Written by The Business Journal Staff
Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar has struck a power purchase agreement with Northern California community choice aggregator MCE (Marin Clean Energy) to provide energy from First Solar’s Little Bear project in Fresno County.
To be located on 630 acres a few miles southwest of Mendota, Little Bear will generate up to 40 megawatts of energy to start, with plans to eventually build out to 160 megawatts. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2019, with commissioning expected in 2020.
While investor-owned utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison have struck large power purchase agreements with various solar projects throughout the state, this agreement is unique in that the energy is being purchased by a community choice aggregator.
In 2002, the state legislature passed a law enabling community choice aggregation, allowing communities to offer electricity to customers within their boundaries instead of purchasing it from a utility. Only a handful of communities have initiated such a program.
“MCE is at the forefront of community-based power, a trend that is growing not only in California but across the United States,” said Brian Kunz, First Solar’s vice president of project development. “We are excited to partner with an early leader in this important energy segment, and we look forward to expanding the relationship as MCE’s customer base grows.”
MCE — which serves the counties of Marin and Napa as well as cities including Richmond, Benicia, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Walnut Creek and Lafayette — offers its customers different tiers of renewable energy, including “Light Green,” which is at least 50 percent from renewable sources, “Deep Green,” which is 100 percent renewable energy, and “Local Sol,” which is 100 percent locally produced solar energy.
Customers who choose to opt out of the program can receive PG&E’s standard service, which is currently 30 percent renewable.
The Kings River Conservation District and 13 municipalities including Fresno, Clovis and Kings County, began an effort in 2006 to bring community choice aggregation to the Central Valley, even becoming the first authority to receive approval and certification from the California Public Utilities Commission of a required Community Choice Implementation Plan.
The group suspended its efforts in 2009, however, due to tightness in the credit market and volatility in energy prices and other concerns about the state’s regulatory climate. The group also pointed at strong opposition from PG&E as a factor.