Largest Delaware solar projects poised to break ground
DOVER – The state’s two largest solar energy projects, being developed by Freepoint Solar, have signed the city of Dover as their first major client and are preparing to break ground starting next year.
Freepoint Solar, a 5-year-old subsidiary of the global Freepoint commodities firm based in Connecticut, is developing the 114-megawatt Cedar Creek Solar Project in Townsend and the 50-megawatt Raceway Solar Project in Harrington. Both will dwarf the state’s current largest array, the 12-megawatt Milford Solar Farm.
Cedar Creek is also the largest project ever proposed by the still burgeoning Freepoint while Raceway is one of three 50-megawatt projects that it is developing, its second largest size.
Ever since announcing their intention to build the state’s largest arrays in 2016, Freepoint has been in search of power and renewable energy credit (REC) customers to make the projects viable. It finally found a partner in the state capital city, which opened a request for proposals (RFP) in 2019 to diversify its energy portfolio.
“We are excited to be a leader in the state’s effort to utilize increasing amounts of solar energy. Those contracts will provide our customers with affordable, clean and locally generated energy for the next 25 years,” City Manager Donna Mitchell said in a statement announcing the power purchase agreement. “Freepoint Solar has been easy to work with. We look forward to benefiting from this new relationship for many years to come, through competitive generation costs for the city of Dover, economic activity for local businesses, and a better environmental footprint for our planet.”
The city signed two agreements with Freepoint, buying a total of 50 megawatts of power split evenly between the two projects at a fixed price of 4 cents a kilowatt hour for 25 years. That compares to the average fixed rate of a little more than 7 cents a kilowatt hour on the market in Delaware as of June.
The approximately $45 million Raceway project, approved by the Kent County Levy Court in May, is anticipated to break ground on more than 200 acres near the intersection of Farmington and Walter Messick roads in the first quarter of 2021 with a hope of completion before the year’s end, according to Peter Ford, managing director for Freepoint Solar. It will create about 100 construction jobs and a handful of maintenance jobs upon completion, according to county officials.
Meanwhile, the approximately $100 million Cedar Creek project is still proceeding through New Castle County’s permitting process. It is expected to break ground and be put online in 2022, Ford said.
To get to this point, Ford noted that it took a lot of work behind the scenes to clear the regulatory and permitting path. When he began scouting opportunities in Delaware in 2016, Ford learned that New Castle County code only allowed solar arrays in industrial zones.
With many arrays now being built in the open on former farmland, he approached County Executive Matt Meyer about revising the county’s code. After a year of discussions, the county council approved an ordinance that opened more zoning districts to solar projects like Cedar Creek.
In a statement, Meyer said the “Cedar Creek Solar Project is yet another example of our county getting greener and creating economic opportunity. We’re excited for this important solar project and the potential for local businesses to benefit from renewable energy.”
Ford said that Freepoint, which has 400 megawatts of solar power under development on the East Coast from Delaware to Maine, is looking to find investment opportunities in markets that are underserved by solar power. He noted that New Jersey, New York, and Maryland have an abundance of solar projects due to their favorable tariff structures, but Delaware and other smaller Mid-Atlantic and New England states have room to grow.
Notably, Delaware lawmakers are expected to revisit the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS), which governs renewable energy mandates and sets incentives for its growth, in next year’s General Assembly. Although renewable energy mandates are being met by power providers, much of that is being satisfied through the purchasing of RECs from out-of-state wind and solar projects.
Ford said that he would “absolutely” look for more projects in Delaware once his first two are completed, adding that he’s been impressed with Delaware’s elected officials and permitting and regulatory process.
While Dover has signed on as a large customer for its projects, Freepoint is still searching to sign on more to make the Cedar Creek project fully viable. Ford said that he is in advanced negotiations with two, nearby out-of-state liberal arts colleges that are also interested in purchasing solar power.
As more corporations and higher education institutions make renewable energy investment pledges, a greater degree of attention is being given to the idea of “additionality,” or building new assets rather than tapping capacity at existing ones, Ford said.
“People can go out and buy RECs from Texas wind farms to satisfy requirements, but it doesn’t get anything built that isn’t already there, which ultimately is the goal to help with pollution and climate change,” he explained.
By Jacob Owens