First Solar gets a lot of love and scrutiny from investors and members of the media. And lately, there have been a series of reports and speculations about changes to some of First Solar's solar farm projects under development in western United States.
So we asked First Solar's spokesman Alan Bernheimer about some of these reports. Over several emails, he confirmed some details and refuted others. Here is an update about the various projects that are being bandied about:
BLM Canceled Four Projects In California?: A research note from Wedbush Securities said the federal Bureau of Land Management appears to have canceled right-of-way applications for four projects by First Solar, though First Solar still has time to appeal the federal agency's decision for two of the projects.
The first two projects are called Amber (500-megawatt) and Jasper (500 megawatt). The other two that could be reinstated are Ruby (1-gigawatt) and Onyx (585-megawatt), according to Wedbush (via TheStreet.com). The research note sought to emphasize the difficulties of developing large-scale projects in the United States.
First Solar said the projects are not dead. "It's premature to say that any First Solar project applications have been cancelled by the BLM," Bernheimer said. He did say that the company has received letters from the BLM asking First Solar to show that it's continuing to work on these projects in order to keep the applications current.
"First Solar is reviewing its project portfolio to determine priority based on a variety of factors, including near-term transmission capacity and other potential constraints. If we do decide to withdraw from any projects, it will be in order to focus our work with BLM district offices on higher priority projects that have fewer constraints, freeing up both First Solar and BLM resources to devote to nearer-term projects," Bernheimer said in an email.
About That 55-megawatt Project with the Los Angeles Utility: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power supposedly has dropped a 55-megawatt project on land owned by LADWP in Imperial County, a project that First Solar announced in August this year.
The Los Angeles Times quoted attributed the cancellation decision to LADWP's acting general manager, S. David Freeman. Freeman said the cost of transmitting the electricity from the solar farm around the town of Niland to Los Angeles is too high, a comment he made when a Los Angeles City Council committee held a hearing last week.
First Solar said the project hasn't died. Bernheimer, who declined to comment on the LA Times article, said LADWP is actually waiting for transmission studies from the Imperial Irrigation District, after which the utility plans to submit the project for the Los Angeles City Council's approval. "We look forward to working with LADWP to successfully complete the Niland project," Bernheimer said.
LADWP has signed a 30-year agreement to buy power from the solar farm, but the agreement doesn't cover the transmission costs, Bernheimer added.
A spokeswoman for the LADWP told us today that Freeman stands by his comment from last week. This disagreement indicates that politicking and negotiations among LADWP, First Solar and the city council are ongoing.
A 150-megawatt Project in Colorado: A local newspaper, The Pueblo Chieftain, reported that First Solar has withdrawn an application to build a 150-megawatt solar farm on BLM land in Colorado's San Luis Valley.
That is true. First Solar opted not to continue with the project, which came as part of its $400 million acquisition of OptiSolar's project pipeline in April this year, in order to focus on those with higher priorities, Bernheimer said.
First Solar has never announced any customers for power that would've been generated from this project.
Expanding and Speeding Up the Desert Sunlight Project? First Solar first talked about the Desert Sunlight project in August this year when it announced that it had signed a deal to sell electricity from the 250-megawatt project to Southern California Edison.
The project, to be located on federal land in California's Riverside County, actually covers 550 megawatts and has received a "fast track" status by the BLM, noted by Mark Bachman at the Pacific Crest Securities in a research note last week. If the permitting process goes smoothly, First Solar could start building the project next year instead of 2012, as it had previously said.
First Solar is looking for a buyer for the remaining 300 megawatts, though Bernheimer declined to talk about it.
And by the way ... a bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein earlier this week to prevent solar and wind farm development in parts of the Mojave Desert has prompted speculations about which projects would cease to exist as a result of this political move.
The legislation would create two national monuments covering roughly 1.1 million acres of land. It also aims to expedite solar and wind farm projects on private and other public land.
At least two developers, BrightSource Energy and Tessera Solar, already have canceled projects when they found out about Feinstein's push to create the national monuments. The one ditched by Tessera Solar is called Solar Six, and it was in the early stages of development when the company decided to cancel it, said Tessera spokeswoman Janette Coates via email.
The bill won't affect any project being developed by First Solar, Bernheimer said.