From Recharge

October 26, 2016

By Karl-Erik Stromsta

Large-scale PV trounced wind in a widely watched clean-energy tender in the northeastern US, adding to the solar sector’s momentum in US regions where onshore wind has dominated the renewables market in recent years.

Three states in New England this week concluded the project-evaluation phase of their Clean Energy Request for Proposal (RFP), selecting a half-dozen solar and wind developers backing projects totaling 460MW.

The highly competitive RFP had called for up to 600MW of new renewables capacity to be flowed into densely populated Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and drew two dozen bids worth several gigawatts of potential capacity from a deep list of developers.

Solar dominated the list of winning projects, with an overall tally of 306MW — nearly twice as high as wind’s 155MW.

The single biggest winner in the RFP was Maine-based developer Ranger Solar, which bid in 220MW of solar capacity spread across a number of 20MW-50MW projects in Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire — all states with little utility-scale PV in place today.

Other winning solar developers include global renewables heavyweight RES, Massachusetts-based Ameresco, and Deepwater Wind – the developer behind the first US offshore wind farm, which won with its first-ever solar project, the 26MW(ac) Simsbury array in Connecticut.

The biggest winner on the wind side was Pittsburgh-based EverPower, with its 126MW Cassadaga project in Chautauqua County, upstate New York.

The winning projects must still negotiate off-take contracts with utilities and finalise their regulatory approvals.

Many major renewables players went home empty-handed, including NextEra Energy, EDP Renewables North America and Pattern Development – the latter having bid in its massive 600MW King Pine wind project in northern Maine.

The RFP’s result underscores the increasing competitiveness of solar across many regions of the US, and the sector’s growing threat to wind.

In addition to the rapid decline in the price of PV modules, developers say it’s easier to cost-efficiently build small- and medium-sized PV plants than wind farms – allowing solar companies to more easily work around transmission and interconnection constraints.

“If I look at the northern part of the country, interconnection capacity and transmission capacity are significant limiting factors for wind,” Gabriel Alonso, chief executive of EDP Renewables North America, said earlier this month at an industry conference.

“There are some advantages for solar even in what I’d primarily consider wind markets … because of the smaller pockets of interconnection and transmission capacity [solar developers] can take advantage of.”

Many of the large wind projects rejected in the RFP would have required huge new transmission lines to get their power to market, including Pattern Development’s King Pine and EDP Renewables’ Number Nine developments, both located in northern Maine.

Developers that did not secure capacity in the three-state RFP will now turn their focus to other potential opportunities – most notably Massachusetts’ recent renewables mandate, which calls for large-scale imports of renewable power from the northeastern US and Canada in addition to its offshore wind carve-out.

Mike Garland, chief executive of Pattern Development and its publicly listed yieldco Pattern Energy, told local media that he expects to find another buyer for King Pine’s future output.

“We acquired the development rights to this project from SunEdison not because we expected to win the RFP bid, but because we see King Pine wind as an excellent asset in a great location,” Garland was quoted by the Portland Press Herald as saying.

“We believe King Pine will be a unique asset in the northeast that will have plenty of opportunities for selling its power,” Garland said.