The DOE loan guarantee program is alive and well, despite attempts to squelch it. 

Today the DOE announced the offer of a $1.187 billion loan guarantee for one of the world's largest solar plants -- the 250-megawatt (AC) California Valley Solar Ranch. This announcement comes hot on the heels of the California governor signing the 33 percent RPS into law.

NRG Solar, a subsidiary of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), will assume ownership and financing responsibilities for the project. SunPower will design, build, and initially operate and maintain the solar power plant.

Construction is expected to start in the second half of 2011, contingent on permitting and financing, with a portion of the project expected to begin operations by the end of 2011 and the balance coming on-line in 2012 and 2013.

This further solidifies SunPower's position, along with First Solar, as the leaders in the U.S. utility-scale market.

San Luis Obispo County, the site of the project, expects to benefit from more than $315 million of economic development as a result of this development.  Some of the panels for this project will be produced at the SunPower factory in Milpitas, California.

"The joys of vertical integration"

You'd think that being a solar manufacturer would mostly be about silicon and wafers and cells and modules. But if you're vertically integrated like SunPower and also designing and constructing the photovoltaic power site, then you're building power plants, not just solar panels. As such, your areas of expertise have to span not just the physics of PV, but the intricacies of land use, the biology of endangered species, and a suite of other concerns.

As SunPower VP Julie Blunden said, "This is the power industry. We're putting in a power station, which two years ago -- the concept did not exist.  We are behaving like any power plant developer, trying to provide a thoughtful design and be a good neighbor."

The 250-megawatt project would include solar arrays covering nearly 1,900 acres, an electric substation, operations and maintenance facilities, public viewing areas, and an approximately 2.8‐mile, 230-kV generation tie-line.

Some more specs from the GTM  Research Solar Team's U.S. Utility Project Tracker (for more details, see here):

Size: 250 MW-ac
Acres: 1,935
Acres/MW-ac: 7.7
Total cost: $1,637M ($6.55/W-ac)
Equity: $450M from NRG Energy
Debt: $1,187 from US Federal Financing Bank
Debt as % of total project cost: 73%
Expected break ground date: 2H11
PPA with PG&E for 25 yrs
Tracking: 1-axis (SunPower T0)
EPC: SunPower
O&M: SunPower