First Solar to Sell More Power From Central Valley Area

Building utility-scale PV in the California desert | Photo courtesy First Solar

Photovoltaic panel manufacturer First Solar has announced that it will be selling power from two mid-sized utility-scale solar facilities to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), as long as the California Public Utilities Commission gives the agreement its thumbs-up. The Lost Hills Solar Project in northwestern Kern County and the Cuyama Solar Project in the northeasternmost margin of Santa Barbara County will supply up to 72 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power to the Northern California utility.

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Both projects are sited on land that has been farmed for some time. The 32-megawatt Lost Hills site, about 7 miles west of the unincorporated community of Lost HIlls near Wasco, is on land that has been fallowed. The Cuyama site is about 60 miles south, in a small valley near the south end of the San Joaquin Valley, on land now being used to grow carrots, onions, and potatoes.

If the CPUC approves the power purchase agreement between FirstSolar and PG&E, as is likely, the projects will start delivering power in 2019.

First Solar's announcement comes a day after the company marked a world record: its Agua Caliente solar project in Yuma County, AZ is officially the largest grid-tied photovoltaic project in the world, at 250 megawatts of capacity. Still under construction, Agua Caliente will reach a 290-megawatt capacity when completed in 2014.

These announcements are some much-needed good news for First Solar. The nation's largest provider of photovoltaic panels, First Solar has taken a bit of a beating on the stock market over the last few years as it struggles to transform itself from a solar panel supplier to a fully vertically integrated builder of utility-scale PV projects.

The Lost HIlls and Cuyamaca projects may signal another trend in the making: mid-range utility scale projects below 50 megawatts, built on previously disturbed land closer to power demand and transmission than some of the large desert projects now being built.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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