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Biggest Solar Farm Switching to Panels Only Before Purchase

Solar Trust of America LLC asked regulators for permission to follow through on previously announced plans to use photovoltaic panels at its 1,000-megawatt Blythe solar farm, not the originally planned solar-thermal system, before the California project is sold to NextEra Energy Inc.

The switch is described in a petition filed by Solar Trust’s Palo Verde Solar I unit and posted today on the California Energy Commission’s website. If approved, construction may begin as soon as April on what would be the world’s largest solar farm.

Prices for photovoltaic panels fell by half last year, making them more economical than solar-thermal systems. Solar Trust first announced plans to switch half the Blythe project to panels in August, driving down the market value of its co-owner, the German solar-thermal developer Solar Millennium AG, which filed for insolvency in December.

“We would expect that moving forward this will be a PV project,” Steven Stengel, a NextEra spokesman, said today by e-mail.

NextEra received approval from a bankruptcy court to purchase Blythe June 27. The price may be as much as $50 million if all contingency payments are made. The sale hasn’t closed yet.

Ownership Change

Palo Verde filed a petition with the state energy commission June 25 to transfer ownership of Blythe to NextEra.

Edison International’s Southern California Edison had agreed to purchase Blythe’s electricity, and switching to photovoltaic panels would require the contract to be renegotiated, Marc Ulrich, the utility’s vice president of alternative and renewable power, said in April. That hasn’t happened and the utility said yesterday it no longer has a power-purchase agreement for the project.

Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into electricity. Solar-thermal systems focus sunlight to heat liquids and produce steam that drives a turbine to generate power.

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