Construction begins on Topaz Solar Farm

Locater map for Topaz Solar Farm
Locater map for Topaz Solar Farm

Construction of the 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in eastern San Luis Obispo County began this week.

Activity at the site is in its earliest stages, which include moving in construction equipment and personnel trailers as well as conducting training, said Alan Bernheimer, a spokesman for First Solar, the project owner.

“Work and hiring should ramp up over the next several months,” he said.

Construction will take three years and will be done in phases. As many as 400 people will be employed during construction. Sales tax revenues are expected to be $10 million during construction and $16 million for the life of the project.

First Solar is using its own money to start construction, Bernheimer said. The company is still in discussions with other private energy firms to sell the project after a $1.9 billion loan guarantee from the federal Department of Energy was lost at the end of September.

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.

The project is four years in the making. It underwent extensive environmental review and redesign, mostly to offset its effects on the San Joaquin kit fox and other rare and endangered species.

The Topaz Solar Farm is the second of two large-scale commercial photovoltaic plants to begin construction on private property north of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. SunPower Corp. began building its 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch at the end of September.