An Innovative Community Solar Program from NRG and…Boeing?

NRG and Boeing community solarThe diversified energy company NRG Energy, Inc. is becoming a familiar name in the solar power market, so it’s not too surprising to see the NRG moniker attached to an unusual community solar power project in California. The new twist is that NRG has teamed up for the project with Boeing, a company better known for aerospace and defense experience.

This is the first joint project between Boeing and NRG, and the two companies are already teaming up on a much larger project. The next one up is a 25.6 megawatt solar power plant for Guam, which will be the island’s first utility-scale solar facility. Considering how quickly the two companies are building on their initial partnership, this could just be the beginning of a string of future projects.

Community solar from NRG and Boeing

The new project, called the NRG Community 1 Solar Generating Facility, is also being undertaken in partnership with the San Diego State University (SDSU) Center for Energy Sustainability and Sol Orchard, a company that specializes in finding underutilized land for solar energy projects.

The project consists of a 6 megawatt solar array numbering 25,000 modules, covering about 37 acres of land owned by SDSU. At full capacity, it will generate enough electricity for about 2,200 typical homes.

Boeing provided engineering, procurement and construction services for the project.

In announcing the project, Tim Noonan, Boeing’s vice president for the Ventures arm of its Defense, Space & Security branch, dropped a strong hint about what comes next for the two partners:

“Boeing relied on its strong supply chain management, systems engineering, program management and performance-based logistics to build the Community 1 solar power plant. We look forward to scaling collaboration on future projects with our partners at NRG.”

A very unusual community solar project

NRG and Boeing are billing the Community 1 Solar Generating Facility as “among the first of its kind in the United States.” That’s a pretty high claim considering the explosive growth of community solar projects in the past couple of years, but there is a little something that makes this one different.

The project is being built under a power purchase agreement, a now-routine means of financing new solar power installations that requires no up-front investment by the purchaser.  Under the first part of this arrangement, the Imperial Irrigation District will purchase all of the electricity from the NRG Community 1 Solar Generating Facility.

The community solar aspect comes in for the second part of the arrangement, in which the Irrigation District will resell the solar-generated electricity at a competitive rate.

This configuration builds on a community solar model initiated in 2013 by NRG in Rutland, Vermont, in partnership with the regional utility Green Mountain Power (not to be confused with another familiar name in the clean energy field, Green Mountain Energy).

The Rutland NRG community solar project just went on line a few weeks ago, on May 13, when NRG flipped the switch on a modestly scaled 150-kilowatt array within the city limits. Fifty residential and commercial customers of Green Mountain Power volunteered to sign up for the service, which provides them with a credit on their electricity bill for the energy produced by the solar panels.

According to NRG, the Rutland project marks the first agreement of its kind between a solar developer and a utility.

Basically, it provides both property owners and tenants with equal access to solar power. It also makes shade a moot point, and it enables customers with tight budgets to purchase solar power without having to front big bucks to buy their own solar panels.

In addition to giving customers bragging rights for supporting solar power, the project also provides Rutland with a green identity to leverage for attracting new business. Here’s a Green Mountain statement on that angle:

“This project and the innovation it represents is helping make Rutland the solar capital of New England. Partnering with NRG Energy has made community solar work and advanced Vermont’s achievement of its renewable energy goals. We anticipate working together on additional projects in Vermont to further develop solar as a meaningful part of our energy future.”

That brings us back around to the partnership with Boeing. NRG has rocketed from Vermont to California and on to Guam, while scaling up and pulling in global powerhouse Boeing along the way. That’s both an indication of how ambitious the company is, and how eager consumers are to get their hands on clean energy.

Image (cropped): Courtesy of NRG.

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Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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