Huge Arizona solar panel farm now 2/3 completed


Credit: Image courtesy of First Solar

The Agua Caliente solar project in Yuma County, Arizona — which is one of the world’s largest solar panel farms — is now two thirds completed, according to the owners and developer of the project, NRG Energy, MidAmerican Solar and First Solar (s FSLR). The solar farm, which is supposed to be completed in 2014, employs 400 to 450 workers per day, and California utility PG&E has a contract to buy the power.

Agua Caliente is now generating 200 MW of solar power, and will provide 290 MW when completed. The project is being funded by a $967 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, as well as equity from owners NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar, which is the energy-focused fund owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. MidAmerican bought 49 percent of the $1.8 billion farm in January of this year.



So lets see now…a $1.8 Billion project cost with a big “B”. The ROI would take how long? The “Greenies” will love this project but it might not make the best economic sense even with the taxpayer guarantees. Simply amazing.


Looks to be competitive. Keep in mind there is basically zero input required now. This means no mining of coal, natural gas, etc. and the environmental costs of those activities.

With solar power the fuel delivery costs are zero dollars and zero cents per gigawatt.

Of course, maintenance costs are always there, as with any other type of power plant.

This is a good thing…and panels are becoming incredibly cheap as the years and even months pass. This is why so many U.S. solar panel manufacturing companies are struggling.

Three years ago solar panels were too expensive…and that was a problem.

Today solar panels are too cheap…and that is also a problem.

But, as with the early auto industry, a handful of companies will remain and will own most of the market share.

Tom Cheyney

Katie, the plant is not generating 200MW of power; that’s the installed capacity (AKA amount of panels; here in AC, not DC). The generation number would be in gigawatt-hours, and the partners don’t always give that out. A rough estimate of generation output for Agua at this point would be 300-400GWh/year, given the givens and not knowing all the variables.


Tom, what will that make the cost per watt vs other generation types? It looks like a huge cost per MW.


Kevin, in the desert, given current PV prices, I imagine on an LCOE basis this plant is actually quite competitive. Most of its power comes during the early-to-mid afternoon hours when demand is met using peaker plants and this array will beat or match those.

For what it’s worth, they seem to claim it’s going to generation 800 MW/hours per year of power (enough for 100,000 homes they say, and I’m using the ~8000 kW/hr figure that’s some kind of national aveage per the EIA).

Not accounting for the time value of money, I get $.09 per kW/hour based on that calculation using a 25-year panel life and no maintenance costs. There will need to be periodic panel washing and there will be some inverter failure and there is some time value of money, so that figure is obviously too low.

Of course, if any price is put on carbon over the 25-year lifespan of panels or the panels last 30-40 years (both likely), the math changes for the better.

Honestly, the inefficiency of First Solar panels makes them questionable for most applications, including this one.


Hi Tom,
You’re wrong. The plant first generated >200 MW AC in June.
How can you make such statements without actually looking into the data???

Go Solar! Thanks for the article Katie.

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