Austin Energy Goes First Solar With 119 Megawatt Solar Project

Austin Energy is quickly establishing itself as one of Texas' most forward thinking utilities and one of its most price-savvy ones, too. Earlier this month the utility announced that it's requests for proposals for solar power projects came in at record-low costs. Now it's revealing some more information about its new contracts. Today (Oct. 29) First Solar announced that it signed a 15 year power-purchase agreement with the utility for a 119 megawatt East Pecos Solar Project.

"In committing to procuring 600 megawatts of solar energy in the coming years, the City of Austin has once again taken a leadership role in Texas," contended Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weis. "We were pioneers in wind energy in the 1990s, and now we're leading the way in solar.

Actually the utility is in a kind of positive competition with San Antonio's utility, CPS Energy, for that Texas title. CPS Energy signed an agreement with OCI Solar Power a couple of years ago to install 400 megawatts of solar power. That agreement included having OCI Solar build a manufacturing facility in the region. They've already begun installing the first phases of that project.

Austin waited a little while longer and was rewarded with the strategy with really low prices—how low? Try an average of 3.8 cents per kilowatt hour, that's the lowest price seen in Texas and likely one of the lowest costs for solar power to date! It's fully cost-competitive with natural gas and lower than most other energy technologies.

The cost of power from the new First Solar agreement wasn't disclosed but it's likely close to the average requested average that Austin Energy saw. "The East Pecos Solar Project is proof of solar's real-world cost competitiveness," said Georges Antoun, First Solar president of the U.S.

"There is an irrefutable trend of solar becoming competitive in more geographies. Texas, in particular, shows great promise as an attractive market for solar-generated electricity, and Austin Energy is riding that trend," Anton said. He added that the state's business-friendly environment is making it a good market for utility-scale solar. That and the fact that it's such a large state with a lot of open land.

The First Solar project, one of the first announced under the contracts, is set to start construction rapidly, in early 2016 and it's expected to start coming online in 2016, too. During construction the project will create roughly 500 construction jobs.

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