Pacific Ethanol to install 5 MW solar PV plant at Madera facility

By Erin Voegele | September 26, 2016

Pacific Ethanol Inc. has announced it is installing a 5 MW photovoltaic (PV) power system designed and built by Borrego Solar Systems at its Madera, California, ethanol plant. Pacific Ethanol financed $10 million of the expected $11 investment through the CleanFund SolarPACE program.

The solar PV system is expected to reduce Pacific Ethanol’s operating costs and improve its carbon score by displacing more than 30 percent of the grid electricity currently used. Pacific Ethanol estimates the system will reduce the annual utility costs at the Madera facility by more than $1 million and drive premium pricing on ethanol produced at the plant due to improvements in its carbon-intensity core. The company also noted the system qualifies for the Energy Investment Tax Credit. The new solar facility is expected to be located adjacent to the ethanol plant, situated on 137 acres in Madera County, California.

“The integration of solar power at our Madera plant underscores our commitment to optimize our plant assets, lower the carbon intensity of our ethanol and reduce our operating costs,” said Neil Koehler, president and CEO of Pacific Ethanol. “We are proud to build the first ever commercial solar electricity system at a U.S. ethanol plant. Pending the completion of interconnection agreements with our local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., we expect to begin operating the solar PV system at full capacity in early 2018.”

“Pacific Ethanol represents the new generation of fuel companies—low carbon fuel production powered by zero carbon energy,” said Chris Otness, Borrego Solar project developer. “This will be one of the largest single-site net metered projects in PG&E territory. Historically these types of projects were limited to a single megawatt, but given the recent CPUC NEM 2.0 ruling, large energy users are now able to go above that threshold and offset a significantly larger portion of their overall usage. In addition, by financing this project through PACE, Pacific Ethanol is able to retain full ownership of the system from day one and capture the tax incentives afforded to solar system owners.”

CleanFund provides long-term financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation and seismic improvements for commercial, industrial, multifamily and other non-residential properties in the U.S. According to CleanFund, it provides capital for projects using Property Assessed Clean Energy, a financing framework adopted in 33 states and the District of Columbia that allows property owners to repay investments for building upgrades and new construction on their property tax bills. CleanFund also indicated that the Pacific Ethanol financing is the largest commercial PACE transaction in the U.S. to date, and is the largest solar PV system to be funded through the PACE program.

"We are honored that Pacific Ethanol selected CleanFund as its capital provider, and is utilizing our SolarPACE financing to install a state-of-the-art solar system on their amazing biorefinery,” said Greg Saunders, CEO CleanFund. The demand for commercial PACE financing continues to grow rapidly because it provides cost-effective, long-term financing for renewable energy, energy efficiency and water conservation measures for most non-residential properties. We are excited to partner with Pacific Ethanol as it leads the way in the deployment of renewable energy power systems at its industrial facilities."