to 10% for businesses and zero for private homes in 2022.

A separate bill proposing to preserve the 30% ITC for five more years was put forward by Democratic senators in July. The so-called Renewable Energy Extension Act would have the ITC expanded to include other clean energy technologies, including fibreoptic solar, fuel cells, small wind, microturbines, combined heat and power, and geothermal heat pumps.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

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Lightsource BP breaks ground on 70MW Pennsylvania trio

Lightsource BP has started construction of a 70MW trio of Pennsylvanian solar projects that will provide power to Penn State University.

The power from the three farms will be supplied to the university for a 25-year period. It is estimated to cover 25% of the institution’s current power needs.

More than 150,000 solar panels will be installed across three locations in Franklin County, a 20-mile distance from Penn State’s Mont Alto campus.

A spokesperson told PV Tech in late August that the sites will be live by the summer of 2020.

Lightsource BP wants the project to serve as a “national blueprint” for how to maximise the sustainability benefits of solar farming, according to a statement. It plans to intersperse native vegetation between the panels to entice pollinators and help the land recover from prior farming uses.

The London-headquarted firm claims to have a portfolio of 2GW of operational solar projects worldwide and is intent on growing that number. In May this year, the firm secured a multi-million debt financing from a Canadian institutional financier to develop a 700MW global pipeline. In July, it scooped up 1.9GW in Brazil from developer Enerlife. It is also working with EverSource to co-finance new Indian utility-scale renewables.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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SEIA: US renewable purchase reform must not entrench utility dominance

The pressure building for the US to water down decades-old federal energy policy risks further tilting the scales in utilities’ favour, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

A full scrapping of mandatory energy procurement for utilities under the PURPA Act of 1978 could harm independent producers’ ability to compete in vertically-integrated markets, the PV body said in policy documents released this week.  

SEIA’s note is meant to inform a review by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) of PURPA’s mandatory purchase rules, which require public utilities to procure energy from small producers – so-called qualifying facilities (QFs) – at “just and reasonable” rates for consumers.

Voices including US utility commissioner body NARUC have suggested replacing the obligation with utility-run competitive solicitations. SEIA believes, however, these players “disingenuously” fail to recognise the “consistent” discrimination QFs face from utilities all across the US.

“Multiple discussions with SEIA’s membership revealed that the majority of QF developers are unable to gain meaningful market access in most of the 35 states with vertical integration,” the association’s policy note reads.

“It’s consumers who are harmed by the lack of competition with their local utility,” SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement this week. Utilities adding low-cost solar to their portfolios don’t always pass savings to the consumers, she argued.

Safeguards to counter utilities’ “monopoly” ambitions

The controversy sinks its roots into the PURPA [Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act] of 1978, passed by the Jimmy Carter-era US Congress to diversify the energy mix and embrace alternative energy sources, at a time when US$100-a-barrel oil prices were being predicted.

Launching the current review in 2016, US energy watchdog FERC argued a mix of structural changes since the 1970s – the advent of green regulations driving coal phase-outs, utilities’ adoption of renewable portfolio standards – have removed the need for mandatory purchases.

“Renewable generation is not a fledgling industry anymore…[it] no longer needs to be supported by PURPA,” FERC said in 2016, noting that wind and solar generation were the US’ predominant sources of new generation already at the time.

SEIA, however, believes PURPA protection remains “crucial” today to protect independent solar producers from some utilities’ “monopoly” ambitions. The solar body does support a certain shift to competitive bidding as long as various “safeguards” are built into it.

Stronger oversight and enforcement on FERC’s part would be key to clamp down on “widespread” PURPA breaches by many state commissions and utilities, SEIA believes. The FERC, regulatory affairs VP Katherine Gensler said, must act to “close the loopholes” being used to “skirt competition”.

US utilities eye cost-competitive solar-plus-storage

The mounting scrutiny on utility moves in the renewable space come as the sector turns to solar in growing numbers, with energy storage hybrids emerging as a particularly popular venture thanks to sound economics.

From Hawaii’s 900MW clean energy tender to Nevada’s 1.2GW/590MW solar-plus-storage push and Dominion Energy’s 500MW solar-plus-wind move in Virginia, announcements from the utility ranks have continued to pile over the past few months alone. 

Some states have witnessed trouble, however, centred on rights and obligations under PURPA. A solar project backlog of nearly 600MW remains in planning limbo in Michigan after utility Consumers Energy opted to turn down connection applications it said it could not process in time.

This particular standstill now stands closer to resolution, though. A truce brokered with SEIA’s help – and backed by both the utility and the solar developers who had tabled complaints against it – has now been put forward to Michigan regulator MSPC, which will decide whether to green-light it.

See here for more information on SEIA’s PURPA policy proposals

US solar prospects amid policy changes and utility moves will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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