Warren Buffett continues his solar project buying spree

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Earlier this month, the electric utility MidAmerican Energy Holdings, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathway group, acquired two co-located Southern California solar power projects — the largest solar power project in the world.

The 579-megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Projects represent the most recent addition to Buffett’s ever growing renewable energy portfolio.

“MidAmerican Renewables, a subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, has a total portfolio of more than 1,830 megawatts of owned assets, including wind, geothermal, solar and hydro assets,” said Bill Fehrman, president of MidAmerican Renewables, in a statement.

OilPrice.com reports that in late 2011 the company a 49 percent of the 290 megawatt Agua Caliente solar project in Yuma, Ariz., from NRG Energy Inc, and the 550 megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., from First Solar.

NRG Energy Inc received a $967 million dollar loan guarantee from the Energy Department in 2011 for the Agua Caliente project — substantially more than the $535 million loan guarantee given to Solyndra.

First Solar was offered a $1.5 billion conditional loan guarantee by the Energy Department for the Topaz Solar Farm project, but the company was unable to meet the loan requirements by the established deadline and the loan was never closed. However, the project went forward without the loan guarantee.

SunPower owns more than 1,000 megawatts of solar power plants around the world. This includes the first 130 megawatts of the 250-megawatt of the now under construction California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.

Sustainable Business reports that SunPower was offered a conditional $1.2 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department in 2011. The loan was closed in September 2011, with the company NRG Solar assuming all ownership and the project’s financing responsibilities and SunPower designing, building, and initially operating and maintaining the solar plant.

MidAmerican acquired the two solar projects located in Kern and Los Angeles Counties from SunPower Corp. for between $2 billion and $2.5 billion. The two projects together make up the largest solar power development in the world and is estimated to create 650 construction jobs.

According to MidAmerican, the solar projects “will provide renewable energy to Southern California Edison (SCE) under two long-term power purchase contracts approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.”

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the projects will offset more than 775,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, — equivalent to taking nearly three million cars off California’s highways over 20 years of the development’s operation.

Construction work on the projects is scheduled to start early in 2013, and it is expected to completed near the end of 2015.

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