Warren Buffett buys Carrizo solar farm

First Solar will build and operate facility, but billionaire’s firm will be the owner

dsneed@thetribunenews.comDecember 7, 2011 

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett now owns a piece of San Luis Obispo County.

First Solar announced this week that it has entered into an agreement to sell its 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in the Carrizo Plain to MidAmerica Energy Holdings, which is owned by Buffett’s multinational holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

First Solar will continue to build and operate the huge photovoltaic plant, but MidAmerica will be the owner. The solar farm is estimated to be worth more than $2 billion.

The purchase price was not disclosed. But the Omaha, Neb., World-Herald newspaper quoted a solar industry analyst as saying the price was likely several hundred million dollars.

First Solar began construction in November. The plant is expected to become fully operational in three years, during which some 400 construction workers and electricians will be employed.

Acquisition of the Topaz project is MidAmerica’s first investment in solar energy, company president Greg Abel said in a news release. The company owns nearly 1,400 megawatts of wind power in Iowa, where the company is headquartered.

First Solar had been seeking an investor since the company lost $1.9 billion in federal loan guarantees when it could not begin construction by the end of September.

“This project demonstrates that solar energy is a commercially viable technology without the support of government loan guarantees and reflects the type of solar and other renewable generation that MidAmerican will continue to seek to add to its unregulated portfolio,” Abel said.

The deal is expected to be finalized within the next three months. First Solar must first meet certain of the county’s permit requirements. PG&E has agreed to purchase the power produced by the plant for the next 25 years.

The sprawling photovoltaic facility will cover 5.5 square miles north and south of Highway 58 and east of Bitterwater Road in California Valley. Once complete, it will produce enough power for some 160,000 average homes.

At 550 megawatts, Topaz will be one of the world’s largest photovoltaic plants. First Solar is developing a similar project in the Chuckawalla Valley in Riverside County.

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