First Solar, the thin film solar darling, has lined up another customer for the power generated at its planned Desert Sunlight project in Riverside County, Calif: Pacific Gas & Electric. Under a power purchasing agreement announced this morning, the California utility plans buy more than half of the electricity from the 550-megawatt project, set to enter construction by the end of this year. Pending approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E has contracted First Solar for a 300-megawatt portion of the facility.
Back in August, utility Southern California Edison (SCE) announced that it had inked a contract with First Solar for 250 megawatts from the Desert Sunlight project, as well as 300 megawatts from the so-called Stateline project in northeastern San Bernadino County. First Solar spokesperson Alan Bernheimer told us this morning that the SCE agreement remains unchanged. “We’ll build the whole project together,” said Bernheimer, with one substation and one interconnection for electricity feeding to the two utilities. “As we complete 10-megawatt blocks, they’ll go online, assuming transmission infrastructure is in place,” he explained, with each utility getting “10 megawatts here, 10 megawatts there.”
First Solar says in its release today that the Desert Sunlight project — which the Bureau of Land Management has fast tracked in the permitting process and which is proposed for a site located on some 4,410 acres of public land — could be completed as early as 2013.
PG&E has recently been rounding up a herd of solar power suppliers as part of an effort to achieve the state-mandated goal of generating 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. That effort has seen a few setbacks, however, as some of the startups contracted by PG&E have struggled in the economic downturn — laying off staff and turning their focus to different markets. Last year, two startups that had deals with PG&E (Optisolar and Ausra) ended up selling off planned projects to First Solar. Ausra was sold to French nuclear giant Areva last month.
As the thin film solar leader and a barometer for solar stocks, First Solar represents one of the sturdier horses in the solar race (although its earnings report last month indicated the company’s seeing rising competition and weaker margins). Today’s deal comes as the latest in a string of utility agreements for the company. In all, First Solar says it now has power purchasing agreements for 1,700 megawatts of utility-scale power projects in North America.