According to this excel database with the California Public Utilities Commission, there are 110 such projects that signed contracts with California utilities. These are sited not only in California, but also in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming and as far away as Canada — all to be shipping renewable electrons from renewables to supply the huge market of 33 million people on the California grid.
These large-scale projects are nearly all wind and solar. The solar is all the different kinds of solar thermal technologies and solar PV (both traditional and thin film). There are a few geothermal projects. There was one hydro and one biomass, but both were withdrawn.
Not every project goes forward. Of the 110 power purchase sgreements (PPAs) – contracts for power with one of the three big utilities in California — 18 have since been withdrawn, the contract was canceled, or the application was rejected somewhere along in the permitting process.
PPAs are a very different way to get power on the grid. In the past, many utilities owned coal plants or natural gas or nuclear plants.
“PG&E does not procure nuclear power through PPAs,” Lynsey Paulo of California utility Pacific Gas and Electric told Earthtechling, adding that gas is procured only partially through PPAs.
PPAs protect the ratepayer from cost overruns. Solar and wind companies agree to supply power at a set price for 20 or 25 years. If something goes wrong, and they cannot do it, the utility can cancel and find another developer who can.
“Our Form PPA contains provisions that allow for PPA termination when the developer does not meet project milestones in a timely fashion” Paulo added. ”This would include, for example, failure to meet Guaranteed Construction Start Dates for certain reasons or failure to meet Guaranteed Commercial Operation Dates for certain reasons.”
By contrast, says Paulo, owning a plant is very different from contracting for the power.
“The nuclear power that we provide to our customers comes from the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, a facility that is owned and operated by PG&E,” she added. ”Therefore, the building of, costs for, and timeline associated with the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant were subject to regulatory oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and California Public Utilities Commission.”
So ratepayers will not be holding the bag if a solar or wind project fails. Its contract gets canceled. Tough for the solar or wind industry, but good for ratepayers.
Yet another sign of the huge change coming is the latest update of solar projects on public lands from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This now stands at a simply extraordinary 17,298 MW (17-plus gigawatts) and that’s just solar, and just the solar on public lands.
This new summary from the U.S. Department of the Interior is another huge jump of solar on public lands from when I last updated this list just months ago. At that point the (already astounding) total stood at 13 GW, including wind and geothermal. The latest update from the BLM lists 17 GW — just from solar projects alone!
So often we look at each individual news item, the trees, and miss the forest. Assuming that you care about the future of our civilization, it is easy to get dismayed by all the obstacles. We seem to be unable to get the clean energy on the grid that we need in order to combat climate change.
News of a renewable energy bankruptcy or of the recent solar non-IPO, or of a filibuster of yet another clean energy bill – yet another state legislature bowing to ALEC in cutting back its renewable energy standards or other depressing setback — might make it seem that all is lost, that renewables are getting clobbered, that the bad guys are winning, and that we will never make the switch from fossil fuels before the tipping points for catastrophic climate change are breached.
That’s when it is good to step back and take a look at the big picture. And in this case I do mean BIG.
These are simply massive changes coming — on a scale last seen only when the U.S. switched from horses to horsepower.
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