The title of world’s largest operating solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant goes to Arizona. On Monday, First Solar Inc. announced that the Agua Caliente solar project has achieved a peak generating capacity of 250 MW connected to the electrical grid. The project, under construction in Yuma County, will have a total capacity of 290 MW when completed.

Initial construction work at the Agua Caliente site began in the fall of 2010 and solar module installation began in June 2011. The project began commercial operation seven months later, in January 2012, with 30 MW of grid-connected capacity; it surpassed 100 MW of grid-connected power this spring and 200 MW this summer. Construction of the project is expected to be complete on schedule in 2014.

The record-setting project has successfully met all of its contractual milestones to date and exceeded targets for the speed, quality, and safety of the construction process, the Tempe, Ariz.–based company says.

First Solar designed and is constructing the project using its advanced thin-film (cadmium-telluride, CdTe) PV modules and will operate and maintain the facility for owners NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar. The project is being financed with support from a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has a 25-year power purchase agreement for the project’s output.

Additionally, on Sept. 11, PG&E signed power purchase contracts with First Solar for 72 MW of solar PV capacity from two PV plants that First Solar is developing in central California. The 32-MW Lost Hills project in Kern County and the 40-MW Cuyama project in Santa Barbara County are expected to create up to 600 jobs at peak construction. Project construction could start in 2013 as soon as the development process is complete, depending on plans of the projects’ eventual owners. The power purchase agreements—each with a delivery term beginning in 2019—are subject to approval by the California Public Utilities Commission, whose decision is expected in the first half of 2013.

In 2009, First Solar broke the $1 per watt manufacturing cost barrier, and the Eldorado Energy Center’s Solar Facility in Boulder, Nev., operated by First Solar, was named a POWER Top Plant.

In July 2011 the company announced it had set a new world record for CdTe PV solar cell efficiency, reaching 17.3% with a test cell constructed using commercial-scale manufacturing equipment and materials. The test cell’s performance, confirmed by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab, far surpassed the previous record of 16.7% set in 2001.

Sources: POWERnews, First Solar

—Gail Reitenbach, PhD, Managing Editor (@POWERmagazine)