NRG Energy Inc., NRG Yield Inc. and SunPower Corp. announced the completion of the final phase of the California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) photovoltaic (PV) generating facility in San Luis Obispo County, California, bringing total electric generating capacity of the plant up to 250 MWac. NRG acquired CVSR from SunPower in 2011, and the project is jointly owned by NRG Yield (48.95%). CVSR is one of the world’s largest operating solar PV power plants and will sell its electricity to Pacific Gas & Electric under two long-term power purchase agreements.
“Beyond offsetting carbon emissions and offering clean energy from one of the world’s largest solar facilities, this project’s design takes a leap forward by integrating the surrounding environment in a sustainable manner,” said Randy Hickok, senior vice president of NRG Solar. “In addition to its nine solar photovoltaic arrays, CVSR includes a water recycling plant that minimizes annual water use and a plan for protecting and conserving more than 12,000 acres of land in and around the facility.”
CVSR received a federal loan guarantee for $1.2 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office. CVSR created more than 700 jobs during its two-year construction period and generated an estimated $315 million of economic development for the local economy.
The energy generated annually at CVSR is equivalent to that used by 100,000 homes. Using solar power avoids generating more than 336,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, or roughly equal to removing 63,500 cars from California’s roads, according to estimates provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“CVSR is now delivering 250 MW of cost-competitive solar power in San Luis Obispo County, thanks to the combined efforts of NRG Solar and SunPower, PG&E, San Luis Obispo County officials and community members, our subcontractors and vendors, and the hard-working women and men who engineered and constructed this remarkable project,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower president, regions. “SunPower is very proud to have developed and built this project, which combines our world-leading solar technology with eco-design principals to responsibly maximize energy delivery over the life of the system.”
SunPower designed and provided engineering, procurement and construction services for the project, which began in September 2011. In October 2012, the first 22 megawatts began delivering power to PG&E’s transmission lines. NRG and SunPower will jointly operate and maintain CVSR for two years, after which NRG will assume sole responsibility for operating the site. NRG’s remaining ownership of CVSR (the portion not owned by NRG Yield) is one of six NRG assets that are subject to a Right of First Offer Agreement between NRG and NRG Yield.
At the CVSR site, the SunPower Oasis Power Plant was installed. This is a fully integrated, modular solar power block that is engineered to rapidly and cost-effectively deploy utility-scale solar projects while optimizing land use.
The project’s design and construction approach minimized impacts to the 4,700-acre CVSR site. Solar arrays cover only 30% of the total site, requiring minimal grading and water usage. Other beneficial features of the project include reseeding to promote vegetation recovery around the arrays and preserving wildlife migration pathways. Also, an abandoned gypsum mine on the site was cleaned and restored.
Community-focused efforts by CVSR resulted in the improvement and cleanup of seven miles of public roads, numerous educational site tours for local schoolchildren, and nearly $72,000 of charitable donations to active local chapters of organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Disabled American Veterans and 4-H Club. SunPower also donated a solar power system to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden and is offering rebates on solar power systems to county homeowners. CVSR contributed half the funding for the Cuesta College Renewable Energy Education Center, which opened this month.
— Solar Builder magazine