Massive Solar Farm Will Serve Texas Grid

A California company has teamed with the U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s largest gas utility to build a major solar power project just outside Houston, Texas.

Rosendin, an electrical contractor with its corporate headquarters in San Jose, and Tokyo Gas America are developing the Aktina Renewable Power Project, a 500-MWac/631-MWdc solar farm spanning 4,000 acres in Wharton County, southwest of Houston. The companies said the project includes 1.4 million solar modules.

The Aktina project, expected to begin coming online later this year, would when completed as scheduled be the largest operating solar power project in Texas. It is being built by Rosendin’s Renewable Energy Group. Electricity from the project will be brought online in blocks starting in mid-2021 and sold to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) wholesale market. Rosendin on April 5 said it expects the project will be fully complete in the first half of 2022.

The Aktina Renewable Power Project, a 500-MWac/631-MWdc solar farm spanning 4,000 acres in Wharton County, Texas, includes 1.4 million solar modules. Courtesy: Rosendin Renewable Energy Group

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)” released April 6 said solar power generation capacity continues to rise across the country, with an estimated 10.4 GW added nationwide in 2020. The agency forecasts an additional 15.8 GW of utility-scale solar capacity will come online this year, with another 14.9 GW in 2022. The group said about 5 GW of small-scale solar—projects with less than 1 MW of capacity—is forecast to start-up across the 2021-22 STEO forecast period.

Tokyo Gas Developing Renewables

Tokyo Gas America is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tokyo Gas. The parent company has moved heavily into renewable energy, and with the Atkina project is on track to own nearly 1.4 GW of renewable energy generation capacity worldwide. The company, as part of its “Compass 2030” vision, has set a goal of at least 5 GW of renewable energy generation capacity by 2030, as it moves to achieve net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide in the same period.

“Tokyo Gas America chose to partner with Rosendin’s Renewable Energy Group because they align with developers, from the early stage through construction, to address unique challenges in the utility-scale solar industry,” said Ken Kiriishi, senior vice president of Tokyo Gas America, in a statement provided to POWER. “This collaborative approach and ability to secure a stable workforce gave us confidence to launch our first American solar facility that we are taking from construction to commercial operation.”

The Aktina solar power construction project in Texas involves about 500 workers, according to Rosendin, the lead contractor for the installation. Courtesy: Rosendin Renewable Energy Group

Rosendin said it hired 500 workers and union contractors with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for the construction project, and noted that team includes more than 30% women, which it said “significantly surpasses industry averages.”

“Rosendin has been working closely with Tokyo Gas America to construct the most highly anticipated solar project in one of the fastest-growing regions with an abundant solar resource,” said David Lincoln, senior vice president of Rosendin’s Renewable Energy Group. “We are very excited to be working with such a forward-thinking partner that is committed to increasing renewable power generation in Texas and around the world.”

Rosendin designs and performs low-, medium-, and high-voltage electrical, substation, and transmission work. Its renewable energy arm over the past 15 years has built more than 3 GW of solar power projects in the U.S. and Canada. It currently has more than 1 GW of projects under construction in the U.S., with more than 2 GW in development.

Several large solar power projects are being developed in Texas, including the Samson Solar Energy Center, which to date is the largest planned solar energy farm in the U.S. The Samson project, being developed by Invenergy, will span three counties in northeast Texas near the Oklahoma border, and is scheduled to be built in five phases. It plans to have 1,013 MW of generation capacity when it is completed in 2023.

ERCOT’s latest energy mix report, released last month, shows solar power has accounted for about 2% of the grid operator’s electricity portfolio this year. Natural gas combined cycle has accounted for 36% of the energy mix, followed by wind power (23%), coal (21%), nuclear (12%), and gas (6%).

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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