PPA approved for California’s first large-scale solar plant with energy storage

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has unanimously approved an amended 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) between SolarReserve, a US PV project developer, and utility firm Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) relating to the Rice Solar Energy Project.

SolarReserve secured a 25-year PPA for the 150MW project with PG&E in December of 2009. However, the contract was amended in late 2011 to accommodate a modification in the transmission connection of the plant and a revised commercial operations date.

The Rice Solar Energy Project, which will be located in eastern Riverside County, will utilise advanced solar thermal technology and represent the first large-scale solar project in the state to include energy storage capabilities.

With eight hours of full power energy storage, the incorporation of such technology is thought to be key to the CPUC’s decision to approve the amended PPA. In its decision, CPUC commissioners cited the need for reliable, renewable energy resources such as SolarReserve's solar energy storage technology in order to enhance grid stability as well as to facilitate the integration of intermittent renewable energy resources such as wind, PV and direct steam solar thermal.

The CPUC Commissioner Sandoval said: “This particular project will also offer storage, which is a key component, and make it therefore hopefully more flexible in terms of being able to help us support integration. I look forward to this technology coming into California and helping us with renewable integration.”

Commissioner Florio said: “Eight to ten hours of fully dispatchable storage is quite impressive and offers significant benefits to the system that we don't yet know how to quantify fully, but there's definitely value there. There is a similar project reaching completion in Nevada, and hopefully this is the first of many.”

SolarReserve’s CEO Kevin Smith added: “The CPUC made it very clear that our ability to store energy was the key factor in approving the amended Rice contract. SolarReserve's market leading technology is a true alternative to conventional generators and can provide firm and reliable electricity as needed by the utility or system operator, day and night. This capability will be crucial as California progresses towards its 33% renewable target. We are also making tremendous strides in exporting this proven U.S. technology worldwide to markets in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, and our projects in Nevada and California help establish the U.S. as an innovation leader in alternate energy.”

Located on privately owned and previously disturbed land in the Sonoran Desert, the Rice Solar Energy Project has received full environmental permits, including its California Energy Commission (CEC) licence and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approvals.

The project will utilise a dry-cooled system in order to minimise its water consumption in the desert location to less than 20% of the amount consumed by conventional coal or nuclear facilities.

Financing activities are underway and the project is expected to break ground in early 2014 while commercial operation is scheduled for mid-2016. During the 24-month construction period, the project is expected to generate more than 5,300 direct, indirect and induced jobs across the supply chain.

When complete, the facility will generate more than 450,000MWh of electricity every year.

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