From fallow fields of southwestern Kings County, the electricity generated by a new solar project is flowing northward to power the Silicon Valley city of Palo Alto.
The Kettleman Solar Power Project, built on about 264 acres of land along Highway 41 several miles north of Kettleman City, began producing electricity on a commercial basis on Aug. 14, said Chris Harris, project manager for Clenera LLC.
Clenera LLC developed and operates the 20-megawatt plant for the project owner, EE Kettleman Land LLC. It includes about 87,000 solar photovoltaic panels, mounted on racks that maximize the power potential by tracking the sun’s movement throughout the day.
In planning documents presented during Kings County’s approval process, consultants reported that “the communities served by this solar facility include Stratford, Lemoore and Hanford,” adding that “the greater Kings County area will also benefit from the solar farm since the project represents a clean, renewable source of electrical energy that will supplement current power requirements for the entire region.”
But under a 25-year power purchase agreement with EE Kettleman Land, the city of Palo Alto – on the San Francisco Peninsula north of San Jose – is buying all of the electricity generated by the plant, with an additional five-year option. The contract locks in a rate of $77 per megawatt hour, and the plant is expected to produce 53,454 megawatt hours of electricity in its first year of operation. Jim Stack, a senior resource planner for the city, said that translates to about 5.5% of the city’s total residential, commercial and industrial electricity demand, or enough to power about 6,000 homes.
Palo Alto serves as its own utility provider, from water, sewer and storm drain services to natural gas, electricity and fiber optics. Its investment in the Kettleman project is the first of five, totaling 125 megawatts of capacity, to come online.
All five are expected to be in production by the end of 2016, together generating about one-third of the city’s annual electricity needs. The solar-power agreements are part of the city’s effort to purchase all of its electricity from carbon-neutral sources and meet its climate-protection targets.
“With the addition of this large-scale solar power plant to our energy-supply portfolio, Palo Alto is well on its way toward achieving its incredibly ambitious renewable energy and sustainability goals,” said Valerie Fong, the city’s utilities director.
Sandy Roper, principal planner with Kings County’s planning division, said the county’s approval of conditional-use permits governing the use of the land has nothing to do with where electricity generated by the plant is sold.
The Kettleman plant is the latest of eight utility-scale solar plants to be completed in recent years in Kings County. Together, they represent a generating capacity of about 148 megawatts of electricity.
Eleven more large-scale plants have been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission with the potential to produce nearly 566 megawatts of power if they are all completed.
That’s in addition to a smattering of small projects and doesn’t count a growing number of residential rooftop solar systems being installed in the region.