More Clean Power Online; Damn that Loan Program!

Just so you know: Another project backed by the U.S. Department of Energy is pumping electricity — produced renewably — to the grid.

NRG Energy and SunPower said this week that California Valley Solar Ranch, which is being helped along by a $1.237 million loan guarantee from the Feds, flipped the switch on the first 22 megawatts of what will eventually be a 250 MW solar PV plant.

Construction on the project started in earnest last fall, soon after the loan deal closed on the very last day before eligibility would lapse. To make the deal happen, NRG on that day completed purchase of the project from SunPower, which stayed on as the project developer, working with the engineering firm Bechtel.

With electrons flowing, NRG seemed eager to note that it might have gotten good financing with the government’s help, but it still needed to follow through by getting the job done and making the project work.

“The private sector’s role is to demonstrate successful performance that speeds commercialization of technology — on time and on budget — and that’s what we’re doing at CVSR and all of NRG’s major solar projects,” Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar and NRG’s West Region, said in a statement. “Equally important, through large scale deployment, the private sector is accelerating cost reductions through supply chain improvements, lower balance of system costs and progress through experience that can’t be achieved at the lab bench or in the factory.”

Other loan-guarantee-backed projects, reflecting a diversity of renewable technologies, are even further along – as in done.

•In Oregon, Caithness Shepherds Flat, one of the biggest wind farms in the world at 845 MW, is completed and operating, sending power to Southern California.

•In Nevada, a three geothermal plants backed in the loan-guarantee program are selling electricity to the utility NV Energy.

•Agua Cliente in Arizona is now the world’s largest operating photovoltaic power plant, at 250 MW. OK, it’s not done. Eventually it will be 290 MW, but being the biggest in the world is nonetheless impressive.

NRG and SunPower said California Valley Solar Ranch will be fully online by the end of next year. At that point, the plant, in southeastern San Luis Obispo County about 100 miles northwest of LA, will be run jointly by NRG and SunPower for two years, after which NRG will take assume full control.

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