Fresno County Juvenile Justice Campus
Fresno, Calif. | 3.8 MW
The 2022 C&I Ground-Mount Project of the Year could also be considered the power purchase agreement (PPA) of the year.
Whether it is due to inflation or supply chain issues, costs are rising across the country. Energy markets are volatile, especially in California. Assessing all the variables at hand, Fresno County (the number one agricultural producing county in the nation) decided it was time to lock in some stability.
“In a time of inflation, everything except for the county’s solar energy at the moment is costing more tomorrow than it did yesterday,” said Brian Taylor, director of the public sector for ForeFront Power. “After people, electricity tends to be the largest expense for a County like Fresno.”
A solar PPA — which requires no capital on the county’s end and only results in fixed rate electricity savings — was a no-brainer decision. A PPA allowed a non-tax paying entity like the county to take advantage of the investment tax credit (ITC) and depreciation benefits that wouldn’t have been available otherwise. Instead, ForeFront Power monetizes the ITC and passes the benefit on to the county via a low, stable energy rate.
“The project’s fixed rate actually protects the county’s budget from utility rate hikes for the next two decades,” Taylor says.
And yet, time was of the essence.
“There was an upcoming change in their time of use period, shifting from the middle to the end of day. So, there was urgency to be grandfathered in on their initial TOU rates. If an entity submitted interconnection paperwork before a certain time period, solar offered a better bang for the buck.”
So, where to start?
Choosing ForeFront Power as its partner to develop this portfolio seems obvious. ForeFront Power essentially is the local MUSH market, with around 54 MW of distributed solar and energy storage projects around the county — everything from K-12 schools and community colleges to wastewater treatment facilities and an airport.
For a portfolio like this, the process starts as you’d assume: analyzing utility bills of every county location. Where are they consuming and spending a lot on energy? Then, what does each facility actually look like?
Taylor also says ForeFront Power’s philosophy is to do each site as a separate PPA if possible. “Each agreement is site specific and details the size of the system, address, expected kWh production, associated price , etc.,” he explains. “And then all of these agreements reference general terms and conditions that govern the broader framework of the agreement.”
The partnership kicked off with the project you see here, the 3.83 MW single-axis tracker PV system at the county’s Juvenile Justice Campus (JJC), which is the largest public sector solar project in Fresno County.
The 200-acre campus is primarily a medium-security detainment facility for minors in custody. In addition it offers educational and service programs including the Floyd Farrow Substance Abuse Program, Planned Parenthood and the Boys and Girls Club.
Why select the JJC? As Taylor explains, the question is more accurately “how could they not select the JJC:
● It is a mission critical facility.
● It has a 7-figure electric bill.
● The 40 acres of unshaded adjacent land were not being used.
With a portfolio of this magnitude, “the county and public agencies generally want to do a pilot project first,” Taylor says. “A project like this that is so ideal is exactly what a solar developer looks for. The amount of money we are saving the county in one year alone versus the former PG&E rate is tremendous.”
Solar construction can’t be a nuisance on a site like this, with interconnection being an especially big key to time and get right. Shutdown for the facility must be planned months out and totally coordinated. Timeline obstacles included triple digit heat, COVID complications, and evolving supply chain constraints.
“Just getting a piece of switch gear takes a very long time, so I hand it to the ForeFront development team for being able to seamlessly ensure all this stuff arrived when needed without any hiccups,” Taylor says.
The 3.8 MW array at the JJC meets 80 percent of the facility’s needs and has saved the county about $650,000 in just the first year. Over the course of this 20-year PPA, the JJC project is expected to save the county $17 million to $20 million. That’s close to a 40 percent reduction in energy spend with no capital outlay.
The 20-year savings figure also takes into account a 2 MWh battery energy storage system that’s on its way in 2023 to enhance / “future-proof” the savings opportunities.
With a 20-year PPA, the county not only locks in savings and (after adding storage) protection against drastic peak charges and outages, but the budgeting peace of mind that comes with it.
“A battery on site really enables a facility to handle future unknowns,” Tayor says. “Yes, we know the rate tariffs now, but in the future if they change the TOU structure again, having that battery being able to respond to that and sculpt your load accordingly is helpful. It also provides societal benefits. When you have a mass heat wave and utilities are asking for folks to curtail load, having this battery on the grid to prevent the JJC from drawing as much energy means the grid has a less spiky profile and the utility is better able to meet demand.”