Down to the deadline: DOE awards final loan guarantees of $4.74B for 1.78GW of PV projects

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(Update 2) On the last official day of the Section 1705 loan guarantee program, the US Department of Energy has been busy announcing the finalization of several awards.

The big winners are First Solar and its owner-partners, which saw more than $2.1 billion in partial or complete loan guarantees awarded for the 550MW (AC) Desert Sunlight and 230MW (AC) Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR) projects in California. The biggest single project earning a loan guarantee, Prologis and NRG’s Project Amp ~752MW rooftop plan, was awarded a partial guarantee of $1.4 billion. The other awardee was SunPower, which received a guarantee of $1.237 billion for the 250MW (AC) California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) site.

The closing of the loan guarantees also triggered the completions of the sales of the Desert Sunlight, AVSR, and CVSR projects.

Affiliates of NextEra Energy and GE Energy Financial Services bought Desert Sunlight from First Solar, while Exelon purchased the Antelope Valley site from the thin-film PV company. Under the terms of the deals, First Solar will be the engineering, procurement, and construction leads on both projects, as well as providing the operations and maintenance services for the duration of the contract.   

First Solar has begun construction on both sites. AVSR is expected to have its first blocks online in late 2012, with completion of the project by late 2013.

A portion of the AVSR project will feature tracking systems. First Solar's Roadrunner 20MW PV plant in New Mexico features the first installation of the tracking technology acquired in the RayTracker deal and the 50MW Silver State North site set for activation in December will also include trackers on part of the site.

Desert Sunlight, which is made up of up two phases—300MW (under 25-year PPA with PG&E) and 250MW (under 20-year PPA with Southern California Edison)—is scheduled to enter commercial operation in early 2015.

First Solar said it will deploy 12.6 million cadmium-telluride thin-film PV panels on the Desert Sunlight and AVSR projects.

Project Amp, which will see the installation of PV systems on hundreds of commercial rooftops owned by Prologis in 28 states and the District of Columbia, features NRG Energy as the Phase 1 investor for the distributed-generation project.

SunPower has also begun construction on CVSR, and said it will see partial operational power by early 2012 and full completion in 2013.

The company also announced that NRG has acquired the project; the solar firm will complete the project's design and construction, in conjunction with Bechtel, which is providing balance of plant engineering and procurement services and construction services. Once completed, NRG and SunPower will jointly operate and maintain the project for two years, and then NRG will take over sole responsibility for operations and maintenance of the project.

The project will feature the largest deployment of tracker system technology, using SunPower's high-efficiency monocrystalline-silicon panels, of any PV plant in the US. The electricity generated when the solar ranch comes online will be sold to PG&E under a 25-year PPA.

(Update 2)

Here are more facts about the projects and guarantees:

The total land to be used for the three utility-scale plants in the California deserts will be approximately 7400 acres. Prologis expects to populate about 750 rooftops among its owned and managed holdings with PV systems.

The big three plants are expected to generate at least 1250 construction jobs, with that number likely to climb once the various subcontractors' positions are included.

Desert Sunlight, which will create at least 550 hardhat jobs on its own, is also expected to add about $336 million indirectly to the local economy (mostly during construction), with nearly $200 million of that going to wages. The project will also pour about $27 million in sales and property taxes in local government coffers.

Depending on whose calculations are used, the collective ~1.78GW of PV installed across the four loan guarantee recipient projects will generate enough electricity to power between 316,000 and 423,000 homes on an annual basis.

The total gigawatt-hours generated by the four projects once they are fully constructed and operational will be about 3,598GWh per year, according to GTM Research data. Put another way, they will account for nearly 3.6 terawatt-hours (TWh) annually. Desert Sunlight alone will be a terawatt-generation station, with an estimated 1.28TWh of grid-tied energy produced per year.

The amount of the two First Solar loan guarantees shrank since the conditional commitments were announced, going from $1.88 billion to the final $1.46 billion for Desert Sunlight and from $680 million to $646 million for Antelope Valley Solar Ranch. In the case of SunPower's California Valley project, the amount increased slightly, from $1.187 billion to $1.237 billion. The Project Amp amount remained at $1.4 billion throughout the process.

The following quote from the First Solar press release announcing the Desert Sunlight acquisition bears repeating: “The project will not receive any cash from the government through the loan guarantee; rather the DOE is partially guaranteeing $1.46 billion in loans provided by a syndicate of private institutional investors and commercial banks headed by lead lenders Goldman Sachs Lending Partners LLC and Citigroup. The loan guarantee expanded the pool of potential lenders to the project….”

This boilerplate from the DOE's own press releases should also be noted: “Loan applications reviewed by the Department have undergone many months of due diligence and often receive bipartisan support.  DOE evaluates the technical aspects of an application to make sure the technology is feasible, works to ensure that projects can be built to scale, does extensive market analysis to ensure there is a place in the market for the product, and evaluates the finances of the project to ensure it is commercially viable. We are confident that supporting these projects will help American companies compete in the global clean energy market.”

Although NextEra and GE Financial did not disclose any additional financial details about their acquisition of Desert Sunlight, Exelon did share some. The buyer of AVSR will make a total investment of $1.36 billion in the project and expects to invest up to $713 million in equity through 2013. NRG said when the tentative purchase agreement with SunPower was announced earlier this year that it would invest up to $450 million in equity in CVSR.

The all-in day's totals: nearly $4.74 billion in partial or total loan guarantees awarded for about 1.78GW of PV power plant projects.



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