Toni Nelson, SACE’s Renewable Energy Manager, also contributed to this post.
A recent study by the University of Alabama Center for Business and Economic Research found that a proposed 80 MW solar farm, to be located in Lauderdale County, Alabama, could create millions of dollars in economic benefits to the area. The solar farm is being developed on a 640-acre tract of land by NextEra Energy Inc. and will sell the power to the Tennessee Valley Authority under a 20-year contract approved by the TVA Board in February 2015.
As the report points out, utility-scale solar projects have accounted for a majority of the recent growth in the solar industry. Much of this growth is due to the fact that solar costs have declined significantly in recent years. While residential costs have dropped by 45% since 2010, utility-scale costs have dropped more significantly, with recent contracts at prices below $0.05/kWh.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, by the end of 2014, there were 20,000 MW of solar in the U.S. – enough to power more than 4 million homes. The U.S. is on pace to complete its one millionth solar installation in 2015, and solar capacity is expected to double by the end of 2016 – which will reduce carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road or shutting down 12 coal-fired power plants!
NextEra plans to spend around $150 million on the project. The University of Alabama report looked at economic impacts both during the construction/installation phase and impacts over the 30-year operating period, focusing on output, value-added, earnings and employment. (Output refers to the total or gross business sales realized as a result of operation of the solar farm).
Among other economic benefits, the report states that the solar farm will generate:
- $52 million in local taxes
- $468,000 in sales taxes
- $51.5 million in property taxes
- $145.8 million in output (including $84.8 million contribution to GDP)
Along with the NextEra solar farm, Northern Alabama is soon to be home to Google’s newest data center, which will be powered with 100% renewable energy and located within TVA’s retiring Widows Creek coal plant. Both the solar farm and the data center will bring significant new employment opportunities to Northern Alabama and will serve as examples of how clean energy resources and economic development go hand-in-hand.