In December 2016, the City of Las Vegas announced its municipal operations would power its streetlights, parks, community centers, fire stations, and other government buildings and facilities solely with renewable energy.
The city’s ability to run 100 percent of its municipal operations on renewables was possible thanks to Southern Power and SunPower's new Boulder Solar I Facility and through NV Energy’s GreenEnergy Rider program.
The solar facility is located in Clark County, Nevada, about 20 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Southern Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is a leading U.S. wholesale energy provider. Southern Power announced that it had acquired a controlling interest in Boulder Solar I, its third solar plant in Nevada, in November 2016.
The 542-acre facility includes 288,000 solar panels on a ground-mounted tracking system manufactured by SunPower. As the sun rises in the east, the panels track the sun’s movement throughout the day until it sets in the west, maximizing efficiency by capturing the most sunlight throughout the day.
It doesn’t hurt that Boulder is in the middle of the desert where the sun shines for long periods of time, making this an optimal location to receive plentiful sunlight, and, in turn, generate a lot of electricity. In fact, Boulder Solar I can generate 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity. That’s enough to power about 60,000 homes in southern Nevada, where air conditioning loads are significant due to high temperatures.
That electricity—and the associated portfolio energy credits (PECs)—was purchased by public utility NV Energy under a 20-year power purchase agreement.
The City of Las Vegas purchases a portion of these PECs from NV Energy. Pat Egan, Senior Vice President for Renewables and Smart Infrastructure at NV Energy, notes that with the help of Boulder Solar I, NV Energy is able to provide the city with solar resources that cost the same as—or in some cases less than—natural gas. An important bonus is that there are virtually no carbon emissions from solar.
“We’re able to do great things for the environment, while also bringing in resources in a way that works for our customers,” explains Pat Egan. He notes that a variety of high-profile companies and cities have already taken advantage of the program, which has added approximately 500 megawatts of new renewable energy in Nevada.
It was with an eye toward a clean energy future that Southern Power purchased Boulder Solar I. Southern Power already owned the 20-MW Apex Solar Facility and the 30-MW Spectrum Solar Facility in the Las Vegas area. Nationwide, Southern Power and its subsidiaries own 27 solar facilities in operation with more than 19 million solar panels from coast to coast, making Southern Power the second largest owner of solar in the U.S.
The Boulder Solar I facility was developed, designed and constructed by SunPower, a solar energy company. SunPower, which has partial ownership of the facility, operates and maintains the plant.
Southern Power’s partnerships with both SunPower and NV Energy demonstrate the value of companies with similar goals working together. “Our relationships with SunPower and NV Energy have been very positive,” notes Southern Power President and CEO Buzz Miller. “It’s because of our work together that this project is successful and generating clean, safe, reliable and affordable wholesale electricity.”
The solar project also has positive economic impacts on the area and produced a significant amount of capital investment. At the peak of construction, the facility provided jobs to approximately 350 Nevada residents.
For all of these reasons, Boulder Solar I is a prime example of Southern Power’s conservative business strategy of strengthening its wholesale business through acquiring generating assets that are substantially covered by long-term contracts with creditworthy counterparties.