Largest solar power plant in US secures $1.3 billion in financing

Gemini, a massive new solar-plus-storage project in Nevada, is a bright spot for an industry that’s facing myriad challenges.

overhead view of large solar project
Artist's rendering of the planned Gemini solar project in Nevada. (Quinbrook)
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This week, Primergy Solar, a subsidiary of investment manager Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, announced that it has secured financing for its long-planned 690-megawatt (AC) Gemini solar-plus-storage project. Located in southern Nevada, the project is set to be the largest continuous solar installation in the United States — and one of the largest in the world — when it’s completed in 2023.

Once operational, the facility, which is being built 33 miles northeast of Las Vegas on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, will deliver solar-generated renewable energy under a 25-year power-purchase agreement to public utility NV Energy.

Primergy CEO Ty Daul said in a statement, With the suppliers and contractors engaged and the financing secured, we are ready to begin construction on this unprecedented project.”

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Financing a billion-dollar project and selecting vendors

Debt financing for the Gemini project is made up of $1.3 billion in credit facilities, including a construction/​term loan, tax-equity bridge loan and letter of credit facility. The financing also includes $532 million in tax-equity commitments, one of the largest single-asset tax-equity solar financings ever completed in the U.S., according to Quinbrook. 

Primergy selected Kiewit Power Constructors as Gemini’s engineering, procurement and construction partner and IHI Terrasun Solutions as the integrator for the project’s 380-megawatt/1,520-megawatt-hour lithium-ion battery. Gemini will be able to produce power year-round, but its battery will play a crucial role principally in the summer and particularly from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., according to the company.

Gemini will deploy nearly 1.8 million shingled bifacial photovoltaic modules that use high-efficiency mono-PERC solar cells manufactured by Maxeon Solar Technologies in Malaysia and assembled by Maxeon in Mexicali, Mexico (for the tariff-minded). The panels will be supplied over a four-quarter period starting in the second quarter of 2022 and ending in 2023 when the project is slated to be completed.

Array Technologies will supply single-axis solar trackers for the immense project. Chief revenue officer Travis Rose said that the tracker firm has worked closely with Keiwit Power Constructors to optimize the centralized tracker design and ensure that there’s as little grading as possible. Array’s design uses longer tracker rows that require fewer foundations to be driven. Array notes that it intends to source up to 90 percent of the bill of materials for the project domestically.

The on-site construction workforce is expected to average 500 to 700 construction workers, with a peak of up to 900 workers, supporting up to an additional 1,100 jobs in the local community and injecting an estimated $712.5 million into the economy during construction.

Desert tortoises and milkvetch

Building a 7,100-acre renewable energy project — about half the size of Manhattan — on sensitive desert land inevitably involves some environmental conflicts.

Primergy states on its website, We are utilizing the latest research and design considerations to minimize the footprint of Gemini, and ensure that local flora and fauna will continue to thrive on-site with minimal impact from the solar panel installations.” It goes on to say that it has been able to reduce Gemini’s projected footprint by over 20 percent and the need for access roads by 25 percent compared to traditional solar projects.

Despite these promises, the final environmental impact statement acknowledges that the project will cause the loss of at least 215 adult and 900 juvenile desert tortoises, as well as impacting surprisingly diverse but sparsely distributed wildlife. The area is also home to rare plants, including the threecorner milkvetch, which may also be threatened by construction. 

According to the Environmental Justice Atlas, There are Native American communities and environmental conservation organizations which oppose the project but, nevertheless, it was approved and will be constructed.”

What’s the future for projects like Gemini?

Over the past decade, the U.S. and global solar markets have been resilient in the face of myriad market and policy challenges. Installed solar capacity in the U.S. has topped 100 gigawatts, as stated in a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie, and the number of solar projects with capacities greater than 100 megawatts is soaring across all regions of the U.S.

Just a few months ago, the trend looked set to continue. Late last year, research house S&P Global Market Intelligence put out an aggressive forecast predicting that 44 gigawatts of new solar would come online in the U.S. in 2022, nearly double the 23 gigawatts that were added in 2021

But that was before the Auxin Solar trade petition hung a sword of Damocles above the industry.

Now, with the solar industry beset by the threat of new tariffs, supply-chain woes and pandemic impacts, the Gemini project seems like a bright spot in an increasingly gloomy landscape. 

Addressing the tariff issue, Erica Brinker, Array’s chief commercial officer, told Canary, We are all supportive of American manufacturing and technology. We are behind domestic production of modules. But I do think we need a regulatory environment that balances the short-term needs and the realistic desires and goals of the administration with what we need five years from now. We can’t flip a switch and make everything in the U.S. That’s just not the reality of the industry right now.”

Brinker added, We need to make sure that there can be more Geminis, and we can’t do it in this current environment.”

Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.