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Building on Buffet’s $2B Topaz Solar Farm heats up

By   /   Friday, May 18th, 2012  /   Comments Off on Building on Buffet’s $2B Topaz Solar Farm heats up

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First Solar and Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Solar have started major construction on a 550-megawatt photovoltaic solar project on northern San Luis Obispo County’s Carrizo Plain. The $2 billion Topaz Solar Farms hopes to be the largest solar-electric plant in the world.

The developers said the project will create about 400 construction jobs over the next three years and generate about $417  million in local economic impact, most of it as the solar plant is being built.
First Solar and MidAmerican Solar, a unit of the energy arm of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, held a groundbreaking at the site May 3. According to the developers, Topaz will provide enough energy to power approximately 160,000 average California homes.

MidAmerican purchased the project from Arizona-based First Solar in December for an undisclosed amount after the $2 billion project hit several financing hurdles, including the loss of a $1.9 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Topaz will be built, operated and maintained by First Solar. Construction kicked off in November and the project is slated for early 2015 completion.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which also operates the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo County, will purchase the electricity under a 25-year power purchase agreement, a move designed to help it meet the state-mandated minimums for renewable energy generation. Topaz alone is expected to be able to supply a substantial portion of PG&E’s requirement to be one-third renewable by 2020.

Jim Lamon, First Solar senior vice president of engineering, procurement and construction, said in a news release that “utility-scale PV projects like Topaz are the quickest and most cost-effective way to bring significant solar power to the grid.”

San Jose-based SunPower Corp. is building the nearby California Valley Solar ranch. That project is backed by a $1.2 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department, and construction started in September.
Chris Thornberg of Los Angeles-based forecasting firm Beacon Economics told the Business Times last year that most of the economic impact from the two solar projects will be felt during the construction phase. The permanent work force at both operations is expected to number in the dozens, rather than the hundreds.

“You’ve got to remember a lot of people hired are more high-tech workers and  engineers,” Thornberg said then. “Once the place is built, employment will be very low.”

DEAL OF THE WEEK

Ergomotion, a company that makes adjustable bed bases, has signed the largest commercial lease in Santa Barbara so far this year.

Year-to-date, the 9,656-square-foot lease at 203 Chapala St. is the largest in Santa Barbara in terms of square footage, according to Hayes Commercial Group.

The commercial real estate firm handled both sides of the deal and said Ergomotion’s decision to stay in Santa Barbara is part of a growing trend of businesses choosing to locate around the downtown corridor rather than move to less pricey spaces in Goleta or Carpinteria.

Ergomotion was founded by Alain Clenet and his son Kelly Clenet. Bolstered by partnerships with large mattress manufacturers such as Serta, the company reported a year-over-year sales increase of 400 percent last year, according to Hayes.

Ergomotion was previously located at 19 E. Ortega St. and 118 E. Ortega St. It subleases its new location from Kaseya Development.

Hayes Commercial noted that Ergomotion is one of several companies that have partnered with it to “find ways to remain in downtown Santa Barbara through periods of expansion.” Sonos, Rightscale, Tempest Telecom, Control Point and ValueClick are other examples.

Christos Celmayster of Hayes Commercial represented Ergomotion in the sublease, while Kristopher Roth and Liam Murphy, also of Hayes Commercial, represented sublessor. In terms of building square footage it’s the largest commercial lease in Santa Barbara so far in 2012, Hayes said.

• Contact Marlize van Romburgh at [email protected]

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About the author

Managing Editor

Marlize van Romburgh covers banking, finance, agricultural and viticulture. She writes a weekly column on commercial real estate and a monthly column on the restaurant industry. Follow her at @marlizevr

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