Solar Gets Big Boost in CA, NY

by | Dec 21, 2009

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FirstSolar-NRGThe partnership between First Solar Inc. and NRG Energy Inc. has claimed commercial operation of the largest solar project in California, while New York is set to undertake its largest solar project.

First Solar developed and built the 21-megawatt (MW) power plant in Blythe, Calif., which was acquired last month by NRG through its wholly-owned subsidiary NRG Solar. Electricity generated by the solar facility is being sold to Southern California Edison (SCE) under a 20-year power purchase agreement, according to First Solar.

First Solar says the Blythe plant is the largest thin-film PV project in the United States and is five times the size of the next largest PV project in California. The Blythe plant will generate over 45,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, and at peak capacity, can supply the power needs of almost 17,000 homes, according to NRG. This will also avoid about 12,000 metric tons of carbon emissions annually.

The Blythe plant is a model for First Solar’s future large-scale solar developments.

However, solar growth is causing some water issues, particularly in California. As a result, regulators are trying to get solar operators to use dry cooling that uses about 90 percent less water, though it comes with a higher price tag and impacts efficiency.

While California has set the standard for solar power incentives to drive solar growth, other states such as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Delaware are gaining ground.

As an example, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) has recently approved 20-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) for the largest solar energy project in New York state.

The $423-million solar project to be developed and built by BP Solar International Inc. and enXco Development Corp. (enXco) will generate 50 MW of electricity for LIPA’s electric grid, enough to power 6,500 households, reports Long Island Press. The project is expected to be in full operation by mid-2011, according to the article.

The solar farm will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 45,300 tons per year as well as reduce other pollutants such as NOX and SOX emissions, according to LIPA.

Electricity pricing for Long Islanders, which is $156 per month on average, is expected to remain about the same, reports the Long Island Press.

However, some critics say that the project is a chance to reduce rates, rather than increase rates, reports Long Island Press.

LIPA is pursuing funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the amount of $15 million and has already secured federal appropriations from Congressman Steve Israel in the amount of $1.75 million, to reduce some of the project’s costs, reports Long Island Press.

The solar project supports the New York Governor’s 45×15 initiative which set a goal for the state to meet 45 percent of its electricity needs through improved energy efficiency and renewable sources by the year 2015.

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