The Sacramento Municipal Utility District board has approved construction of a solar power array on about 62 acres of its Rancho Seco property, where the utility once operated a nuclear power plant.
The project includes a 20-year power purchase agreement for a 10.88-megawatt array. SMUD said construction is expected to begin near the end of this year, and the array is expected to begin producing energy by the third quarter of 2016.
The solar power-generating facility will be owned by First Solar Inc., a Tempe, Ariz.-based developer of utility-scale power plants. First Solar will oversee construction.
Power purchased from the project will provide energy for SMUD’s commercial SolarShares program, which enables SMUD business customers to buy comparatively low-cost power. SolarShares, launched in 2008, offers solar energy benefits that cannot be accomplished by on-site installation of solar panels for various reasons, including cost and roof orientation.
“I think this is a great re-use project that SMUD can provide for companies and commercial users that can’t put solar on their roofs because of space or other reasons. It helps them meet their renewable and sustainable energy goals,” said Amanda Beck, senior project manager in SMUD’s project development and power-generation group.
The new array also will help SMUD meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard goal of 33 percent renewable power by 2020. SMUD said it is one of the RPS leaders among California utilities, currently delivering about 27 percent of its total power via renewable resources like solar, wind, biogas and geothermal-generated energy.
SMUD said the project annually will deliver nearly 23,000 megawatt-hours of power during peak summer demand, precluding the use fossil fuel-generated power during those times. The utility also noted that the project makes use of previously developed land and SMUD-owned power lines.
The Rancho Seco site hosted one of the first utility-scale solar arrays in the world when it was built in 1984 adjacent to the now-decommissioned Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station. The first Rancho Seco solar arrays had a capacity of 3.2 megawatts. Five of the six arrays were decommissioned in 2013 as the technology reached the end of its operational life.
The Rancho Seco nuclear power plant south of Sacramento was troubled by a string of shutdowns in the 1980s. A 1989 voter referendum prompted the closure of the plant.
SMUD’s announcement on Wednesday was preceded by the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association reporting that the U.S. residential solar market set a quarterly record with 473 megawatts installed in this year’s second quarter. SEIA said that represented 70 percent year-over-year growth in the sector.