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Borrego Springs solar facility sign of regional things to come

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The Borrego I Solar Generating Station is capable of producing enough energy to power up to 9,000 homes. It became the first renewable energy project to come online in San Diego County for San Diego Gas & Electric's use in several years, and the first solar one ever, when it began operations in early March. Photo courtesy of NRG

In early March, San Diego Gas & Electric announced that for the first time in six years, a utility-scale renewable energy project from which it’s receiving power became operational within the borders of San Diego County.

The project, known as the Borrego I Solar Generating Station, refers to the rural East County lands near Borrego Springs.

But not only is the project notable for being the county’s first SDG&E-contracted renewable energy project in years, it’s also the first-ever solar one.

The last utility-scale renewable energy project of any kind to come online within San Diego County for SDG&E was the 50-megawatt Kumeyaay Wind Energy Project, located on the Campo Indian reservation.

Developed by NRG Solar, a Carlsbad-based subsidiary of New Jersey’s NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) — which also owns and operates the natural gas-fueled Encina Power Station in Carlsbad — the Borrego facility is capable of producing enough electricity to power 9,000 homes per year, according to NRG. San Diego Gas & Electric is purchasing the power through a 25-year power purchase agreement.

Built with photovoltaic solar panels from SunPower Corp., the project was built on 308 acres of privately-owned land northeast of Borrego Springs.

It took nearly four years to take the project from a concept to a reality. NRG spokesman Jeff Holland said the idea began in 2009, with permitting for construction completed by 2010.

“It required spending some time with the county to get them comfortable with the design and how the plant will be operated in the future,” Holland said.

The contract between NRG Solar and SDG&E stipulates that NRG is to return the site to its natural state at the conclusion of the agreement.

Holland said the company couldn’t speculate on what may happen in 25 years.

SDG&E spokesperson Jennifer Ramp said that while 26 megawatts isn’t a huge amount of generation, the facility is valuable in the local grid stability it provides and the fact that, being solar, its peak power production time coincides with the daily peak demand on the grid.

“When you think about the summer months that are coming —when we have higher demand on the grid — and the questionability of whether (the San Onofre Nuclear generating Station) will be back in operation, then every bit of additional local generation that we can get is an added benefit to the grid,” Ramp said.

SDG&E said it’s progressed faster in meeting the state’s 33 percent by the year 2020 renewable energy portfolio standard, as compared to the state’s other major investor-owned utilities.

The utility has signed on to purchase power from a number of other regional projects in Imperial County.

Several other purchase contracts, eight in all, were entered into by SDG&E for projects in the Imperial Valley in anticipation of their transmission of power across the Sunrise Powerlink.

Only one of them — Pattern Energy’s Ocotillo Wind Energy Project — has come online so far.

The other seven are all solar projects, and five are under construction. Ramp said that means SDG&E’s progress is soon to be very visible.

“Over the next couple of years, we’re going to see a big increase of wind and solar production coming into San Diego’s service territory,” Ramp said.

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