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Solar Farm Yields Good Lessons in First Year



01/29/2015


WALTERBORO, S.C. — In its first year of operation, the Colleton Solar Farm produced slightly more solar power than expected and demonstrated the benefits of panels that track the sun, even though they cost more than stationary panels. Also, the severity of Winter Storm Pax last February highlighted the issue of the reliability of solar power to meet winter energy demands after the storm took the farm offline for three days.

The first full day of operation for the Colleton Solar Farm was December 21, 2013. In its first year, through December 20, 2014, the 15-acre site generated 4,687 megawatt-hours (MWh), which was 5 percent more than expected in year one. That extra energy is enough to power more than 1,200 light bulbs (60 watts) for eight hours a day. All told, the 3-megawatt complex provides enough energy to power more than 300 homes.

Data also indicates that tracking panels that follow the sun generate power for about 3 ½ hours longer than the fixed panels during the longest days of summer. Nearly two hours of that time is electricity delivered during the afternoon peak of power demand.

TIG Sun Energy, under contract with Santee Cooper, owns and operates the Colleton Solar Farm. Santee Cooper is purchasing the solar output in collaboration with Central Electric Power Cooperative and the state's electric cooperatives. Dedicated January 24, 2014, the solar farm was planned as an energy source and also as a resource for studying data on costs, performance and integration of utility-scale solar power into a sophisticated electric grid.

"Through this first year, performance from the Colleton Solar Farm has been consistent with expectations, which has validated the project and highlighted the intermittency of the resource. Solar power is only available when the sun is shining, and there are times when that helps South Carolina electric consumers and times when other energy sources must be utilized instead," said Marc Tye, Santee Cooper senior vice president of customer service.

"Electric cooperatives in South Carolina are proud to help lead the initiative to develop utility-scale solar generation in the state with our partner, Santee Cooper," said Mark Svrcek, chief operating officer and senior vice president of corporate strategy at Central Electric Power Cooperative. "Much has been learned in the initial year of operation regarding the performance of the fixed-tilt and tracking panels installed at the site. We expect to find out more in 2015."

"From a performance perspective, it was a very good year for the solar farm," says Grant Reeves, senior vice president of TIG Sun Energy. "But more than anything, I believe the construction of Colleton Solar Farm did more to advance solar energy as a potential resource in South Carolina than any other project in the state."

The Colleton Solar Farm remains the largest solar installation in the history of South Carolina.

The solar array consists of 10,010 photovoltaic panels. Forty percent use single-axis tracking technology to follow the sun across the sky. This action maximizes the production of solar energy. Though more expensive to install initially, the "levelized cost of energy" shows tracking panels at the Colleton Solar Farm were nine percent less per kilowatt-hour (kWh) than fixed panels.

"Impacts on the distribution and generation systems are still being studied," said Svrcek. "We will continue to monitor the output of the farm as we move into a period where this carbon-free resource becomes a more significant part of a utility's portfolio."

The Colleton Solar Farm builds on a 14-year renewable energy history for Santee Cooper and the electric cooperatives. The utilities began generating and distributing renewable landfill gas energy in 2001, and since then have steadily increased renewable generation, using homegrown, South Carolina resources.

Photo caption: Tracking panels in the forefront of this photo follow the sun. Research shows the panels produce more electricity during the summer months, which offset their higher cost. The Colleton Solar Farm generated more electricity than expected and provided usage and integration data in its first year of operation. Photo by Jim Huff/Santee Cooper
 

Additional information for editors: The public can see real-time power output of the Colleton Solar Farm at: http://live.deckmonitoring.com/?id=Colleton_Solar_Farm

Additional photos are available for download at www.santeecooper.com/press

Video of the solar farm dedication is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SufSZu4Clnk

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TIG Sun Energy I, LLC was formed to develop solar energy projects in South Carolina by The InterTech Group, Inc. of North Charleston, S.C. which was South Carolina's Solar Council Corporation of the Year in 2013. The InterTech Group, Inc. is a diversified global company with wholly owned operations and investments in multiple industry sectors, including aerospace, specialty chemicals, sports and entertainment, finance, real estate and public capital markets.

Central Electric Power Cooperative, Columbia, S.C., provides planning and wholesale power aggregation services and wholesale transmission delivery services to 20 electric distribution cooperatives in South Carolina through power purchase agreements with Santee Cooper, Duke Energy Carolinas, the Southeastern Power Administration and South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. Electric cooperatives operate the largest distribution system in the state. www.cepci.org.

The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, Inc. is the state association of independent, member-owned electric cooperatives. More than 1.3 million South Carolinians in all 46 counties use power provided by electric cooperatives.  Together, the co-ops operate the state's largest electric power system with more than 70,000 miles of power lines across 70 percent of the state. More information is available at www.ecsc.org.

Santee Cooper is South Carolina's largest power provider, the largest Green Power generator and the ultimate source of electricity for 2 million people across the state. Through its low-cost, reliable and environmentally responsible electricity and water services, and through innovative partnerships and initiatives that attract and retain industry and jobs, Santee Cooper powers South Carolina. To learn more, visit www.santeecooper.com