Unlikely Assist Sends Solar Power Charging Southward


The solar power revolution has been slow to catch on in several US states. However, it looks like political opposition is finally beginning to crumble, bigly. That’s thanks in part to an aggressive push by the company Lightsource bp, the “bp” of which signifies its connection to the leading global oil and gas company bp. So, what gives?

The Solar Power Wallflowers (Finally) Perk Up

Many US states have grabbed the renewable energy ball and run with it, politics or no politics. Clean power became a dirty word in some circles during the Obama administration, but that didn’t stop “red” states like Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma from surging to the top of the wind power list.

Similarly, Texas, Florida and Georgia have nailed their spots among the top 10 states for solar power. However, the US south is still peppered with states that have yet to ramp up their PV profiles, including Louisiana, Alabama, and Kentucky.

According to the latest rankings from the Solar Energy Industries Association, Louisiana is stuck in the doldrums. The Pelican State drifted down to #38 for installed solar capacity in 2021 after pulling off a #30 slot in 2020. The same goes for Kentucky, which bounced down from #45 in 2020 to #47 this year.

Alabama did relatively well. It ranked a lowly #50 in 2020 and climbed to #28 last year in an impressive year-over-year leap.

Lightsource bp Brings the Solar Power Down South

We’re zeroing in on these three states because they illustrate an emerging strategy among legacy oil and gas firms that are seeking wind and solar power opportunities. States with friendly renewable energy policies were the low hanging fruit and are already overrun with solar developers. It seems that attention is now turning to states where unfriendly policies forced renewable energy development to lag. Once the policy dam breaks open, new opportunities abound.

That’s where Lightsource bp comes into the picture. BP acquired the leading solar developer Lightsource in 2017 as part of a rebranding effort. Lightsource bp has been very active in the US since then, and it has been turning its financial firepower onto solar-deprived states.

In the latest development on that score, earlier this week Lightsource bp announced the successful closing of a $533 million financing package. Part of the funds will go to construct the largest solar array in Louisiana to date, the 345 megawatt (dc) Ventress Solar project, about 30 miles out from Baton Rouge.

“Lightsource bp will build, own and operate the facility and sell the clean, renewable energy it generates to McDonald’s Corporation and eBay Inc. under long-term power purchase agreements,” Lightsource bp explains, which is particularly interesting because it hints at the role that global corporations can play in pushing the solar power envelope onto reluctant state policy makers.

Lightsource bp hammered home the point, citing Emma Cox, who holds the position of Global Renewable Energy Lead at McDonald’s.

“This unique partnership between Lightsource bp, eBay and McDonald’s is an example of how large brands can come together to drive meaningful impact at a local level,” Cox said.

Further supporting the idea that the solar wall is crumbling in Louisiana, Lightsource bp also notes that the 9-parish Baton Rouge Area Chamber economic development agency has calculated that the project will provide for an indirect economic impact of more than $200 million, on top of a $30 million direct boost to the economy of Pointe Coupee Parish.

More Solar For Alabama

The Louisiana news follows a Lightsource bp announcement last December, regarding the closure of $100 million in financing for the new Black Bear solar array in Montgomery County, in Alabama.

According to Lightsource bp, the project pumped a 20% boost into Alabama’s installed solar capacity profile all on its own.

In addition to assembling world class financial muscle to back the deal, the Black Bear project illustrates how public utilities can shepherd solar power projects over state based policy walls.

“The power contract secured with Alabama Municipal Electric Authority (AMEA) played a critical role in enabling investment and financing of this new energy infrastructure for Alabama” Lightsource BP explains. “AMEA, located in Montgomery, is the wholesale power provider for 11 public power utilities in Alabama, which serve some 350,000 customers.”

Kentucky Hearts Renewable Energy, Finally

Then there’s Kentucky, where renewable energy and energy storage projects have finally begun to stir into life.

Last November, lightsource bp listed Kentucky among several states targeted for solar development on the heels of a big solar PV sourcing deal with bp and First Solar.

“Lightsource bp and integrated energy company bp have placed multi-year orders for up to 5.4 gigawatts (GW) combined of First Solar’s advanced, ultra-low carbon thin film photovoltaic (PV) solar modules,” First Solar explained, noting that the solar modules are destined for projects in Arkansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas as well as Kentucky.

Sweetening the solar power pot is the made-in-the-USA angle, as First Solar is practically the only fully integrated solar manufacturer in the US.

Kentucky is barely a blip on the CleanTechnica radar, but that is about to change. Last September, our friends over at WFPL.org public radio described a “booming” solar scene of 13 utility-scale projects in development and more in the pipeline.

As with Louisiana, corporate interest in solar power is emerging as a driving force in Kentucky, with both Ford and Toyota behind the clean tech steering wheel.

Onward & Upward For Solar Power

State-based farming lobbies could also accelerate solar activity, and Lightsource bp is in a good position to lobby along with them.

By 2020 Lightsource bp was tuning into onto the emerging agrivoltaics field, in which solar arrays are designed to accommodate grazing lands, pollinator habitats, and other agricultural activities while helping to conserve soil and provide farmers with a steady, reliable revenue stream.

That would fit the bill for just about any US state with a strong farming lobby, especially in concert with clean power demand on the part of Big Business.

That could explain how Lightsource bp managed to get over the hump in Indiana, another up-and-coming solar state. According to SEIA, Indiana ran its ranking up to a respectable #18 last year, a big jump over its 2020 ranking of #32.

“Lightsource bp has successfully closed on a $376 million multi-project financing package and mobilized construction on its 173 megawatt (dc) Bellflower Solar project, located about 40 miles east of Indianapolis in Henry and Rush Counties. A power purchase agreement with Verizon Communications Inc. announced in early 2021 was key to achieving this project milestone,” Lightsource bp explained last month.

That’s just for starters.

“An action plan is underway for Bellflower Solar that aims to enhance local biodiversity while contributing to pioneering research on co-located pollinator habitat on solar farms, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technology Office,” Lightsource added. “The site will host over 1,000 acres of high and low density pollinator friendly plantings to boost biodiversity and inform future low impact solar development.”

The US Department of Energy is pulling out all the stops for this one. Tasked with the pollinator research are the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, the Argonne National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo (screenshot): Solar array courtesy of lightsource bp.


 

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2022-01-13 12:06:35

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