Texas to Be Home to Largest US Solar Utility Project

OCI Solar Power and CPS Energy have just signed a deal to build the largest municipal utility solar project in the US. The project will be over 400 MW in size. In addition, it will create over 800 long-term jobs and “drive an estimated $700 million in economic impact each year.” “As part of its plan, OCI Solar Power will develop several solar facilities that will ultimately power more than 70,000 homes,” a news release on the matter states.

The company, which announced a new president last week, is surging toward a new leadership position in the solar industry. With more than 40 projects ranging from 3 to 400 megawatts across the U.S. and Canada, OCI Solar Power is creating new standards for partnerships and community development.” Sounds promising. “The first phase of the project which includes 50 megawatts of solar power will be completed by mid 2013. Plans are for the remaining megawatts to be built through 2016. OCI Solar Power is also planning to create an Engineering and Operations Center to fuel ongoing innovations in sustainable and efficient solar energy production.”

Texas is aiming for single-project solar bragging rights with the planned municipally owned 400-megawatt OCI/CPS project in and around the city of San Antonio.

The larger-size utility-scale solar projects in the United States, such as Arizona’s Agua Caliente or California’s Antelope Solar Valley Ranch, are eventually going to generate 290 megawatts and 230 megawatts, respectively. Topaz Solar will be in the 550-megawatt range. The SolarStrong project is destined for 300 megawatts of residential rooftops.

OCI Solar Power, formed after acquiring project developer CornerStone Power, will be the developer of the proposed 400-megawatt Texas solar farm. OCI is a subsidiary of Seoul, Korea-based OCI Company, a manufacturer of polysilicon, and is relocating its headquarters to San Antonio to “build facilities to supply the projects,” said CPS, San Antonio’s utility, in a statement. Examples of solar farms with on-site manufacturing are rare. (Note that OCI’s other U.S. polysilicon production facilities could be impacted by a positive finding in the Chinese polysilicon fair trade claim.)

Nexolon, a South Korean maker of silicon ingots and wafers, will be a provider to the project.

This project aims to generate 800 long-term jobs with an average pay of $37,000 per year and be completed by 2016 in five construction phases:

  • Phase 1: 50 megawatts completed by mid 2013 in San Antonio proper
  • Phase 2: 35 megawatts in surrounding cities
  • Phase 3: 105 megawatts within a 120-mile radius of San Antonio
  • Phase 4: 105 megawatts in West Texas
  • Phase 5: 105 megawatts in North Texas

CPS spokespeople at a press call said that the power was to be “priced competitively” at “$100 to $110 per megawatt-hour,” adding that CPS is looking to obtain 3 percent of its power from solar by 2020. 2020 projections have CPS obtaining 32 percent of its power from coal, 22 percent from natural gas, 24 percent from nuclear, and 14 percent from wind. The utility will be decommissioning 800 megawatts of unscrubbed coal plants by 2018 — or will face a $1 billion improvement bill.

Texas has about 390 megawatts of solar on-line to-date, according to the utility. GTM Research Analyst Andrew Krulewitz notes, “The only near-term solar demand in Texas will be in the two municipal utilities’ service territories (Austin Energy and CPS), which have been relatively aggressive in contracting utility-scale resources with some distributed generation on the side. The solar market in ERCOT territories, or lack thereof, has three primary factors stacked against it: lack of incentives, lack of legislative interest, and the presence of abundant, cheap electricity.”  More


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