Solar Soars On Federal Billions

on June 30, 2011 at 5:30 PM

The US Department of Energy may have chosen a winner in the renewable energy race.

It will be offering nearly $4.5 billion in conditional loan guarantee commitments for three solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants in California, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced today. The projects include a $680 million 230 MW Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1 project, a $1.88 billion 550 MW Desert Sunlight project and a $1.93 550 MW billion Topaz Solar project, all being built by First Solar with Cd-Te thin film solar PV panels.

“Together the projects will power hundreds of thousands of homes with clean, renewable power and increase our global competitiveness in the clean energy economy,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

While the loan guarantees will undoubtedly boost the solar industry, it is unclear if they will crowd out private sector investment. Several major banks have already invested in the three plants under the loan guarantee agreement, including Goldman Sachs Lending Partners, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Citibank.

But small or even medium-sized venture capital firms that have been some of the major investors in early solar generation projects may view future investment in projects without loan guarantees as risky.

While the DOE has granted 17 loan guarantees for solar projects since 2009, only six of them have topped $1 billion. The three additional projects announced today would bring the DOE’s total loan guarantees for solar manufacturing and generation to over $18 billion.

An interactive version of this map, depicting areas of DOE loan guarantees for renewables, can be found on the DOE website.

First Solar has just opened a new manufacturing plant in Arizona, which will be responsible for constructing the solar modules for the three projects.

“These projects will bring immediate jobs to California in addition to hundreds more across the supply chain,” Chu said.