First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) has received loan guarantees from the US Department of Energy totaling $4.5 billion for the construction of three solar projects in the southern California that would add more than 1,300 megawatts of solar power generation to the state’s supply. The company had already received a loan guarantee for up to $970 million for a project in Arizona. The Department has offered guarantees worth a total of $38 billion so far, in a program that expires at the end of September.
The Department of Energy’s announcement included a conditional commitment for a $680 million guarantee to support the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1 project, partial guarantees for $1.88 billion for the Desert Sunlight project, and $1.93 billion in partial guarantees for the Topaz project. The three projects are expected to create a total of 1,400 construction jobs, as well as support the building of some 20 million solar PV panels using First Solar’s cadmium telluride thin-film technology.
There are, however, a few hitches with the projects, as well as another project being run by SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWRA) in the same area. SunPower has been sued by local groups claiming harm to wildlife, air quality, and natural beauty at its 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch project. First Solar has run into community efforts to stop the first 550-megawatt portion of its Topaz project, and some residents of the Antelope Valley are unhappy with the company’s AV Solar Ranch project.
Objections to these large solar developments are probably based on the sheer size of the projects. First Solar’s Antelope Valley project covers more than three square miles; the Topaz project will cover nearly 5.5 square miles; Desert Sunlight covers about 6.5 square miles. The areas will be fenced, which affects the migration and feeding habits of the (scarce) local wildlife. During construction, it is reasonable to expect large amounts of dust, and once the plants are built, views like these will be substantially changed. There are also some concerns about water usage in this extremely dry environment.
While it is unlikely that any of these projects will be completely stopped, it is possible that lawsuits and other manuvuers will cause delays. The economics of these projects almost requires that they begin producing electricity as quickly as possible, federal loan guarantees or not.
First Solar is getting a significant boost to its share price today. The stock is up about 8.5%, to $140.44, within a 52-week range of $111.40-$175.45. SunPower’s shares are also up more than 3.5%, to $18.98, in a 52-week range of $9.61-$22.60. The Guggenheim Solar ETF (NYSE: TAN) is up more than 3.5% as well, to $7.28, in a 52-week range of $6.40-$9.34.