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Solar panels sprouting on the Carrizo

A crew of electricians installs solar panels Friday at the California Valley Solar Ranch. The SunPower Corp. project will produce 250 megawatts of electricity.
A crew of electricians installs solar panels Friday at the California Valley Solar Ranch. The SunPower Corp. project will produce 250 megawatts of electricity. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Construction activity is ramping up on two large commercial solar projects on the Carrizo Plain.

More than 400 workers are employed building the two projects which, when complete, will produce 800 megawatts of power. Work on both projects began late last year, and construction is expected to take three years to complete.

Furthest along is the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch by SunPower Corp., near the Kern County line. More than 360 workers are on site, said Ingrid Ekstrom, a SunPower spokeswoman.Work has progressed to the point that photovoltaic panels are being installed on tens of thousands of metal posts. As of the end of January, 30,390 panels had been installed, which is enough to generate nearly 13 megawatts of power, Ekstrom said.

The 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm by First Solar is employing about 60 workers who are installing posts in the ground and doing preparatory work, such as installation of office trailers and road construction, said Alan Bernheimer, First Solar spokesman.

The Topaz project is near Bitterwater Road, about four miles west of the SunPower project. Eventually, the work force at the project is expected to reach about 400.

The project is getting back up to speed after First Solar furloughed about 50 of its 60 workers for about two weeks last month. The slowdown was designed to allow the company time to do some engineering reviews, Bernheimer said.

Last week, First Solar announced that MidAmerican Renewables LLC, a subsidiary of one of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway companies, had completed its purchase of the Topaz Solar Farm. First Solar will continue to build and operate the plant.

Both projects require that construction materials and heavy equipment be brought in on Highway 58 from Interstate 5. This can cause lane closures of up to 30 minutes on Highway 58 at the San Luis Obispo-Kern county line.

For information on road closures related to the construction, go to www.carrizosolartraffic.com.

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