First Solar signs 15-year PPAs with California community groups for 100MW solar-plus-storage plant

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First Solar Series 6 module at automated assembly line. Image: First Solar.

Power purchase agreements (PPAs) have been signed between First Solar and two community energy utility groups for energy from a 100MW solar power plant with 50MWh of energy storage in California’s Kern County.

Kern County is already home to some of the state’s biggest renewable energy projects including several solar PV plants developed by Perrysburg, Ohio-headquartered First Solar, which manufactures thin-film solar modules as well as executing its own projects in a vertically-integrated business model. The company claims an annual manufacturing capacity of 1.9GW DC, all located within the US.

The company has signed two separate 15-year PPAs with Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs), Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) and Silicon Valley Clean Energy for electricity generated by Rabbitrush Solar, a 100MW solar PV plant combined with 20MW / 50MWh of battery energy storage. Rabbitrush Solar is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2022.

Community Choice Aggregator groups are community-owned utilities that exist within the service areas of regulated utilities and therefore benefit from utility infrastructure while being permitted to choose where their power comes from. First Solar’s off-takers for Rabbitrush are already contracted to take energy from sizeable solar-plus-storage projects in Kern County thought to be under construction: sister site reported back in 2018 as Monterey Bay Community Power and Silicon Valley Clean Energy signed PPAs with Canadian Solar’s developer subsidiary Recurrent Energy for the Slate solar farm (150MW PV, 45MW / 150MWh battery storage) and with EDF for the Big Beau Solar + Storage Project (40MW PV, 40MW / 160MWh battery energy storage).

The Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Department website lists a couple of dozen large-scale solar farms at various stages of development, with the largest by capacity including 8minute Energy’s 500MW Springbok Solar project, the 700MW Maricopa Sun project by special purpose vehicle Maricopa Sun LLC, and the 650MW Antelope Valley Solar Project by Renewable Resources. The largest project on that list, the 1,008MW Fremont Valley Preservation Water Bank and Solar Project listed as being by a company called Aqua Helio Resources, appears to have not gone past the planning stage since it was proposed in 2013.

“Responsibly developed to minimise its impact on the ecosystem, and powered by the most eco-efficient solar technology available today, this project mirrors our own commitments to sustainability and the communities we serve,” MBCP CEO Tom Habashi said of the deal to buy power from Rabbitrush.

“The fast-growing CCA segment, with its base of environmentally conscious consumers, aligns well with our inherent emphasis on sustainability and our mission to lead the world’s sustainable energy future,” First Solar chief commercial officer (CCO) Georges Antoun said.

Silicon Valley Clean Energy CEO Girish Balachandran meanwhile noted that while the plant will serve some of the CCA’s customers in California’s Santa Clara County, some of the technology used in the plant was developed at First Solar’s R&D facility in Santa Clara.

“Our customers have made an important choice in selecting carbon-free energy, and we are looking forward to adding this project to our long-term efforts to cut energy-related emissions in line with our decarbonisation commitments,” Balachandran added.

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