Texas utility chooses solar, claims it will be ‘coal free’ by 2016

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A utility company in Texas that serves nearly 400,000 people has declared that it is not only ready to meet recently issued Environment Protection Agency (EPA) carbon standards but will be able to go entirely ‘coal-free’ by 2016.

The company said its future energy supply would come from a mixture of natural gas plant and utility-scale solar.

The utility, El Paso Electric (EPE), hailed the connection of the 50MW Macho Springs plant at the end of May and said that the completion of another, 10MW PV project, scheduled for the end of this year, would mean solar accounted for 6% of its generation sources. The company did not give details on further plans for PV development.

EPE also revealed that it has decided to no longer participate in the operation of a coal-fired power plant, Four Corners, when it comes to be retired in July 2016. The company did state however that it will “continue to work with the 93% owners and the Navajo Nation to facilitate their efforts to extend the operation of the plant beyond 2016”. EPE currently owns a 7% stake in the plant, which it is currently seeking to sell off. Four Corners is situated on Navajo Nation land, a semi-autonomous area governed by the Native American tribe.

EPE, which serves 395,000 customers in west Texas and southern New Mexico, signed a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Southern Power and Turner Renewable Energy for Macho Springs. The two companies, trading under the name Macho Springs Solar LLC, bought the plant from thin-film firm First Solar, which built and operates the facility.

In addition, EPE signed a 30-year PPA for the forthcoming 10MW plant with Newman Solar, owned by the Colorado-based US division of German developer Juwi Solar. The two companies signed the PPA for the 10MW plant, to be located in Northeast El Paso, Texas, in February this year.

EPE chief executive officer Tom Shockley said the west Texas and southern New Mexico region, “has the right kind of sun for optimal solar energy production, making this region the ‘Goldilocks’ in terms of climate, humidity and heat characteristics that allow us to expand our renewable portfolio with cost-effective technologies and reliable energy resources.”

Shockley went on to say that with 300 days of sunshine, the region serviced by EPE is perfect for solar energy technologies.

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