First Solar gets final environmental approval for AV Solar Ranch One, construction to start in Q3

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One of the largest photovoltaic power plant projects in First Solar’s North American pipeline moved another step closer to buildout, as the environmental impact report for the AV Solar Ranch One has become final and is no longer subject to appeal. Principal construction should begin on the 230MW (AC) site in northeast Los Angeles County in Q3 2011, according to company sources.

The environmental report was not challenged within 30 days of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous rejection of an appeal of the earlier approval decision by the Los Angeles Regional Planning Commission of the project’s “conditional use permit” and related EIR, the company said.

Since no legal actions were filed to challenge the vote within the 30 days from the Board of Supervisors’ action, pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, the final decision took effect Jan. 7.  

First Solar’s Alan Bernheimer told PV-Tech that the conditional use permit and final EIR were “the major permitting hurdles.”

“Plenty of design work is done” on the project, “but no construction has started,” he added. “We currently anticipate beginning construction in Q3 2011.”

 The start date depends on the company’s success in lining up financing for AV Solar Ranch. “Our business model is to secure project finance prior to the start of principal construction activities, so that would mean by sometime in Q3,” Bernheimer explained.  

The PV power station would be interconnected to the Whirlwind substation, which “Southern California Edison has indicated it will complete in May 2012, when we would expect to begin initial deliveries,” according to the First Solar spokesman.

“We tend to build in blocks and energize the project in phases, once interconnection is available,” although he could not provide the size of those phases at this point. The entire project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2013.

First Solar recently purchased RayTracker and added its assets to the company’s engineering, procurement, and construction team. However, Bernheimer said that no announcement has been made on whether the new acquisition’s tracker technology is being considered for this project.

Beneficiary of a signed 25-year power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric, the AV Solar Ranch One was obtained by First Solar as part of the CdTe thin-film company’s acquisition of NextLight Renewable Power and its pipeline of projects in mid-2010. The site, located on 2100 acres (8.5 km2) of private lands formerly used for agriculture and home to no known endangered species, straddles Highway 138 outside the city of Lancaster.   

Construction preparation has already begun on another major project in the former NextLight pipeline, the 290MW (AC) Agua Caliente power plant between Phoenix and Yuma, AZ, which is scheduled for completion in 2014. NRG Solar and First Solar announced in December that the energy firm had agreed to acquire the project.

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