PV 'competitive' in ERCOT market

Recurrent Energy, the San Francisco-based PV developer owned by Japan's Sharp, has snatched a high-profile 150MW order in Texas away from rival US solar operator SunEdison.

Austin Energy, the publicly owned power utility servicing Texas’s liberal-minded capital city, today announced that it had handed a 20-year power purchase agreement to Recurrent Energy for a 150MW ground-mount array, which will be among the largest in Texas when it is completed in 2016.

Earlier this spring Missouri-based SunEdison was tipped as the likely winner of the contract, having reportedly offered to sell electricity to Austin Energy for $0.05/kWh – among the cheapest PV power purchase agreements ever mooted in the developed world. SunEdison built the 30MW Webberville PV farm, currently the largest in Texas, which is currently generating power for Austin Energy.

But Recurrent, which has been developing projects in Texas for several years to little avail, was apparently able to beat SunEdison’s offer for the 150MW array.

“Solar power has reached a price that is competitive in the ERCOT market, allowing us to further diversify our energy portfolio with renewable resources,” says Larry Weis, general manager at Austin Energy.

Recurrent, which has been owned since 2010 by Japanese electronics giant and PV manufacturer Sharp, is among the largest solar developers and plant operators in the US.

In spite of its immense size, strong demand for power, long track record with wind energy, and excellent solar resource, Texas is a laggard among US states in solar energy, with just 201MW installed by the end of 2013.

With few incentives in place for rooftop installations, most capacity has come from utility-scale projects, and most of those have been built for just two publicly owned power utilities – Austin Energy, and CPS Energy of San Antonio.

But some observers, including Recurrent chief executive Arno Harris, believe solar will increasingly gain traction in the Lone Star state.

“The Texas market represents one of the most exciting opportunities for the solar industry,” says Harris.

CPS has a deal in place with Korea’s OCI that will see it build 400MW of PV capacity by 2017, with suppliers Nexolon (modules) and Kaco New Energy (inverters) setting up factories in the state.