10-MW solar project planned at old Rancho Seco nuclear site

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) board of directors has endorsed plans for a solar project of more than 10 MW that would be located on SMUD’s old Rancho Seco nuclear plant property.

SMUD announced Sept. 9 that the board has approved a solar photovoltaic (PV) construction project and a 20-year power purchase agreement for a 10.88-MW solar array on approximately 62 acres of SMUD property at Rancho Seco.

The solar power generating facility will be owned by First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), which develops utility-scale PV power plants. The power purchased from the project will provide energy for SMUD’s commercial SolarShares program. The program allows SMUD business customers the benefits of solar energy that supports sustainability goals but can’t be accomplished through installation of panels for reasons that may include cost, roof orientation or other factors.

The Rancho Seco PV project will provide many energy and environmental benefits to SMUD customers. With nearly 11 MW of capacity, the project annually will deliver nearly 23,000 megawatt hours of clean, renewable, non-carbon-emitting power at peak demand (hot summer afternoons), precluding, SMUD said in a news release.

The SMUD board approved the project following completion of the California Environmental Quality Act study. Construction is expected to begin towards the end of the year and is expected to begin producing energy by the third quarter of 2016.

The project makes use of existing previously developed land and SMUD-owned power lines, which helps to minimize the environmental impact of the project. 

The new array also helps SMUD meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goals of 33% renewable power by 2020, set by the SMUD board and the state.

SMUD is one of the RPS leaders among California utilities, delivering about 27% of its total power via renewable resources like solar, wind, biogas and geothermal-generated energy, SMUD said.

The Rancho Seco site hosted one of the first utility-scale solar arrays in the world when it was built in 1984 adjacent to the now-decommissioned Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station. The first Rancho Seco solar arrays had a capacity of 3.2 MW—a lot of power in 1984.  Five of the six arrays were decommissioned in 2013 as the technology reached its end of life.

Rancho Seco nuclear plant was shut down in 1989 after SMUD customers voted to close the plant down. Decommissioning was completed in 2009, according to SMUD. The plant’s spent fuel remains stored in bunkers on-site, according to a SMUD video.

SMUD describes itself as the nation’s sixth-largest, community-owned electric service provider, SMUD has been providing low-cost, reliable electricity for more than 65 years to Sacramento County and small adjoining portions of Placer and Yolo Counties.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.