IW 50 Best: First Solar Plans for Bright Future

Alternative-energy demand fuels growth for expanding solar-development firm.

Tempe, Arizona-based manufacturer of solar thin-film modules First Solar Inc. keeps growing. The 10th-ranked IW 50 Best Manufacturer said July 12 it has completed its acquisition of solar development firm NextLight Renewable Power LLC for $297 million.

With the acquisition, First Solar now has power purchase agreements for 2.2 gigawatts of utility-scale solar projects in North America.

The transaction is part of First Solar's expansion efforts in the U.S. utility-scale power market, which began in 2007 with the purchase of Turner Renewable Energy and solar project pipelines from Edison Mission Group in January and OptiSolar in 2009.

First Solar will take over construction of the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente Solar Project in Yuma County, Arizona, developed by NextLight. The California Public Utilities Commission on June 3 approved the project's power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the appeal period expired without challenge on July 7.

Construction is expected to start this year.

The company continues to grow as the demand for alternative-energy solutions increases. The company fared well in several IW 50 categories in 2009, including 66% revenue growth, a 31% profit margin, a 30% return on assets and a 42%return on equity.

Net income for 2009 was $640.1 million, or $7.53 per share, compared with net income of $348.3 million for 2008, or $4.24 per share, in the year-earlier period. Revenues increased to $2.1 billion.

The company produced more than 1.1 gigawatts -- double its 2008 total -- and its module cost per watt decreased by 19% to 84 cents in the fourth quarter, the company said in its annual report. First-quarter 2010 net income was $172.3 million, or $2 per share, up from the prior year of $164.6 million, or $1.99 per share.

Earlier in the month, the company said it had begun operating a 1.3 megawatt solar-power plant at its Frankfurt, Germany, facility to supply power for the site where the company produces solar modules. The solar plant is located on the facility's roof. The company characterizes the move as its completion of the entire solar value chain from manufacturing of solar modules and power generation to recycling.

The new solar power plant has a capacity of 1.3 megawatts and will generate more than 1,000 megawatt hours of clean energy every year. Mathematically, this corresponds to the needs of 366 three-person households and an annual CO2 savings of around 875 tons, the company said.


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