Topaz Solar Farm
The Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 megawatt solar photovoltaic project; which is enough to power 160,000 California homes. It is located on the northwestern portion of the Carrizo Plain, San Luis Obispo County, California. Topaz has 9 million solar panels on 9.5 square miles.The location was chosen after a thorough review of the environmental impact of Topaz, potential sites in California for the solar farm, available solar resources in the area, and proximity to existing electrical transmission lines.
Topaz Solar Farm is situated on land that is non-prime for agriculture. It is previously tilled agricultural land that had limited productivity and was made less productive after a process of desertification. The Topaz renewable energy complex is found about six miles from the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Topaz has been designed with the land it’s on to be maintained as grassland habitat for native animals and plants. The planning for Topaz began in early 2011, and the last phase of construction was completed in November 2014.
In June of 2011, First Solar (the company that ended up developing Topaz) was initially offered a loan worth $1.9 billion from the US Department of Energy to build the Topaz 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 Berkshire Hathaway, which also owns utilities in several states. First Solar has been listed as the developer for the solar farm. Topaz ended up with a final total cost of over $2 billion.
The Topaz Solar Farm has been great for the local economy. Topaz provided around 400 construction jobs for the over three years that it was in development, which, combined, were worth more than $190 million to the local economy. Local suppliers earned around $50 million from the project. Around $15 million in sales taxes were generated during the construction, and up to $400,000 a year in new property tax revenues are collected annually from the renewable energy project. The Topaz Solar Farm is now responsible for hundreds of jobs, both directly, with permanent jobs on the solar farm, and indirectly, with contractors to the solar farm.
Topaz now has more than nine million photovoltaic panels; using 2nd generation, thin film solar cells (advanced thin-film cadmium telluride) PV modules. When operated at maximum capacity for energy production, the Topaz Solar Farm displaces more than 350,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. The amount is equal to removing over 70,000 cars off the road. Pacific Gas and Electric buys the electricity from the solar farm under a power purchase agreement. The agreement is set to last for 25 years. Utilities in California have been mandated by law to use only zero-emission energy sources (energy sources in California will be a majority renewable energy sources like solar PV farms) for the state’s electricity by the year 2045.
Topaz Solar Farm was one of the largest solar PV farms in the entire world when it was built; and is still one of the largest solar PV farms in the Western Hemisphere. Slightly larger solar PV farms that knocked Topaz a place or two down the list of “largest PV farms in the world” include the 648MW Kamuthi Solar Power Project in India; as well as few, much larger, solar PV parks in China and India.
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