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Sempra Power starts building large Nevada solar farm

19 Mar 2013 20:15 GMT

Washington, 19 March (Argus) — Sempra Power & Gas has begun constructing its 250MW Copper Mountain Solar 3 photovoltaic project in Nevada's El Dorado Valley.

The project, located on 1,370 acres of land about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas, is expected to come into service in 2015 and generate around 550GWh/yr based on the national average solar capacity factor of 25pc.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will purchase 210MW of capacity under a 20-year power purchase agreement and will have the option of purchasing the solar farm in the tenth year of that contract, or every five years thereafter.

The city of Burbank will purchase the remaining 40MW of capacity as part of the utility's effort to meet California's 33pc by 2020 renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Fred Fletcher, assistant general manager of power supply for Burbank Water and Power, said the power generated by Copper Mountain 3 will bring the utility “within 1pc” of meeting the 33pc by 2020 mandate.

The two utilities will pay $95.75/MWh for power generated by the project as part of a joint contract negotiated by the Southern California Public Power Authority. If the project loses its eligibility as a renewable resource under the California program, the utilities would have to pay only $45.60/MWh for the underlying power, indicating that renewable energy certificates (RECs) are valued at around $50/MWh.

Although the project is located in Nevada, its first point of interconnection lies within the California Independent Systems Operator's grid, which means it can qualify as category 1 resources under the RPS. California utilities must obtain at least 50pc of their renewable power from category 1 sources in 2011-2013 so RECs generated from those projects command a significant premium over out-of-state projects.

Sempra president and chief executive Jeffrey Martin said construction of Copper Mountain 3 started during a 15 March dedication ceremony for the Copper Mountain 2 project, which is being developed next to the Copper Mountain 3 site.

Sempra has completed the first 92MW phase of the Copper Mountain 2 project and the company expects to complete the 58MW second phase by July 2015. The 150MW project will deliver about 300GWh/yr under a 25-year power purchase agreement with California investor-owned utility Pacific Gas & Electric.

Taken together, the three Copper Mountain solar projects will be one of the largest solar power complexes in the US, with a total nameplate capacity of 458MW.

Solar projects generated 483GWh of electricity in Nevada last year, according to Energy Information Administration data, a 65.8pc increase from 2011. Nevada ranked third in the US for total solar generation behind Arizona and California. A total of 198MW of distributed solar capacity was installed in Nevada last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

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