World's biggest solar farm planned in California

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A San Francisco company said Friday it plans to build the world’s largest solar power farm near Fresno, California.

The 80-megawatt farm is to occupy as much as 640 acres (260 hectares) and upon completion in 2011 will be 17 times the size of the largest U.S. solar farm, said Cleantech America LLC, a privately held 2-year-old company.

The farm will also be about seven times the size of the world’s biggest plant and double the largest planned farm, both in Germany.

Bill Barnes, CEO of Cleantech, said the scale of the Kings River Conservation District Community Choice Solar Farm will change renewable energy and make California the global leader for huge solar projects and replace Germany as the solar energy hub of the world.

“We’re pretty confident that solar farms on this scale are going to have an industry-changing impact,” Barnes said by telephone on Friday. “We think it’s the wave of the future. This scale of project, I think, creates a tipping point for renewable energy.”

Barnes declined to give the estimated construction cost of the Community Choice farm.

“We think the impact for it will be similar to the impact of the computer chip,” which gained computing power once made on a large scale, Barnes said.

“So too will economies of scale like the Community Choice farm drive down the cost of solar,” Barnes said.

Cleantech has announced two solar farms so far and the future projects it will announce are, as of now, to be in California and also in the range of the 80-megawatt farm near Fresno, Barnes said.

Cleantech will partner with public agency California Construction Authority in building its projects.

Among the hurdles to be crossed before the new farm can be built, said Barnes, is buying the acreage somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley, hooking the farm to transmission lines, and contracting with a manufacturer of photovoltaic solar panels.

Cleantech plans to sell the solar-generated power -- enough for almost 21,000 homes -- to the Kings River Conservation District, which is a public agency that seeks to supply power generation for 12 cities and two counties in California’s Central Valley.

Kings River is the water management arm of the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority, which was formed in November in order to purchase and generate enough power for the 12 cities and two counties to replace power now bought from investor-owned utilities Pacific Gas and Electric Co. a unit of PG&E Corp. and Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International.

Last week, Cleantech announced plans to build a five-megawatt solar farm on 40 acres near Mendota, California, also in the Central Valley. Power will be delivered to PG&E.

The biggest solar farm now in operation is the 4.6-megawatt Springerville Generating Station near Tucson, Arizona which delivers power to Tucson Electric Power, a subsidiary of UniSource Energy Corp..

The Community Choice farm will not need state approval because Kings River is a self-generator and the farm is a renewable resource and does not emit pollution, Barnes said. But that designation must be approved by the California Energy Commission. Local permits must be given, he added.