First Solar Building West Texas Project Without Customer

First Solar Inc., the largest U.S. solar-panel manufacturer, began building a 22-megawatt power plant in West Texas before lining up a buyer for the electricity.

The Barilla Solar Project in Pecos County will begin producing power by mid-year and First Solar plans to sell the output to local utilities, cooperatives and industrial customers through the state’s deregulated market, the Tempe, Arizona-based company said today in a statement.

First Solar typically builds other solar projects with its thin-film panels after winning long-term contracts to sell the electricity to utilities, said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates in Houston.

“It is unusual for a project like this to be built purely on spec, without a buyer identified,” Molchanov said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The company will own and operate the plant, and will eventually consider selling it, according to Tim Rebhorn, senior vice president of business development.

Selling electricity from the project isn’t typically part of First Solar’s business model, Molchanov said.

“I don’t think First Solar aims to become a power generator in any substantive sense.”

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