West Texas In Line For Solar Farm

For years Texas has watched as solar developers flock to greener pastures in California and Arizona where state subsidies and high power prices have created a solar boom.

The announcement Wednesday that First Solar  , one of the world’s largest solar companies, was building a sprawling 22 megawatt farm in West Texas represented a rare piece of good news for the state’s nascent solar industry.

Tim Rebhorn, First Solar’s senior vice president for project development in North and South America, said his company was betting on the conditions for solar improving in Texas.

“When energy prices are as low as they are in Texas, it makes it very difficult to come in and build,” he said. “But we’re seeing constraints on capacity. And we think on the merchant side there’s going to be a price effect.”

The project, named Barilla, is being built on a 200-acre site about 30 miles west of Fort Stockton. Rebhorn said the site is large enough the facility could ultimately expand to 150 megawatts of capacity, which would make it the largest solar farm  in Texas.

Right now there are only two commercial-scale solar farms in all of Texas, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The largest is OCI Alamo outside San Antonio, which began operation late last year and has 39 megawatts of capacity.

In a report last year by the Solar Energy Industries Association, Texas was ranked as having one of the lowest rates of solar installation in the country. Many blame a system that relies on utilities to promote solar rather than the state-level subsidy programs in place in other states.

While that has not changed, companies are adapting, said Russell Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association.

“There are those who think they have figured out a way to structure things to allow large scale farms jump into the market,” Smith said.

First Solar is essentially staking its West Texas project on demand for power rising and capacity staying relatively flat as power plant construction remains stalled.

In an unusual move, the Arizona-based company has no deal in place to sell its power, willing to see what happens in the market before the solar farm begins operation this summer.

But First Solar has the advantage of scale. It not only develops solar farms around the world but also manufactures the panels at plants in Ohio and Malaysia.