First Solar wins $4.5 billion in federal support for California sun-power projects


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Sun-power developer First Solar scored big Thursday as three of its projects landed nearly $4.5 billion in long-anticipated conditional loan guarantees from the federal Department of Energy.

The awards for the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1, Desert Sunlight and Topaz Solar thin-film photovoltaic facilities –- all in California -– cap a blockbuster month for solar installations seeking financing.


The government doled out $680 million in conditional commitments to the 230-megawatt Antelope Valley installation, which is to produce enough power at its western Mojave Desert site to power 54,000 homes.

The 550-megawatt Topaz plant, based in eastern San Luis Obispo County, is expected to generate enough electricity for 110,000 homes. Desert Sunlight in eastern Riverside County, which is to be the same size as Topaz, got a partial commitment $1.88 billion.

The projects, which all are to use cadmium telluride thin-film photovoltaic modules made mostly at First Solar’s U.S. factories, will create 1,400 jobs at the peak of construction, the company said.

First Solar, an Arizona-based panel maker that earlier this week was embroiled in a tussle with Riverside County supervisors concerning potential fees on the Desert Sunlight project, had anxiously awaited news of the loan guarantees. Without financing, executives said, the projects could have been indefinitely delayed.

So far, the Energy Department’s loan programs have handed out $16 billion in conditional commitments for 15 solar projects and are also involved in geothermal, wind and nuclear efforts. The renewable-energy industry, still heavily dependent on subsidies, is dreading the programs’ expiration later this year.

Last week, the agency bestowed a $1.4-billion conditional loan guarantee on a sweeping venture to set up solar panels on more than 750 industrial roofs across the country -– known as Project Amp. With 733 megawatts’ worth of panels, most to be domestically manufactured, the effort would involve the same amount of photovoltaic capacity installed in the country last year, government officials said. The first phase includes a 15.4-megawatt installation in Southern California.


The week before, the department handed out another conditional loan guarantee, this time for $2 billion for two 250-megawatt concentrating solar power plants in California.

NextEra Energy Resources’ Genesis Solar Project will be sited in Riverside County. The Mojave Solar Project in San Bernardino County is being built by Spanish company Abengoa Solar Inc., which last summer snagged a $1.45-billion loan guarantee for an Arizona project.


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-- Tiffany Hsu