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Four solar projects clinch DOE loan guarantees as program ends

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The Energy Department finalized four solar loan guarantees in the final hours of the controversial clean energy loan program. Here's a look at the ones that made it, and the few that didn't.

In the final hours of the Energy Department's loan guarantee program, the agency managed to squeak in nearly $5 billion worth of loan guarantees to First Solar, SunPower and Prologis to build four solar power projects.

The loan guarantee program will end today mired in controversy over the DOE's backing of Solyndra, a solar manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. Despite the very public failure of Solyndra and the myriad of questions surrounding the DOE's decision to back it in the first place, the loan program has had its successes.

Twelve solar power projects have been able to get the financing needed to begin construction, which once complete will add a significant amount of renewable energy to the power grid. Among those are several projects that truly have innovative technologies that would've had a hard time finding financing from banks, GTM Research Senior Analyst Brett Prior told me in a phone interview Friday.

Prior added that the risk profile for these utility-scale projects is very low compared to providing loans to clean energy manufacturers like Solyndra. Large-scale project developers lock in long-term contracts with a single utility to sell it power. And while the upfront cost of building the project might be high, they have a low operating cost, he said.

It should be noted that not every company made the cut-off.  The loan guarantee for the Fotowatio project in Nevada had not been finalized as of late Friday afternoon.  SolarCity had to scrape its SolarStrong project after requests from Congress to review the application caused a delay significant enough to keep it from meeting the loan guarantee deadline. And First Solar has indicated that it wouldn't get a loan guarantee for its 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in California because it wasn't able to complete all of the paperwork and other requirements before the Sept. 30 deadline.

Below are the final four solar projects which completed their loan guarantees before the deadline.

California Valley Solar Ranch Project

DOE finalized a $1.237 billion loan guarantee to support the SunPower Corp. project.

  • 250-megawatt project being built in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.
  • It will be the largest utility-scale photovoltaic project in the U.S. to use tracking technology combined with a monitoring system that will improve annual out put by about 25 percent compared with the traditional fixed PV installations;
  • Power will be sold to Pacific Gas and Electric Co.;
  • The project will generate enough electricity to power 64,000 homes

Desert Sunlight Solar Farm

DOE will guarantee up to 80 percent of $1.46 billion in private loans headed by Goldman Sachs Lending Partners and Citigroup.

First Solar announced Friday that it has sold Desert Sunlight Solar Farm -- one of the world's largest photovoltaic solar power projects -- to NextEra Energy Resources. First Solar will build and oversee the project.

  • 550-megawatt project near Desert Center, Calif.
  • Located on 3,800 acres -- with 200 more acres of related infrastructure -- of Bureau of Land Management land;
  • Will be able to power up to 160,000 homes;
  • Will employ 630 people for construction, which has begun
  • The project will use 8.8 million of First Solar's cadmium telluride thin film solar PV modules.

Antelope Valley

DOE finalized a $646 million loan guarantee to AV Solar Ranch. Unlike Desert Sunlight, the loan will come from Federal Financing Bank, which is run by the U.S. Treasury;

  • First Solar will build and operate the project;
  • 230-megawatt project in North Los Angeles County, California;
  • Will generate 622,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year, that's equivalent to powering more than 54,000 homes;
  • The project is an alternating current cadmium telluride thin film photovoltaic solar generation facility;
  • Exelon Corp. recently bought the project;
  • Power generated from the project will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Project Amp

  • The DOE finalized a partial loan guarantee for a $1.4 billion loan to support Project Amp;
  • Project includes the installation of 752 megawatts of photovoltaic solar panels -- more than 80 percent of the total amount of PV installed in the U.S. last year;
  • The solar panels will be installed across 750 existing rooftop owned and managed by Prologis;
  • NRG Energy is the lead investor for phase 1 of the project;
  • Will power more than 88,000 homes

Photo: First Solar via Business Wire

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure