National Grid dives into renewable energy development

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From pv magazine USA

There is an irony that the large power companies that own many U.S. utilities are also some of the biggest solar and wind developers, even while they resist rooftop solar and in many cases also large-scale renewables.

Leading this space is NextEra, which has long been the nation’s largest wind developer and owned the Solar Energy Generation Stations (SEGS) in Southern California before the birth of a significant utility-scale U.S. solar market – all while funding efforts to undermine the rooftop solar market in Florida.

But there is also Duke Energy, which has a strong renewable energy development arm and continues to fight regulatory battles which independent developers say will slow the deployment of solar and battery storage in its service area.

The latest power company to join the renewable energy development space is National Grid, which is based in the United Kingdom and runs electric and gas utilities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Through its unregulated business National Grid Ventures, the company has finalized its purchase of renewable energy developer Geronimo Energy for $100 million.

Geronimo Energy has a particularly strong presence in the Midwest. Among its 2.2 GW of wind and solar projects either under construction or in operation are a number of community solar portfolios, as well as the largest solar project in in Minnesota to date. The Minnesota-based company is also developing the first multi-MW solar project in North Dakota.

In fact, in most Midwestern markets it is not unusual to find Geronimo Energy. However, National Grid said that geography was not a significant factor in its choice, with VP of Corporate Affairs Michael West telling pv magazine that it was “more about the company” and referencing its “strong pipeline” of projects.

This pipeline is part of the deal, with National Grid putting down another $125 million for a 51% share in a joint venture which has acquired 379 MW of wind and solar from Geronimo Renewable Infrastructure Partners.

And while this will be National Grid’s first foray into developing large-scale solar and wind, this is not its first dip into clean energy. National Grid has invested $100 million in Sunrun through a partnership, and is also jointly developing a 393 MW pumped hydro project in Oregon.

We believe in the long-term growth potential of renewable generation, driven by consumer demand and technological advances,” said Badar Khan, president of National Grid Ventures.

VP of Corporate Affairs Michael West was able to shed more light on this, linking the investment in Geronimo Energy with the investments that National Grid has made through its venture capital arm in a number of other grid-edge start-ups. “We think it is important to disrupt ourselves before we become disrupted,” explained West.

If National Grid is trying to get ahead of the process of change, it may be because of its lessons across the pond. The UK electricity market has seen significant restructuring over the past few decades which both limit the role of utilities and change the regulatory structures which determine how they profit.

Geronimo Energy will keep its headquarters in Minneapolis.