Shovels will soon clack in the late summer heat of the California desert as construction gets underway at the 550-megawatt (MW) Desert Sunlight Solar Farm near Desert Center, Calif.
The project, being developed by First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) subsidiary Desert Sunlight Holdings, received final approval from the Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week, allowing construction on the project to start.
The project is the largest solar project being built on public land managed under the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is the largest photovoltaic facility Interior has approved thus far,” Secretary Salazar said in a press release. The project is located on 4,144 acres of public lands, according to the DOI. That’s a far cry from the original 19,000-acre study area. It was determined that 14,500 acres in the study area were unavailable for solar energy development.
“The 19,000 acres was the study area for the project, which was always a 550-MW project,” said First Solar spokesperson Alan Bernheimer. “The final project is approximately 3,800 acres.”
The project also includes 344 right-of-way acres for transmission tie-in lines, he said.
“The facility will use First Solar’s thin-film photovoltaic (PV) technology, which generates electricity with low visual impact, no air emissions, waste production or water use, and has the smallest carbon footprint of any PV technology,” the DOI said.
In all, the completed facility is expected to generate $336 million for the local economy, primarily during construction. During the peak of construction, it will employ roughly 630 people and will generate $197 million in wages.
With approval from the DOI in hand, First Solar is gearing up to prepare for construction, according to Bernheimer.
“We have started preliminary site move-on activities, with construction start expected shortly,” he said.
The company also qualified for a $1.8 billion conditional loan-guarantee from the Department of Energy (DOE) earlier this year. One of the conditions before the guarantee is fully committed to First Solar—and for that matter, other solar projects with loan guarantees—is that it breaks ground on the project prior to Sept. 31.
“We expect all conditions to be met in time for the DOE to make a final determination [on the loan guarantee] by the end of September,” Bernheimer said.