photo: First Solar
In the second big solar deal of the day, First Solar on Monday announced it was acquiring rival thin-film photovoltaic startup OptiSolar’s solar power plant projects in an all-stock transaction worth $400 million.
The acquisition vaults First Solar into the ranks of big solar power plant developers, giving it control of a 550-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm — the world’s largest — OptiSolar is building for utility PG&E (PCG) as well as 1,300 megawatts’ worth of projects in the pipeline. The deal also includes federal land claims OptiSolar filed on 136,000 acres in the Southwest desert that could support power plants generating 19,000 megawatts of solar electricity.
First Solar CEO Mike Ahearn said 6,500 megawatts of those projects are in the front of the line in the “transmission queue” to connect to the power grid, allowing solar farms to be rapidly deployed over the next couple of years.
“This package in total would be very hard to replicate, if at all,” Ahearn said Monday afternoon during a conference call. “That positions us ideally to be the player in the U.S. utility market.”
OptiSolar spokesman Alan Bernheimer told Green Wombat that OptiSolar will now focus on its solar cell manufacturing operations. “We needed to find a way to realize value for our shareholders,” he said. “This is a wonderful fit. We developed what we think is the largest power plant pipeline while First Solar developed the lowest cost thin-film technology.”
Silicon Valley-based OptiSolar quickly became a leader in the nascent solar power plant market but stalled as the financial crisis hit, forcing the company to halt work on a solar cell factory and lay off half its workers last November. Bernheimer said OptiSolar has applied for a $300 million federal loan guarantee to restart and expand its manufacturing operations.
He said OptiSolar CEO Randy Goldstein will join First Solar, along with about 30 other employees, when the deal closes.
First Solar (FSLR), backed by Wal-Mart’s (WMT) Walton family, has become become known as the Google (GOOG) of solar for its stratospheric stock price. The Tempe, Ariz.-based company jumped into the solar power plant market last year with deals to build small-scale solar power plants for Sempre Energy (SRE) and Southern California Edison (EIX).
The OptiSolar deal follows by hours the sale of solar financier MMA Renewable Ventures’ solar portfolio to Spanish solar developer Fotowatio. “There’s a shakeout in the marketplace and there’s opportunities for consolidation,” MMA Renewable Ventures CEO Matt Cheney presciently told Green Wombat Monday morning