Five electric distribution cooperatives in Texas have signed agreements to purchase 7 mW of distribution-scale solar generation, providing an increased supply of cost-effective and clean energy to their members while increasing local system resilience.
All of the arrays are scheduled to begin operation by June 2020. The buyers include Bartlett Electric Cooperative, Comanche Electric Cooperative, Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative, PenTex Energy and South Plains Electric Cooperative.
The projects will be developed, constructed, owned and operated by Canadian renewable energy developer Saturn Power Corporation, which will sell energy to the cooperatives through 20-year power purchase agreements. Saturn Power has developed and contracted 200 mW of wind, solar and battery storage projects, and was selected through a competitive bidding process that Rocky Mountain Institute managed as the buyers’ representative.
The solar arrays for each of the buyers will be sited on the cooperatives’ distribution systems, thereby avoiding Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) demand charges and generation capacity charges from their generation and transmission providers. Considering these demand-charge savings in addition to the low price of the solar energy produced, RMI believes the portfolio of solar systems will provide more total value to the buyers than a utility-scale solar installation would.
“Developing these solar energy installations makes a lot of sense for our members,” says Bryan Lightfoot, general manager and CEO of Bartlett Electric Cooperative. “Not only will we be providing more clean, locally sourced energy to our community and hardening our grid, but we expect to save money over the life of these projects by becoming more self-sufficient.”
Nationwide, electric cooperatives are increasingly turning to distribution-scale solar. Distribution-scale solar systems like these Texas projects are advantaged by being large enough to access low costs through economies of scale, and small enough to efficiently interconnect into distribution systems and offset demand charges. Electric cooperatives also can leverage local connections to facilitate the development process, further reducing costs. Subsectors of the distribution-scale solar segment include both shared solar, in which community members directly purchase capacity or energy, as well as utility-led development of 0.5–10 mW projects on the distribution grid.
“We are very excited about this project and look forward to forging strong, long-term relationships with the electric cooperatives,” says Doug Wagner, president and CEO of Saturn Power. “Saturn Power continues to expand its reach in the U.S. renewables market and we are proud to be able to help bring clean, affordable and renewable power to the residents of Texas.”
RMI is working with communities, utilities, corporate buyers and solar developers to build a more transparent, standardized approach to help expand market access for distribution-scale solar installations. The organization is also continually expanding its network to both raise awareness of the benefits of this technology, and to simplify the process to help stakeholders determine how distribution-scale solar can help lower electricity costs and bring more clean and resilient energy supply onto the grid.
“It has been a pleasure working with this group of dedicated cooperatives to develop a common understanding of the value that on-site solar generation can provide in the ERCOT market,” says Jason Prince, a senior associate at RMI who helped coordinate the agreement. “This first tranche of contracts executed pursuant to our request for proposal process sets an excellent precedent for additional procurements.”
Texas is a particularly attractive market for distribution-scale solar development for a number of reasons, including the state’s strong solar resource and high per-capita carbon intensity. In addition to the developments announced today, RMI and partners in the state are in late-stage discussions to facilitate additional distribution-scale solar procurements.
RMI also will convene Energy Innovation Lab (e-Lab) Forge: Texas 2019, an invitation-only facilitated workshop to advance innovative clean energy projects in the Lone Star State. Scheduled for Sept. 16–18 in Austin, e-Lab Texas will bring together teams working on high-impact, scalable ideas and projects in distribution-scale solar energy, battery storage and other distributed clean energy solutions. The dynamic two-and-a-half day working session will host as many as seven teams with the highest-potential ideas and projects selected from across the state. Trained facilitators and technical experts will lead teams through effective collaborative processes and provide customized coaching, training and feedback to support each team’s unique project.
In addition to its work in Texas, RMI has worked directly with electric cooperatives in Colorado, New Mexico and North Carolina, as well as communities in New York State, to develop distribution-scale solar installations for local residents.
Based on learnings from the procurement in Texas and past projects—including that cooperatives and other potential buyers lacked the necessary resources or capacity to run competitive procurement processes—RMI also has released its Solar Procurement Framework, a tool kit to connect interested parties with the resources needed to successfully develop 1–10 mW solar projects. The Solar Procurement Framework builds on existing resources to provide an easy-to-use, step-by-step guide for project development in the distribution-scale solar market.