Solar News: Around the US

First Solar Plant on Native American Lands Approved

The first utility-scale solar plant on Native American lands has been approved in Nevada by the Department of Interior.

Construction on the 350 MW solar farm begins this year, about 30 miles north of Las Vegas, on the Moapa Band of Paiute Indian tribe reservation.

K Road Moapa Solar LLC is building the project on 2000 acres, about 3% of the tribe’s land, along with a 500-kilovolt transmission line that connects it to the grid. It will power about 100,000 homes.

The project will generate lease income for the tribe, create solar jobs for tribal members, and connect the existing tribally-owned Travel Plaza to the electrical grid, decreasing its dependence on a diesel-powered generator.

The Department of Interior says more than 250 reservations are suitable for renewable energy.

This is the 31st utility-scale renewable energy project the Interior has approved on public lands since 2009, the first year rules were changed to allow this kind of development. 17 solar projects, 6 wind farms, and 8 geothermal plants have been approved – 7.2 gigawatts (GW), enough to power nearly 2.5 million homes.

Canadian Solar Enters Project Development

Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ), based in Canada with manufacturing in China, is diversifying beyond manufacturing by acquiring 122 MW of utility-scale solar plants in the US.

The 11 solar PV plants range in size from 2-29 MW. Construction starts this year and ends in 2014.

It also has about 340 MW of utility-scale plants under construction in Canada.

The company says these projects are the first of many and "mark a strategic move to expand from pure-play module sales in the US to deeper collaboration with utility-scale project developers."

The move comes at a time when many solar manufacturers are suffering and being forced to cut back. Canadian Solar estimates project revenues will make up 25% of total 2012 revenues, up from 10% in 2011.

This is a strategic move similar to that of  US-based First Solar, who now provides engineering, construction, operation and maintenance services on some of the biggest solar plants in the US.  Such diversification has proven wise amid stiff PV price competition in a volatile economic and political climate. 

Yesterday, Canadian Solar announced it would also buy a majority interest in 200 MW of projects developed by SkyPower, Canada’s biggest solar developer and owner. The 16 projects, 15 of which are covered by Ontario’s feed-in tariff program, have 20-year power purchase agreements, and should begin construction next year. CSIQ paid $181 million for its stake in the projects, which are expected generate $785 million in revenue.

They are also entering into a 50/50 joint venture,  CSI SkyPower, which will build solar plants in in Africa, the Middle East and South America, all targeting long term power purchase agreements.

"This joint venture allows us to combine Canadian Solar’s technological edge in solar PV module manufacturing, installation and operations with SkyPower’s expertise in developing solar projects in regions where a limited supply of electricity is one of the major challenges for growth," says Kerry Adler, CEO of SkyPower.

BrightSource Energy Buys Bankrupt Solar Trust Plants

US concentrating solar developer BrightSource Energy placed the top bid at auction to to buy a yet-to-be-built solar plant from Solar Trust of America, which recently declared bankruptcy.

The 500 megawatt (MW) Palen Solar Power Project in California is one of three unfinished projects Solar Trust is selling off.

Another is a 500 MW project in Amargosa Valley, Nevada, still in the planning phase, and the third is the much publicized 1,000 MW Blythe project in California, which has all the permits and grid connection rights.

Another casualty of very low solar PV prices, Blythe, which was originally planned as a solar concentrating plant, changed to a solar PV plant because prices were so much lower.

BrightSource is building the $2.2 billion Ivanpah plant in California’s Mojave desert.

Solar Trust’s parent company, Solar Millennium, filed for bankruptcy in December.  A solar thermal pioneer based in Germany, it won 2000 MW of projects in Nevada and California. Solar Trust said it would continue on, but with so many project development costs, it couldn’t go on without funding from Solar Millennium.

SPI Solar Leads in Hawaii

SPI Solar (OTCBB:SOPW) has acquired the rights to co-develop and construct 68 solar plants in Hawaii, about 29 MW in total. 

The sites are distributed across the islands of Oahu, Kona and Maui and are predominately ground mounted, with some rooftop and shade structures.

That makes the company Hawaii’s biggest solar developer, in a state that requires 40% of its energy from renewables by 2030 in its Renewable Portfolio Standard (the highest in the US). Hawaii also has a solar feed-in-tariff.

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