NRG Energy Scoops Up 9 Solar Projects Out West

NRG Energy just scooped up a portfolio of nine solar development projects in California and Arizona. Through subsidiary NRG Solar, the New Jersey-based power producer has bought the projects for an undisclosed price from US Solar Ventures Holdings.

Ranging in size from 20 megawatts to 99 megawatts and expected to eventually total 450 MW, these projects aren’t set to come online until 2011-2013. With the addition of these new projects, NRG Solar’s development pipeline now includes 1.15 gigawatts of solar projects.

Today’s deal comes at a time when utilities have started to help drive the solar installation market, having recently become eligible for the first time for federal tax credits and cash grants. Those incentives have made it feasible for them to build their own plants, instead of financing them through power-purchase-agreement providers that own and operate the plants. NRG is what’s known as a merchant generator, selling power on competitive wholesale markets rather than at regulated rates like utilities.

Founded in 2008 as a joint venture with affiliates of investment firm ArcLight Capital Partners, US Solar has focused on developing utility-scale projects — from siting, permitting and financing to securing interconnections and transmission — that use parabolic trough and photovoltaic solar technology.

NRG owns about 24 gigawatts of power generation, mostly in natural gas and coal plants in Texas and the Northeast. It’s relatively new to the renewables industry, with only two clean energy projects in its portfolio as of July 2009 (a pair of wind plants in Texas). But late last year NRG bought a high-profile 21-megawatt solar project in Blythe, Calif. from thin-film giant First Solar, and also announced plans to spend $300 million-$500 million annually over the next 5-6 years in renewables, mostly in solar, biomass and wind projects.

Photo courtesy of NRG Solar

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