First Solar expanding PV capacity in AZ with 250MW facility

Providing clarity on its planned US manufacturing expansions, First Solar says it will add 250MW capacity at a facility in Mesa, AZ, for a $300M investment, with room for expansion.

March 18, 2011 – First Solar plans to add four more manufacturing lines at a new thin-film (CdTe) PV module facility in Mesa, AZ, adding 250MW capacity and doubling its total US production capacity to more than 500MW/year. The $300M investment would begin construction in a few weeks (2Q11) and finish in about a year, with modules slated to ship in 3Q12.

The facility in Mesa (about 30min from the company’s HQ in Tempe), on an old GM vehicle testing site covering 135 acres, will include a 3MW rooftop solar installation and “an extensive” ground-mounted PV testing facility; the overall project will generate more than 500 construction jobs and 600 overall.

There is room for expansion to 10 lines (~625MW) for about a $200M investment, adds Credit Suisse analyst Satya Kumar, bringing the facility to about $0.80/W, which is consistent with the company’s long-term capex/W strategy. Barclays’ Vishal Shah pegs gross capital intensity at ~$0.70/W, and pushing toward a 2012 goal of $0.60/W as conversion efficiencies improve to ~12%.

“This is thrilling news for Arizona,” said Gov. Jan Brewer, in a statement. The state’s abundant sun and solar power plants — as well as “supportive state and federal policies,” including federal DoE loan guarantees, Arizona’s Competitiveness Package, and support from local stakeholders — “proved instrumental in our decision,” noted First Solar president Bruce Sohn. (Barclays’ Shah calculates a 10% tax credit from state and local incentives, putting the project’s net capex at ~$200M.)

It’s important to note that this isn’t exactly a completely unexpected announcement — several months ago FSLR said it would add a new capacity and facilities in the US, so this just confirms the location, notes Kumar. The company recently said it would put on hold a two-line 125MW expansion in France, which he says could be rolled into this Mesa site or perhaps in the company’s Vietnam facilities.

First Solar is currently building two utility-scale PV projects in Arizona: the 290MW “Agua Caliente” project in Yuma County for NRG Energy (which was conditional on a DoE loan guarantee), and the 17MW “Paloma” solar plant in Gila Bend for APS.

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