FSLR Sells 3 Utility-Scale Projects

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First Solar, Inc. (FSLR) has completed the sale of three solar projects with a total electric generation capacity of 50 megawatt (MW) to ABW Partnership. ABW Partnership is an alliance between General Electric’s (GE) subsidiary GE Energy Financial Services and Canada's Alterra Power. GE owns the majority stake in the partnership while Alterra Power has an equity stake and serves as a managing partner.

The three plants, namely, Amherstburg with an electric generation capacity of 10MWAC, and Belmont and Walpole with an electric generation capacity of 20MWAC each have begun providing power to the grid. Under long-term contracts, First Solar will continue providing operations and maintenance services. Per a 20-year power purchase agreement, under the Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program, the output from these plants will be sold to Ontario Power Authority.

Together these three facilities have the capacity to produce clean energy sufficient to power 6,300 local homes. On an annual basis, the clean energy will be able to eliminate 14,600 tons of carbon dioxide, which is almost equal to taking 3,700 cars off the road. Besides providing clean energy, the project fulfills its Corporate Social Responsibility by providing employment and local economic benefits.

Earlier this month, First Solar and General Electric had entered into a technology partnership agreement. Per the deal, First Solar will acquire indigenous technology from General Electric to make advanced thin-film solar panels to counter stiff competition from cheap alternatives available in the market. As a part of the transaction, General Electric will receive 1.75 million shares of First Solar, which it will retain for three years.

First Solar has a proven ability to build big projects cost effectively. In order to counter the weak economic scenario, the company is focusing more on utility-scale electricity power projects. Recently, the company announced that under a 10-year power purchase agreement, it will sell the electricity generated from the Lost Hills photovoltaic power plant to the City of Roseville, Calif., once the plant comes online. First Solar will begin the construction of this power plant in Kern County, Calif. in early 2014.

Though First Solar’s solar cells convert sunlight to electricity less efficiently than traditional silicon PV modules, its thin film PV cells have an advantage in producing electricity even in lower light. This ability to produce electricity under a wide range of light conditions makes these cells attractive for utility companies that require stable large-scale, utility-sized renewable energy production.

Despite the strengths, we prefer to remain on the sidelines due to the industry-wide oversupply of solar modules, the company’s weak second quarter results and rising competition in the market. The company presently retains a short-term Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Among the stocks worth considering in the solar space are ReneSola Ltd. (SOL) and Trina Solar Limited (TSL), both with a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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