NRG Aims High on Solar Projects

By Published On: January 8, 2010

NRG Energy is growing its solar footprint in California. The last few months it has invested in a trio of large solar projects in Southern California, representing close to 400 MW. It also created subsidiary, NRG Solar, in October in light of its solar expansion plans in and outside the Golden State. “California, as it is in many cases, is leading the way on encouraging large-scale clean energy sources,” David Crane, NRG president and chief executive officer, stated at the end of December. NRG took over a 21 MW thin film solar project built by First Solar in Blythe in Riverside County last November. It also bought the associated 20-year power purchase agreement the developer signed with Southern California Edison. The PV project went on line December 21. “Solar generates the greatest amount of clean energy when electricity demand is highest,” Tom Doyle, NRG Solar president, stated at the facility’s launch. In addition to the thin film project, NRG invested in two solar thermal projects slated for private land near Lancaster in Southern California with eSolar. The concentrated solar project output is to be sent to Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric under 20-year deals. Pasadena-based eSolar is a firm financed by Google, Idealab, and Oak Investment Partners. The concentrated solar thermal technology involves thousands of mirrors that track the sun and direct the sunlight to 195-foot high towers. The technology is said to need less water than conventional solar thermal projects, using between 250-325 acre-feet of water for each 46 MW block of the project, said David Knox, NRG spokesperson. An acre foot is 325,851 gallons. One project is a 92 MW project slated for 450 acres of private land in Antelope Valley. It would consume about 500-600 acre feet of water a year. The source of the water has not yet been determined, according to Knox. NRG signed a long-term contract for the output of the 92 MW plant with PG&E. Options for land purchase are on the table, but no deal has yet been signed, said Knox. Project construction is expected to begin at the end of this year with operations beginning in 2012. The second proposal is a 270 MW solar thermal project slated for a 1,000-acre private parcel also near Lancaster. Edison contracted for its output. It also is predicted to be on line in 2012. The sites for both facilities are said to be close to transmission lines. NRG has not yet applied for permits from the California Energy Commission. “As far as federal stimulus funds, we are always looking for opportunities to make our projects more economic but do not normally discuss specifics efforts in this regard,” Knox said. NRG owns 2,130 MW of fossil-fueled power plants in California, along the South Coast.

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