As reported Thursday afternoon by GTM, a settlement has been reached between First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) and the Los Angeles County Public Works’ Building and Safety Department that will allow First Solar to resume building the 230 megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1).
Some of the almost 300 workers furloughed over the past two months while the dispute dragged on, sources say, may begin returning to work as soon as Friday but rumors are swirling about how soon the full slate of jobs will be restored. First Solar said it will build its workforce to 400 over the “next several weeks.”
First Solar was scheduled to begin doing panel installation in April at the troubled AVSR1 project, owned by Exelon Corporation (NYSE: EXC), when a confrontation with the County developed over certification of electrical connectors on First Solar’s panels that stopped progress.
A total of 230 construction workers were furloughed at AVSR1 and another 65 workers were released at the nearby 66 megawatt Alpine Solar project, owned by NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), at which First Solar’s panels are also slated to be installed.
First Solar is in charge of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) at both sites.
The job losses were felt sharply in the already struggling Los Angeles-adjacent Western Antelope Valley communities, where recent studies found as many as one in three homeowners behind and/or underwater with their mortgages.
Tensions rose in the region over the last two weeks when more than half those employed at AVSR1 and Alpine were released. Furloughed workers and local residents, assisted by Oso Town Council President Richard Skaggs and Vice President Gerard Conroy, appealed to Fifth District County Supervisor Michael Antonovich to step up ongoing efforts to reach a resolution and the Supervisor's office, which had been persistent in pursuing this settlement, responded
Supervisor Antonovich noted that AVSR1 is one of the biggest construction projects in the county and its jobs are important to the remote Antelope Valley communities which are its neighbors. The settlement should, he added, “help those employees that have been furloughed to return to work as quickly as possible.”
First Solar EPC Vice President Jim Lamon expressed gratitude to the Supervisor and his office for collaborating in the settlement. “This process,” he said, “has paved the way for future projects in the region, which has great potential for solar energy production.”
The standoff began in early April after an LA County safety inspector declined to certify First Solar’s cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic PV panels, 3.7 million of which, according to the company, will eventually be installed at AVSR1. The Alpine project will require an estimated 1.1 million more of the panels.
“They are concerned about the connector on the solar panel,” First Solar Public Relations Director Alan Bernheimer told GTM last week. “They are concerned that it is not UL [Underwriters Laboratory] certified for a 1,000-volt system.” But, he added, “the module as well as the connector is certified for 1,000 volts under an IEC [International Electrotechnical Commission] certification recognized by the NESC.”
The Conditional Use Permit granted to First Solar by LA County specifies that electrical installations “shall be designed in accordance with the National Electric Safety Code [NESC] or in accordance with other standards or regulations acceptable to the building official.”
UL certification is the more common U.S. standard, whereas IEC certification is the more common international standard. First Solar panels are manufactured in Germany and Malaysia, as well as in the U.S. and they won acceptance internationally slightly before they became widely used domestically.
A source close to the negotiations told GTM that the parties have agreed on a modification to the problematic connectors that will not impose undue burden on First Solar but will satisfy the County's safety concerns.