Austin Energy pens pact for Texas' largest solar power plant

It will be able to power about 14,000 homes

Austin Energy, one of the largest city-owned utilities in the U.S., has signed a deal to purchase 150 megawatts of solar electricity from Recurrent Energy, one of North Americas biggest solar developers.

Austin Energy, one of the largest city-owned utilities in the U.S., has penned a contract with a San Francisco firm to build the largest solar power plant in the state of Texas.

The $525 million contract envisions 500,000 photovoltaic cells on 1,000 acres. The solar power plant will produce 150 million watts (MW) of electricity, enough to power about 14,000 homes.

The 17.5 megawatt/22 megawatt Victor Phelan project, located in San Bernardino, Calif., is part of six Recurrent Energy developed projects acquired by Google and KKR. (Image: Recurrent Energy)

To further put the size of the plant in perspective, Google last year announced it would make its largest investment in clean energy to date -- $1 billion -- by building six new wind and solar plants in two states. Combined, those six plants will generate 160MW of power.

The energy generated by the plant will be delivered to Austin Energy under a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement.

Recurrent Energy, which is building the plant, said the Austin Energy solar field should be up and running in 2016.

"With our largest utility scale solar award, we are taking an important step towards meeting our goal of acquiring 200 MW of solar energy by 2020," said Larry Weis, Austin Energy General Manager. "Solar power has reached a price that is competitive in the ERCOT market, allowing us to further diversify our energy portfolio with renewable resources."

ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) operates the electric grid and manages the deregulated market for 75% of the state.

Recurrent declined to offer details of the contract, including the price of electricity generated by the solar plant, but a spokesperson did say that the average price of a solar panel has declined by 60% since the beginning of 2011.

"As a result, the price of solar is reaching a point where we can compete in deregulated markets such as ERCOT," she said in an email to Computerworld.

"The industry's growing scale and decreasing costs are enabling us to successfully compete against conventional energy in deregulated markets like ERCOT. This award from Austin Energy further proves solar's ability to move into the mainstream energy mix," Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy, said in a statement.

Megawatts of power per year state by state. (Image: Solar Energy Industry Association).

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Austin Energy pens pact for Texas' largest solar power plant" was originally published by Computerworld .

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