Customers of Nevada utility NV Energy are going to be getting a lot more electricity from utility-scale “solar plus storage” power plants in the near future—an anticipated 1.2 gigawatts (GW) of solar power generation and 590 MW of battery-based energy storage capacity to be precise.

NV Energy recently awarded developers contracts to build out three huge “solar plus storage” power projects that are expected to produce enough emissions-free electricity for some 228,000 homes and more than double the utility’s renewable energy resources. All three are located near Nevada’s largest city, Las Vegas, utility grid interconnection points and scheduled to come online by year-end 2023. NV Energy sums them up as follows:

  • Arrow Canyon Solar Project: 200 megawatt solar photovoltaic project with a 75 megawatt–5 hour battery storage system. The project will be located in Clark County, NV, 20 miles northeast of Las Vegas on the Moapa Band of Paiutes Indian Reservation. It is being developed by EDF Renewables North America, a market-leading independent power producer and service provider with over 30 years of expertise in renewable energy. EDF Renewables’ North American portfolio consists of 16 gigawatts of developed projects and 10 gigawatts under service contracts.
  • Southern Bighorn Solar & Storage Center: 300 megawatt solar array that includes a 135 megawatt-4 hour Li-Ion battery energy storage system. The project will be built in Clark County, NV on the Moapa River Indian Reservation about 30 miles north of Las Vegas. It is being developed by 8minute Solar Energy, the largest independent developer of solar PV and storage projects in the United States, with over 15 gigawatts of solar and storage under development in California, Texas, and the Southeast, with more than 2 gigawatts of solar power plants now in operation.
  • Gemini Solar + Battery Storage Project: 690 megawatt solar photovoltaic array coupled with a 380 megawatt AC battery storage system. The project will be located in Clark County, NV 25 miles northeast of Las Vegas on approximately 7,100 acres of federally-owned land under the management of the Bureau of Land Management. It is being developed by Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners in collaboration with Arevia Power, who are managing the development phases of the project. Quinbrook is a specialist investment manager focused exclusively on lower carbon and renewable energy infrastructure investment and operational asset management.

25 years’ worth of emissions-free solar-plus-storage capacity

NV Energy’s three latest solar-plus-storage projects are the latest indication of just how far and fast the cost of emissions-free electricity produced by solar-plus-storage power plants has been falling. NV Energy will purchase all the energy the three solar-storage projects can generate as per the terms of 25-year power purchase agreements (PPAs), transmitting and distributing emissions-free electricity to its customers in Nevada.

Southern Bighorn Solar & Storage Center developer 8minute Solar Energy LLC said the project will deliver electrical energy for about US$35 per megawatt-hour (MWh). That’s less than the cost of electricity generated by natural gas or coal, according to the company.

The emissions-free electricity the three solar-plus-storage power plants produce will go a long way towards NV Energy contributing to achieving Nevada’s Renewable Power Standard (RPS). Recently raised from 25% by 2025 to 50% by 2030, the RPS requires electric utilities in Nevada “to generate, acquire or save with portfolio energy systems or energy efficiency measures, a certain percentage of electricity annually,” according to the State of Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The RPS also stipulates that solar energy account for 5% of the total renewable energy in utilities’ portfolios through 2015 and at least 6 percent must be generated by solar facilities beginning in 2016.

Employment Impacts from a 50 Percent RPS in Nevada
Table 1: Employment impacts from a 50 percent RPS in Nevada
A strengthened RPS would create thousands of good clean energy jobs, with positive ripple effects throughout the economy. (Numbers rounded to the tens place.)
Source: NRDC
Economic Impacts from a 50 Percent RPS in Nevada
Table 2: Economic impacts from a 50 percent RPS in Nevada
A strengthened RPS would generate millions of dollars in wages and increase economic output. (Numbers rounded to nearest million.)
Source: NRDC

“These projects demonstrate NV Energy’s commitment to renewable energy. We believe these three projects are good for customers, the environment and for Nevada,” NV Energy Communications Manager Jennifer SchurichtSolar Magazine Interviewee Avatar relayed to Solar Magazine. “NV Energy is responsive to the sustainability goals of our customers and will continue to bring renewable projects forward while keeping costs to customers low.”

All three projects will incorporate advanced inverter technology that will enhance reliability and resilience across NV Energy’s grid while delivering low-cost, clean energy that benefits utility customers, Schuricht added.

The Gemini Solar + Storage Project

More than 15 developers submitted proposals to develop the three solar-storage projects via a solicitation NV Energy carried out in the fall of 2018. Located in Clark County about 25 miles from Las Vegas, Gemini is to be built on approximately 7,100 acres (2,847.5 hectares) of federal government-owned land managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. At an estimated cost of more than $1 billion, NV Energy expects Gemini will provide $450 million of in-state economic stimulus and create more than 3,000 temporary jobs governed by union project labor agreements.

An international investment manager that specializes in the development of low-carbon and renewable energy infrastructure and asset management, Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners got involved in the project in mid-2017 upon being introduced to engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) provider Arevia Power, which is managing Gemini’s development phases. Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners’ Low Carbon Power Fund owns the project, co-founder and Managing Partner David ScaysbrookSolar Magazine Interviewee Avatar explained in an interview.

“We immediately recognized the value of the site and location near Las Vegas, as well as its proximity to [utility grid] interconnection,” Scaysbrook told Solar Magazine. Brightsource, which since went bankrupt, originally intended to develop a concentrating solar power (CSP) plant on the site, but shifted gears, raised planned generation capacity from 440 MW to 690 MW and reconfigured the project as a hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery-based energy storage facility, he noted.

Knee-deep in Gemini’s design details, Quinbrook hasn’t made any decisions regarding project partners outside of EPC Arevia. “We won’t go into procurement for another 12 months, with commissioning planned for 2023,” Scaysbrook said.

Holding on to a near monopoly but raising a state Renewable Power Standard

An investor-owned, regulated near monopoly and subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Las Vegas-based NV Energy serves some 1.4 million customers, generating, transmitting and distributing electricity in northern and southern Nevada, including the Las Vegas Valley. It also provides natural gas service in the Reno–Sparks metropolitan area of northern Nevada.

NV Energy currently manages a fleet of 57 grid-connected renewable power projects that incorporates biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric and wind, as well as solar, power generation. It has exceeded Nevada’s Renewable Power Standard (RPS) targets for the ninth straight year in 2018, management highlights. The utility announced what at the time was the largest renewable energy expansion in the state’s history in May 2018 by awarding contracts to build out six projects with a collective generation capacity of 1.001 GW and 100 MW of battery-based energy storage.

NV Energy’s three latest solar-plus-storage projects follow in the wake of Nevadans voting down a referendum that would have broken up NV Energy’s near monopoly by opening up Nevada’s retail electricity market to independent power producers and allowing consumers to choose their electricity provider. Nevadans voted to do just that back in November 2016 when they voted in favor of ballot measure Question 3, known as the Energy Choice Initiative.

Silver State Solar Power plant South, adjacent to Primm, Nevada.
Image: Basin and Range Watch

NV Energy stepped in and strongly opposed the ballot measure the second time around, spending some $63 million in doing so. The political struggle pit two multi-billionaires against each other: Berkshire Energy chairman and CEO Warren Buffet and Las Vegas Sands Corp. founder, chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Three other Las Vegas casino owners, Wynn Resorts Ltd., MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp., paid millions to disconnect from NV Energy and buy power from other providers. Adelson-run Las Vegas Sands decided not to pay an exit fee, instead choosing to launch and back the Energy Choice Initiative.

Solar energy proponents and supports in Nevada wound up with a big win as well as a result of last November’s election, however. Enactment of Senate Bill 358 following a “yes” vote on a public ballot measure raised Nevada’s RPS to 50% by 2030.

Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners felt compelled to invest in developing the Gemini project for reasons somewhat unique to the politics of energy in Nevada in addition to its scale, site location, solar energy resource potential, and operating, technical and financial attributes, Scaysbrook explained.

The defeat of the Energy Choice Initiative, raising the RPS, and captive customers seeking to buy their way out of the utility relationship, all those factors persuaded us to invest at scale.

“Gemini has the potential to be a game-changer for the deployment of cost-effective renewable power at a time when sustainable investment to reduce emissions from power generation has never been more critical,” Quinbrook’s Scaysbrook said in a press statement. “The long-term commitment that NV Energy has made to ensure that Gemini can be built shows their commitment to harnessing the abundant and low-cost solar resource available in Nevada, and matching that with the recent advancements in battery storage pricing and capability.” comment

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