First Solar seems to have an ability to get solar projects past the environmental reviews and actually built. Over Christmas, it got its first 21MW Blythe pilot project solar thin film project up and running in California and this month it will break ground on another 30MW plant courtesy of Hollywood Liberal environmentalist and wealthy solar-friendly landowner Ted Turner’s new company Southern Turner Renewable Energy.

This week two California utilities; Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison just signed up for the output from a very much larger combined 550 MW solar thin film project to be built by the company.

All three are power purchase agreements, whereby First Solar guarantees output for a period of years, and sells the power itself, not the project.

PG&E is presumably pleased with the first few months of solar electricity production from the 20MW pilot project that it contracted for from First Solar. Once that Blythe project was approved, it took only three months to build, and has been up and running since the end of last year.

The new thin film solar project is to be sited near Desert Center in eastern Riverside County near Los Angeles and use the company’s own thin-film PV modules made from cadmium telluride. PG&E will use the output from 300 megawatts of the new 550MW project, and SCE will buy the power from the remaining 250 megawatts.

Although the two new power purchase agreements with PG&E and SCE are subject to the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission; the project’s permit application has been fast tracked by the Bureau of Land Management, which under the new administration is now attempting to fast-track clean, safe and permanent renewable energy projects on desert land in order to slow climate change.

The alternative for California would be to build more electricity plants powered by natural gas. Natural gas drilling permits were fast tracked over the last ten years with about 900 new wells, which, as population expands, are increasingly sited dangerously close to urban water supplies. California produces about a billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, and uses about six times that much, some of that for electricity production.

But, if all goes well in approval land, First Solar plans to break ground by the end of this year and to be pumping out lots of clean sunshine power for Californians by 2013.

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