Iberdrola takes a shine to the U.S. solar power plant market

December 10, 2010

USA-MILITARY/GREENIberdrola Renewables, the Spanish green energy giant, has jumped into the United States solar power plant market, announcing a deal Thursday with Silicon Valley’s SunPower for a 20-megawatt photovoltaic farm to be built in Arizona.

Altogether, SunPower, based in San Jose, Calif., will construct 50 megawatts’ worth of solar power plants for Iberdrola, including a 30-megawatt project to be built in Colorado.

“We are excited to enter the U.S. solar business by building our first 50 megawatts with SunPower,” Martin Mugica, Iberdrola’s executive vice president, said in a statement Thursday.

The U.S. solar ambitions of Iberdrola, the world’s largest wind developer, had been something of a mystery.

In 2008, Iberdrola quietly acquired Pacific Solar Investments, a year-old Henderson, Nev., startup – and its lease claims on about 180,000 acres of federal land in Arizona, California and Nevada. Pacific Solar was among a score of companies – from Goldman Sachs to no-name speculators – filing claims on United States Bureau of Management Land during the great solar land rush of 2007-2008.

(BLM records show that Pacific Solar began filing solar lease claims while its founder, David Saul, was still serving as chief operating officer of Solel, an Israeli solar power plant builder subsequently acquired by Siemens for $418 million last year.)

Iberdrola still has lease claims on 165,600 acres of BLM land in Arizona, California and Nevada for both photovoltaic and solar thermal projects, according to federal filings.

The company has maintained radio silence about its plans, if any, for that desert real estate. But on Thursday, Iberdrola said it will own and operate the Copper Crossing solar farm to be built by SunPower, one of the U.S.’s largest solar module makers and developers, on 144 acres of agricultural land in Pinal County, Ariz. Iberdrola will the electricity to utility Salt River Project.

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