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3 March 2009


First Solar to acquire multi-Gigawatt utility-scale PV project business

First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA, which makes thin-film photovoltaic modules based on cadmium telluride (CdTe), has entered into an agreement to acquire the photovoltaic project development business of OptiSolar Inc of Hayward, CA (which makes thin-film PV modules and produces power from its own large-scale solar farms) for about $400m in stock. The transaction is expected to be completed in second-quarter 2009, and should significantly expand the firm's penetration within the US utility solar power market.

The acquisition includes:

  • a 550MW AC Topaz Solar Farm development project in San Luis Obispo County, CA under a power purchase agreement announced last August with PG&E;
  • a project pipeline of an additional 1300MW AC that is in negotiation with Western region utilities for solar development projects; and
  • strategic land rights of about 136,000 acres (210 square miles) with the potential to deploy up to 19GW AC of utility-scale solar power projects.

In addition, the core development team responsible for assembling and executing on the pipeline of solar projects will join the First Solar development team.

First Solar expects to construct solar power plants developed under the acquired solar power project pipeline over the next several years and sell them to a combination of regulated utilities, diversified energy companies, and other independent power producers.

The firm says that its investment in the development pipeline and planned projects ensures that at least 400 new ‘green-collar’ jobs will be created in California. Project development is planned to begin as early as 2010.

The transaction represents another key step in First Solar’s US utility expansion. In November 2007, the firm acquired Turner Renewable Energy in order to obtain engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) capabilities of utility-scale solar plants in the USA. First Solar has since expanded its EPC function and demonstrated its capabilities by constructing a 10MW AC plant in El Dorado, NV with Sempra Generation. In addition, last October, it entered into a strategic agreement with Edison Mission Energy to develop and construct utility-scale solar generation in California. First Solar was awarded the first three projects in Southern California Edison's utility-owned generation program. The latest agreement will expand on First Solar's development capabilities and significantly add to its generation project pipeline.

“OptiSolar has created an impressive and well-designed development pipeline,” says CEO Mike Ahearn. “Adding these resources, along with their development team, to First Solar is our next logical step to delivering multi-GW of solar power to US utilities over the next several years,” he adds. “As First Solar continues to drive down its manufacturing and EPC costs, OptiSolar’s project pipeline and the ability of our team to continually expand our existing pipeline will enable us to bring solar energy on-line quickly.”

First Solar, which last week announced that it had broken the $1 per watt price barrier, has steadily lowered its cost and expanded its manufacturing capacity since 2005. This year the firm will reach a manufacturing capacity of 1100MW (the equivalent generating capacity of an average-sized nuclear power plant). First Solar’s strategy is to reduce the cost of solar electricity by driving higher throughput deployment of utility-scale projects, which in turn enables economies of scale and rapid learning cycles.

“The State of California has been a leader in solar technology and the Topaz project will be an important aspect of meeting the state's renewable goals,” says Ahearn.

“Combining the solar industry's cost-performance leader with a multi-gigawatt solar power project portfolio and the expertise of a world-class development team is a tremendous step forward for utility-scale PV solar generation,” believes OptiSolar’s CEO Randy Goldstein.

See related items:

CdTe PV maker First Solar passes $1 per Watt milestone

First Solar to supply CdTe PV modules for first carbon-neutral city

First Solar completes 10MW CdTe PV plant for Sempra

First Solar completes 2MW plant for Southern California Edison

First Solar more than doubles revenue and income year-on-year

First Solar breaks ground on Ohio CdTe PV expansion

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