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Thin-film solar PV maker First Solar has been aggressively buying solar projects, hoping to drive down project costs while spurring demand for its solar modules during the economic downturn. But First Solar isn’t in the business of holding onto these projects over the long term. In […]

Thin-film solar PV maker First Solar has been aggressively buying solar projects, hoping to drive down project costs while spurring demand for its solar modules during the economic downturn. But First Solar isn’t in the business of holding onto these projects over the long term. In the latest indication of its strategy to develop and sell off projects, First Solar announced today that it has sold its high-profile, 21-megawatt solar energy project in Blythe, Calif., to NRG Energy, a merchant power producer.

The Blythe project, located on land about 200 miles east of Los Angeles that First Solar picked up through its acquisition of Ted Turner’s Turner Renewable Energy in 2007, will provide electricity to the utility Southern California Edison under a 20-year power purchase agreement. (This agreement still holds after the sale, according to the release.) Once online later this year, Blythe will be the largest utility-scale PV project in California, according to NRG. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

First Solar is developing 1,300 megawatts of PV solar projects under contracts with utilities in California and the Southwest (see this listing of projects we complied in August).  A big chunk of the projects come from First Solar’s $400 million deal in March with OptiSolar in which the latter sold its pipeline of solar plans that included a 550-megawatt deal with California utility Pacific Gas & Electric.

Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar is now starting to unload some of the projects it’s developed, a trend Pacific Crest equity analyst Mark Bachman expects to continue. “They don’t want to be the electricity owner. They want to use their project development skills to build out and then find someone else who wants to own the electricity,” Bachman told us. The NRG agreement is First Solar’s second project sale this fall. In October the solar module maker announced it had sold a 20 MW solar project near Sarnia, Ontario, to Canadian energy company Enbridge.

NRG, which owns 24,000 MW of power generation mostly in natural gas and coal plants in Texas and the Northeast, is a newcomer to the renewables industry. As of July this year, the company only had two clean energy projects in its portfolio — 120 MW and 75 MW wind plants in Texas.  But the Princeton, N.J.-based firm announced at an investor conference last week that it plans to spend $300 million-$500 million annually over the next 5-6 years in renewables, mostly in solar, biomass and wind projects, according to a Well Fargo Securities research note.

Image courtesy of First Solar.

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