The US Department of Energy finalized a $967 million loan guarantee for the 290 megawatt (MW) Agua Caliente Solar project, the world's largest solar photovotaic (PV) plant that's currently under construction.

Located in Yuma County, Arizona the enormous solar plant will use thin film solar panels manufactured by First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR), which is developing the project.

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The closing of the loan guarantee is the final contingency in a purchase agreement under which NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) acquired the project from First Solar for an undisclosed amount.

The project has obtained all permits and approvals from both federal and state agencies, and is expected to create up to 400 solar jobs through its completion date in 2014.

Electricity from Agua Caliente will be sold under a 25-year power purchase agreement to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (NYSE: PCG).

In mid-July, First Solar received approval for a mammoth 550 MW PV plant, the Topaz Solar Farm in California. That’s the second utility-scale solar project approved for the area – it will join the 250 MW plant developed by California Valley Solar Ranch, which was approved earlier this year.

With 800 MW, the Carrizo Plain will be a major renewable energy hub, exceeding all of California’s distributed solar. First Solar plans to break ground by the end of September to qualify for Department of Energy loan guarantees.

Second Phase Begins on Nevada Solar Plant

First Solar is also linking up with Sempra Generation (NYSE: SRE) to expand Sempra’s existing Copper Mountain Solar complex in Boulder City, Nevada.

The existing complex, Copper Mountain Solar 1, is currently the largest solar PV solar plant in the U.S. The 48 MW plant was completed by First Solar and Sempra in 2010.

In this second phase, Copper Mountain Solar 2, 92 MW will be installed by January 2013, and 58 MW by 2015. Construction on the 1100-acre project begins in early 2012.

First Solar will provide ground mounted thin film panels and serve as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has signed a 25-year power purchase deal for up to 150 MW of renewable energy from the expanded facility.

In other news, ENN Mojave Energy, a subsidiary of China’s ENN Group, wants to build the Mohave Green Center in southern Nevada.

It would consist of a huge solar thin-film manufacturing plant which would supply an equally impressive adjoining 720 MW solar farm to be built in two 360 MW phases. The 93,000 square-metre factory would have the capacity to manufacture 5.4 million thin-film panels a year from its six production lines. In all, it would be a $4-$6 billion capital investment. The land is restricted from industrial and energy-related development, which would have to be changed by the Dept of Interior.

Sun Devil Stadium Gets Solar Parking Lot

Back in Arizona, NRG Energy announced plans to cover more than five acres of parking at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil stadium with solar canopies.

The patented PowerParasol design will provide shading for 800 parking spaces, while generating 2.1 MW of solar electricity.

The project is similar to one being installed by NRG at FedEx Field for the Washington Redskins.

NRG will own and operate the PowerParasol(TM), and in exchange, the university will pay flat electricity rates during the term. The university’s electricity rates will drop within 3-4 years, according to NRG.

NRG says the PowerParasol design also allows for enhanced security lighting, cell phone antennas, security cameras, and electric vehicle charging stations.

Series of Renewables Plants Approved in July

In mid-July, the Department of the Interior (DOI) approved four projects on public lands. The solar, wind and transmission projects will create over 1,300 renewable energy jobs and will provide a combined 550 MW of electricity, enough to power 185,000-380,000 homes.

  • Abengoa Mojave Solar Project: 250 MW solar thermal parabolic trough installation in San Bernardino County, California
  • Imperial Solar Energy Center: 200 MW solar PV system in Imperial County, California
  • West Butte Wind Energy Project: 104 MW, with 52 wind turbines in Deschutes and Crook Counties, Oregon
  • Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 Transmission Line Project: 500-kilovolts in Riverside County, California to interconnect numerous proposed solar farms.

DOI has also begun environmental reviews on two wind projects and a solar project in California with a combined capacity of over 370 MW.

DOI and DOE are also re-thinking the “solar energy zones” they identified as priorities for utility-scale solar development on public lands in western states.

The Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Solar Energy Development has received some 80,000 comments since it was opened for public review in December 2010. They are reducing the size of some areas and eliminating others, reflecting a deeper knowledge of wildlife impact and access to transmission lines.

The Bureau of Land Management will publish a supplemental study this autumn which will be followed by a 90-day public comment period. The final study with the new and refined zones is expected to be published in the summer of 2012. See the DOI press release and the Solar Energy Development PEIS website.

Meanwhile, The Northern Plains and Rocky Mountain Consortium – consisting of Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming – are working with the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center to identify promising renewable energy technologies that have potential for commercialization there the next 5-10 years, to boost green jobs.

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