Appeals court eases pathway for utility-scale solar development in North Carolina

north carolina solar

In a unanimous decision issued June 6, 2017, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the application for issuance of a conditional use permit (CUP) by Innovative Solar 55 LLC to construct a solar farm was wrongfully denied by the Robeson County Board of County Commissioners.

This is only the second North Carolina appellate opinion addressing CUP applications for utility-scale solar development. The decision makes it more difficult for opponents to successfully oppose a CUP permit application without substantial evidence to support such opposition.

“This decision will have important consequences for both the solar industry and land use law in general,” said Tarrant. “We understand and appreciate the difficult job municipal boards have in considering land use decisions. But the Court of Appeals has reaffirmed that such decisions must be based on material, competent evidence, not just vague, unsubstantiated allegations of harm. We are pleased that this opinion recognizes the state’s public policy favoring renewable energy and will allow IS 55 to move forward with this project.”

In 2015, the Robeson County Board of County Commissioners denied a CUP application submitted by IS 55 in a 5-1 vote, even though IS 55 presented evidence satisfying the conditions for CUP issuance and the opponents presented no meaningful evidence to the contrary. Smith Moore Leatherwood, on behalf of IS 55, appealed the decision to the Superior Court of Robeson County, and ultimately to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals issued the unanimous decision in June 2017 which directs the Robeson County Board of County Commissioners to issue the CUP permit to IS 55.

SEIA submits prehearing brief on Suniva petition to ITC — read the summary here


— Solar Builder magazine

EIA: Utility-scale solar to see 36 percent increase in 2017

The updated Short-Term Energy Outlook from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows total U.S. electricity generation from utility-scale power plants averaged 11,145 GWh per day in 2016. Forecast U.S. generation declines by 1.2% in 2017, which mostly reflects expectations of milder temperatures in the third quarter of 2017 compared with the same period last year. Forecast generation grows by 1.8% in 2018 based largely on a forecast of colder temperatures during the first quarter 2018 compared with the same period in 2017 and on the expectation of a growing economy.

What about solar?

Nevada solar utility

Solar power, which provided 1% of total U.S. electric generation in 2016, is expected to see the largest rate of growth in utility-scale electricity generating capacity of any energy source, increasing 36 percent this year and more than 10% in 2018.

Total utility-scale solar electricity generating capacity at the end of 2016 was 22 GW. EIA expects solar capacity additions in the forecast will bring total utility-scale solar capacity to 29 GW by the end of 2017 and to 32 GW by the end of 2018.

All of the rest

EIA expects the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas to fall from an average of 34% in 2016 to about 31% in 2017 as a result of higher natural gas prices, increased generation from renewables and coal, and lower electricity demand. Coal’s forecast generation share rises from 30% last year to almost 32% in 2017. The projected generation shares for natural gas and coal are nearly identical in 2018, averaging between 31% and 32%.

Coal exports for the first five months of 2017 were 37 million short tons (MMst), which was 60% higher than coal exports over the same period last year. EIA expects growth in coal exports to slow in the coming months, with exports for all of 2017 forecast at 70 MMst, 17% above the 2016 level. The increase in coal exports contributes to an expected 58 MMst (8%) increase in coal production in 2017. In 2018, coal production is forecast to increase by 10 MMst (1%).
Wind electricity generating capacity at the end of 2016 was 81 gigawatts (GW). EIA expects wind capacity additions in the forecast will bring total wind capacity to 88 GW by the end of 2017 and to 102 GW by the end of 2018.

After declining 1.7% in 2016, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are projected to decrease 0.3% in 2017 and then to increase 2.0% in 2018. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, and energy prices.

— Solar Builder magazine

Utility-scale solar generator costs declined 21 percent in two years

Based on EIA survey data for new, utility-scale electric generators (those with a capacity greater than one megawatt), capacity-weighted average construction costs for many generator types have fallen in recent years. Annual changes in construction costs include the effects of differences in the geographic distribution of installed capacity between years, differences in technology types, and other changes in capital and financing costs.

utility scale solar generator costs

EIA began collecting data on construction costs for new utility-scale generators installed in 2013. The data for each year reflect projects completed in that year. Because power plants are often constructed over several years, reported costs are not necessarily indicative of the cost of a project initiated in that year. Government grants, tax benefits, and other incentives are excluded from these costs.

Construction costs alone do not determine the economic attractiveness of a generation technology. Other factors such as fuel costs (for generators that consume fuel), utilization rates, financial incentives, and state policies also affect project economics and, in turn, the kinds of power plants that are built.

In 2015, wind, natural gas, and solar were the most commonly added capacity types, adding 8.1 gigawatts (GW), 6.5 GW, and 3.2 GW, respectively. In the case of wind and solar, almost all of these additions (98% and 91%, respectively) were at new plants, as opposed to new generators at existing plants.

utility scale construction solar pv

The cost of utility-scale solar photovoltaic generators declined 21% between 2013 and 2015, from $3,705/kW to $2,921/kW. More than half of the utility-scale solar photovoltaic systems installed in the United States track the sun through the day, and in general, those systems cost slightly more than those installed at fixed angles. Construction costs differed slightly by technology type, with crystalline silicon systems (73% of the 2015 installed solar photovoltaic capacity) costing slightly less than systems with thin-film panels made using cadmium telluride.

— Solar Builder magazine

DER power couple: EnSync, Schneider Electric look to advance grid edge market

Ensync energy systems

EnSync Energy Systems, a developer of distributed energy resource (DER) systems and Internet of Energy (IoE) control platforms for the utility, commercial, industrial and multi-tenant building markets, will be working with Schneider Electric to explore technology and opportunities in the DER market.

After reviewing EnSync’s Matrix Energy System, the two companies identified areas of mutual interest for collaboration. Starting in June 2017, Schneider Electric and EnSync Energy Systems will jointly explore market opportunities and technology advancements required to best serve markets utilizing distributed energy resources.

“The grid landscape is changing rapidly and DER deployments are challenging incumbent grid operating models,” said EnSync Energy executive vice president, Dan Nordloh. “Both companies feel that we are in the early stages of transformational grid edge market opportunities. We look forward to strengthening our relationship with Schneider Electric to explore these areas of collaboration.”

The growth in distributed solar generation enables decentralization of the grid and bi-directional power flows from all DERs. This provides an opportunity to integrate DER control and use it to the benefit of the overall electrical network.

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Nordloh continued, “We are transitioning from simple distributed generation into an era of integrated distributed energy resources, where renewables, storage, energy management systems and IoE control capabilities replace solar-only installations. These distributed energy resources are an efficient and economical way to solve the shortcomings of the antiquated grid network and benefit the asset owner, enabling them to participate in the capacity and energy markets, as well as provide ancillary services. Distributed energy resources are effectively virtual power plants for the grid network. We are excited to be exploring this market with a globally recognized leader in power systems.”

Navigant Research forecasts the annual market for solar plus energy storage DERs to grow to nearly $50 billion by 2026, with a 2017 to 2026 compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 40 percent.


— Solar Builder magazine

Minnesota Power reveals next step in its renewable energy growth strategy

Minnesota Power solar

Minnesota Power, a utility division of ALLETE, is taking the next step in its EnergyForward strategy. If approved by regulators, the resource package coupled with the company’s existing renewable resources will result in renewable resources providing 44 percent of the company’s energy supply by 2025, further reducing carbon emissions while keeping rates affordable.

In an upcoming filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC), Minnesota Power will request the addition of 250 megawatts of wind power capacity, an additional 10 megawatts of solar power and 250 megawatts of combined-cycle natural gas generation to meet customer demand for power, which is projected to grow throughout the region. The new resources will increase the company’s already robust wind portfolio of 620 megawatts and double its solar generation.

“For the past four years, EnergyForward has been exceeding expectations for how an energy company can transform the way it produces and delivers energy,” said Brad Oachs, president of Regulated Operations. “We look forward to working with our customers and regulators to continue down the path toward a safe, reliable, cleaner and affordable energy future.”

Special Report: How to Make Money in the Midwest

With approval of the proposed resource package by the MPUC, renewable energy resources— including wind, Canadian hydro, solar and biomass—will account for 44 percent of the utility’s energy supply portfolio, exceeding the initial EnergyForward goal of one-third renewable power. Minnesota Power’s long-term goal is an energy mix of two-thirds renewable energy and flexible, renewable-enabling natural gas and one-third environmentally compliant baseload coal.

Natural gas is an essential component of the resource package to be filed with regulators. Without this plant, Minnesota Power would be reliant on fluctuating wholesale market prices when sun and wind resources aren’t available, increasing overall costs over the long-run.

Minnesota Power will file later this summer with the MPUC requesting approval of the resource package. After filing, state regulators will open a formal review process to consider Minnesota Power’s request. After input from stakeholders and the public, a final determination is expected in the latter half of 2018.

The details of Minnesota Power’s proposal include:

• Natural gas. Minnesota Power is proposing a joint ownership structure with Dairyland Power Cooperative to build a state-of-the-art 525- to 550-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas power plant in Superior, Wisconsin. Minnesota Power would purchase approximately 50 percent of the plant’s output (250 megawatts) from an ALLETE subsidiary starting in 2025 to serve customer load, stabilizing energy supply for times when renewable energy capability is lower. The project will create an estimated 260 construction jobs and employ approximately 25 full-time workers.

• Wind. Minnesota Power conducted a robust competitive process as part of its 2015 Integrated Resource Plan. An independent, third-party evaluator reviewed the bids and recommended a 250-megawatt, 20-year purchase power agreement (PPA) with independent power producer Tenaska, to be located in southwestern Minnesota. In addition to providing the lowest overall cost among the wind farm bids, Tenaska’s Nobles 2 Power Partners wind farm will offer greater geographic diversity among Minnesota Power’s wind resources and a highly efficient wind resource. Minnesota Power has an option to purchase the wind farm after 10 years of production.

• Solar. To achieve the state’s solar requirements, the Minnesota Power package proposes to add 10 megawatts of solar power by 2020 through a 25-year PPA with Cypress Creek Renewables. The addition will complement the current 10-megawatt Camp Ripley project that was completed last year and will be placed within Minnesota Power’s distribution system near Royalton in central Minnesota. The agreement includes an option for Minnesota Power to purchase the array.


Minnesota Power provides electric service within a 26,000-square-mile area in Northeastern Minnesota, supporting comfort, security and quality of life for 145,000 customers, 16 municipalities and some of the largest industrial customers in the United States.

— Solar Builder magazine