Solar farms popping up all over. They cost money to buy the land and then put in the panels. Who owns them?
Of the 16 solar power farms proposed in Louisiana, nearly half are controlled by an East Coast hedge fund with an appetite for solar and wind projects contained in a growing $15 billion renewable power portfolio. New York City-based D.E. Shaw Investments is supporting seven utility-scale projects in Louisiana, while eight other businesses from startups to big players — from inside and outside the United States — are behind nine other large-scale solar projects in various stages across the state. Only one of the 16 is operational so far, with two of D.E. Shaw’s projects near completion. All the projects have sought or are seeking public approval of 80% property tax breaks for up to 10 years through the state’s Industrial Property Tax Exemption Program for projects on primarily agricultural land being transformed into industrial sites that typically last at least two decades. Overall, D.E. Shaw is planning $484 million of investment in Louisiana spread across six disclosed projects that are seeking economic incentives or already had them approved. There is a seventh solar project on the books not yet seeking incentives. D.E. Shaw’s known projects total 410 megawatts, while other players propose an additional $1.6 billion worth of projects producing more than 1,500 megawatts.nola.com
If all of the proposed farms are built, the total power generated is 1,908 megawatts or enough to power 190,800 homes, or a mid-sized city. This is based on estimates of 100 homes for each megawatt. This is from calculations made by the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Five of D.E. Shaw’s projects are in St. James Parish; its other two are in Washington Parish. Other developers would have two projects each in West Baton Rouge and Morehouse parishes and one each in Washington, Pointe Coupee, Lafourche, East Feliciana and Beauregard parishes. D.E. Shaw’s projects are Iris Solar, 50 megawatts for $75 million, and Sunlight Road Solar, 50 megawatts for $56 million, both near Franklinton. Near Vacherie would be St. James Solar, 20 megawatts for $30 million; St. James Solar II, for which further information was not available; St. James Solar III, 90 megawatts for $100 million, Vacherie Solar Energy Center LLC, 80 megawatts for $89 million; and St. Jacques Solar, 120 megawatts for $134 million. So far, D.E. Shaw is nearing completion of Iris Solar and the first St. James Solar project for an eventual tie-in to the power grid. As of July, the only outside utility-scale solar project already selling power is in West Baton Rouge Parish and operated by a subsidiary of Helios Infrastructure, which acquired that project from its initial developers.
Solar is like other property develops as they are flipped between companies who buy and exchange leases.
D.E. Shaw’s Louisiana projects are among a much larger nationwide portfolio controlled by the hedge fund — producing more than 2,900 megawatts of power generated from the sun and more than 500 megawatts from wind, records show. Among the wind turbine developments D.E. Shaw has backed financially across North America is the nation’s first offshore wind project, Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island, which drew offshore and fabrication expertise from companies in Louisiana. “With over 400 megawatts of new solar power projects planned in Louisiana, (D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments) is enthusiastic about the opportunity to invest in a welcoming state economic environment while working in close partnership with local communities,” said Hy Martin, commercial development officer for the company.
These are big systems with hundreds of thousands of panels. So many are on whole former family farms which means farmers are upset as they cannot compete with the money the developers have in buying or leasing land.
Meanwhile, utilities and businesses are pursuing renewable sources of energy to help counter their use of power generated from fossil fuels. For example, D.E. Shaw has signed deals with utilities such as Entergy New Orleans, but also with business customers such as Facebook for solar projects out West. D.E. Shaw was founded in 1988 by David E. Shaw, who holds a Ph.D. from Stanford and has expertise in computational biochemistry. Shaw once served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology for President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, according to the company’s website. Shaw’s hedge fund is known among those in California’s Silicon Valley and has prominent investors but is managed by an external board of executives.
There are others being placed in the state:
HELIOS INFRASTRUCTURE: Its 50 megawatt project cost $67 million to construct in West Baton Rouge Parish and is operational. Washington D.C.-area technology startup Helios Infrastructure is a joint venture between Sol Systems and Ohio giant Nationwide Insurance. Though Nationwide does not operate the solar array on a day-to-day basis, it does have a controlling interest as a financial backer, according to a federal master lease agreement on file. Neither of those companies were the original developer of the project. That was Eagle Solar Group, which hails from Arizona. Depcom Power, also based in Arizona, did the engineering, procurement and construction in addition to operations and maintenance for the solar project.
ECOPLEXUS: A West Coast solar developer wants to drop $348 million across two solar projects in West Baton Rouge and East Feliciana parishes. San Francisco-based Ecoplexus, which owns 400 megawatts, looks to build Bueche PV1 LLC and Willis Pond PV I LLC. Ecoplexus has done seven tax equity funds for financing 170 megawatts of solar projects worth $300 million since 2017. The company has been led by Erik Stuebe since 2008 and has brokered deals with utilities such as Duke Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric and Georgia Power, among others. Ecoplexus has deals with customers such as Fortune 500 companies Medtronic and Ecolab, in addition to privately held businesses like Anderson Windows and Doors. The company doesn’t typically invest in projects unless “power purchase agreements” at least 15 years or longer are available to justify financing used for solar power development.
THIBODAUX SOLAR: The Bayou region’s first utility solar array, Thibodaux Solar Project, also known as Sunbeam 2, is proposed in Lafourche Parish. Thibodaux Solar is owned by Kansas City, Missouri-based Savion Energy, which has more than 100 solar projects in various stages across 27 states. Savion Energy’s Thibodaux project would be $200 million of investment for 200 megawatts of solar power. Privately held Savion LLC is under Green Investment Group and an indirect subsidiary of publicly traded Macquarie Group in Australia.
KONTIKI HOLDINGS: A solar project in the town of Singer in Beauregard Parish owned by Kontiki Holdings LLC would span 1,970 acres and could produce 200 megawatts of electricity, at a construction cost of $145 million. Kontiki was registered in Delaware as of August 2020 on behalf of Next Era, which is the publicly traded umbrella company for utilities such as Florida Power and Light, records show. Next Era Energy, which has a significant renewable energy portfolio, particularly solar, dubbed the project as Beauregard Solar. The company estimates tax revenue for Beauregard Parish at $26 million over the “lifetime” of the project. The electricity produced for the Beauregard Solar project is being marketed to a variety of customers from industrial sites to utilities inside and outside Louisiana. “Even if the electricity were sold to an off-taker outside the state the economic benefits would stay in the parish,” said Bryan Garner, director of communications for NextEra Energy Resources. “It’s a low-impact, high-value project. You don’t have to hire new teachers or first responders; it’s quiet, passive, creates revenue and actually preserves the land. The cost of decommissioning is born by the developer.”
GALEHEAD: A planned 200 megawatt, $200 million solar project in Bogalusa known as Bogalusa West PV I LLC is being developed by Galehead, a clean-tech startup which does land developments for solar projects for clients. Galehead boasted one project with a “Southeastern U.S.-based landowner who owns approximately 400,000 acres across 500 distinct parcels spanning four states.” The startup “identified the sites best suited to host a solar project” for the unidentified customer and is “actively working with this partner to develop a utility-scale solar project,” according to its website. The officer of the Louisiana incorporated business is John Clifford, an executive at Galehead, records show. Reached for comment, Clifford said he’s no longer involved in the project.
RECURRENT ENERGY: Outside of Bastrop in Morehouse Parish, a subsidiary of publicly traded Canadian Solar, which manufactures solar panels and constructs projects, is building Bayou Galion Solar Project. Canadian Solar subsidiary Recurrent Energy is leading the development, a 98 megawatt project on 1,000 acres for $98 million. Recurrent Energy has completed more than 70 projects since 2006, with customers such as Google, GE Energy, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy. Canadian Solar’s subsidiary told the state board that approves economic incentives that it already has an agreement with Entergy, which has said that the project is not contingent on a contract with the utility.
EDP RENEWABLES: A U.S. subsidiary of Portuguese electric utilities giant Energias de Portugal is behind a $78.5 million solar project in Morehouse Parish near Bastrop. It could produce 50 megawatts of power. EDP Renewables has been investing in its own projects but also buying equity stakes in other projects across the U.S., such as a deal for a portfolio worth $119 million for 89 megawatts from C2 Omega LLC, according to a deal announced in January.
LIGHTSOURCE: The single largest solar project proposed is for 300 megawatts in Pointe Coupee Parish. Ventress Solar is proposed near New Roads and would span 2,732 acres. The project is being developed by San Francisco-based Lightsource Renewable Energy Development LLC, which is the renewable energy arm for BP. Lighthouse already has more than 400 megawatts of solar connected to the grid with another 616 megawatts of power under construction.
And so the state is awash in a world wide quest for solar power.