Solar developer 8minutenergy found a buyer for one of the largest solar farms to be built in the U.S. this year.
The top-10 utility-scale developer sold equity for the 328 megawatt-DC third phase of the Mount Signal solar plant to private asset manager Capital Dynamics. The deal will allow construction to commence on this section of the broader 800-megawatt development in Calexico, California, near the border with Mexico.
The project itself spans the recent history of the utility-scale solar industry.
8minutenergy started developing Mount Signal, sited in the Imperial Valley, back in 2009. The first stage, with 260 megawatts-DC, came on-line in 2013. The company started work on the third segment in 2011, and locked down a 20-year power-purchase agreement for it with utility Southern California Edison in June 2014.
The PPA is covered by a non-disclosure agreement, so the details are not known. What we do know is the scale.
“It’s the biggest project for us that we’re bringing into construction,” said 8minutenergy founder and CEO Martin Hermann.
The new project owner, Capital Dynamics, brings the experience of managing 3,100 megawatts of clean energy capacity, which it defines as solar, wind, biomass, conventional gas generation and waste-gas-fueled power generation. The company stepped into a role once marked for the now-defunct SunEdison.
8minutenergy originally entered into a joint venture with AES that included an option to acquire Mount Signal 3, Hermann said. AES later sold its solar business to SunEdison, which went on a buying spree with the aim of becoming the first renewable energy supermajor. The latter’s 2016 bankruptcy scrambled that scenario for long-term ownership of the site.
SunEdison's fall didn't stop 8minutenergy from working on the project in the meantime, Hermann said.
"Projects change hands pretty frequently; projects come and go and get delayed," said Colin Smith, a solar analyst at GTM Research. "That’s par for the course."
Now, Capital Dynamics will take care of tax equity and debt financing. 8minutenergy has already lined up contracts with First Solar to deliver 2.8 million Series 4 thin-film panels and signed Mortenson Construction to manage engineering, procurement and construction.
Sometimes 8minutenergy elects to own the projects it develops. In this case, the project appeared more attractive to a different kind of owner.
"Mount Signal 3 has a large size; an institutional investor can put a lot of money to work at once, which large institutional investors prefer," Hermann said.
It helps that the project comes with a long-term PPA contracted to a dependable offtaker like SCE, he added.
Almost all the top U.S. solar developers, 8minutenergy included, have developed or are developing energy storage alongside major solar projects, GTM has reported previously. This particular project does not have a storage component, though, in large part because the PPA was finalized back in 2014.
"Storage was just in a different stage of its lifecycle then," Hermann said.
When the facility goes operational in early 2019, then, it won't create dispatchable renewable power, but it will benefit from advances in module efficiency and plant design that have occurred since the deal was inked.