Elected officials and energy company executives gathered last week in rural Oregon to mark the completion of Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility, a project that combines a wind farm, solar array and battery storage.
This is the fourth and the largest project in the United States to combine those three renewable energy resources on the same site.
Energy companies call this combination a “hybrid” power plant, an increasingly popular approach to development in which companies see the opportunity to save money and provide steadier electricity output by building different renewable resources next to each other.
To understand the significance of the Wheatridge project, I reached out to Mark Bolinger of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, co-author of a series of reports about hybrid renewables, the most recent of which came out in August.
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“Most of these hybrid plants are solar and storage only,” Bolinger said. “What makes (Wheatridge) special is that it includes a wind element as well.”
Wheatridge was built by NextEra Energy Resources for use by the utility Portland General Electric. It includes a 200-megawatt wind farm, a 50-megawatt solar array and a 30-megawatt battery; the battery has a duration of four hours. The three components together can provide for the electricity needs of about 100,000 houses.
Bolinger and his colleagues have tallied 140 projects in the United States that combine solar and storage; 14 projects that combine wind and storage; nine projects that combine solar and wind; and three, in addition to Wheatridge, with wind, solar and storage. (The other three with the wind-solar-storage trifecta are the Grand Ridge project in Illinois, Northwest Ohio Wind in Ohio and Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm in New Jersey.)
The report notes that a majority of the new storage capacity that went online in the United States in 2021 was part of a solar-storage hybrid. So this approach to building battery storage alongside renewables has gone, in a few years, from a novelty to commonplace.
Wind and solar work well together, with wind usually strongest at night and solar—of course—strongest during the day. Batteries can kick in to discharge electricity at low points for the other two and at times of high consumer demand.
But the complementary nature of the three resources is true whether they are on the same site, or miles away from each other on the same regional grid.
So why build hybrid renewable projects? Bolinger described several benefits:
Savings on development and operational costs: It’s less complicated for a company to obtain leases for one big piece of land in one jurisdiction than to do so in several different places. Also, the various components can share the same interconnection point to the grid, which reduces costs. Once a project is built, it takes fewer employees to provide maintenance if all the parts are next to each other.
The ease of only needing one grid connection: Developers often face long waits to get approval to connect new projects to the grid for a variety of technical and bureaucratic reasons. It helps that a hybrid project can have two or three components that only need to apply for one grid connection.
Batteries paired with renewables can help in congested grid regions: Some parts of the grid don’t have enough power line capacity at certain times of day to deliver all of the solar and wind power being generated. With nowhere to go, some wind and solar gets curtailed, which means it temporarily shuts down. If a project has batteries on site, it can store the excess wind and solar for later use.
Until the August passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, there was another reason, which was that storage projects were eligible for the federal investment tax credit if they were paired with renewables, but storage projects weren’t eligible on their own. The credit was worth up to 30 percent of the cost of a project.
The new federal law allows storage projects to qualify for the tax credit even if not paired with other resources.
The changes in tax incentives could lead developers to do more free-standing storage projects instead of hybrids. Bolinger said he’s eager to see if the ongoing benefits of hybrids are enough to continue to fuel growth.
Wheatridge is located in northeast Oregon’s Morrow County, a flat and rural area.
The project will help Oregon comply with a 2021 state law that says major utilities must reduce emissions from generating electricity by 100 percent by 2040, with interim goals between now and then.
“I firmly believe we can move to 100 percent clean electricity sources and create good-paying jobs in rural Oregon at the same time,” said Gov. Kate Brown, in a statement. “The urgency of getting clean energy projects online could not be clearer. Extreme heat, wildfires, drought, and winter storms—we are seeing the impacts of climate change in Oregon, with some of the biggest impacts in rural Oregon.”
Like renewable energy plants in general, hybrid plants are getting bigger.
Another big one is the Skeleton Creek project in Oklahoma, which is scheduled to go online early next year with 250 megawatts of wind, 250 megawatts of solar and a 200 megawatt battery storage system. Like Wheatbridge, it’s being developed by NextEra.
So Wheatbridge now has the crown as the largest wind-solar-storage hybrid in the country, based on combined capacity, but only for a few more months.
Other stories about the energy transition to take note of this week:
EVs Add to Electricity Demand, But Not as Much as You Might Think: During a recent power shortage, California officials asked consumers not to charge their electric vehicles at certain times, a request that led to comments about the folly of switching the entire vehicle fleet to EVs. But the actual electricity demand for EVs, now and in the near future, is pretty manageable, as Colin McKerracher writes for Bloomberg. “Integrating EVs into the power system will still require careful planning, incentives for off-peak charging to reduce peak demand, and localized grid reinforcement in many places,” he wrote. “As a share of global electricity demand, though, the contribution will still be very modest for quite a few years.”
This 100 Percent Solar Community Endured Hurricane Ian with No Loss of Power and Minimal Damage: Babcock Ranch, Florida, calls itself “America’s first solar-powered town,” with much of its electricity coming from a nearby solar array. Many residents also have rooftop solar and battery storage. Those systems turned out to be resilient in the face of Hurricane Ian, with the lights staying on at the same time that the storm destroyed parts of the nearby Fort Myers and Naples areas and knocked out power to millions of customers, as Rachel Ramirez reports for CNN. “We have proof of the case now because (the hurricane) came right over us,” Nancy Chorpenning, a 68-year-old Babcock Ranch resident, told CNN. “We have water, electricity, internet—and we may be the only people in Southwest Florida who are that fortunate.”
Tesla Shares Drop After Third-Quarter Sales Report: Tesla said this week that it increased its deliveries of new vehicles in the third quarter compared to the prior-year quarter, but the growth fell short of analysts’ expectations, leading to a selloff of the company’s shares. Tesla faced growing pains at its new factories in Germany and Texas, executive turnover and soaring commodity prices, as Lora Kolodny reports for CNBC. The falling share price is a sign that investors were worried by the results, but Wall Street analysts were divided about the company’s prospects going forward.
Want a Career Saving the Planet? Become an Electrician: Installing the solar panels, heat pumps and transmission lines is going to require a lot of electricians. But the industry is facing a shortage, as Shannon Osaka reports for The Washington Post. Part of the issue is that more people are leaving the profession than entering it. “Over the last 20 years there has been very negative messaging to millennials and Gen Z about the trades,” Sam Steyer, the president and CEO of Greenwork, a start-up that connects clean energy workers with companies. “There were a lot of articles saying, ‘All blue collar jobs are going to go away, everyone is going to be a knowledge worker or a care worker.’”
Rural Officials Face Intense Pressure Oppose Solar Power Development: In Pickaway County, Ohio, a committed group of opponents of solar power have dominated the local debate over proposed projects by packing county, village and township meetings, and making their displeasure known if officials don’t fall into line. This is the third part of my series for ICN about rural resistance to renewable energy. It shows how solar opponents have persuaded local officials to join in the opposition, to the frustration of residents who support the projects.
Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.