One of World’s Largest Solar PV Plants, 250MW California Valley Solar Ranch, Begins Commercial Operations

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NRG Energy, NRG Yield, and SunPower complete the final phase of the 250MW (AC) California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) in San Luis Obispo County, California.

NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), NRG Yield (NYSE: NYLD), and SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) have completed the final phase of the 250MW (AC) California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) in San Luis Obispo County, California.

CVSR is one of the world’s largest operating solar PV power plants and generates energy equivalent to the amount used by 100,000 California homes annually. The electricity generated at the plant is offsetting over 336,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, which is equal to removing 63,500 cars from California’s roads annually, according to estimates provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The electricity generated by the project will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under two long-term power purchase agreements in order for the utility to achieve its renewable energy delivery requirement, as mandated by California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

“Beyond offsetting carbon emissions and offering clean energy from one of the world’s largest solar facilities, this project’s design takes a leap forward by integrating the surrounding environment in a sustainable manner,” said Randy Hickok, senior vice president of NRG Solar. “In addition to its nine solar photovoltaic arrays, CVSR includes a water recycling plant that minimizes annual water use and a plan for protecting and conserving more than 12,000 acres of land in and around the facility.”

NRG acquired the solar ranch, jointly owned by NRG Yield (48.95%), from SunPower in 2011. CVSR received a federal loan guarantee for $1.2 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office. NRG and SunPower will jointly operate and maintain CVSR for two years, after which NRG will assume sole responsibility for operating the site. NRG’s remaining ownership of CVSR (the portion not owned by NRG Yield) is one of six NRG assets that are subject to a Right of First Offer Agreement between NRG and NRG Yield.

SunPower designed and provided engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) services for the project, which began in September 2011. In October 2012, the first 22MW began delivering power to PG&E’s transmission lines. The solar project created over 700 jobs during its two-year construction period, and approximately 15 long-term jobs will be created for operation of the project. The solar ranch generated an estimated $315 million of economic development for the local economy. 

With an average of 315 sunny days a year, California Valley is considered one of the best sites for solar in California. In addition, at an elevation near 2,100 feet, the valley’s protection from fog boosts the sun’s intensity. The project’s design and construction approach minimized impacts to the 4,700-acre CVSR site. Solar arrays cover only 30% of the total site, requiring minimal grading and water usage. Other beneficial features of the project include reseeding to promote vegetation recovery around the arrays and preserving wildlife migration pathways. Also, an abandoned gypsum mine on the site was cleaned and restored.

Community-focused efforts by CVSR resulted in improving and cleaning up seven miles of public roads, numerous educational site tours for local schoolchildren, and nearly $72,000 of charitable donations to active local chapters of organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Disabled American Veterans, and 4-H Club. SunPower also donated a solar power system to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden and is offering rebates on solar power systems to county homeowners. CVSR contributed half the funding for the Cuesta College Renewable Energy Education Center, which opened this month.

“CVSR is now delivering 250 megawatts of cost-competitive solar power in San Luis Obispo County, thanks to the combined efforts of NRG Solar and SunPower, PG&E, San Luis Obispo County officials and community members, our subcontractors and vendors, and the hard-working women and men who engineered and constructed this remarkable project,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower president, regions. “SunPower is very proud to have developed and built this project, which combines our world-leading solar technology with eco-design principals to responsibly maximize energy delivery over the life of the system.”

CVSR Infographic