US-Backed Agua Caliente Solar Surges To 200 MW

Developers of the Agua Caliente Solar Project in Arizona, which is backed by a $976 million loan guarantee, say the plant is now generating 200 MW of power.

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More Wind Power And More Work For Iowa

As we noted just a month or so ago, MidAmerican Energy hearts Iowa’s wind power. Not only did the subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings bring 593.4 megawatts (MW) of wind generation online in the state last year, including three wind farm expansion projects, it’s pushing ahead with another 407.1 MW of wind power for 2012.

That means another 176 utility-scale wind turbines will be going up in across three sites in Iowa this year, opening up opportunities for both turbine manufacturing and homegrown heartland jobs.

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President Obama visits the Siemens turbine plant in Fort Madison, Iowa, in 2010. (image via Siemens)

Now MidAmerican Energy, headquartered in Des Moines, has announced that it has selected Siemens Energy to supply all of the turbines it will be installing this year. This comes as no great shock, as MidAmerican partnered with Siemens on its entire wind power rollout last year (at the time, Siemens’ largest ever deal for land-based turbines) and has a relationship that dates back to 2008. But neither was it a done deal, as it was only at the conclusion of “a competitive tender process” toward the end of last year that the decision was made.

A factor, no doubt, was the manufacturing investment that Siemens has made in Iowa, in part because of its relationship with MidAmerican. Currently, Siemens Energy (a German company) owns manufacturing facilities in Fort Madison, Iowa, and Hutchinson, Kansas. The first factory was strategically selected as a central location for shipping turbine parts to wind power projects all over the country, back in 2007; the latter went up just last year, in part to help service MidAmerican’s mega-projects.

The two manufacturing facilities will be producing the nacelles—essentially what house the parts of the turbine that produce electricity—as well as the blades for the three projects. Each of the SWT-2.3-108 wind turbines slated for installation is capable of generating 2.3 MW of electricity.

The three projects Siemens will be partnering with MidAmerican on in Iowa this year are the recently announced 103.5-MW Vienna wind project, set for Marshall and Tama counties; the 200.1-MW Eclipse wind project, in Guthrie and Audubon counties; and the 101.2-MW Morning Light wind project, in Adair County. (Siemens also will provide one additional 2.3-megawatt wind turbine, which will be installed at MidAmerican Energy’s Rolling Hills wind project.) The contract for the whole shebang includes a five-year service, maintenance and warranty agreement.

The relationship between the two companies goes back to 2008, when Siemens was awarded the contract to supply 76 of its 2.3-MW wind turbines for MidAmerican’s 174.8-MW Adair wind project in Iowa. Add to that the 258 wind turbines it provided for MidAmerican’s 593.4-MW Iowa wind expansion projects in Adams, Adair, Calhoun, Cass, Marshall and Pocahontas counties last year—plus the projects planned to come online in 2012—and the two companies will have installed a total of nearly 1.2 gigawatts of wind powered energy in Iowa.


Buffet Bets Big On Big Solar

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Last June, First Solar was riding high on the wave of three conditionally approved loan guarantees under the Department of Energy’s Section 1705 program. But things went downhill fast after that. While First Solar has so far avoided the fate of clean energy loan-guarantee 1705 poster child Solyndra, there’s no denying that 2011 turned out to be a rough year for one of the country’s largest solar manufacturers.

First, the company lost a conditionally approved federal loan guarantee for its Topaz Solar Farm project in San Luis Obispo County, California. Next, it was forced to sell two projects for which it had secured loan guarantees: Solar Ranch One and Desert Sunlight. Then, in October, with its stock shares at a four-year low, the company surprised everyone by firing CEO Rob Gillette.

2011 cleantech venture capital

image via First Solar

But 2012 is looking a little bit sunnier. First Solar is starting off the year with a new efficiency record and a new friend: Warren Buffett. Des Moines, Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, a subsidiary of Buffett-controlled Berkshire Hathaway, has completed its acquisition of the 550-megawatt (MW) Topaz Solar Farm. The project is currently under construction, and is expected to be completed by early 2015.

Under the new arrangement with MidAmerican, First Solar will continue to build, maintain and operate the facility. Once completed, the Topaz project will be one of the world’s largest solar farms, and will generate enough electricity to power approximately 160,000 California homes. MidAmerican says that the project will create approximately 400 construction jobs and 15 ongoing operations and maintenance jobs.