World’s largest solar plant in operation


U.S. solar company First Solar has been installing the vast 550 MW Topaz solar project since November 2011. At the time ground was broken at the site, First Solar said that it expected to installation to take three years: It came in one month early.

A project this size was never a sure thing, but First Solar has managed to deliver and install nine million of its CdTe thin film modules, across almost 10 square miles (26 square kilometers).

First Solar completed the sale of the project to MidAmerican Renewables LLC in February 2012, having announced the agreement to sell it in December 2011. MidAmerican, which is owned by legendary investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, paid $2 billion for the PV power plant.

The project has a 25-year PPA, signed with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).

First Solar is not commenting on the news of the park’s completion and pv magazine has contacted MidAmerican Renewables for confirmation and more details. It is understood that First Solar will carry out O&M on the site, under the sale deal, for a time.

The Topaz Solar project had hit some bumps along the road to completion, including local opposition and potential legal action regarding wildlife affected by the park. Part of the agreement Topaz Solar Farms struck with local groups North County Watch and Carrizo Commons will see the solar farm’s operators regenerate the land after the park’s decommissioning – at the end of its 35 year life.

Topaz also missed out on a Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee in 2011, in the wake of module maker Solyndra’s failure and the subsequent political pressure the guarantee program came under. The Topaz Solar project did not meet the statutory deadline to receive a loan guarantee, due to permitting delays.

The vast solar park will not remain the world’s largest for long, with First Solar’s own 550 MW Desert Sunlight project set to join it and SunPower’s 579 MW Solar Star surpass it – when they are completed. GTM Research reports that the Desert Sunlight has around 524 MW installed, with the SunPower 309 MW.