The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times report this week what could be another first for First Solar: a preliminary agreement with the Chinese government to build a 2-gigawatt photovoltaic farm in Inner Mongolia. If the plant is actually built, it will be in stages over a decade, to cover eventually as much as 25 square miles. But "much of the deal hasn't been worked out yet," says the Journal with some understatement--minor details such as how much First Solar might be paid have yet to be settled. The company's plan is to sell the plant to a Chinese operator upon its completion, but the plant's profitability will depend on the size of the subsidies it would be eligible for. That's another detail to be worked out, as China right now is trying to decide whether to adopt a feed-in tariff that would guarantee returns on investments in renewables.
If the plant were built today in the United States, it would cost $5-6 billion, according to First Solar. Costs may be lower in China, however, and they should decrease as the plant is built in increments. First Solar will likely build a production plant in China to supply panels for the generating plant, which is to be part of much large renewables complex in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia. The whole complex is to have a generating capacity of nearly 12 GW, with 6,950 MW coming from wind, 3,900 from photovoltaics, 720 MW from thermal solar, and 310 MW from biomass.
Let's not make any assumptions about the destiny of the deal sketched out in this week's memorandum of understanding with First Solar. Note, however, that the Ordos plant is not the only nuclear-scale solar facility on the books. The Clinton Climate Initiative is considering a project in India that could be even bigger, and BrightSourceEnergy has power-purchase agreements with California utilities for solar plants with a combined capacity of 2.6 GW, the Journal reports. First Solar’s Topaz plant in California is to be 550 MW, notes the Times.
Normally our practice would be to contact First Solar to confirm the various details of the Journal and Times accounts. But the company has a long-standing and deeply ingrained policy of not talking directly with the press, as discussed last year in a Spectrum magazine feature.