NEW YORK First Solar Inc and utility Southern California Edison said on Tuesday that they would build two photovoltaic solar power projects with a capacity of 550 megawatts.
The projects in the California counties of Riverside and San Bernardino would provide enough power to supply 170,000 homes when completed in 2015, the companies said.
The announcement is the latest move by U.S. utilities to increase their production of electricity from renewable energy sources to meet stricter state environmental rules and as the United States moves closer to regulating greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.
The projects are also a sign that financing for new solar installations might be starting to recover after a year when many major banks abandoned the industry because of the meltdown in the credit markets.
First Solar is the one of the world's largest producers of photovoltaic cells, which turn sunlight into electricity. Its production costs are the lowest in the industry, although its thin-film cadmium telluride cells are not as efficient in capturing the sun's rays as the more traditional silicon-based cells.
First Solar will engineer, procure and construct the projects -- a 250-megawatt installation to be called Desert Sunlight near Desert Center, California, and a 300-megawatt project to be called Stateline in northeastern San Bernardino County.
Southern California Edison, owned by Edison International, delivered about 65 percent of solar energy produced in the United States last year.
Pending approval by state regulators, construction will begin on Desert Sunlight in 2012 and on Stateline in 2013.
First Solar shares climbed 1.2 percent to $136.07 on Nasdaq, while Edison International shares slipped 0.3 percent to 31.61 on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Matt Daily; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)