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Austin Energy celebrates 30-MW solar farm

From the January 18, 2012 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published January 18, 2012

Austin Energy on Jan. 6 cut the ribbon on a 30-megawatt solar power plant located in the village of Webberville, Texas. Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Webberville Mayor Hector Gonzales and county and state officials were on hand to mark the occasion.

The project is Austin Energy's first utility-scale solar energy resource and brings the municipal utility a step closer to achieving its goal of 35% renewable energy by 2020 – one of the most aggressive green power goals in the nation.

The Webberville Solar Project began producing electricity in late December. Photo courtesy of Austin Energy

The Webberville Solar Project is currently the largest solar project of any public power utility in the country, the largest project in Texas and among the largest of all operating solar projects in America, Austin Energy said. The project began generating power on Dec. 20, 2011.

The ribbon-cutting event was held at the 380-acre photovoltaic solar farm. The 30-MW solar project is comprised of more than 127,000 photovoltaic solar modules mounted on single-axis trackers that follow the sun to maximize solar energy production.

The project is projected to generate more than 1.4 billion kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy over 25 years — power sufficient for more than 136,000 average U.S. homes (5,000 homes per year) while offsetting more than 1.6 billion pounds of CO2.

The 30-MW solar project is made up of more than 127,000 photovoltaic solar modules mounted on single-axis trackers that follow the sun. Photo courtesy of Austin Energy

"The Webberville Solar Project exemplifies Austin’s leadership and investment in a clean energy future," said Mayor Leffingwell. "The city of Austin is proud to support a project that provides energy during hot summer days when it is needed most and promotes new technologies that future generations can benefit from."

The utility-scale solar project was made possible through a 25-year solar power purchase agreement through which Austin Energy will purchase the energy at a fixed rate along with the renewable energy credits. The project is owned by Metlife and Longsol LLC and is operated by Renewable Energy Systems.

Julia Hamm, president of the Solar Electric Power Association, on Jan. 11 applauded Austin Energy and CPS Energy "for hitting significant milestones on projects that will dramatically increase Texas’ solar capacity." CPS Energy announced Jan. 11 that it is negotiating a major power purchase agreement with OCI Solar Power that is expected to lead to the construction of 400 MW of solar power in the San Antonio area over the next few years. (See Public Power Daily, Jan. 13.)

 "While the use of utility-scale solar power has steadily spread across all parts of the nation, the abundance of solar resources in Texas makes it a perfect location for new projects of this scale," Hamm said. "The planned addition of 430 MW of clean, renewable solar energy onto the Texas grid is nothing short of remarkable, and highlights the progressive nature of municipally owned utilities."

Municipal utilities "are rapidly growing their solar capacity," Hamm said. In 2010, the annual capacity from all municipal utilities was 87.5 MW — an increase of more than 165% over the 2009 total, she said.


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