San Antonio is a leading Solar City and CPS Energy is on track to achieve its 2020 goal of generating 20% of all electricity from renewable sources.
Representatives from CPS Energy, Con Edison Development, OCI Solar Power and other solar stakeholders gathered in Uvalde on Tuesday for the dedication of Alamo 5, the latest solar farm in CPS Energy's fleet to be sold to the New York-based development and operations firm.
Con Edison Development now owns and operates Alamo 3 (6 MW), Alamo 5 (95 MW), Alamo 7 (106 MW) and 80% of Alamo 4 (40 MW). The solar farms were constructed by OCI Solar under contract with CPS Energy as part of a 400 MW deal started in 2013. The New York-based firm that owns solar, wind, and other energy infrastructure projects across the U.S. is the sixth largest owners of solar projects in North America.
“CPS Energy has emerged as a national pacesetter in the world of renewable energy, and our company is proud to play a strategic role in helping them fulfill their vision to greater San Antonio,” said Mark Noyes, president and CEO of Con Edison Development during a press conference on Tuesday morning. “CPS Energy also deserves praise for ensuring that their clean energy initiative yields major local and statewide economic development benefits for Texans.”
Due to stronger than expected winds, the hot air balloon tours for guests and local media were cancelled.
Alamo 5 came online in late 2015 and is the largest operating dual-axis solar plant in North America, according to CPS Energy.
Its was always part of the plan for OCI Solar to sell off most of the farms as its business model is based on the full cycle of develop, build and sell rather than continue ownership into operations and maintenance, a company spokesperson said Monday.
"As developer of the Alamo 5 project, this is a very proud day for us," stated OCI Solar President and CEO SH Yoon. "We congratulate all of our Alamo project partners on a job well done."
CPS Energy expects that all of OCI's solar farms, including Alamo 1-9 and Project Pearl that will expand Alamo 6 by 50MW, will be completed by the end of 2016. The smaller, 1-MW farms Alamo 8 and 9, will take several months to complete and were purposefully located in highly-visible urban areas "to increase the awareness of renewables." The real MWs, however, will be gained far outside of City limits where land is cheaper and solar irradiance is high.
Originally, Alamo 7 was to be OCI's final project, but 8 and 9 were added to increase "visibility" of solar to residents and CPS Energy customers, CPS Energy director of Economic and Business Development David Jungman told the Rivard Report on Monday.
"We're a pacesetter both in Texas as well as nationally," said CPS Energy Vice President of Generation and Strategy Cris Eugster. "We have 250 MW as of December 2015 ... that's 80% of all solar that's been deployed in Texas."
Many components for Alamo 5 and other more recent solar farm projects were manufactured locally in San Antonio through CPS Energy’s so-called New Energy Economy initiative that has created a foundational "ecosystem" for renewable energy industries,
"We wanted to create an ecosystem that can continue to build out and bring jobs to San Antonio," Jungman said. "It's a win for the environment, a win for economic development and a win for CPS Energy" to have renewable energy in its energy portfolio.
Alamo 3 in San Antonio was the first Alamo project to feature panels manufactured locally by Mission Solar and a majority of panels used in subsequent farms were from the plant, which is located in Brooks City Base. The plant now produces about 200 MW of panels a year but has spent the last year and a half ramping up production to keep up demand.
OCI Solar Power, Mission Solar’s parent company, has its headquarters in downtown San Antonio and is owned by Korean-based OCI Company.
KACO, a German company that makes photovoltaic (PV) inverters, relocated its North American manufacturing plant from California to San Antonio in April 2014. Sun Action Trackers, which produces mechanisms for panels that automatically adjust the angle of an array to maximize solar energy collection, set up an office in San Antonio in September 2014. The trackers have been and will be installed at Alamo 5, 6 and 7 solar farms. Other major employers like construction firms, consultants, and residential solar installers as well as partners on energy efficiency initiatives like Greenstar that locally manufactures LEDs, Silver Springs Network and Landis + Gyr – the latter two provide technology to make CPS Energy's smart grid possible – all contribute to the burgeoning New Energy Economy.
"When you bring all that together ... we're close to 1,000 jobs that will have a $1.6 billion economic impact," Jungman said.
CPS Energy's goal was to create 1,000 jobs by 2020. As of 2016, the initiative has created 959 jobs and more are on the way.
“This is really woven into the fabric of our community from and economic development standpoint,” Eugster said on Tuesday. "Not only do we get clean energy, but we get clean jobs.”
Another 2020 goal for the public utility was to have 1,500 MW of renewable energy power, or 20% of its total generation capacity.
Out of CPS Energy’s approximately 7,000 MW energy portfolio, only a small sliver, 1% or more than 500 MW by the end of 2016, will be solar. Wind accounts for about 11% of total generation, but natural gas (26.3%), nuclear (29.6%), and coal (29.2%) still dominate.
"Wind in 2015 put more energy on the grid than nuclear power plants," said Kenan Ogelman, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) vice president of Commercial Operations who left CPS Energy in October 2015. "The change that we're seeing now doesn't come without its challenges ... we're working hard to create reliability services and market mechanisms to incorporate different types of technology that didn't exist on our grid before. ... a few short years ago, utility scale solar power in ERCOT didn’t exist.”
Because CPS Energy is a municipal utility, owned by the public, it can not take advantage of local or federal tax credits/rebates. That's why CPS Energy partners with companies like OCI Solar and Con Edison Development which can. These companies can develop, own, operate and set up purchasing power agreements so that the tax benefits can be passed on to CPS Energy and its customers for lower prices.
Whether or not OCI Solar and CPS Energy make a deal for more commercial farms beyond Alamo 9 "remains to be seen," Jungman said. The utility has reached the 1,500 MW goal for renewables "but we'll be looking at other things in the future ... we want to get these built first and then we'll be looking at developing (future projects and partnerships)."
The price of solar has come down significantly in recent years, and while it's still not quite as competitive as natural gas or coal, solar energy comes at a fixed price for at least 25 years – the average anticipated lifespan for solar panels.
"You don't get those long term contracts for coal and natural gas," Jungman said. "We think (the regional solar farms) will last even longer (than 25 years)."
Solar panel technology is relatively new and constantly evolving, he added, so there simply aren't a lot of aging arrays that could be used for comparison to gauge how long they'll last. As it stands CPS Energy has the option to renew contracts with OCI Solar, Con Edison, and other companies that own the farms.
Top Image: A CPS employee stands before the 378,000-solar-panel installation. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone