When it come to large-scale solar, there are few cities in the United States ahead of Austin, Texas. In October, the Austin City Council directed its municipal utility to sign 450 MW of contracts for large-scale solar projects. This are in addition to 150 MW contracted with Recurrent Energy, and 30 MW from the Webberville solar project.
Today Hanwha Q Cells revealed that it is the developer of one of the projects whose contract was approved in October. The company has signed a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with municipal utility Austin Energy, and will build a 170 MW solar project in Pecos County, Texas.
First Solar will build the remaining 119 MW in the 288 MW set of contracts authorized on October 1. The company signed only a 15-year PPA, as opposed to Hanwha's much longer contract. Austin Energy puts the total costs of both contracts at $675 million.
Hanwha Q Cells says that the site for the project is near several other large solar PV projects in development, and cites abundant solar resource and general local community acceptance in Pecos County, which is far to the west. The arid lands of West Texas have much stronger natural solar potential than other parts of the state.
Austin Energy further notes that both the First Solar and Hanwha Q Cells projects will be connected to new high-voltage transmission initially installed to bring power from West Texas wind to cities located farther east.
According to Austin Energy, the entire installed solar portfolio on Texas' grid is less than 200 MW, however Hanwha Q Cells estimates that there are 10 GW of solar projects which have applied for interconnection.
Texas grid operator ERCOT also expects a solar boom, and has forecast that installed solar on its grid would increase 50-fold to 13 GW by 2030 even without the impacts of the federal Clean Power Plan.
The one million residents of Austin will be getting their share of that solar. According to Environment Texas, solar is expected to comprise 13% of Austin Energy's generation by 2017.