Enbridge buys landmark 50MW project from First Solar

Enbridge, the Canadian energy transportation company that has become a major renewables player, scooped up what will be the first solar project on US federal land to deliver power to the grid.

The company acquired the 50MW Silver State North project developed in Nevada by First Solar for an undisclosed sum. First Solar, the world's largest module manufacturer, says it expects to recognize revenue from the deal in the second quarter.

Enbridge's entry into the US solar market is a momentous one. While hundreds of megawatts of solar are under construction on federal land around the country and thousands more are in permitting, Silver State North is poised to be "the first in the nation on federal land -- solely on federal land -- selling power to the grid from PV", says Gregory Helseth, renewable energy project manager for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in southern Nevada.

Utility NV Energy will purchase the output of the project for 25 years.

First Solar built the project using its thin-film panels under a fixed-price engineering, procurement and construction contract and will provide long-term operations and maintenance services.

Silver State North, on the Nevada-California border about 60km from the 48MW Copper Mountain Solar 1 plant visited earlier this week by President Barack Obama, will surpass it for title of largest in the nation when it begins commercial operations in May.

Enbridge has purchased more than 100MW of First Solar projects in Canada, including the 80MW Sarnia project, the largest in North America -- though not for long. The Canadian company had also been mentioned as a possible purchaser of First Solar's 550MW Topaz project in California.

Don Thompson, Enbridge vice president of green energy, says his company's purchase of Silver State North "demonstrates Enbridge's continuing commitment to growing its green energy business, while delivering attractive returns and stable cash flows.

"The U.S. solar market presents significant growth opportunities given the excellent solar resource, supportive regulatory environment and expanding portfolio of solar energy projects."

First Solar is also seeking a permit to build the 350MW Silver State South project on federal land adjacent to Silver State North.