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Solar From Nevada Indian Reservation To Help Power LA

After decades of getting electricity from faraway pollution-and-greenhouse-gas-spewing coal-fired power plants, Los Angeles is looking out of state for less toxic forms of energy.

An example: The city council this week approved [PDF] a 25-year power purchase agreement with K Road Moapa Solar for up to 250 megawatts of power from a solar power plant on tribal land of the Moapa Band of the Paiute, north of Las Vegas.

Copper Mountain Solar in Nevada (image via Sempra U.S. Gas & Power)

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has said it expects to get around 606,650 megawatt-hours of energy annually from the planned photovoltaic solar operation beginning around 2015 – enough to power about 118,000 homes.

According to City Council documents [PDF], the LADWP will pay up to $64.8 million a year for the power, which by our rough calculation works out to about 10.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Under the deal, LADWP will also purchase a 5.5-mile transmission line, at a cost of $18 million, to connect the power to its substation, and get an option to purchase the solar power plant.

LA now obtains a hefty portion of it power from big coal-fired plants in Arizona and Utah, but there is a direct coal angle to the Moapa PV development: The Moapa are hopeful that producing power from solar can eventually allow for the shuttering of the Reid Gardner power station that sits right in the middle of their community. That’s a hope U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) addressed in reacting to the LA City Council vote in favor of solar.

“Unlike the old, dirty technologies used at the nearby Reid-Gardner coal plant, this new solar project will not emit any hazardous emissions, wastes, or carbon pollution,” the senator said in a statement. “I have worked hard to make sure that Nevada tribes have new opportunities to flourish and I am confident that this clean energy project will provide a meaningful opportunity to improve the quality of life for the Moapa Paiutes and nearby communities.”

While LA has committed to purchasing up to 250 megawatts of power from the plant, K Road Power had said it intends to build the Moapa Solar project in three stages, each consisting of 100-150 MW of PV. It’s unknown if there will be additional power capacity sold elsewhere, or if the actual development will be downscaled to meet the 250 MW PPA with Los Angeles.

The plant, approved by the Obama administration in June, will go on 2,000 acres of leased tribal lands — about 3 percent of the tribe’s trust lands — while 12 acres of U.S. public land, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, will be needed for the larger of two new transmission lines.

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Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 28, 2012

Wow, 10.6 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar PV sounds pretty good.  Oh wait, about 30% of the total cost is being covered by my tax dollars. http://www.solarbuzz.com/facts-and-figures/retail-price-environment/solar-electricity-prices  says that industrial scale solar (500kW) is about $3.60/Wp installed, or 15 cents/kWh in sunny areas (presumably with no subsidy).  The 28% capacity factor gives a cost of $13.0/Watt-avg (still way above wind and nuclear). 

I'm betting that in order for solar to go big, these PV plants will need a couple of hours of storage just to make them grid-friendly (so they don't impose super-fast ramping rates on their fossil fueled backups). Solar Buzz says $0.213/Wh for batteries. That will push the cost up another 20%.

However, the article is an important reminder that utility scale solar is a better value for society than residential rooftop (which still runs almost double the price), even accounting for transmission loss.

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