First Solar to resume work at California projects

Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:58pm EDT

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(Reuters) - First Solar Inc said it would restart construction at two California solar power projects, after it secured approval from the public works department of Los Angeles, pushing up its shares as much as 13 percent.

Installation of panels at the company's 230-megawatt (MW) Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One project and at the 66-MW Alpine power plant was delayed as the county had sought information regarding electrical certifications, said Alan Bernheimer, public relations director at First Solar.

The company, which had sent 295 workers on temporary unpaid leave while it was in talks with the county, said the employees will now return to work.

The Alpine project, which is expected to be completed in the third quarter, will create an estimated 250 jobs. The plant is being built for power producer NRG Energy Inc.

The plant is expected to contribute as much as ten percent to First Solar's total sales this year, said Avian Securities LLC analyst Mark Bachman, who expects the company to raise its outlook for the year.

First Solar, the world's lowest-cost solar panel maker, forecast 2012 sales of $3.5 billion to $3.8 billion in February.

The utility-scale Antelope Valley project, where construction began in August 2011, had earlier faced uncertainty after the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) held back initial funds under its $646 million loan guarantee program.

The DOE released funds after the company secured a permit required for the construction.

The project is expected to go online in 2013 and will generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes.

Maxim Group analyst Aaron Chew expects the project to contribute 20 to 30 percent of First Solar's 2013 earnings.

First Solar expects to ramp up staffing for the project over the next several weeks. The company has said construction of the plant would create about 400 jobs.

First Solar shares rose to a one-month high of $16.42 on Friday on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Swetha Gopinath in Bangalore; Editing by Viraj Nair)

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