SunEdison, Cap Plan 100-Megawatt Solar Plant in Chile Desert

MEMC Electronic Materials Inc.’s SunEdison solar-development unit agreed with Chile’s largest iron-ore miner Cap SA to build a 100-megawatt photovoltaic plant in the Atacama desert.

The first phase of the project is expected to start producing power late this year and once fully operational it will supply 15 percent of Cap’s energy needs, the companies said today in a statement. SunEdison is based in Belmont, California.

Solar developers are seeking to convince mines in the sunny northern region that their technology is cheaper than burning fossil fuels, Jenny Chase, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Zurich office, said today in a telephone interview. A leveling out in the price of solar panels after a sharp 5-year decline may be prompting some businesses to invest now.

“There was lots of interest but not many deals happening,” Chase said. “Chile companies were naturally suspicious. That’s changing now. This first big project may start off a flood of new deals.”

Mining companies may have been holding off on signing contracts as a supply glut drove prices of solar systems down, Chase said. Prices have more than halved to $1.55 a watt this year from 2010, and look to remain around that level.

The plant will include equipment provided by SunEdison that allows the panels to track the sun’s movement, according to the statement.

Other mines in Chile developing or generating solar power include Antofagasta Plc, Cia. Minera Dona Ines de Collahuasi and Corp. Nacional del Cobre de Chile. None of the projects are bigger than 35 megawatts.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.