Renewable Energy, Solar

Texas cooperatives to buy 7 MW of distribution-scale solar energy

Five electric distribution cooperatives in Texas have signed agreements to purchase 7 MW-dc of distribution-scale solar generation, providing an increased supply of cost-effective and clean energy to their members while increasing local system resilience.

All of the arrays are scheduled to begin operation by June 2020. The buyers include Bartlett Electric Cooperative, Comanche Electric Cooperative, Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative, PenTex Energy and South Plains Electric Cooperative.

The projects will be developed, constructed, owned and operated by Canadian renewable energy developer Saturn Power Corp., which will sell energy to the cooperatives through 20-year power purchase agreements. Saturn Power has developed and contracted 200 MW of wind, solar and battery storage projects, and was selected through a competitive bidding process that Rocky Mountain Institute managed as the buyers’ representative.

The solar arrays for each of the buyers will be sited on the cooperatives’ distribution systems, thereby avoiding Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) demand charges and generation capacity charges from their generation and transmission providers. Considering these demand-charge savings in addition to the low price of the solar energy produced, RMI believes the portfolio of solar systems will provide more total value to the buyers than a utility-scale solar installation would.

Nationwide, electric cooperatives are increasingly turning to distribution-scale solar. Distribution-scale solar systems like these Texas projects are advantaged by being large enough to access low costs through economies of scale, and small enough to efficiently interconnect into distribution systems and offset demand charges. 

Electric cooperatives also can leverage local connections to facilitate the development process, further reducing costs. Subsectors of the distribution-scale solar segment include both shared solar, in which community members directly purchase capacity or energy, as well as utility-led development of 0.5–10 MW projects on the distribution grid.

Texas is a particularly attractive market for distribution-scale solar development for a number of reasons, including the state’s strong solar resource and high per-capita carbon intensity.