First Solar reveals Chile loans

First Solar says it is closing in on a package of loans that would let it proceed with a 141MW(ac) PV project in Chile, in what would be its first project in the country – and the largest solar plant in Latin America.

The boards of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the IFC have approved loans of $230m and $60m, respectively, for the Luz del Norte project in Chile’s Atacama Desert, First Solar says.

Although the loans are not expected to close until later this summer, the approvals clear the way for First Solar to proceed with on-site construction planning. The money will support construction.

Luz del Norte is the first project unveiled by First Solar in Chile since acquiring the Santiago-based developer Solar Chile at the beginning of last year. At that time, First Solar revealed that Solar Chile had a portfolio of “early- to mid-stage” projects in northern Chile.

Chile has become a key emerging market for a number of major solar and wind developers.

In Chile, SunEdison recently completed a 100MW PV plant; Enel Green Power is building several utility-scale PV plants; and Abengoa is working on a large CSP plant.

Earlier today, Pattern Energy announced it has boosted its stake in Chile’s largest wind farm, El Arraya.

Tim Rebhorn, First Solar's senior vice president for the Americas, says the company has been working closely with the Chilean national government, industry, regional authorities and the local community, to ge Luz del Norte moving.

Key issues addressed have been understanding community concerns about the project's environmental impact, and the country's interest in the technology related to connecting the project to the grid.

"Forming strong, mutually beneficial partnerships with invested constituents is the only way to build a solid foundation for long-term success in this region," says Rebhorn. "That's what we are working toward."