Apple’s Lyon Co. power plant seen as potential start of something big
November 2, 2017
A modest solar facility in Lyon County could be the start of a trend of large power users in Northern Nevada building their own renewable energy sources.
When Apple Inc., completed construction in August 2015 of a 19.5-megawatt solar facility at NV Energy's Fort Churchill natural gas power generation facility at Wabuska, it marked the first time a company had used the NV GreenEnergy Rider to develop its own facility.
The initiative allows customers with energy demands larger than 1 megawatt to subscribe for 50 percent or 100 percent renewable energy supply. One megawatt is roughly enough electricity to power 750 to 1,000 homes at once.
Electricity generated from the solar facility at Fort Churchill is used to power Apple's huge data center at Mustang east of Sparks. Pat Egan, senior vice president of renewables and smart infrastructure for NV Energy, said Apple's commitment to renewable energy is expected to pioneer a new wave of similar developments in Nevada.
"Our ability to do something like this goes back to the NV GreenEnergy Rider that allows us to work with customers like Apple who have very aggressive sustainability goals but don't want to pay more than they have to, to meet them," Egan said. "It allows us to bring in a renewable resource to meet their load."
The statute for the GreenEnergy Rider was passed by the 1995 Legislature, Egan said, and the deal with Apple was the first proposed under the statute.
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"Apple was the first one to push through and blaze the trail to allow the use of this statute at Fort Churchill," Egan said. "We worked with all parties to get it across the finish line."
The Fort Churchill solar array is owned by Apple, Inc., but is operated and managed by NV Energy. The project built by SunPower uses a concave mirror system to magnify the sun's energy on photovoltaic solar cells. Apple designed and financed the project and formed the partnership with NV Energy as part of its overall renewable energy goals, it said in its 2017 sustainability report.
Apple, headquartered in Cupertino, Calif., also completed construction of a 50-megawatt solar facility at Boulder City in 2016 to further enhance its renewable energy footprint in the state, and earlier this year it again used NV Energy's GreenEnergy Rider option to buy power from the 200-megawatt Techren Solar array in Southern Nevada that's slated to come online in early 2019. The Techren Solar facility also will power Apple's data center in Northern Nevada via the One Nevada transmission line, which connects renewable energy resources in the eastern part of the state to the existing electrical grid.
"Unlike competitive energy markets where we've located some of our data centers, the regulated electricity supply in Nevada did not offer a simple solution for us to create new renewable energy projects dedicated to our data center," the company said in its sustainability report. "So we created a partnership with NV Energy to develop our first renewable project."
The partnership at Fort Churchill is a bit unique, NV Energy's Egan said, in that the customer actually has an ownership stake in the project but isn't managing it on a day-to-day basis. Most deals would involve a developer who also is the owner and operator and sells power at a contract price – the model at the Techren Solar facility.
But perhaps that's what's proving so intriguing to other larger power users in the state. Egan said since the deal with Apple, NV Energy has been in discussion with pretty much every company that has either announced plans for relocation or expansion to Nevada about some type of renewable energy deal.
"We continue to see large-scale solar plants as very beneficial projects for our customers," Egan said. "They absolutely like this approach – it worked well for Apple. They like the ability to meet their growing need, and their underlying costs are relatively low. We delivered great progress on (these) solar facilities, and we would like to see more of them get done."
Future deals might have a slightly different look, Egan noted. For instance, instead of a company such as Apple being the owner, future projects likely would be owned by the developer, who sells the power generated from the resource in a power purchase agreement.
"Every one of those deals potentially could be slightly different, but the generic approach is that the customer commits to renewable energy attributes from a renewable resource, and we provide that at a very competitive overall price," Egan said. "Nevada year over year has had some of the largest price declines in the country, and we are able to bring in these resources at very attractive prices."
Still, NV Energy would likely play a large role in development of additional renewable facilities, regardless of who brings the project forward. The power company has the breadth of experience in power generation, permitting and filing the reams of paperwork required by the regulatory Public Utilities Commission of Nevada.
"Because we are an energy company, we are good at providing that to our customers," Egan said. "We are in the business of managing and overseeing large energy projects, and that is a major benefit to our customers.
"There are a number of other customers that are looking at developing – virtually all of them are talking with us about some version of this," he added. "We will see some more economic activity coming because of what has been accomplished (with Apple)."