Coal costs see PacifiCorp turn to major solar-plus-storage build-out

PacifiCorp has formalised a long-anticipated shift from coal to solar, wind and battery storage, setting ambitious targets underpinned by a belief in clean energy’s sound economics.

The utility, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, recently unveiled a roadmap that would see it add nearly 3GW of new solar by 2025 and 6.3GW by 2038.

The firm’s “preferred portfolio” would also feature a major wind roll-out – with 4.6GW in new capacity installed by 2038 – and, in a first for the utility, energy storage.

As PacifiCorp noted, its 2019 integrated resource plan (IRP) – still a draft at this stage – singles out battery storage as part of a “least-cost portfolio” for the first time.

Consequently, the utility now wants to deploy 600MW of battery systems by 2025 and over 2.8GW by 2038, much of it slated for installation alongside solar plants.

Under the current IRP draft, PacifiCorp’s solar-plus-storage expansion would run along the following US state lines all the way to 2038:

Utah Wyoming Oregon Washington
Target for PV additions 3GW 1.415GW 1.075GW 814MW
Target for battery additions 635MW 354MW 244MW 204MW
Timeframe 2020-2037 2024-2038 2020-2033 2024-2036

‘Ongoing cost pressures’ for coal as PV gets cheaper

The clean energy build-up will come alongside a major wind-down of PacifiCorp’s coal portfolio, with 20 of its 24 units powered by the fossil fuel – nearly 4.5GW – to be disconnected by 2038.

Although confirmed in October, PacifiCorp’s plans for a coal-to-renewables shift were apparent in its modelling from earlier this year, with various scenarios foreseeing a push to PV and storage.

The utility – which was told by thinktanks it could save “hundreds of millions” if it replaced coal with renewables – made it clear this month cost-efficiency was a key factor in its clean energy push.

“Coal generation has been an important resource in our portfolio, allowing us to deliver reliable energy to our customers, and will continue to play an important role as units approach retirement dates,” said Rick Link, PacifiCorp’s VP of resource planning and acquisitions.

Link added, however: “At the same time, this plan reflects the ongoing cost pressure on coal as wind generation, solar generation and storage have emerged as low-cost resource options for our customers.”

“We are mindful that these resource decisions impact our thermal operations employees, their families and communities,” added Chad Teply, the firm’s senior VP for business policy and development. “Our priority is making certain [they] remain informed.”

Platte River and Dominion add to utilities’ PV efforts

PacifiCorp’s cost-based embrace of solar-plus-storage makes it one of a raft of US utilities tapping into the technologies, either standalone or as hybrids, in the space of a few months.

So far this year the country has witnessed moves by Nevada’s NV Energy (1.2GW of new PV, 580MW of battery systems), Hawaiian Electric and many others.

In recent days, Colorado utility Platte River Power Authority added its name to the list as it issued a request for proposals for up to 150MW worth of new PV projects.

According to Platte River, the latest pipeline – meant to come online by the end of 2023 – will be backed by 15-to-25-year PPAs and will join an existing 30MW PV plant in its portfolio.

Over in Virginia, major utility Dominion Energy unveiled in recent days plans to consider a 100MW PV project at the Washington Dulles International Airport, which services the US capital.

The firm explained it has secured a sublease to carry out feasibility studies alongside the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The plant, Dominion added, could go live by 2023.

US solar prospects amid a changing policy landscape and ongoing trade wars will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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