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New solar panels glisten in the high desert sun
1/9/2013 3:07 PM
The 5-megawatt Outback Solar Project in Christmas Valley, Ore., is the first commercial-scale solar project in BPA’s territory.
The clear, high-desert skies over Christmas Valley, Ore., are providing a new source of energy, powering the largest solar array in the Northwest. When it was connected to BPA’s transmission system this fall, the 5-megawatt Outback Solar Project became the first commercial-scale solar project in BPA’s territory.
The 20,000 solar modules at the 40-acre project track the sun, tilting from east to west. Located about 300 miles southeast of Portland, the array can soak up enough rays to serve 3,000 homes at peak capacity.
“This could be the start of a new journey,” says Larry Bekkedahl, Transmission Services senior vice president. “We might look back on this project one day the same way we now think about our first commercial-scale wind farm.”
That 7.5-MW experiment, the MOD-2 wind project, was installed 31 years ago along the Columbia River Gorge in central Washington to see how well the river could act as a storage battery for wind power. While it wasn’t effortless, today more than 4,700 MW of wind capacity is integrated into BPA’s grid. Because the river’s capacity to balance wind is limited, the agency is continually seeking alternative ways to address wind’s variability.
“Now,” explains Bekkedahl, “we can begin to gather data and learn how wind and solar complement each other.”
Solar and wind could be the perfect pair. Solar generation peaks during the day, while wind in the Columbia River Gorge – home to many of the region’s wind farms – tends to peak at night.
But the Northwest is just beginning to take advantage of solar power. Christmas Valley in particular has attracted a number of developers. “It’s a good resource, one of the best in the Northwest,” says Eric Taylor, Transmission Services account executive.
There are not only many sunny days in Christmas Valley, there are many acres of undeveloped land.
The Outback project was made possible by a $5 million incentive from the Energy Trust of Oregon and tax credits from the Oregon Department of Energy. Smart Energy Capital, BELECTRIC Inc. and the Obsidian Finance Group partnered to develop and finance the project.
The solar generation connects to BPA’s La Pine Substation via transmission lines owned by both Midstate Electric Cooperative and BPA. BPA installed meters at the generation site to measure megawatt production. New equipment at BPA’s Redmond Substation picks up a signal from the meters.
“From there the information is sent to our control center, where dispatchers monitor how much power Outback Solar is generating in real time,” explains Ayo Idowu, BPA electrical engineer. “It’s treated just like other generation plants in our system.”
Key differences between Outback and another recent solar addition to BPA’s transmission grid, the King Estate Winery solar project near Eugene, Ore., are the size and the marketing. King Estate is a 1-MW utility-scale solar project, meaning it uses the power to serve its own needs at the vineyard, and then sells any additional power to the local utility, Lane Electric Cooperative. The utility uses the renewable power to serve its customers.
The output of the Outback project, on the other hand, is wheeled across BPA’s transmission network and marketed to other utilities. Portland General Electric has purchased the full output of the plant under a 25-year contract.
BPA could have more than 150 MW of solar connected to its system by 2016, much of it in the Christmas Valley area.
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