North Coast Solar Stocks

November 22, 2009

First Solar plant re-energized

Filed under: AEP, FSLR, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , , , — Jason @ 10:00 am

Expansion reflects growth in demand across North America

First Solar Inc., which began in Toledo and is headquartered in Arizona, has its only North American factory in Perrysburg Township. The plant is expanding.

By GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

A huge expansion of a solar panel manufacturing plant in Perrysburg Township is nearing completion just in time for a massive planned increase in solar energy use across the United States and Canada.

Utility-scale solar fields, mostly in the West and South, will consume the output of the First Solar Inc. (FSLR) plant through 2015 and probably will cause the company to import panels from its factories in Europe and Asia, an official said.

“We definitely have created demand in the United States far beyond what that single plant can supply and will need to supplement that with product from other plants,” said Alan Bernheimer, a company spokesman.

Executives launched an initiative two years ago to boost U.S. sales to correspond with the company’s growing manufacturing capacity and offset any cooling of a solar energy-building boom in Europe that consumed millions of Perrysburg Township-made panels. Those efforts are now bearing fruit.

Massive solar fields built by First Solar have been completed or are nearing completion outside Las Vegas, in southern California, and in Ontario along Lake Huron.

Five other big First Solar projects that probably will use panels from the suburban Toledo plant are under way or have been announced. They include one that would become the largest solar array in the nation, covering nearly seven square miles and producing enough electricity for 160,000 homes.

All of the projects are multiple-acre solar fields that will be connected to the nation’s electric grid.

An evolution
If the company moves forward on already-announced projects, the work would consume more than 18 million of the 2-foot-by-4-foot panels that First Solar produces.

“That’s great news,” said Steve Weathers, president of Toledo’s Regional Growth Partnership. “What we like to see with any company is growth in their customer base.”

He said the local plant’s growth demonstrates an evolution in the local economy as northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan shift to other industries and away from heavy reliance on jobs in auto manufacturing.

(more…)

October 5, 2009

First Solar gains attention, but is it back?

Filed under: FSLR, SPWR, SRE, STP — Tags: , , , , , , — Jason @ 8:57 pm

Mon Oct 5, 2009 8:57pm EDT

By Laura Isensee and Poornima Gupta

LOS ANGELES/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – First Solar Inc. (FSLR) is on the verge of being included in the flagship S&P 500 index, a sign that alternative energy companies are now a mainstream investment.

The news has buoyed First Solar, which has been on a rough ride since the global recession slackened demand for renewable energy projects, and a drop in polysilicon prices raised concerns that the company could lose some of its edge as low-cost leader.

First Solar shares have been especially volatile in 2008, with the stock losing 42 percent of its value from May to September, falling from $202.40 per share to $118.32.

Since September, however, First Solar’s stock has rallied, gaining 26 percent and closing at $148.58 on Monday on the Nasdaq.

Would inclusion in the S&P 500 and the long-term positive outlook for solar power help build a sustained rally in First Solar?

Three analysts weigh in:

BILL ONG, MANAGING DIRECTOR, MERRIMAN CURHAN FORD:

“I like the stock at this level. I think it’s going to go higher. In the near term there is certainly some positive fundamental catalysts that’s driving First Solar.

We have definitely seen polysilicon prices stabilize in the low $60 per kilogram range. That also bodes well. I also see some improved visibility in terms of some near-term pickup in demand taking place in Europe as well as in China. That’s a couple of key catalysts that’s going to drive the stock higher as we go into earnings.

(more…)

August 27, 2009

Solar stocks mixed on earnings news

Filed under: CSUN, ENER, FSLR, SRE, STP, TSL — Tags: , , , , , — Jason @ 4:07 pm

Solar stocks mixed as more solar companies post results, analysts warn of near-term challenges

Thursday August 27, 2009, 4:07 pm EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — Solar stocks were mixed on Thursday as two solar companies reported quarterly results and analysts raised concerns about near-term challenges for solar companies.

Solar panel product maker Energy Conversion Devices Inc. (ENER) posted a fiscal fourth-quarter loss, driven by hefty one-time charges and a sharp drop in demand for solar products as commercial construction declined, building owners deferred reroofing projects and project financing constraints continued.

China Sunergy Co. Ltd. (CSUN) said its second-quarter profit fell 43 percent but stronger shipments pushed results beyond analyst expectations.

Solar companies have been pummeled by industry-wide price cuts for solar panels, driven by an oversupply of product, scaled-back demand and the falling price of polysilicon, a key raw ingredient.

Credit Suisse analyst Satya Kumar cut his price target for Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. (STP) to $12.50 from $16.50, citing the solar power company’s sharp second-quarter profit drop. The company also estimated a 15 percent to 20 percent decline in average selling price in the third quarter.

Kumar said he prefers shares of Trina Solar Ltd. (TSL) over Suntech, given Trina’s stronger growth in shipments and lower polysilicon to panel cost structure. Kumar rates Suntech “Neutral.”

FBR Capital Markets analyst Mehdi Hosseini said that even First Solar (FSLR), the nation’s largest solar panel maker and industry leader, faces a number of challenges in the near-term, namely, the delayed construction of the Sempra (SRE) 48-MW project, uncertainties around the timing of financing for the Blythe and Tristate projects and the recent departure of the company’s executive vice president of global marketing and business development. The company also needs to find a replacement for Mike Ahearn, the company’s current CEO who announced earlier this year he is stepping down.

“Recent trends/checks support our thesis that…downside risks have yet to be fully dialed into the stock,” Hosseini said. “We caution investors against unrealistic expectations associated with First Solar over the past year.”

Hosseini rates the company “Underperform” with a price target of $110. Shares of First Solar fell $1.96, or 1.6 percent, to $124.76.

August 18, 2009

Potential of the sun dawns on the US

Filed under: AMAT, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , , , — Jason @ 6:48 pm

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
August 18 2009 18:48

Solar panels may not adorn every rooftop but governments globally could finally be giving the industry the fresh impetus needed for it to fulfill its potential.

In spite of record growth, rates over the past five years, high costs (solar energy can be four times as expensive as traditional gas-fired electricity) and the economic downturn mean solar has not become a mainstream energy source.

While many solar companies were profitable before the economic downturn, boosted by government subsidies, the credit squeeze and fall in energy demand has hit them along with the rest of the power sector. This has led some component prices to drop, which has heaped pressure on margins at many manufacturers.

Germany, Japan and Spain lead the market, mainly because their governments took an early lead in pushing the technology’s development and, as a result, the industry is led mostly by European companies.

Germany’s Q-Cells is the world’s largest solar cell manufacturer, while Abengoa Solar, a Spanish company, this year built the world’s largest solar tower, delivering electricity to 10,000 homes.

However, China and the US are making a concerted effort to make up for lost time. China is already the world’s biggest producer of solar panels but exports 90 per cent of the equipment, while many in the industry expect the US to overtake its rivals shortly following increased attention from Washington.

Globally, Jeff Smidt, general manager of Underwriters Laboratories global energy business, says solar submissions for the seal of approval from the safety certification and testing organization is on the rise, particularly from Chinese makers.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in solar panels submitted for our evaluation,” Mr Smidt says.

China is building its first commercial solar power station, which sparked interest from companies globally looking to bid for contracts.

However, the US, following its $787bn economic stimulus package, which includes grants and tax breaks for US clean energy projects over the next 10 years, has attracted the most attention.

(more…)

July 27, 2009

PG&E Contracts With Sempra Generation for More Solar Power

Filed under: PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 1:00 pm

Utility Adds 48 Megawatts of Thin-Film Photovoltaic Solar Power to Serve California Customers

Monday July 27, 2009, 1:00 pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO and SAN DIEGO, July 27 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PCG) announced today that it has entered into a contract with El Dorado Energy, LLC, a subsidiary of Sempra Generation, to purchase 48 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic solar power produced at the Copper Mountain Solar facility. This is the utility’s second contract for renewable energy from Sempra Generation and it is subject to approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Sempra Generation’s new Copper Mountain Solar facility will produce an average of 100 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year, equal to the annual consumption of more than 14,000 average homes. Construction of the new solar project is slated to begin later this year and will be completed in 2011.

“PG&E is pleased to collaborate again with Sempra Generation as we work to meet our customers’ long-term energy needs with environmentally friendly power,” said Fong Wan, senior vice president of energy procurement for PG&E. “Solar projects, like the Copper Mountain Solar facility, are ideally suited to help meet our customers’ peak energy loads.”

Today’s agreement, combined with a contract PG&E signed in late 2008 to purchase the entire 10 MW output of Sempra Generation’s existing El Dorado Energy Solar power plant, provides PG&E with all 58 MW generated by the Boulder City, Nev., solar projects. Boulder City is located about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

“This agreement represents a major step forward for Sempra Generation in the development of the largest operational photovoltaic solar power installation in North America,” said Michael W. Allman, president and chief executive officer of Sempra Generation. “It also demonstrates how we leverage our existing investments in land and electric infrastructure to deliver low-cost, large-scale solar power projects. The nearly one million solar panels installed at our two Nevada solar facilities will bring a new source of clean energy to the West and help reduce carbon emissions in the region,” Allman added.

Copper Mountain Solar will create about 200 local construction jobs.

Since 2002, PG&E has entered into contracts for more than 20 percent of its future electric power deliveries from renewable sources. On average, half of the electricity PG&E delivers to its customers comes from carbon-free generating sources, making the company’s energy some of the cleanest consumed by any electric utility customers in the nation.

About Sempra Generation

Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (SRE), operates and maintains a fleet of natural gas fueled and solar power plants serving the U.S. market and is in the process of developing renewable power projects in the Pacific Southwest. Sempra Energy, based in San Diego, is a Fortune 500 energy services holding company with 2008 revenues of nearly $11 billion. The Sempra Energy companies’ 13,600 employees serve more than 29 million consumers worldwide.

July 6, 2009

Solar: Should Utility Customers Subsidize Solar Homes?

Filed under: EIX, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 11:42 am

Posted by Eric Savitz
barrons.com

Here’s a tricky question: should the average electric utility customer pay higher rates so that people who install solar systems can sell power back to the grid?

That question is at the heart of a story today in the L.A. Times about whether to expand a program under which California utilities buy back power from customers with solar panels. Current state law allows utilities to cap solar power purchases at 2.5% of their generating capacity; a provision now being debated in Sacramento would quadruple the cap to 10%. The piece notes that Pacific Gas & Electric (PCG) could hit the 2.5% cap by the end of the year, while Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) are moving more slowly.

All three utilities oppose the higher cap. The Times notes that while the power companies support solar power, they want more information on whether it is fair to increase financial incentives for solar-panel ownership at the expense of the rest of their customers. The piece points out that the so-called “net metering” program which allows people to sell power to the grid is in addition to a 20% state subsidy and a 30% federal income tax credit.

The piece noted that a staff report by the state Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee asserted that the utilities are over-paying for power produced by solar customers. Under the legislation, the solar companies pay a full retail rate, “well above the value of the generated power.”

July 1, 2009

Handful of players seen ruling the solar roost

Filed under: EIX, FSLR, PCG, SPWR, SRE, STP, YGE — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 12:35 pm

Wed Jul 1, 2009 12:35pm EDT

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Solar panel makers from California to China are gearing up to capture a slice of the growing U.S. market for utility-scale solar power plants, but just a handful of players are expected to snap up most of the business in the coming years.

U.S. players First Solar Inc (FSLR) and SunPower Corp (SPWRA, SPWRB) and China’s Suntech Power Holdings (STP) are widely expected to be the primary winners of large photovoltaic solar projects in the United States in the next few years, with the first two already firmly entrenched in the market.

“I don’t think the utility landscape is going to become as competitive as the commercial market, because the barriers to entry are much higher,” said Barclays Capital analyst Vishal Shah. “It takes a long time to prove your technology to the utility so they can be comfortable. So from that standpoint it limits the competition only to a handful of players.”

For much of the last two years, investors have been banking on an eventual boom in solar power plants in the United States due to increased concerns about climate change that have ushered in generous government incentives for clean energy. That optimism has only intensified in recent months despite a weak global economy and tight credit markets that have hampered development of green power projects this year.

Efforts by the Obama administration to speed development of renewable energy, state mandates for renewable power and a dramatic drop in the cost of solar panels mean “the U.S. market could potentially (and finally) become ‘the promised land’ that investors have been waiting for since late 2007,” FBR Capital Markets analyst Mehdi Hosseini said in a June research note.

(more…)

June 10, 2009

A Solar Stock With Plenty of Flare

Filed under: FSLR, SRE — Tags: , , , , , , — Jason @ 5:39 pm

First Solar’s shares could jump by more than 35%, writes Broadpoint AmTech.

By Broadpoint AmTech ($182.88, June 10, 2009)

WE ARE RAISING OUR price target for First Solar (FSLR) to $250 and reiterating our Buy rating. We believe there are several potential positive catalysts on the horizon for the company that create the opportunity for multiple expansion.

First Solar is scheduled to host an Analyst Day on June 24 in Las Vegas where we expect management to highlight improvements in Balance of System (BOS) costs, as well as the cost advantage it enjoys relative to poly-based modules. The BOS differential now stands at approximately 30 cents, 50% lower than where it was just three years ago. Tier 2 module average selling price declines as a result of poly price degradation have not reached a point where we believe they impact First Solar following recent contract renegotiations. Given concern in the marketplace, we believe a reiteration of these explanations in two weeks will be perceived positively.

Project financing remains tight worldwide, though Germany is beginning to show signs of life; financing metrics are also moving in the right direction despite real-world reaction to date. As a result, we believe it is very likely that First Solar will be able to put its co-financed 53 megawatt (MW) DC photovoltaic (PV) power plant (near the German city of Cottbus) back into fiscal year 2009 guidance in the second half of 2009. We believe in broad terms that this represents approximately $100 million in incremental revenue and approximately 40 cents in earnings per share to the consensus outlook.

In line with our view that clarification from the Treasury Department on refundability in June/July may lead to U.S. project acceleration, we believe Sempra Energy’s (SRE) planned 500MW PV plant in Arizona may be a prime candidate for pull-in. Given First Solar’s historical relationship with Sempra…we believe the company is a strong candidate to win this business.

With few catalysts post earnings, First Solar has significantly underperformed the solar group as investors have played a leverage game on a return to normalcy. While we are still positive on the group, we believe that First Solar may begin to play catch-up as it is the best situated player to win significant U.S. commercial and utility business over the next 12-24 months.

Our new $250 price target is arrived at by applying a 25 times multiple to our fiscal year 2010 EPS estimate of $9.96, and is supported by our 10-year discounted cash flow analysis.

— John Hardy

June 4, 2009

New Energy Bill Could Light Up Domestic Solar Power Industry

By Miho Nagano
Thursday June 4, 2009, 6:03 pm EDT

The federal comprehensive energy bill could change the whole game for the solar industry.

If the bill passes Congress and becomes law, it would require U.S. utility companies to supply around 15% of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind power by 2020.

This means utilities would need large-scale solar systems to generate enough electricity to meet the federal mandate.

Up to now, Germany has been by far the biggest solar energy market — close to a 35% share — because of its heavily government-subsidized solar facilities. The U.S. accounts for only 5% of the global market, according to analysts.

But that could quickly change. The U.S. will be the strongest market in the next two or three years, and could grab a 25% to 30% market share in the long run, says analyst Stephen Chin of UBS.

Price Matters

When utility companies shop for solar panels, price matters. They may go for the providers with the lowest prices. Utilities, which largely depend on public money, are “very price-sensitive,” Chin said.

The industry’s cost-cutting leader, First Solar (FSLR) of Tempe, Ariz., has a big advantage when it comes to pricing. The maker of solar panels can now manufacture solar modules for 93 cents per watt, down 5% from 98 cents in its fourth quarter. Still, it managed a hefty 56% gross margin in the first quarter.

First Solar’s costs per watt of electricity beat Chinese competitors. Yingli (YGE), a Chinese low-cost leader, couldn’t break $1 per watt in the first quarter even with falling silicon costs, says analyst Kelly Dougherty of Macquarie Research.

UBS analyst Chin estimates that First Solar charges $1.80 per watt to utility clients for panels while competitors charge around $2.50 per watt, a difference of 25% to 30%.

(more…)

April 15, 2009

First Solar, Sempra in new solar plant deal

Filed under: EIX, FSLR, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 2:30 pm

Wed Apr 15, 2009 2:30pm EDT

*First Solar to build 48 MW plant for Sempra in Nevada

*Deal expands existing 10 MW plant in same location

LOS ANGELES, April 15 (Reuters) – First Solar Inc (FSLR) said on Wednesday it would build a solar power plant for Sempra Energy (SRE) in Nevada that, when completed, will be the largest photovoltaic power plant in North America.

The 48-megawatt plant near Boulder City, Nevada, expands a 10 MW plant First Solar built for Sempra’s generation unit last year. It is expected to be completed in 2010.

California utilities have been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy solar market because they must comply with a state mandate to produce 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and then 33 percent by 2020.

First Solar, whose cadmium telluride solar panels cost less than traditional polysilicon-based panels, has benefited from cost-conscious utilities’ efforts to buy more clean, renewable power through deals with Sempra and Edison International’s (EIX) Southern California Edison.

The company also expanded its presence in the U.S. utility market this month with the acquisition of rival OptiSolar’s project pipeline.

“Utilities offer the most durable source of solar demand in a weak economy, because many are under mandate to invest in new renewable generation; and they have some of the best access to financing even in otherwise frozen capital markets,” Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov said in a client note.

The latest deal is subject to Sempra executing a power purchase agreement with a utility customer for the electricity the plant will generate.

The existing 10-MW plant supplies power to California utility PG&E (PCG)

Larger solar power plants are in the works in North America, but will be completed after the latest First Solar and Sempra project.

First Solar shares were down 50 cents, or 0.3 percent, at $147.60 in afternoon trade on the Nasdaq. Sempra shares were up 44 cents, or 1 percent, at $45.35 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom)

First Solar to Build 48 Megawatt Photovoltaic Power Plant for Sempra Generation in Nevada

Filed under: FSLR, SRE — Tags: , , — Jason @ 9:00 am

The Solar Project Would Be the Largest PV Installation in North America

Wednesday April 15, 2009, 9:00 am EDT

TEMPE, Ariz.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–First Solar, Inc. (FSLR) today announced it has executed an agreement to build a 48 megawatt (MW) AC ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) power plant for Sempra Generation (SRE). This project would expand the 10MW AC power plant First Solar completed for Sempra Generation in 2008, which is located near Boulder City, Nev.

First Solar will design, engineer and construct the PV power plant. The Company expects to begin construction in 2009. Once construction is completed in 2010, the combined 58MW AC project is expected to be the largest PV power plant in North America.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to expand this 10MW project to 58MW—more than five times its original size, advancing our mission of providing clean, affordable solar electricity,” said John Carrington, First Solar executive vice president of marketing and business development. “Sempra Generation’s decision to use First Solar in expanding the El Dorado solar plant demonstrates our ability to provide a cost-effective energy solution for utility scale projects.”

As is the case with the original 10MW AC solar plant, the 48MW AC project will be constructed adjacent to Sempra Generation’s existing 480MW El Dorado Energy power plant, located about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Sempra Generation will own and operate the PV power plant. The agreement is conditioned upon Sempra Generation executing a power purchase agreement with a utility customer for the electricity generated by the PV power plant and applicable state and local regulatory approvals.

April 14, 2009

Abound, U.S. solar startup, takes on First Solar

Filed under: EIX, FSLR, SRE — Tags: , , , , , — Jason @ 12:01 am

Tue Apr 14, 2009 12:01am EDT

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES, April 14 (Reuters) – Abound Solar, a U.S. solar startup whose top rival is low-cost industry leader First Solar Inc (FSLR), starts production at its first factory on Tuesday, promising that it will lead the way to making solar competitive with power from dirtier sources.

Abound, a private company that was known as AVA Solar until last month, will make cadmium telluride solar panels at its first full-scale plant in Longmont, Colorado, where it will eventually produce 200 megawatts of solar modules annually.

Using cadmium telluride as its key raw material puts Abound in direct competition with First Solar, the Wall Street darling whose low-cost technology has been snapping up solar power deals with U.S. utilities including Sempra Energy (SRE) and Edison International (EIX).

Traditional solar panel makers use polysilicon as their main raw material, making the panels more efficient in transforming sunlight to electricity, but also more costly.

Abound Solar’s management said it would easily compete with Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar, the solar equivalent of an industry behemoth.

“We think we have a slight technological advantage over First Solar,” Chief Executive Pascal Noronha said in an interview. “And by the way I think very highly of First Solar.”

Abound’s manufacturing process, Noronha said, is completely automated and continuous, allowing the company to convert sheets of glass into solar panels in less than two hours without human labor.

“We have a manufacturing process that is about as continuous as making beer cans, and therefore makes us the lowest cost manufacturer of photovoltaic modules,” Noronha said.

(more…)

March 19, 2009

ICE Cold Storage Building Combines Energy Efficiency With SunPower Solar System to Reduce Energy Costs by More Than 75 Percent

Filed under: SPWR, SRE — Tags: , , — Jason @ 8:00 am

Thursday March 19, 8:00 am ET

Pioneering Collaboration Allows SDG&E and ICE to Share Benefit of Solar Power System; SDG&E Awards More Than $225,000 in Incentives

SAN DIEGO, March 19 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — In a dedication ceremony today, Hamann Construction, Innovative Cold Storage Enterprises, Inc. (ICE), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and SunPower Corp. (SPWRA, SPWRB), a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems, are celebrating the completion of ICE II, ICE’s new 134,511-square-foot cold storage building. ICE expects to achieve more than 75 percent reduction in energy costs at the facility as a result of the energy efficient design and a 1.1-megawatt high-efficiency SunPower solar power system.

“Expanding the operations of ICE, this new building will store four times as much product as the original plant while using half the power – and the SunPower solar system on the roof will generate the equivalent of 72 percent of the energy used by the facility,” said Gregg Hamann, vice president of Hamann Construction, designers and builders of the project. “The ‘cool roof,’ designed to maximize insulation, would have been jeopardized by a solar system that required roof penetration for installation. The SunPower PowerGuard® non-penetrating rooftop system was perfect because it maintains the integrity of the insulated roof, installs quickly, and provides additional insulation and protection.”

Financing for the solar power system was shared equally by Innovative Oil and Gas, a Hamann entity, and SDG&E. Accordingly, each owns half of the solar power system and the renewable energy credits associated with it.

SDG&E collaborated with Hamann as part of its Sustainable Communities Program, which sponsors green building, energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives. SDG&E has completed 11 projects under the program, including four projects with a combined one megawatt of SDG&E-owned renewable power generating resources. SDG&E awarded Hamann and ICE over $225,000 in incentive funding for the energy efficient features and advanced technology included in the design of the building.

“We congratulate ICE for taking advantage of the California Solar Initiative and the federal tax incentive to finance their half of this project,” said Hal Snyder, vice president of customer solutions for SDG&E. “This truly is a community project because half of the solar power from this roof will go right to the grid for the benefit of our local customers, while $225,000 in incentives were awarded to ICE and Hamann Construction for building a more sustainable facility that delivers long-term benefits.”

(more…)

March 13, 2009

Sempra selects First Solar for 50MW addition to El Dorado plant, says analyst

Filed under: FSLR, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , — Jason @ 12:00 pm

13 March 2009 | By Mark Osborne

After a recent tour of Sempra Energy’s (SRE) 10MW solar energy plant in El Dorado, near Boulder City, Nevada, Pacific Crest financial analyst, Mark Bachman said in an investor note that Sempra was planning a 50MW addition to the site and that First Solar (FSLR) had again been selected for module supply. The deal was expected to be announced in a few weeks, Bachman said in the note.

First Solar had supplied the original modules for the new 10MW plant that was completed in December, 2008. The thin film manufacturer had also handled engineering, procurement and construction as well as monitoring and plant maintenance.

Bachman noted that; ‘there was an abundance of 72.5W panels in the field, which suggests our cost/watt is probably closer to $3.30/W than the $3.17 we reported on Dec. 16, when we also suggested an installed cost/watt of $0.075/kWh. A more refined LCOE estimate would be closer to $0.12/kWh, while we believe the output was sold to PG&E (PCG) under a PPA at roughly $0.14/kWh.’

The Pacific Crest financial analyst had recently claimed that First Solar had been the first PV producer to reach grid parity within certain regions. The latest potential supply deal for First Solar was not in Bachman’s expected order stream, indicating further market share gains for the CdTe thin film module manufacturer.

March 6, 2009

Storm Clouds

Filed under: AMAT, DUK, FSLR, INTC, SRE, STP — Tags: , , , , , , — Jason @ 4:01 pm

Jonathan Fahey, 02.26.09, 05:00 PM EST
Forbes Magazine dated March 16, 2009

First Solar, the darling of the photovoltaic industry, confronts new competition and a bum economy.
image

In warehouses around the world there is a gigawatt of solar panels just sitting in the dark. That represents 20% of all the solar panels produced worldwide in 2008. Prices, predictably, are falling fast. The solar industry is in a period of upheaval, battered by the credit crunch, slowing government subsidies and falling natural gas prices. The company with the most to lose is the industry’s darling–First Solar (FSLR) of Phoenix.

“From a technology perspective, solar is not hard to do,” says Gordon Johnson, an analyst at Hapoalim Securities. “Longer term, this is a commodity business.” Adds a hedge fund investor who speaks anonymously, for fear of offending First Solar: “In the end it will be like selling a toaster–superlow margins and no brand loyalty.”

In an industry marked by broken promises, First Solar has been a success story. It delivered growth and big, uninterrupted profits. Over the past four quarters the company earned $277 million on $1 billion in sales. That’s nearly triple the $103 million profit and $356 million in sales recorded in the year before. Though the company’s stock, at a recent $130, is far from its $300 high of last May, it is comfortably above where it went public in late 2006, $24.50.

First Solar’s success is attributed to Michael Ahearn, the company’s reticent chief executive. (The company declined interview requests.) Ahearn was an adviser to the late John T. Walton, helping the Wal-Mart (WMT) scion find and fund the next great company, when he came across an Ohio outfit called Solar Cells. Ahearn reportedly convinced Walton to invest $45 million in 1999. Ahearn got involved in the business and eventually installed himself as chief executive. By 2002 the company was out of money, but Ahearn convinced Walton to invest another $100 million in what would become First Solar.

Ahearn’s Waltonesque strategy was to drive down cost. There are two basic types of solar cells–traditional crystalline silicon cells made out of the same stuff that powers computers, and thin films made from any of a number of chemical formulations. Thin-film cells are much less efficient at turning sunlight into electricity, but they are cheaper to make. For the buyer, there’s a clear tradeoff. The objective is to get the lowest cost per kilowatt-hour generated. Depending on where it’s installed, a panel will produce something like 1.6 kwh of electricity annually for every watt of peak power.

(more…)

March 2, 2009

First Solar buys rival’s assets in $400 million deal

Filed under: EIX, FSLR, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , , , , — Jason @ 5:31 pm

By Todd Woody
GreenWombat

In the second big solar deal of the day, First Solar (FSLR) on Monday announced it was acquiring rival thin-film photovoltaic startup OptiSolar’s solar power plant projects in an all-stock transaction worth $400 million.

The acquisition vaults First Solar into the ranks of big solar power plant developers, giving it control of a 550-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm — the world’s largest — OptiSolar is building for utility PG&E (PCG) as well as 1,300 megawatts’ worth of projects in the pipeline. The deal also includes federal land claims OptiSolar filed on 136,000 acres in the Southwest desert that could support power plants generating 19,000 megawatts of solar electricity.

First Solar CEO Mike Ahearn said 6,500 megawatts of those projects are in the front of the line in the “transmission queue” to connect to the power grid, allowing solar farms to be rapidly deployed over the next couple of years.

“This package in total would be very hard to replicate, if at all,” Ahearn said Monday afternoon during a conference call. “That positions us ideally to be the player in the U.S. utility market.”

OptiSolar spokesman Alan Bernheimer told Green Wombat that OptiSolar will now focus on its solar cell manufacturing operations. “We needed to find a way to realize value for our shareholders,” he said. “This is a wonderful fit. We developed what we think is the largest power plant pipeline while First Solar developed the lowest cost thin-film technology.”

Silicon Valley-based OptiSolar quickly became a leader in the nascent solar power plant market but stalled as the financial crisis hit, forcing the company to halt work on a solar cell factory and lay off half its workers last November. Bernheimer said OptiSolar has applied for a $300 million federal loan guarantee to restart and expand its manufacturing operations.

He said OptiSolar CEO Randy Goldstein will join First Solar, along with about 30 other employees, when the deal closes.

First Solar (FSLR), backed by Wal-Mart’s (WMT) Walton family, has become become known as the Google (GOOG) of solar for its stratospheric stock price. The Tempe, Ariz.-based company jumped into the solar power plant market last year with deals to build small-scale solar power plants for Sempre Energy (SRE) and Southern California Edison (EIX).

The OptiSolar deal follows by hours the sale of solar financier MMA Renewable Ventures’ solar portfolio to Spanish solar developer Fotowatio. “There’s a shakeout in the marketplace and there’s opportunities for consolidation,” MMA Renewable Ventures CEO Matt Cheney presciently told Green Wombat Monday morning.

February 24, 2009

PG&E chief: We’ll be solar’s ‘green knight’

Filed under: EIX, FSLR, PCG, SPWR, SRE, STP — Tags: , , , , , — Jason @ 4:50 pm

by Todd Woody
Green Wombat

SAN FRANCISCO — With the financial crisis dimming solar’s prospects to become a significant source of renewable energy, utility giant PG&E on Tuesday said it will spend $1.4 billion to install 250 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaic panels in California while contracting with private developers for another 250 megawatts. PG&E chief executive Peter Darbee said the utility is also prepared to be a “green knight,” rescuing distressed big centralized solar power plant projects by providing financing so they can get built.

“We have contracted for 24% of our energy to be renewable and we’re concerned whether our [developers] will have access to capital,” Darbee said at PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters during a press conference. “We think financing for these projects may be in jeopardy. PG&E is well-positioned with its $35 billion balance sheet to step up and help.”

PG&E’s (PCG) move to take a direct role in obtaining the renewable energy it needs to comply with California’s global warming laws could be big business for solar module panel makers and installers like SunPower (SPWRA, SPWRB), Suntech (STP) and First Solar (FSLR). The action was prompted in part by a change in the tax laws that lets utilities claim a 30% investment tax credit for solar projects.

Fong Wan, PG&E’s vice president for energy procurement, said most of the 500 megawatts of solar panels will be installed on the ground in arrays of between one and 20 megawatts at utility substations or on other PG&E-owned property. (The utility is one of California’s largest landowners.) A small portion may be installed on rooftops, he said.

PG&E said the solar initiative will generate enough electricity to power 150,000 homes and will provide 1.3% of the utility’s electricity supply.

“There’s no or little need for new transmission and these projects can plug directly into the grid,” said Darbee. “Given our size and our credit ratings, we can move forward where smaller developers may not be able to do so.”

The California Public Utilities Commission must approve PG&E’s solar initiative, which Wan estimated would add about 32 cents to the average monthly utility bill. An $875 million program unveiled by Southern California Edison (EIX) last year to install 250 megawatts of utility-owned rooftop solar panels has run into opposition from solar companies that argue it is anti-competitive and from consumer advocates who contend the price is too high. The state’s third big utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE), has also proposed a rooftop solar program.

Wan acknowledged that objections to Edison led PG&E to design its program so that private developers would have a 50% stake in the initiative. PG&E will sign 20-year power purchase agreements for privately owned solar installations.

PG&E will also need regulators’ approval to inject equity financing into companies developing big solar power plants. The utility has signed power purchase agreements for up to 2,400 megawatts of electricity to be produced by solar thermal and photovoltaic power plants to be built by companies like Ausra, BrightSource Energy, OptiSolar and SunPower.

“We are looking at the least risky and most developed opportunities to see where we can be the most helpful,” Darbee said.

January 23, 2009

Utilities turn to thin-film solar for big power

Filed under: EIX, FSLR, PCG, SPWR, SRE — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 2:48 pm

By Todd Woody
Green Wombat

With Big Solar thermal power plants bogged down in bureaucracy and facing environmental and financial hurdles, utilities are turning to smaller-scale thin-film solar stations that can be built in a matter of months.

In late December, PG&E (PCG), for instance, signed a 20-year contract for electricity generated from a 10-megawatt thin-film solar power plant in Nevada owned by energy giant Sempra (SRE) that was officially dedicated on Thursday. The solar farm was built by First Solar (FSLR) in a scant six months. Meanwhile, the utility’s nearly two gigawatts worth of deals with solar thermal power companies won’t start producing power for another two years at the earliest. (Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric signed agreements with solar dish developer Stirling Energy Systems for 1.75 gigawatts in 2005 and those projects are just now beginning to move through the regulatory approval process.) And the financial crisis has made it more difficult for solar thermal developers to obtain the billions of dollars needed to finance the construction of a massive megawatt power plant.

Solar thermal power plants typically use miles of mirrors to heat a fluid to create steam which drives an electricity-generating turbine. Photovoltaic (or PV) solar farms essentially take solar panels similar to those found on residential rooftops and mount them on the ground in huge arrays. (Thin-film solar panels are made by depositing layers of photovoltaic materials on glass or flexible materials.)

“In terms of construction, photovoltaic tends to have a much faster development and construction track,” Roy Kuga, PG&E’s vice president for energy supply, told Green Wombat. “There is a segment of mid-sized projects – in the two to 20 megawatt size – where PV shows a distinct advantage in that market. There’s a huge potential for the PV market to expand.”

That’s good news for companies like First Solar – the Tempe, Ariz.-based company backed by the Walton family that is often called the Google of solar for its stock price and market prowess – and SunPower (SPWRA), the Silicon Valley solar cell maker that’s moved into the power plant-building business.

The speed at which the Sempra-First Solar project went online owes much to the fact that it was built on the site of an existing fossil fuel power plant. “It was already permitted for power generation, transmission existed and it did not have to go through the laborious California permitting process,” says Reese Tisdale, a solar analyst with Emerging Energy Research. “As such, First Solar was able to essentially plug and play.”

Nathaniel Bullard, a solar analyst with New Energy Finance, says he expects utilities increasingly to bet on smaller-scale photovoltaic farms to help meet state mandates to obtain a growing percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. Just this week, PG&E CEO Peter Darbee said his utility plans to invest in solar power plant projects rather than just buy the power they produce.

“I think a utility could easily integrate, technically and financially, 100 megawatts of PV,” Bullard says. If something is falling behind on your big solar thermal projects, you can plug in PV. I think you’ll see more of this with California utilities and I expect to see it more in Florida and North Carolina. It’s a great runaround to issues of siting and transmission.”

That’s because in California photovoltaic power plants do not need approval from the California Energy Commission. And smaller-scale plants take up far less land and can be built close to existing transmission lines. Most large solar thermal power plants typically are planned for the Mojave Desert and require the construction of expensive power lines to connect them to the grid.

The modular nature of PV solar farms means they can begin generating electricity as each segment is completed while a solar thermal plant only goes online once the entire project is finished.

“Certainly there is a sweet spot in which the project is large enough to gain advantages of scale,” says Tisdale. “Also, these small-to-mid-size systems can be spread about a transmission network, instead of at one site.”

January 22, 2009

Nevada Officials Help Dedicate Sempra Energy’s First Solar Power Installation

Filed under: FSLR, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , — Jason @ 3:00 pm

Thursday January 22, 3:00 pm ET

SAN DIEGO, CA–(MARKET WIRE)–Jan 22, 2009 — Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler, Neal Schmale, president and chief operating officer of Sempra Energy (SRE), and other dignitaries were on hand today in southern Nevada to officially dedicate Sempra Energy’s new El Dorado Energy Solar facility, the largest thin-film solar power facility in North America.

The 10-megawatt (MW) project is located adjacent to the company’s existing 480 MW El Dorado Energy natural gas-fired power plant near Boulder City, Nev., about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

The El Dorado Energy Solar project is Sempra Energy’s first solar power-generation project and required just six months to build. Construction began in July 2008 and was completed in December 2008. It involved the installation of more than 167,000 solar modules on 80 acres of desert property designated as a renewable energy zone and leased from Boulder City.

The new project’s entire 10-MW output has been contracted under a 20-year power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric (PCG), the Northern California utility. The contract is subject to approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.

At peak production, El Dorado Energy Solar will generate enough electricity to power approximately 6,400 homes.

“Sempra Energy’s new solar project illustrates substantial foresight and the willingness to deploy an advanced photovoltaic technology on a scale attractive to utilities and other major power customers,” Gov. Gibbons said. “I look forward to seeing more projects like this in the Silver State.”

“Confronting climate change and the need for new, clean electric resources is one of the great challenges we face,” said Schmale. “We are excited about the potential of solar power and see this project as an important advance in solar power in North America.”

The new installation’s advanced thin-film semiconductor technology converts sunlight into electricity without air emissions or water use. These modules, manufactured by Arizona-based First Solar, Inc. (FSLR), can produce more electricity under real-world conditions than conventional solar modules with similar power ratings.

An additional 50-MW expansion phase of the project is under active consideration.

Unlike some solar power projects, El Dorado Energy’s solar power plant will not use water or other liquids in the power-generation process. This water conservation feature makes the project especially suitable to the arid U.S. Southwest. As with other solar projects, the new Sempra Generation facility will generate electricity during the day when customer demand peaks.

First Solar manufactured the solar modules, was the engineering, procurement and construction contractor for the project and is charged with monitoring and maintaining the plant.

December 22, 2008

First Solar Completes 10MW Thin Film Solar Power Plant for Sempra Generation

Filed under: FSLR, SRE — Tags: , , , — Jason @ 4:20 pm

Monday December 22, 4:20 pm ET

TEMPE, Ariz.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–First Solar, Inc. (FSLR) today announced the completion of its first 10 megawatt (MW) ground-mounted photovoltaic power plant for Sempra Generation (SRE) near Boulder City, Nevada. This project is the largest thin film solar power plant in North America. First Solar served as the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for this PV power plant and will provide monitoring and maintenance services for the plant over its lifetime. This project was constructed in less than six months.

The project was developed by Sempra Generation, which will own and operate the PV power plant. First Solar constructed the 10 MW PV power plant adjacent to Sempra’s existing 480 MW El Dorado Energy power plant about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The solar modules deployed in this ground-mount project were produced at First Solar’s manufacturing facility in Perrysburg, Ohio.

First Solar is the world’s leading supplier of thin film PV modules, stemming largely from the superior product design and unique semiconductor technology that makes First Solar modules the most cost-effective on the market. Underlying First Solar’s success is a commitment to product life cycle management, as illustrated by the solar industry’s first comprehensive module collection and recycling program. From raw material sourcing through end-of-life collection and recycling, First Solar is focused on creating cost-effective renewable energy solutions that protect and enhance the environment.

“The build out of this 10MW solar power plant from start to finish in less than six months marks the successful completion of our first utility scale EPC project,” said John Carrington, First Solar executive vice president marketing and business development. “We applaud Sempra’s commitment to expand their renewable energy portfolio—investing in clean energy infrastructure while creating green jobs and addressing climate change and energy independence.”

“This is a significant step in the development and deployment of renewable solar power,” said Michael W. Allman, president and chief executive officer of Sempra Generation. “It reflects the commitment by Sempra Generation and western U.S. utilities to meet the challenges posed by climate change with reliable, renewable energy. The size and scope of this new solar generation facility clearly demonstrates that we can build projects on a scale that helps utilities meet their renewable energy goals.”

Sempra Generation Completes North America’s Largest ‘Thin-Film’ Solar Power Installation

Filed under: FSLR, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 4:06 pm

Monday December 22, 4:06 pm ET

PG&E Purchases New Project’s Output

SAN DIEGO, CA–(MARKET WIRE)–Dec 22, 2008 — Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (SRE), today announced the completion of the company’s first solar energy project, a 10-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic power-generation facility adjacent to the company’s existing 480-megawatt El Dorado Energy power plant near Boulder City, Nev., about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

The El Dorado Energy Solar project is the largest operational thin-film, solar-power project in North America. Construction began in July 2008, and involved the installation of more than 167,000 solar modules on 80 acres of desert property designated as a renewable energy zone and leased from Boulder City.

Sempra Generation also announced it has entered into a 20-year power purchase agreement for the new project’s entire output with Pacific Gas and Electric (PCG), the utility serving northern and central California. The contract is subject to approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.

At peak production El Dorado Energy Solar will generate enough electricity to power approximately 6,400 homes.

“This is a significant step in the development and deployment of renewable solar power,” said Michael W. Allman, president and chief executive officer of Sempra Generation. “It reflects the commitment by Sempra Generation and western U.S. utilities to meet the challenges posed by climate change with reliable, renewable energy. The size and scope of this new solar generation facility clearly demonstrates that we can build projects on a scale that helps utilities meet their renewable energy goals.”

The project’s solar modules employ an advanced thin-film semiconductor technology to convert sunlight into electricity without air emissions or water use. These modules will generally produce more electricity under real-world conditions than conventional solar modules with similar power ratings.

“The El Dorado Energy Solar facility will be the first of our contracted solar projects to come online,” said Jack Keenan, chief operating officer for PG&E. “We are pleased to partner with Sempra Generation as we add renewable resources to our power mix and continue to provide some of the cleanest energy in the nation.”

Additional expansion phases of the project are under consideration.

Unlike some solar power projects, El Dorado Energy’s solar power plant will not use water or other liquids in the power-generation process. This water conservation feature makes the project especially suitable to the arid U.S. Southwest. As with other solar projects, the new Sempra Generation facility will generate electricity during the day when customer demand peaks.

Arizona-based First Solar (FSLR) was the engineering, procurement and construction contractor for the project and is charged with monitoring and maintaining the plant.

Sempra Generation operates and maintains a fleet of power plants serving the U.S. market and is in the process of developing a solar and wind power projects in the Pacific Southwest. Sempra Energy, based in San Diego, is a Fortune 500 energy services holding company with 2007 revenues of more than $11 billion. The Sempra Energy companies’ 13,500 employees serve more than 29 million consumers worldwide.

November 25, 2008

LA Pursues Solar Power Plan, Critics Question Costs

Filed under: EIX, PCG, SRE — Tags: , , — Jason @ 9:59 pm

November 25, 2008: 09:59 PM EST

By Cassandra Sweet
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

SAN FRANCISCO -(Dow Jones)- The city of Los Angeles plans to develop and sign contracts for 1,280 megawatts of solar power generation by 2020, but critics question the cost of the plan.

The city-owned utility, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, plans to install 130 MW of rooftop solar panels on city homes by 2016 and develop 400 MW of commercial and industrial rooftop solar generation by 2014, the city said. The 400-MW piece of the plan would cost $3 billion, but that amount could be reduced by as much as two-thirds if federal tax subsidies, accelerated depreciation and volume discounts are factored in, the city said.

The city hasn’t released details for how much the larger plan would cost, or how it would be carried out, and details on the 400-MW component are slim, leading to criticism of the plan.

“Our members want to know how much this 400 megawatts will cost and how much the rate increases will be,” said Gary Toebben, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. “None of this information is available.”

As part of the plan, LADWP for the first time would allow so-called third- party ownership of rooftop solar installations, in which someone other than the utility or the customer owns a rooftop solar generator that send electricity to the grid.

(more…)

August 27, 2008

Thin-film solar startup scores a fat $300 million

Filed under: EIX, ENER, FSLR, PCG, SPWR, SRE — Tags: , , — Jason @ 3:44 pm

by Todd Woody
GreenWombat – Fortune.com

The looming expiration of a crucial renewable energy investment tax credit doesn’t seem to have spooked investors. Silicon Valley thin-film solar startup Nanosolar said Wednesday that it has secured another $300 million in funding and is jumping into the Big Solar game as well.

Writing on the Nanosolar blog, CEO Martin Roscheisen said that the latest financing round – the company’s funding now totals half a billion dollars – comes from oldline utility AES (AES), French utility giant EDF and the Carlyle Group, among other investors. Nanosolar, which prints solar cells on flexible materials, will supply solar panels to the newly formed AES Solar, which will build medium-scale – up to 50 megawatts – photovoltaic power plants.

The Nanosolar news is just the latest of a spate of deals to take solar panels off rooftops and plant them on the ground to generate massive megawattage. Two weeks ago, thin-film solar startup Optisolar won a contract from utility PG&E (PCG) for a 550-megawatt PV solar power plant while SunPower (SPWR) will build a 250-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm for the utility. Leading thin-film company First Solar (FSLR), meanwhile, has inked deals over the past few months to build smaller-scale PV power plants for Southern California Edison (EIX) and Sempre (SRE). And thin-film solar company Energy Conversion Devices (ENER) is assembling a 12-megawatt array for a General Motors plant in Spain.

August 12, 2008

Utilities a boon to First Solar, but is it enough?

Filed under: AMAT, EIX, ENER, FSLR, GE, SPWR, SRE, STP — Tags: , , , — Jason @ 3:02 pm

08.12.08, 3:02 PM ET

United States – * First Solar expected to win big U.S. utility contracts

* Too soon to tell how subsidies will affect utilities

* First Solar faces competition down the road from established players and start-ups

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Thin-film solar companies are poised to capture a big share of the U.S. power market as utilities seek renewable energy at the lowest possible cost, but doubts are being raised about whether that is enough to support First Solar Inc’s (FSLR) sky-high valuation.

The biggest maker of thin-film products, First Solar has been a Wall Street darling since it went public in 2006 because its cadmium telluride solar cells are far less costly to produce per watt than the silicon-based cells that dominate the market.

Electricity produced from the sun is pricier than that from dirty sources like coal-fired plants, so cost is paramount when choosing among solar suppliers. For that reason, thin-film suppliers are expected to pick up big contracts in states such as California, which is requiring that 20 percent of the state’s electricity come from green sources by 2010.

“Thin film is really the leading edge for satisfying demand from the utility market,” said Ted Sullivan, senior analyst at market research firm Lux Research. “Utilities are sophisticated buyers. All they care about is the lowest cost.”

Thin film’s cost advantage over cells made from silicon, along with clean-energy requirements from a growing number of states, have underpinned investor enthusiasm for First Solar.

(more…)

July 24, 2008

First Solar’s power-plant building boom

Filed under: EIX, ENER, FSLR, SRE — Tags: , , , — Jason @ 10:26 am

By Todd Woody
Green Wombat

Thin is in when it comes to solar power plants.

First Solar on Thursday announced its second solar power plant. The latest project is a 10-megawatt photovoltaic power station to be built for Sempra Generation (SRE) in Nevada. Two weeks ago, California regulators approved a 7.5-megawatt – expandable to 21 megawatts – First Solar (FSLR) power plant to be constructed in the Mojave to generate electricity for utility Southern California Edison (EIX). Thin-film solar technology layers solar cells on plates of glass or flexible materials, a process that lowers production costs with the trade-off being lower efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity.

What’s notable about the Nevada First Solar project is that it will be constructed adjacent to a Sempra natural gas-fired power plant near Boulder City, Nev. That will allow the solar station to share transmission lines and other infrastructure and minimize land use. Those are no small considerations these days as the solar land rush continues in the Mojave and environmentalists grow uneasy over the impact of industrializing the desert.

Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar has already broken ground on the project with completion expected by the end of the year. That’s record time, given that solar thermal power plants – which tend to be larger by orders of magnitude – can take years to receive regulatory approval and build. Also of note: The solar modules for the project will be manufactured at First Solar’s Ohio factory, one of only two commercially operating thin-film manufacturing facilities in the United States. (The other is Energy Conversion Devices’ (ENER) thin-film factory in Michigan.)

Sempra Generation, a division of utility giant Sempra, will own and operate the First Solar plant, which will supply electricity to Nevada and California.

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