Austin Energy said June 2 that a new solar power agreement with a local energy firm will make 100% solar energy available to more residents of Austin, Texas, while bringing 3.2 MW of pollution-free power to East Austin.
The agreement signed between PowerFin Texas Solar Projects and Austin Energy requires the Austin-based company to build a solar plant on land Austin Energy owns, and the city-owned utility to purchase the electricity the plant produces. The project will provide power for Austin Energy’s forthcoming “community solar” program, which will allow customers who are not able to install solar panels at their home to subscribe to solar energy. This includes renters, those with shady roofs, or anyone who doesn’t want to install, pay for, and maintain a system at their own property. The program will be open to Austin Energy residential customers.
In addition to producing solar power, the project will include battery storage and educational components. This will be one of the first projects in the country to combine utility-scale solar with utility-scale energy storage, located right at the distribution feeder, which will enable smoother solar integration onto the grid and improve power quality in the immediate vicinity.
“We want this East Austin site to be a hub for clean energy innovation in Austin,” said Danielle Murray, Austin Energy Solar Energy Services Program Manager. “Not only is this an opportunity to provide solar to a wider number of Austinites, it’s also an opportunity to showcase the evolving smart grid and utility of the future, and provide educational opportunities to the community and local schools.”
The solar farm will be constructed adjacent to Austin Energy’s Kingsbery substation. Because it will be built on land owned by Austin Energy and distribution and substation infrastructure are already in place, the cost for the solar energy produced is lower than what it would have been otherwise.
The project will be one of more than 50 in 17 states in the U.S. often referred to as shared renewables or community solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Shared renewable energy projects enable customers to share the benefits of one local renewable energy plant, specifically a solar plant in the case of community solar.
Details of the pricing and program offering for customers are being developed. Austin Energy estimates that the project will be completed in the summer of 2016, and expects to develop more community solar sites around Austin to meet demand as customers sign up for the program.