Company announces largest U.S. solar project in history

Source: By Edward Klump, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Chicago-based company is developing the nation’s largest-ever solar power project in Texas, fueled by corporate interest in renewable energy.

Invenergy LLC announced the Samson Solar Energy Center last week, saying its electricity will go to companies such as AT&T Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. The $1.6 billion project in northeastern Texas is designed to have a 1,310-megawatt capacity when fully operational in 2023. Invenergy said Samson, now under construction, will be built in five phases.

“Invenergy continues to lead the energy transition, and this record-setting project demonstrates our expertise at a new scale,” Ted Romaine, senior vice president of origination at Invenergy, said in a statement.

Inside and outside Texas, energy commitments from businesses continue to dovetail with clean energy aspirations.

Still, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming over the U.S. economy, the BloombergNEF research firm said over the summer that corporate purchases of renewable electricity in the U.S. declined in the first half of 2020 (Energywire, Aug. 12). The industry also is dealing with a shrinking federal investment tax credit, so getting started is often in a project’s interest unless that policy changes.

Invenergy said AT&T agreed to take some 500 MW of power from Samson, while Honda Motor Co., McDonald’s, Google and Home Depot Inc. have varying agreements that total about 510 MW. Texas cities slated to get power from the project include Bryan, Denton and Garland.

Panels for the project will be 6 to 8 feet off the ground at resting height, according to a website on Samson. The panels will track the sun during the day, and at peak times they’ll be about 15 feet off the ground. The solar panels are made of materials such as copper, glass and aluminum, the website notes. And Samson will be a photovoltaic facility.

While the project is set to take shape in phases, its announced size is much larger than the 690-MW Gemini project planned northeast of Las Vegas. That development had been touted as the largest U.S. solar project. Earlier this year, the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management announced an approval of a proposal to build Gemini.

Effects of climate change

Samson also adds to the influence of solar and renewables in Texas. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s main grid operator, has said its region is on track to install record amounts of wind, batteries and utility-scale solar this year. After ending 2019 with less than 2,300 MW of installed utility-scale solar, ERCOT’s region could see over 5,000 MW in place at the close of 2020 and more than 13,000 MW installed by the time 2021 ends.

When 2022 is over, depending on how projects unfold, ERCOT’s territory could have more than 20,000 MW of cumulative utility-scale solar in place. Texas also remains the top wind energy state by installed capacity.

For now, public ERCOT reports show aspects of the Samson project in various stages of the interconnection process, though under a different name.

Parts of the development could come online in 2021, 2022 and 2023. When asked by E&E News, Invenergy declined to discuss a potential role for the federal investment tax credit with the Samson project. Some electricity could be sold as merchant power, according to the company.

Charlene Lake, AT&T’s chief sustainability officer, said in a recent post on LinkedIn that her company was “all too familiar with the effects of climate change” as an operator of a large U.S. telecommunications network. She said AT&T had spent about $1 billion to recover from climate-related severe weather events since 2016.

And Lake noted the company’s commitment — announced this year — to be carbon neutral across its global operations by 2035. Tapping more renewable energy is part of that strategy.

“With more than 1.5 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, our portfolio delivers clean electricity to the grid, helps to create jobs and community benefits, and supports the transition to a low-carbon economy,” Scott Mair, president of AT&T Technology & Operations, said in a statement last week that included Samson in the company’s capacity total. “We’re excited to participate in Invenergy’s Samson project through the largest corporate solar energy deal in the U.S.”

Invenergy’s Samson plan involves three Texas counties — Lamar, Red River and Franklin. Invenergy said hundreds of jobs could be supported by the project over 36 months. The company said Samson also will mean more than $250 million in landowner payments and close to $200 million in property tax payments during its life.

“When complete, it will produce enough energy to power nearly 300,000 American homes,” Invenergy said.