This is big. The Topaz Solar Farm, a 550 megawatt behemoth of a photovoltaic solar farm in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., is now fully online. It’s the largest PV plant online in the world. That’s enough energy to power roughly 180,000 Californian homes.
The project, built buy First Solar using its solar panels and other technologies, is owned by MidAmerican Renewables a subsidiary of Warren Buffet-controlled MidAmerican Energy Holdings. The power form the project is being sold to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. under a 25-year power-purchase agreement. Currently the only project under construction in the U.S. that will surpass Topaz in size is SunPower’s 579 megawatt Solar Star project, which also is owned by MidAmerican.
The project began in 2011, with construction starting in 2012. By 2013 it began delivering power to the grid. Originally the final fourth phase of the project was slated for completion in 2015 but the Western Electricity Coordinating Council shows that the project came online on Oct. 27. “Call this an on-time delivery,” said Greentech Media’s Eric Wesoff. His colleague, Cory Honeyman, was the first to note that the project was fully online.
“This is the first 500-megawatt plus solar farm to come on-line in the U.S. and the largest solar plant on-line in the world,” Wesoff said. “As of today, the project has installed 9 million solar panels across 9.5 square miles in San Luis Obispo County on California's Carrizo Plain.”
The project, which was not financed with a federal loan guarantee was expected to infuse $417 million into the local economy. The majority of that, $192 million, coming through the 400 construction jobs the project created. It was also expected to generate $52 million in economic output for local suppliers, $14 million in sales taxes during construction, and up to $400,000 per year in new property tax revenues.
While a 9.5 square mile plot might seem like a lot of land, it’s not. Compared to mountaintop removal to support coal-fired power plants and open pit mining it’s minimally invasive. Even more so considering that the land used was previously disturbed and used as agricultural land. The 25-year or more lifespan of the project means that some plants will be able to grow on the land and hopefully replenish the soil. In addition,
MidAmerican said that more than 17,000 acres near the project site will be protected from development or agricultural disking during operations. After the the solar power plant is removed the area will be restored, leaving more than 20,000 acres that will be protected in perpetuity as native species habitat.Tweet