Desert Sunlight PV Plant Comes Online

The 550-MW Desert Sunlight solar photovoltaic (PV) plant near Riverside, Calif., which matches MidAmerican’s Topaz Solar project for the largest solar plant in the world, began commercial operations in December, according to the California Independent System Operator.

Developed and built by First Solar, and owned by NextEra, GE Energy Financial Services, and Sumitomo, Desert Sunlight sells its power to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E; 300 MW) and Southern California Edison (250 MW) under 25-year power purchase agreements. It was developed with the help of a $1.46 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

Topaz Solar near San Luis Obispo, which also sells its power to PG&E, entered operations in November 2014, according to the project web site.

The two plants will not hold their title for long, as another large PV project in California is nearing completion and expected to begin operations this year. The 579-MW Solar Star project in Antelope Valley, also owned by MidAmerican and developed by SunPower, has about 412 MW of its capacity online, with the rest expected by fourth quarter 2015.

California has been adding solar PV capacity at a breakneck pace as utilities plan for the state’s 33% by 2020 renewables mandate. The state added almost as much PV generation in the third quarter of 2014 as the rest of the country combined. Though development had slowed as the target appeared in reach, the recent announcement from Gov. Jerry Brown that he will seek to raise the target to 50% by 2030 is expected to restart the development frenzy.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).