Electric cooperative debuts its first utility-scale solar power project
By Sergio Chapa Reporter, San Antonio Business Journal
A wire-cutting ceremony and a portable lift giving attendees a bird’s-eye view marked the debut of Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative’s first utility-scale solar power project, the SunHub Generation Station.
The 16-acre site off Alternate Highway 90 a few miles east of Seguin is now home to a community solar farm that will enable cooperative members to buy clean energy without having to install equipment on their properties.
The 2-megawatt renewable energy project was built after multiple co-op members asked for more solar power options, GVEC CEO Darren Schauer told the Business Journal.
The Gonzales-based cooperative, which provides electricity to tens of thousands of customers in nine rural counties east of San Antonio, is exploring options for solar farm projects in West Texas.
Developing a community solar farm enabled GVEC to generate clean power in its own backyard, Schauer said.
“SunHub Generation Station … will empower members to use green energy without having the upfront costs,” he said.
To make the project easier to integrate on its grid, GVEC bought land next to an existing power substation. GVEC entered into a 12-year power purchase agreement with Ohio-based AEP Onsite Partners LLC, which developed the site and will operate it.
“We hope to do many more of these projects,” AEP Energy Partners Managing Director for Energy Markets Brian Whitlach told the Business Journal. “The prices have come down so much that it can compete with large utility-scale projects way out in West Texas because you don’t have all the transmission costs to get the power here. So these are very competitive for any electric cooperative.”
AEP Onsite Partners financed the project and tapped Chicago-based SoCore Energy LLC as general contractor, which designed and built the 16-acre site using 6,500 solar panels made by JA Solar, inverters from Chint Power Systems, single-axis trackers from Solar FlexRack and power meters from Meters USA.
“We work with rural electric cooperatives around the country, and there’s a lot of interest in solar,” SoCore Energy Project Developer Andew Dahlen told the Business Journal. “Costs continue to come down, and utilities recognize the value of renewable generation.”
Construction for the community solar farm started in June and finished in November. GVEC has an option to buy SunHub at the end of its 12-year power purchase agreement, and in the meantime, the cooperative will sell its members up to five 100-kilowatt-hour blocks produced at the facility.
Participating members will be allowed to enter and leave the community solar program as they please, paying $7 per 100 kilowatt-hours for electricity produced from the facility. The rate is higher than GVEC’s normal generation and transmission rate of $6.40 per 100 kilowatt-hours. It is being marketed as a 100 percent locally sourced green energy option for renters and people unable to install solar power equipment on their properties.
With the site capable of generating up to 400 million kilowatts-hours of electricity per year and the average home consuming 1,500 kilowatt-hours per year, SunHub has the potential to provide power for hundreds of homes.
Calling the project an important step forward, GVEC Board President Lewis Borgfeld said SunHub won’t be the cooperative’s last renewable energy generation project.
“The SunHub Generation Station and community solar are an important step into a future where renewable energy will play a critical role in meeting our nation’s power needs — affordably and responsibly, especially as technology improves and costs go down,” Borgfeld said.