Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican boosts solar buy-in with purchase of SunPower’s 579MW project

Construction underway at SunPower's California Valley Solar RanchSunPower Corp. is starting 2013 with a bang. The company solar its 579 megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Projects (AVSP) to MidAmerican Solar for more than $2 billion. It’s the most recent buy-in for renewables that Warren Buffett-controlled MidAmerican has made, and hopefully a good indicator that big solar deals are in the works for 2013.

The co-located AVSP projects stretch across the borders between Kern and Los Angeles counties, and are together the largest permitted PV project in the world. They are slated for completion by the end of 2015, according to SunPower.

MidAmerican’s family of companies have been boosting their portfolio of renewable energy over the past few years and now have more than 1,830 megawatts of energy assets including wind, geothermal, solar and hydropower. But this is its biggest solar purchase thus far. “MidAmerican Solar acquired the projects and SunPower’s EPC [i.e., engineering, procurement and construction] services for an agreed amount between $2 billion and $2.5 billion,” said SunPower President Howard Wenger.
Though the plant will fully come online in 2015, parts of it will come online earlier. “The plant will come online in multiple phases.  SunPower will install modular SunPower Oasis power blocks at AVSP, which will allow individual arrays to become operational before the entire project is completed,” Wenger said. The modules are being mounted on trackers to ensure they produce as much as possible throughout the day, as well. “Similarly, we now have 130 megawatts operational at the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch, which is expected to be complete later this year.”

Some solar projects that are now surpassing the 100 megawatt mark were supported by now expired federal incentive programs. “The Antelope Valley Solar Projects were not included in the 1603 program or any expired federal programs,” Wenger said. But it did recieve a loan guarantee. That’s important because the project is expected to be cost-competitive with natural gas peaker plants. Showing that the scale of such projects can drive cost reduction.

Southern California Edison (SCE) is purchasing the power from the projects under long-term power-purchase agreements. “Working with MidAmerican and SCE, we are bringing recognized critically needed jobs and economic opportunity to California and helping the state achieve its renewable portfolio requirement,” Wenger said. The project is creating 650 construction jobs.