Published on December 20th, 2016 | by Tina Casey0
Abandoned For 20 Years, Former Farm Grows Solar Power Now — And It’s Dirt Cheap
December 20th, 2016 by Tina Casey
In what is being billed as a record low price for utility-scale solar power in California, the new 155 megawatt Springbok 2 solar farm is now operational and cranking out the juice at $58.00 per megawatt-hour, slightly less than its previously anticipated rate of $58.65. According to the developer, 8minuteenergy, that beats fossil fuel for power generation in California — both coal and natural gas.
Farm to Solar
The re-purposing of farmland for energy projects is controversial to say the least. However, regional circumstances matter. With little relief in sight for its ongoing drought, California is looking for ways to ratchet down its agricultural sector at least for the foreseeable future.
Reportedly there are nine farm-to-solar projects going on in the agricultural community of Lemoore, California area as part of a coordinated strategy to address the rapid depletion of groundwater resources, while continuing to create jobs and prop up the commercial tax base.
Naval Air Station Lemoore is contributing to the economic diversification effort by arranging for a solar power plant on its property, in what is being billed as the largest such project on Department of Defense property.
Springbok 2 is not the only 8minuteenergy project to take agricultural use into account. The company’s Redwood solar project, for example, is also located on “low productivity” farmland.
8MinuteEnergy And The Springbok 2 Project
If the name 8minuteenergy doesn’t ring a bell, join the club. The solar developer bills itself as the nation’s leading independent utility-scale photovoltaic companies. It was founded in 2009 but it seems to have been flying under the radar for the first few years.
The company finally crossed the CleanTechnica radar in 2012, when it began work on the massive Mount Signal photovoltaic array.
Our sister site Solar Love has also been on the ball. Last year, Solar Love took note when 8minuteenergy paired with Homeboy Industries to build the Redwood solar farm in California.
Homeboy, as the name suggests, focuses on training former gang members for renewable energy jobs among other career tracks.
Springbok 2 is a 155 megawatt plant (that’s AC — in DC it’s 191 MW) located in Kern County, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Its sister power plant, Springbok 1, already went online earlier this year.
The power will go to the Southern California Public Power Authority on behalf of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
And yes, between Springboks 1 and 2, 700 construction jobs were created on site along with hundreds of indirect jobs.
The Levelized Cost Of Energy — Solar Wins!
For those of you new to the topic, the US Energy Information Agency took a deep dive into the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) last August, which is worth checking in to.
Basically, LCOE is a method for comparing the cost of building different kinds of power plants and providing for their fuel.
It’s a little bit like the mpgE (miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent) rating that the US Environmental Protection Agency uses to compare alternative fuel efficiency with gasmobiles.
Or, not quite. The August report noted some shortcoming with the current methodology for LCOE as a guide for investors, because “…projected utilization rates, the existing resource mix, and capacity values can all vary dramatically across regions where new generation capacity may be needed…”
The report suggest that avoided costs should be measured and compared against LCOE:
…Conceptually, a better assessment of economic competitiveness can be gained through consideration of avoided cost, a measure of what it would cost the grid to generate the electricity that is otherwise displaced by a new generation project, as well as its levelized cost.
Be that as it may, for the purposes of this article let’s stick to LCOE. Coincidentally, in the August report the national average LCOE for utility scale photovoltaic power plants coming into service in 2022 works out to $58.20 per megawatt hour including tax credits.
That includes transmission investment, by the way.
EIA does not include coal figures in the national average, but when the agency compares the 2022 crop of power plants on a regional basis, the difference in total LCOE really jumps out.
Regionally, advanced coal with carbon capture and sequestration comes out to $139.50, with solar photovoltaic at only $66.00.
For the record, offshore wind is still not as competitive, with $146.70 anticipated for 2022 regionally.
However, onshore wind is looking good at just $56.90.
How Do They Do It?
As for how 8minuteenergy is able to beat fossil fuels on their own turf, the basic strategy is to stick with mature, proven technology that is trending lower in price at a very rapid clip.
That would be photovoltaic technology. Here’s an explainer from the company:
…With best-in-class technology, engineering excellence, and sophisticated infrastructure financing, we accomplish superior results, ultimately driving costs down and increasing energy production. A continuous and relentless process of system analysis, attention to equipment performance details, and meticulous site design produces the optimum solution for each project…
As one demonstration of the company’s growing role in the US renewable energy sector, last month 8minuteenergy General Counsel and VP, Government & Regulatory, was tapped for a seat at the Commerce Department’s Renewable Energy and Efficiency Advisory Committee.
The Committee has been very active since its inception under the Obama Administration in 2010:
REEEAC* has provided more than 30 recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce to address a wide range of issues including fostering market conditions to strengthen the U.S. clean energy technology manufacturing base, enhancing support and coordination from government and research programs, reducing gaps in export financing, and improving programs of federal trade policy and promotion agencies…
On the other hand, after Inauguration Day the whole Committee could go up in smoke, so stay tuned.
*I’m not sure where they got that extra E. If you have a clue, drop us a note in the comment thread.