This question may be outside of the scope for this forum, but I'm having a hard time finding good information, and thought asking here might be worthwhile.

I started looking into farm-scale solar here in Oregon, and found that we just don't have enough insolation here to get above the cost/benefit curve. If my property were in the Mojave Desert, however, the benefit is far above the cost curve. That got me wondering about the commercial viability of a small (~1MW) solar power plant in the Mojave, where 5 acres of land can be had for $5,000.

What is the cost per kW to set up solar on that sort of scale where you're not trying to offset energy consumption, just sell it straight to the grid?


Based on some research, I've come up with a bit more "information" on the subject (I put that word in quotes because some of it isn't something I can cite a viable source for. A key resource was the report that LShaver mentioned but couldn't link to):

  • The preferred size for a small-scale utility PV plant is around 3 MW
  • A 3 MW plant takes up just under 20 acres when roads and other non-generating aspects are taken into account
  • Lots in the Mojave that are 20 acres in size still fall in the ~$1000 per acre that I mentioned above (example here)
  • Project development and interconnection costs ran about $0.06 per watt ($60,000 per MW) in 2015, down from $0.12 from 2014
  • Total project cost ran about $2.44 per watt ($2.44M per MW) in 2015, down from $2.73 in 2014
  • Strictly using utility rates for Needles, CA, gross income per year is $314,200 per MW of installed capacity ($942,600/yr for a ~$7.5M, 3 MW project with a 33 year life expectancy). This is consistent with the "brown" energy price at SP-15, the electricity pricing point nearest Needles, CA.
  • Utilities pay higher prices for solar than for mixed source generation through a "green tag" or "REC" marketplace. The market for green tags is separate from the market for energy. The prices of green tags has been falling for years as more installed solar is constructed, but the price seems to be currently between $10-15/MWh, adding ~$54,000-75,000 per year to the above revenue estimates for a 3 MW plant.
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    The cost of running power lines may be a significant part of the overall cost. By which I mean that the cheap land is likely to be further from a connection than land which is economically viable to connect. – Chris H Apr 18 '16 at 6:32
  • Sorry for OT but "5 acres of land can be had for $5,000", seriously? – Marian Paździoch Apr 26 '16 at 17:59
  • Here's one for $3500: redfin.com/CA/29-Palms/0-Nearest-Schooler-Rd-Rd-92277/home/… and another for $5000: redfin.com/CA/Twentynine-Palms/South-92277/home/17268818. There were a few priced between these two, but the pictures weren't very good. – J.D. Ray Apr 27 '16 at 17:06
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    @ChrisH but with luck you can often get rural land under transmission lines cheaply, and with real luck you'd be able to find some near an existing feed point on such a line. Looking at national grid maps is useful for this - and often they choose to run grid lines where land is cheap too. – Móż May 4 '16 at 4:34

Here are two links from NREL, the National Renewable Energy Lab, which would help you figure this out.

LCOE calculator. Levelized cost of electricity is a way to look at what solar power costs per unit of generation (kWh) so you can compare it to any other generation resource.

Renewable energy cost estimates. This gives you some of the values you'd need to fill in for the LCOE calculator, depending on the size and type of system.

There's a third link, which I can't post because I'm not reputable yet... but SEPA, the Solar Electric Power Association, published a report in 2014 comparing the cost of solar between different states. This would help equalize the costs across state lines for comparison purposes. The report is titled "Photovoltaic System Price Quotes from Selected States."

EDIT: Here's that third link (thanks @Highly-Irregular): "Photovoltaic System Price Quotes from Selected States" (pdf)

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