SMUD powers up 11-MW solar plant at Rancho Seco

The new 11-MW Rancho Seco Solar Power Plant, built alongside an old nuclear plant site, has now entered service and will provide electricity to the basketball arena for the Sacramento Kings, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) said Oct. 4.

Rancho Seco Solar is now delivering clean electricity to the State Capitol and other downtown state buildings as well as the new Golden 1 Center—making it one of the greenest sports arenas in the world SMUD said in a news release.

Officials with state and local government, the Sacramento Kings, SMUD, plant operator and technology provider First Solar, and plant owner, D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments, ceremonially “flipped the big switch” on the plant a week before the Golden 1 Center’s grand opening on Oct. 4.

The power purchased from the project will provide energy for SMUD’s commercial SolarShares® program.  SolarShares program is designed to provide business customers with a low-cost, hassle-free solar option to onsite solar panels.

Recently, the California Department of General Services (DGS), which oversees 79 state-owned properties, including 58 office buildings, signed on to buy about half the power generated by the plant, agreeing to a 20-year SolarShares partnership. The solar-generated electricity is expected to significantly reduce DGS facilities’ impact on energy use and the environment, displacing nearly 2,860 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year.

Together with other local renewable generation, DGS will be 100% renewable in SMUD’s territory.

Last fall, the Kings and SMUD agreed to a 20-year SolarShares partnership to provide Golden 1 Center with approximately 85% of its annual electricity needs. SMUD is the renewable energy provider for the Golden 1 Center.

The solar power generating facility is owned by an affiliate of D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments, which acquires, owns, and manages long-term contracted renewable energy assets in North America. The plant is operated by First Solar, which develops, constructs and operates utility-scale PV power plants and managed the construction of this facility.

The Rancho Seco Power Plant project is expected to provide many energy and environmental benefits to SMUD customers and the region, SMUD said.

• With nearly 11 MW of capacity, the project annually is expected to deliver nearly 23,000 megawatt hours of renewable, non-carbon-emitting power at peak demand.

• The project makes use of existing previously developed land and SMUD-owned power lines. 

The Rancho Seco site has a very significant solar legacy as it 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. Five of the six arrays were decommissioned in 2013 as the technology reached its end of life.

The SMUD Board approved the project last fall following completion of the California Environmental Quality Act study.

SMUD is the nation’s sixth-largest community-owned electric service provider, providing electricity for about 70 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