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Utility-scale roundup: The days of big solar projects in the US are back

May 25, 2020 9:15:00 AM / by Eric Wesoff, pv magazine




Big solar projects in the U.S. are back in style and growing in number.

We’re not talking about the super massive projects such as the 895 MW Gemini project or the 550 MW Desert Sunlight First Solar project.

We’re talking about the proliferation of 100 MW-plus solar projects now in development that are happening in unexpected places.

WoodMac expects the number of solar projects larger than 120 MWac commissioned in the U.S. to grow from 11 in 2019 to 32 in 2021.

These large solar projects are no longer driven by RPS edicts but by corporate buyers and the sheer competitive pricing of solar or solar-plus-storage compared to other generation sources.

And if there’s one solar segment that can weather a pandemic, it’s utility-scale photovoltaics. Utility-scale supply chains are delayed, not broken — and it’s easier to work safely on a 1,000-acre solar project than on a home. Solar construction firms like Rosendin and developers like 8-Minute Energy continue to build big solar projects.

We’re rounding up and tracking these big construction sites. (Last week saw Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Arkansas develop record-size projects.) Here’s this week’s collection of big project news.


Fern Solar: Unique 134 MW project in North Carolina

Global renewables developer BayWa r.e. secured a tax equity investment and construction term financing for the 134 MW Fern Solar project in Edgecombe County, North Carolina — with RBC Capital Markets syndicating the tax equity investment. Construction is already underway with the project due for completion and commissioning in the second half of this year. Rabobank and Banco Sabadell will provide construction and term financing.

The project will provide solar power to six U.S. brands (Bloomberg, Cox Enterprises, Gap Inc, Salesforce and Workday) through a market-first, multi-party virtual PPA (VPPA) with the Corporate Renewable Energy Aggregation Group, and Starbucks, which has also signed a VPPA.

The VPPA, facilitated by LevelTen Energy, contracted a total of 42.5 MW from the Fern Project’s output. Starbucks also entered into a VPPA with BayWa r.e. for 46 MW.

When complete, the Fern solar field will comprise 353,276 solar panels and 42 inverters.

200 MW Prairie Wolf in Illinois powers Cargill

Geronimo Energy, a National Grid company, and Cargill executed a Virtual Power Purchase Agreement (VPPA) for the Prairie Wolf solar project in Coles County, Illinois.

Prairie Wolf is a 200 MW solar project in the MISO market, anticipated to begin operations at the end of 2021. Once operational, Prairie Wolf is poised to represent the largest single solar investment in the State of Illinois, as well as one of the largest solar developments east of the Mississippi and one of the largest single project VPPAs in the country.

“In addition to being climate-positive, Prairie Wolf is also an agriculture-positive project,” added Blake Nixon, CEO for Geronimo, in a release. “Renewable energy projects like Prairie Wolf provide much needed stability and predictability for America’s farming communities.”

500 MW Pecan Prairie in Leon County, Texas

ConnectGen, a Houston-based renewables developer, is planning a 500 MW solar power project in Leon County, Texas.

The Pecan Prairie Solar project would be built on 1,300 acres in the southwestern part of the county. The first phase of the project would install about 150 megawatts of capacity, said CEO Caton Fenz, quoted in the Houston Business Journal.

330 MW from Belltown in ERCOT

Belltown Power Texas, a developer of solar photovoltaic projects in ERCOT, completed a transaction with an investment partner for a portfolio of shovel-ready PV projects totaling 330 MW. The projects are located in the ERCOT North Zone and construction is expected to start immediately across all three sites with commercial operations expected between December 2020 and March 2021.

The projects include: the 81 MW Rippey site in Cooke County, contracted with an affiliate of Vistra Energy for the offtake of 100% of its power generation; as well as the 81 MW Kellam site in Van Zandt County and the 168 MW Coniglio site in Fannin County, both contracted with Rayburn Country Electric Cooperative.

Belltown’s co-founder Lloyd Pope said, “This represents a key milestone for the Belltown portfolio, having developed these projects from greenfield all the way to NTP. We are pleased with the partner we have found to bring these projects forward to COD and beyond.”

God bless the TVA

The Tennessee Valley Authority selected First Solar and Origis Energy to develop 212 MWAC of solar power to fulfill the Knoxville Utilities Board’s March 2020 commitment to new renewable energy. KUB is using the TVA Green Invest program to produce carbon-free energy equivalent to 8% of KUB’s annual electric load.

As part of the initiative, TVA has entered into a 20-year PPA with the 177 MW Ridgely Energy Farm in Lake County, Tennessee, developed by First Solar. With this agreement, TVA has now contracted for a total of 404 MW of First Solar developed projects, including an existing 20-year PPA for the 227 MW project in Muscle Shoals.

Earlier this year, TVA announced a contract with Origis Energy to develop a 200-MW solar site in Lowndes County, Mississippi, for TVA, with 35 MW of this facility supporting KUB’s Green Invest purchase.

That’s the big project news from just the last week.


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This article originally appeared on, and has been republished with permission by pv magazine ( and

Topics: Policy, Utilities, United States, Markets, Utility-Scale PV, Texas, Finance, Installations, Solar Plus Storage, utility scale storage, Grids, Integration, Technology, Utility Scale Markets, Green Finance, Prices, Tennessee Valley Authority, BellTown Power, Illinois, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Mississippi

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