First Solar to build the largest solar plant in the South

It seemed that the era of super-large PV plants was over in the United States. In a competition reminiscent of early 20th century skyscrapers, for years developers raced to have the most massive plants covering thousands of acres, with some projects coming in at more than 500 MW, mostly in the deserts of California and the American Southwest.

But as many of these sites were in pristine deserts conservationists pushed back, and especially in California many of these projects were stopped in the courts. Developers learned to move to disused farmland and other previously disturbed land, and began to focus on smaller projects in the 20-50 MW range.

But now First Solar is back with another mega-project, this time in the South. A 30-year power contract for an enormous 200 MW-AC solar project planned by the company for Twiggs County in Central Georgia has been approved by Georgia regulators, as one of several awarded under Georgia Power’s latest solicitation through its Renewable Energy Development Initiative (REDI).

The project will be one of the first to utilize First Solar’s large-format Series 6 modules, mounted on single-axis trackers. The first Series 6 module rolled off the production line in November, and First Solar expects to begin full-scale production during Q2 and to have manufactured around 1 GW of Series 6 product by the end of 2018.

First Solar’s internal construction team will build the project, with work planned to start in November. The company notes that when complete the 2,000-acre plant will be the largest in the U.S. South, however, pv magazine has not heard of any projects larger than this anywhere East of the Mississippi River. As such this is likely the largest project in the eastern third of the United States.

One reason for this is land settlement patterns. While the South does not offer the vast expanses of open desert that are found in the West, its agriculture developed more through large plantations than the smaller family farms standard in the northeastern United States. This means that larger plots of available land under a single owner are more widely available. Additionally, as the region’s economy was traditionally based on agriculture and not as much industry as the Northeast, population densities are lower.