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First Solar & NRG Open 21-MW Blythe Project

First Solar Inc. and NRG Energy Inc. announced the start of commercial operation for the largest photovoltaic (PV) solar project in California. First Solar developed and built the 21-megawatt (MW) power plant in Blythe, California, which was acquired last month by NRG through its wholly owned subsidiary NRG Solar.

Electricity generated by the solar facility is being sold to Southern California Edison (SCE) under a 20-year power purchase agreement. Located in Riverside County about 200 miles east of Los Angeles, the Blythe plant is the largest thin film PV project in the United States and is five times the size of the next largest PV project in California.

NRG estimates that at peak capacity, the project can supply the power needs of almost 17,000 homes while helping California meet its renewable energy goals. Approximately 175 people built Blythe during its three-month construction and installation period.

“It is no surprise that America’s largest thin film solar project was built right here in California, where my Administration has successfully created a climate where green businesses can thrive,” said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It is forward-thinking businesses such as First Solar that will help California reach its nation-leading greenhouse gas reduction and Renewable Portfolio Standard goals, as well as create the new green jobs that will help spur our economic recovery.”

The Blythe plant is expected to generate over 45,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year. First Solar will provide operations and maintenance services at Blythe under a long-term contract with NRG.

In related news, First Solar Inc. and EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDFEN) announced that they are in the final stages of exclusive negotiations with the town of Blanquefort, near the city of Bordeaux, to locate a new solar panel manufacturing plant. The plant, co-financed by First Solar and EDFEN, will be operated by First Solar and sell its entire production of innovative, thin-film photovoltaic panels to EDFEN for its first 10 years of operation.

Construction is expected to begin in the second half of 2010 and a full production capacity of more than 100 MW a year is to be reached in early 2012.

The plant is expected to create up to 400 jobs in the region of Aquitaine and represent a total investment of approximately €100 million. The decision to focus on Blanquefort for the manufacturing plant follows an extensive review of potential sites throughout the country. First Solar and EDFEN expect to finalize all remaining agreements in the coming weeks.

First Solar and EDFEN believe that France will become a major market for solar electricity in Europe thanks in large part to forward-looking French solar policies.

“Blanquefort is the ideal location for our second manufacturing facility in Europe and producing there will bring us closer to the French solar market, which we believe has the potential to become one of Europe’s brightest,” said Rob Gillette, CEO of First Solar. “We look forward to deepening our relationship with France. Aquitaine has impressed us with its passion, excellent infrastructure and highly skilled workforce.”

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