Topaz Solar Farm Shines as One of World’s Largest

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Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, California, is now one of the largest photovoltaic solar farms in the world.

The plant went substantially on line in 2014, providing power to Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s customers in California under a long term power purchase agreement.

The 550 megawatt solar plant was built by First Solar for Berkshire subsidiary BHE Renewables, and produces enough power to supply the needs of 181,000 average-sized California homes. BHE Renewables completed the acquisition of Topaz Solar Farms from First Solar in January 2012.

Worldwide, First Solar has built over 10 gigawatts of installed solar power to date.

Topaz Solar Farm uses 8.4 million First Solar advanced thin-film photovoltaic modules that generate electricity without emissions, waste or water use. First Solar claims the technology has the smallest carbon footprint of any photovoltaic technology.

A host of Environmental Benefits

The solar plant was built on previously disturbed agricultural land, and provides additional environmental benefits as well as clean power.

“Topaz functions as a productive grassland habitat for native plants and animals — some of which are endangered and protected — while being used for passive farming of the sun’s energy,” said Bill Fehrman, president of BHE Renewables.

According to the company, “BHE Renewables provided wildlife mitigation corridors throughout the project and protected more than 17,000 acres of surrounding land as native species habitat.”

California, Land of Renewable Energy

Solar power is playing a big part in California’s ambitious renewable energy plans.

On November 17, 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-14-08 requiring that “retail sellers of electricity shall serve 33 percent of their load with renewable energy by 2020.”

Decreasing Cost of Construction

The cost of producing solar power is declining rapidly. According to PV Magazine, the cost of producing solar power fell 60% in just an 18 month period, and the overall cost of producing solar power in 2013 was 60% cheaper than in 2011.

Low Cost of Operation

According to First Solar, its Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) thin film technology has the lowest energy pricing on a total cost basis.

“Total cost of electricity pricing includes the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) and economic externalities such as environmental impacts. With the smallest carbon footprint, fastest energy payback time, and lowest life cycle water use, CdTe PV has the lowest externalities of all solar and conventional energy technologies, resulting in the lowest energy price on a total cost basis.”

Another of the advantages of photovoltaic power production is its low cost of ongoing operation. BHE Renewables’s comparably sized Solar Star I and 2 projects, in Rosamond, California, only have 15 full-time site positions to run the entire facility.

About BHE Renewables

A subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, BHE Renewables has 3,470 megawatts of renewable energy owned or under construction in 6 states, and runs BHE Solar, BHE Wind, BHE Geothermal, and BHE Hydro. The company also operates and maintains a power plant on the Philippine island of Luzon.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.