First Solar completes 280MW solar project co-located with a cattle ranch in California

US-based solar module manufacturer and EPC company First Solar Inc. announced the completion and commercial operation of the 280-megawatt (MW)AC California Flats Solar Project. The project is located on approximately 2,900 acres of ranch land within the Jack Ranch owned by Hearst, near the borders of San Luis Obispo and Monterey County in California.

The project, which covers approximately three percent of the area of the ranch, was built in two phases and is fully contracted under two long-term PPAs serving both utility and corporate renewable customers. First Solar completed development and constructed the facility after acquiring the project in 2015.

Capital Dynamics, an independent global private asset management firm,  acquired the project from First Solar in August 2017.

The project partners placed significant emphasis on successfully co-locating the project with one of the largest working cattle ranches in the United States while minimizing and mitigating the environmental impact of constructing the solar plant.

Ranch employees worked in tandem with the construction and operation teams, with input from stakeholders, to assess and plan the development; as a result, the facility has a very low visual impact and cannot be seen from any public roads.

The project supports and complements the sustainable cattle operation of the ranch, which provides grass-fed beef to Whole Foods Market’s Southern Pacific region, reducing pressure to use the ranch land for other commercial purposes.

The facility covers an area equivalent to the square footage of 449 football fields. The California Flats Solar Project will generate clean solar energy equivalent to the needs of about 116,000 average California households per year, displacing more than 109,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually based on the PG&E grid – the equivalent of taking about 22,000 cars off the road.

Steve Hearst, Vice President and General Manager of Hearst Western Properties said:

“The California Flats Solar Project helped us meet our goal of finding a sustainable solution to keep the 73,000-acre Jack Ranch intact as a historic working cattle ranch using traditional and time-proven ranching methods for our grass-fed Hearst Ranch Beef program. Countless hours have been invested by Hearst and our partners in bringing this sizable, complex project to fruition and ensuring it operates seamlessly with our cattle operation and ranch environment.”

The project is powered by First Solar’s high-performance thin film technology, including Series 6 modules, which deliver a combination of performance, reliability, and eco-efficiency. The Series 6 modules, manufactured by First Solar in the United States, have approximately half the carbon footprint of conventional crystalline silicon PV panels, delivering the smallest environmental footprint and the fastest energy payback time of any PV technology.

Benoit Allehaut, Managing Director on Capital Dynamics’ Clean Energy Infrastructure team said:

“We are pleased to officially open the California Flats Solar Project, one of the largest solar projects in the United States. First Solar and Hearst have been great partners, and we are proud to be the first to use the First Solar Series 6 solar panels. This project will play an important part in helping California meet its renewable energy goals while creating jobs and substantial economic benefits throughout the state.”

Troy Lauterbach, Senior Vice President of EPC and Energy Services for First Solar said:

“This project confirms that solar energy can successfully co-exist with the natural environment and an active agricultural operation while generating clean, renewable energy and local economic benefits. The California Flats Solar Project is also the first to feature our innovative Series 6 PV module technology, which is setting the standard for affordable and cleaner renewable energy. We are thrilled to partner with Capital Dynamics and Hearst to deliver on a shared commitment to building a sustainable energy future.”

The California Flats project created significant jobs and economic benefits for Monterey County. Construction of the project took approximately three years, creating about 2.1 million work hours, and had a peak construction workforce of over 1,100 people.

Chris Lopez, Vice Chair of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors said:

“Monterey County is proud to be a part of California’s green energy solution. The California Flats Solar Project exemplifies our commitment to an energy independent California. While this project is located in Monterey County, its impacts on job creation and the economy will be felt throughout the state.”


Source: Press Release by First Solar. Photo credit: Hearst.