First Solar was the first large solar manufacturer not only to make solar panels, but to move whole-hog into developing and building its own solar power plants with these modules. This gave First Solar a captive pipeline into which to sell modules, and this highly successful business model was replicated by many other large PV makers in the United States and China.
In 2016, the company announced a sea change in strategy, moving away from this model towards a renewed focus on manufacturing thin-film solar panels, as it prepared for the massive retooling needed to make its large-format Series 6. Today the company is lining its bank accounts to support this billion-dollar endeavor with the completion of yet another project sale, this time for the 280 MW-AC California Flats in Monterey County, California.
The project comprises two phases, a 130 MW-AC first phase which is expected to come online in the fourth quarter of 2017, and a 150 MW second phase, which is expected by the end of 2018. Like most utility-scale solar plants in California, the project uses single-axis tracking.
First Solar has sold California Flats to Swiss asset manager Capital Dynamics. This comes less than a week after First Solar sold the 40 MW-AC Cuyama project to D.E. Shaw. As part of its renewed emphasis on manufacturing, First Solar is selling off its share in the yieldco, which is now adrift and looking for a new owners after SunPower announced a similar decision.
The terms of the sale to Capital Dynamics were not revealed, however First Solar noted in its Q2 results call that it is making more money selling such projects to third parties than it did to 8point3.
The sale of California Flats to the asset manager follows on the sale of cash equity for the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project in Nevada, which First Solar developed and built. Capital Dynamics notes that its Clean Energy Infrastructure Team owns three of the 10 largest solar projects in North America, with more than 3 GW of solar projects either operating or under construction.
“As an investor focused on clean energy projects, we expect to continue to actively grow that portfolio in the immediate future,” said John Breckenridge, the head of Capital Dynamics Clean Energy Infrastructure.
Correction: This article was corrected on August 23. The original version stated that the plant used a fixed-tilt mounting structure, but it has been corrected to state that California Flats uses single-axis tracking. We regret the error.