Neoen breaks ground on 300 MW French solar plant

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Paris-based renewable energy company Neoen has this week broken ground on a 300 MW solar PV plant near Bordeaux, France, in what will become Europe’s largest solar park once complete in October next year.

The $450 million installation, located at the town of Cestas, will feed solar power to Bordeaux residents at costs below the level for nuclear power, according to Neoen CEO Xavier Barbarom. “Tha parity between nuclear energy – which is costing more; and solar – which continues to drop in price, is happening now, in 2014,” he told Reuters. "Four or five years ago, nobody thought that would be possible before 2020."

Electricity costs delivered by the plant are calculated to be €105 per MWh ($131/MWh) over 20 years. Neoen revealed that Eiffage and Schneider Electric are part of the consortium that will build and operate the plant, which will use panels made by Yingli Solar, Trina Solar and Canadian Solar.

"These plants form the largest PV park in Europe," added Barbaro in a statement, "and will also be among the most competitive, demonstrating the capacity of solar PV to play a prominent role in the mix of French and European energy."

A boost for French PV

The addition of this 300 MW solar PV park to France’s portfolio next year is welcomed by renewable groups in the country. Compared to its neighbors, France has been relatively slow on the solar uptake, and although its +5 GW of cumulative PV capacity places it above most European countries, that figure represents just 1% of the country’s energy generation capacity. Germany, in contrast, has 37 GW of solar PV capacity providing more than 4% of its energy needs.

However, France’s reluctance to embrace solar as tightly as countries such as Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and others has meant that few mistakes have been made and relatively few fingers were burnt when the first ‘solar bubble’ burst in 2012.

Solar is seen as a stable investment in France, which convinced Societe Generale, and other French banks, to back Neoen’s ambitious project. "We had to do a lot of explaining to investors and the banks to show that these projects were secured," said Barbaro. "But what’s appreciable in France is that projects already on track are not called into question."

The Neoen CEO added that French companies will get at least 50% of the share of the $450 million investment – a fact that helped Neoen secure such large backing. The company aims to boost its own PV portfolio to 1 GW over the next two years, installing half of that figure in France and the remainder in Australia, Africa and Latin America.