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UPDATE 1-First Solar, Sempra in new solar plant deal
*First Solar to build 48 MW plant for Sempra in Nevada
*Deal expands existing 10 MW plant in same location
LOS ANGELES, April 15 (Reuters) - First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) said on Wednesday it would build a solar power plant for Sempra Energy (SRE.N) in Nevada that, when completed, will be the largest photovoltaic power plant in North America.
The 48-megawatt plant near Boulder City, Nevada, expands a 10 MW plant First Solar built for Sempra's generation unit last year. It is expected to be completed in 2010.
California utilities have been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy solar market because they must comply with a state mandate to produce 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and then 33 percent by 2020.
First Solar, whose cadmium telluride solar panels cost less than traditional polysilicon-based panels, has benefited from cost-conscious utilities' efforts to buy more clean, renewable power through deals with Sempra and Edison International's (EIX.N) Southern California Edison.
The company also expanded its presence in the U.S. utility market this month with the acquisition of rival OptiSolar's project pipeline.
"Utilities offer the most durable source of solar demand in a weak economy, because many are under mandate to invest in new renewable generation; and they have some of the best access to financing even in otherwise frozen capital markets," Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov said in a client note.
The latest deal is subject to Sempra executing a power purchase agreement with a utility customer for the electricity the plant will generate.
The existing 10-MW plant supplies power to California utility PG&E (PCG.N)
Larger solar power plants are in the works in North America, but will be completed after the latest First Solar and Sempra project.
First Solar shares were down 50 cents, or 0.3 percent, at $147.60 in afternoon trade on the Nasdaq. Sempra shares were up 44 cents, or 1 percent, at $45.35 on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Nichola Groom)
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