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Sempra Buying Suntech Panels for 150-Megawatt Solar Project

Sempra Generation, the project development unit of Sempra Energy, will use solar panels from Suntech Power Holdings Co. for a 150-megawatt plant in Arizona.

Suntech will supply 800,000 multicrystalline silicon panels for the Mesquite Solar 1 project, the Wuxi, China-based company said in a statement today.

Sempra has used thin-film panels from First Solar Inc. for two large-scale projects in Nevada. Thin-film products generally cost less and are less efficient than photovoltaic.

Mesquite is “a big project for Sempra to try with a new technology provider,” Andrew Beebe, Suntech’s chief commercial officer, said in an interview today. “This shows that crystalline photovoltaics will be an extremely competitive option for large-scale solar.”

Suntech will supply “an important amount of panels” from its manufacturing plant in Goodyear, Arizona, Beebe said, “but not a majority.”

Beebe said the panels produced at the Goodyear factory have “a slightly higher cost” than the ones it makes in China, and that Suntech passes this cost on to customers.

He said Suntech expects to sell this year 500 megawatts of panels for projects in the U.S. and Canada.

The company said Jan. 31 it is increasing production at the facility by adding a second shift, and it expects to reach by midyear full annual production capacity of 50 megawatts.

The Mesquite project is about 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) west of Suntech’s Goodyear factory. Zachry Holdings Inc., a San Antonio-based engineering, procurement and construction provider, will build it. Construction is set to start by mid-2011 and is expected to be complete in 2013, according to the statement.

First Solar

Alan Bernheimer, a spokesman for Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar, would not say whether his company had bid on the Mesquite project. “We have the biggest development pipeline of utility-scale photovoltaic projects in the U.S.,” Bernheimer said in an e-mail today.

Sempra used First Solar panels for two plants in Nevada, the 10-megawatt El Dorado project in Boulder City, which was completed in December 2008, and the adjacent adjacent Copper Mountain Solar, which has capacity of 48 megawatts and was finished in December.

First Solar is the world’s largest supplier of thin-film products and Suntech is the biggest photovoltaic panel maker.

San Francisco-based utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will buy electricity from the Mesquite project under a purchase agreement signed in October.

Scott Crider, a Sempra Generation spokesman, would not give a price for the Mesquite project. Photovoltaic “projects can range from $3.5 to $5.5 million per megawatt, that’s the general industry standard,” he said in an interview.

First Solar fell $2.51, or 1.5 percent, to $161.89 at 1:01 p.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. Suntech fell 4 cents to $9.09.

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