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New Times / News

The following article was posted on November 4th, 2009, in the New Times - Volume 24, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 24, Issue 14

First Solar buys Ausra project in the Carrizo

BY COLIN RIGLEY

Australian-based solar company Ausra sold its proposed project in the Carrizo Plain to First Solar, which also has plans for a solar project in the area.

The sale was announced on Nov. 4 but company officials declined to name the sale price. Ausra’s Carrizo Energy Solar Farm is unique among three proposed projects in the area—it was designed as a thermal-solar plant, meaning solar energy would have been used to heat water and power a steam generator, unlike the other projects, which would use only solar panels.

But the sale to First Solar means the unique design is off the table. Instead First Solar will reconfigure the design of its Topaz Solar Farm using the newly acquired land from Ausra.

Ausra sold the project as part of a new company strategy to move away from developing solar projects and focus on manufacturing solar equipment for other companies, according to a news release.

Ausra’s use of a steam-powered generator made it the only proposed local project to be reviewed by the California Energy Commission rather than by county officials. The energy commission’s review focused heavily on environmental impacts from the Ausra project, as well as the cumulative impacts from all three proposed in the area (SunPower has another proposed project similar to First Solar’s). But the sale now removes the energy commission from the process, which First Solar spokesman Alan Bernheimer called a good thing.

“This really allows the county to oversee solar development in the Carrizo Plain,” Bernheimer said. He declined to comment on specifics of the sale, including the price and which company initiated the deal.

The Topaz Solar Farm sits on a 4,200-acre footprint. Though First Solar will now have access to more land, company officials said the project won’t expand but will be reconfigured to avoid impacts to wildlife migration paths and Williamson Act lands. First Solar bought the Topaz project from Optisolar in March.

The energy commission hadn’t yet received a formal withdrawal from Ausra as of this printing. Spokesman Percy Della said Ausra’s application was still active and the review proceedings are still in progress, so he couldn’t comment on any implications of the informal sale.