World's biggest solar project powers up in Canada

VANCOUVER, British Columbia Mon Oct 4, 2010 2:35pm EDT

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The world's largest solar energy facility, the 80-megawatt Sarnia photovoltaic project in Ontario, is now fully operational and is supplying energy to the Canadian province's power grid, its owner and operator said on Monday.

The project, located in southern Ontario, is expected to make enough energy from sunlight to power 12,800 homes, its owner Enbridge Inc said in a statement.

"Completing the world's largest PV (photovoltaic) power plant demonstrates the migration of solar PV toward utility scale," said Frank De Rosa, senior vice-president of North American project development at First Solar, the world's biggest solar company by market value.

Enbridge, Canada's biggest oil pipeline operator, will sell the power from the Sarnia facility to the Ontario Power Authority under a 20-year power purchase agreement. The agreement was awarded under the provincial government's Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program.

In addition to its standard offer program, Ontario last year unveiled a green energy feed-in tariff (FIT), which offers rich incentives to renewable energy developers to set up shop in the province. The FIT program has lured a number of big-name companies including South Korea's Samsung C&T and Germany's Siemens AG.

Enbridge, which has been much in the news recently because of pipeline leaks in the United States, has invested C$2 billion ($1.96 billion) in green energy assets in recent years and now also has interests in seven wind farms and a geothermal project, among others.

It bought the 20 MW Sarnia project from First Solar last year in an agreement in which First Solar remained as the project's operator. The two companies then expanded the project's capacity by 60 MW.

First Solar's de Rosa said U.S.-based company expects to install 145 MW of solar power in North America this year, including this project. The Sarnia facility was built using First Solar's thin film solar panels.

($1=$1.02 Canadian)

(Reporting by Nicole Mordant; editing by Peter Galloway)

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