Invenergy has begun construction on a five-phase, 1,310-megawatt solar center spanning three Texas counties, the energy developer and operator said on Wednesday.
The company has already secured offtake agreements with several cities and large corporations for its Samson Solar Energy Center, with phases set to come online in 2022 and 2023. Though the solar will be divided over numerous neighboring sites, its total capacity is significantly greater than the 690-megawatt Gemini project, which currently holds the title for the largest solar project planned in the U.S.
In recent years, Texas has become an epicenter for utility-scale solar development. While solar accounts for only about 2 percent of generating capacity in the territory of system operator ERCOT, it outranks all other categories in ERCOT's interconnection queue. In an April report, ERCOT forecast that its installed solar capacity of about 2.3 gigawatts could double this year.
While much of the solar development in the state has concentrated in West Texas, Invenergy will construct its first Texas solar project in the northeast part of the state, near the Oklahoma border. It’s expected to yield more than $250 million for private landowners and create about 600 jobs during construction.
The greatest portion of Samson’s power output will go to telecommunications giant AT&T, which has signed a power-purchase agreement for 500 megawatts of capacity — a record purchase for the United States in the commercial and industrial domain. Honda is the next largest offtaker with 200 megawatts. McDonald’s will offtake 160 megawatts, the city of Bryan, Texas snapped up 150 megawatts, and Google contracted for 100 megawatts. Home Depot and the cities of Denton and Garland also each contracted for slices of under 100 megawatts. Invenergy declined to provide details on the contract prices.
Chicago-based Invenergy is among the leading renewables developers in the U.S., with over 3.5 gigawatts of solar and wind contracted in the U.S. and Mexico. Long a heavyweight in wind, Invenergy’s interest in solar is more recent, though it ranks in the top 10 solar developers in the U.S., according to Wood Mackenzie. Earlier this year, it began operating what was then its largest solar project, a 160-megawatt array in Georgia. This Texas project is “at a new scale,” said Ted Romaine, the company’s senior vice president of origination, in a statement.
The project will also provide a significant boost to annual counts of commercial and industrial renewables procurement, which has become a significant force in driving solar demand. WoodMac tracked 6.7 gigawatts of offsite C&I solar last year. With the pandemic rattling the solar industry, analysts were unsure whether buyers would keep up their streak of record-breaking purchases.
“There was fear that uncertain market conditions would cause C&I customers to slow down procurement,” said Colin Smith, a senior solar analyst at WoodMac. “This shows that they have remained relatively strong.”
Still, Smith acknowledged that corporate solar procurement is not on pace with 2019 levels. Currently, the consultancy expects 2020 to come in at just 6.3 gigawatts of procurements, with expectations that a third of those deals — just like Invenergy’s announcement — will crop up in the typically very busy final quarter of the year.