11th hour DOE deals: 4 solar loan guarantees


A Department of Energy loan guarantee program that has attracted scrutiny by backing now-defunct solar maker Solyndra, is ending today, and the DOE is marking the occasion by finalizing billions of dollars of loan guarantees to First Solar (s FSLR), SunPower (s SPWRA) and Prologis (s PLD) to build solar power projects.

The DOE will guarantee up to 80 percent of $1.46 billion in private loans led by Goldman Sachs Lending Partners and Citigroup for the construction of a 550 MW solar farm called Desert Sunlight in California. First Solar will oversee the project, which will use the company’s cadmium-telluride solar panels, but First Solar has now sold the project to NextEra Energy Resources (s NEE) and GE Energy Financial Services (each gets a 50 percent stake). First Solar declined to disclose the sale price.

The DOE also announced a second loan guarantee of $646 million for a 230 MW solar farm, called Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1, to be built in California. The loan in this case should be coming from the Treasury-run Federal Financing Bank. First Solar will build the project, which has already been sold it to Exelon (s EXC). Exelon said it plans to invest up to $713 million in equity in the project through 2013, and the total investment in the project should reach $1.36 billion. In First Solar’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission about the sale, the company noted that, “The parties have agreed that First Solar will repurchase AVSR if initial funding of the loan does not occur within approximately four months.”

SunPower also cinched a $1.24 billion loan guarantee from the DOE for its 250 MW California Valley Solar Ranch project. NRG, as promised, will own the solar farm.

Lastly, the DOE agreed to guarantee up to 80 percent of a $1.4 billion loan for a 752 MW rooftop solar project by Prologis. The project will install solar panels on 750 rooftops in up to 28 states that Prologis owns and manages. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is lender of the loan. NRG Energy (s NRG) is one of the owners of the project, though the company didn’t disclose the size of its stake.

The DOE has been busy finalizing or rejecting loan guarantee applicants in the past few weeks. A week ago, it finalized three applications for a wind farm, a geothermal power plant and a biofuel plant. The DOE also finalized a $132.4 million loan guarantee to Abengoa Bioenergy to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas; $337 million to Sempra Energy to build a 150MW solar farm in Arizona; and $737 million to SolarReserve for a 110 MW solar farm in Nevada.

However other projects haven’t fared as well in the 11th hour rush. First Solar disclosed that it wouldn’t be getting a loan guarantee from the same DOE program for the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm in California. First Solar said it wouldn’t be able to fulfill all the paperwork and other requirements to secure the loan guarantee before the Sept. 30 deadline. The DOE also told SolarCity that the company wouldn’t make the deadline to finalize a $275 million loan guarantee to put solar panels on military family housing.

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