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First Solar had a bumpy year 

Solar panel manufacturer First Solar recently lowered profit forecasts as the company experienced an epic decline in its stock, making it the worst performer in the S&P 500 for 2011.

As the year came to a close, Arizona-based First Solar, which is known locally as the company responsible for the 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in the Carrizo Plain, was handed such titles as one of “the biggest negative surprises for investors” from CNBC. According to various financial news outlets, First Solar was once worth as much as $25 billion, but recently was valued at about $2.64 billion.

In a December conference call, the company announced it was lowering its sales forecast.

“Anticipated net sales are lower than previous guidance due to weather and project financing-related delays in a couple of our system business projects,” Chief Financial Officer Mark Widmar said, according to a transcript of that call.

In October 2011, the company replaced Chief Executive Officer Rob Gillette with interim CEO Mike Ahearn.

During the December conference call, Ahearn attributed the company’s projection decreases primarily to shrinking profit margins due to high volumes of solar-panel manufacturers.

“I think you can take all these markets that are based on subsidies and just picture that as a pool or a pond that’s evaporating and drying up,” Ahearn said. “And I think the short-term answer is try to get more share out of that, but it keeps getting smaller.”

First Solar spokesman Alan Bernheimer told New Times the company experienced quarterly profits throughout 2011 despite the decline in market capitalization, i.e. its share price.

The company began constructing its Topaz solar power project in November. In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy denied First Solar’s application for a federal loan guarantee on the Topaz project. In December, however, billionaire investor Warren Buffet’s company, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, announced plans to acquire the Topaz project.

When construction is complete, most likely in 2015, the Topaz project will stretch across six square miles near the eastern boundary of San Luis Obispo County.

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