First Solar has completed the initial 18MW phase of the Barilla PV plant in Texas, the first plant in the state to operate without a power purchase agreement.
The ‘merchant’ PV power plant in Pecos Country, west Texas, will instead sell electricity on Texas’ ERCOT grid spot market.
Unsubsidised merchant power projects are becoming more common in countries where solar offers a viable alternative to costly fossil fuel-generated power, such as Chile, but are largely untested in the US.
The project will certainly be a departure for First Solar, whose approach has tended to be secure long-term PPAs for its plants before selling them on to power producers.
Tim Rebhorn, senior vice president of business development for First Solar, said: “It is exciting to enter the Texas market with a clean, renewable energy source that is competitively priced against traditional high-cost peak resources. This project demonstrates First Solar's capability to rapidly develop, construct and commission a solar asset offering clean, renewable energy at competitive rates to the grid when and where it is needed.”
Although solar has been slower to take off in Texas than other parts of the US, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says it has the highest potential for solar development in the US, and recent completions including the first phases of the 400MW Alamo project have put the Lone Star state firmly on the solar.
Pecos County Judge Joe Shuster, commenting on the announcement said: “First Solar is a pioneer in bringing West Texas solar into the diverse energy portfolio of Texas. In West Texas we've got plenty of land, some with a lot of oil under it, and all of it with sunshine which makes it perfect for solar plants like this. I'm excited to see Barilla as the first project in what I hope will soon be the 'Texas solar patch.'”