Federal funding for solar plant falls through

A $1.9 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy has fallen through, causing an unspecified delay in the Topaz Solar Farm proposed for the Carrizo Plain in eastern San Luis Obispo County.

Project owners First Solar announced Thursday that the company would not be able to meet a Sept. 30 deadline for the federal loan guarantee. Company officials say the project will continue, but a search for a buyer to finance the project without federal backing is under way.

“It represents a delay, but we are plowing ahead,” said Alan Bernheimer, a First Solar spokesman.

Earlier this year, First Solar received final approval from the county to begin construction of the 550-megawatt photovoltaic plant at Highway 58 and Bitterwater Road. Beginning construction by Sept. 30 was a precondition for receiving the loan.

The company does not have a timeline for when construction might begin and did not disclose details about sale negotiations. First Solar has also not specified the total project cost.

Finding a new owner for the project has always been part of the company’s plans, Bernheimer said. The company’s operating model is to plan, build and operate solar projects with other companies as owners or equity partners.

First Solar is one of two photovoltaic companies with projects approved for the Carrizo Plan. SunPower plans to begin construction this month of the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch.

Local citizens groups have sued to overturn approval of both projects. There are no injunctions to stop construction.