The Topaz Solar Farm is one of the top 5 largest solar farms in the world. The project size is 550 megawatts, which is enough to power over 160,000 California homes. It is located on the northwestern portion of the Carrisa Plains, San Luis Obispo County, California. The location was chosen after a thorough review of potential sites in the state. Some of the factors that were considered include current land use, environmental concerns, available solar resources, and proximity to existing electrical transmission lines.
The solar farm has more than nine million photovoltaic panels mounted across 9.6 square miles of land. When fully functional, the Topaz Solar Farm displaces more than 350,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. The amount is equal to removing almost 100,000 cars off the road.
In June of 2011, First Solar was initially offered a loan worth $1.9 billion from the US Department of Energy for the Topaz Solar Farm. The amount would cover a portion of the financing for the solar farm. The company was not able to meet the DOE’s conditional loan guarantee requirements, but it got its funding when MidAmerican Renewables purchased the project from First Solar. MidAmerican is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings. Terms of the deal were not disclosed to the public.
First Solar has been listed as the developer for the solar farm, which is owned by MidAmerican Renewables. Topaz is situated on land that has been described as non-prime. It is tilled agricultural land that has limited productivity. The renewable energy complex is found more than six miles from the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The solar farm has been designed with the land it's on to be maintained as grassland habitat for native animals and plants. Most of the water used during the construction was just mainly to control dust, thus adding to the conservationist aspect of the project. The last phase of construction was completed in November of 2014.
The Topaz Solar Farm has provided around 400 construction jobs for over three years, which, combined, are worth more than $190 million. Local suppliers have earned around $50 million from the project. Around $14 million in sales taxes were generated during the construction, and up to $400,000 a year in new property tax revenues will be collected from the renewable energy project.
Pacific Gas and Electric will buy the electricity from the solar farm under a power purchase agreement. The agreement is said to last for 25 years. Utilities in California have been mandated by law to get a third of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.
For a list of the top 10 biggest solar farms in the world, please see: top-10-solar-photovoltaic-plants-in-the-world