Southern Co. buys into Texas’ new wave of solar power

Atlanta-based Southern Co. is buying into Texas’ burgeoning wave of solar growth in a big way.

The company’s Southern Power subsidiary purchased the 1,000-acre East Pecos Solar Facility project in West Texas from Arizona-based First Solar., the Southern Co. said Monday. Southern Power bought another planned Pecos County solar farm late last year.

Southern Co. is one of a handful of businesses investing heavily in West Texas solar power with new projects coming online. The proposed East Pecos Solar farm is expected to come online by the end of the year with 120 megawatts of power capacity. The companies declined to give the acquisition price.

“Southern Power’s acquisition of the East Pecos Solar Facility underscores the company’s commitment to strategically develop renewables across America,” said chairman, president and CEO Thomas Fanning said in an announcement.

The primary Texas grid currently has fewer than 300 megawatts of solar power online, but that number is expected to grow to 2,000 megawatts by 2018, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages about 90 percent of the state’s electricity load. One megawatt is typically enough to power about 500 Texas residence during mild weather conditions and 200 homes during peak demand.

Renewable power in Texas is mostly generated by wind farms, but several new solar projects are starting to come online. ERCOT projects the grid could have 14,000 megawatts of solar power by 2030.

By comparison, the state could exceed 20,000 megawatts in wind power capacity by the end of this year. The overall grid currently has about 80,000 megawatts of capacity.

As for the East Pecos project, First Solar will contract with Southern Power to operate and maintain the solar farm. The electricity generated is being purchased by the city of Austin in a 15-year contract.

In its only other solar deal in Texas, Southern Co. recently bought a 51 percent stake for an undisclosed sum in the planned 157-megawatt Roserock solar facility in Pecos County near Fort Stockton. Canadian Solar, which is developing the project, will retain 49 percent ownership through its Recurrent Energy subsidiary.

The Roserock solar farm also will provide power to Austin and surrounding areas through a 20-year power purchase agreement with the municipally owned Austin Energy. Roserock is bigger than any existing solar farm in Texas, although there are other larger ones being developed.

The Roserock solar farm also is expected to be completed in late 2016.