Joint news Monday came from three American locations (Princeton, N.J.; Des Moines, Iowa; Tempe, Ariz.) as NRG Energy (NRG), FirstSolar (FSLR) and MidAmerican Solar announced that the Agua Caliente solar plant in Yuma County, Ariz., is about two-thirds complete and is producing 200 megawatts of energy, more than 70 percent of its 290-megawatt capacity. The plant is the world’s largest operating photovoltaic power facility.
With the announcement, First Solar stock has jumped 7 percent in Monday morning trading to about $14.25 per share.
During construction, the facility – owned by NRG and MidAmerican Solar – employs about 400 or 450 workers per day. With expected completion in 2014, the project is being funded by a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. FirstSolar is the designer ad builder of the facility, and California utility PG&E has a long-term power-purchase agreement with the plant, which its output is expected to offset about 5.5 million metric tons of CO2 over 25 years – equivalent to removing 40,000 cars from the road each year.
“The Agua Caliente project sets the highest standard for what we can accomplish with today’s solar technology when combined with a strong public-private partnership at the national level,” said Tom Doyle, CEO of NRG Solar. “First Solar’s performance on this project, from their technology and execution to their outstanding safety record, has exceeded all our expectations and we are extremely pleased with the results so far.”
“First Solar is very proud of the rapid progress we are making at Agua Caliente,” said Jim Lamon, First Solar senior vice president. “We have achieved record-setting installation velocities, while maintaining our excellent safety record and achieving the highest quality in the industry. It is a pleasure to be a part of moving utility scale solar to its rightful place as a dependable and cost-effective power generation source for U.S. and international utilities.”
This can be good news for hedge funds like Lee Ainslie’s Maverick Capital, which had a $102 million investment in FirstSolar at the end of March – about 2.5 times more money than nay other fund at the time. While this news isn’t breeding positive reaction to NRG stock – though it’s the co-owner of the facility, the stock is off slightly from its open – it still is worth noting for investors like Christopher Pucillo’s Solus Alternative Asset Management and Ron Gutfleish’s Elm Ridge Capital, especially if the plant is fully operational ahead of schedule as it appears to be. Solus and Elm Ridge were invested a combined $83 million in NRG at the end of March.