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Apple's US$850 million solar plant rockets it to first place among U.S. corporations

Lucas Mearian | Feb. 13, 2015
The new facility is the largest such commercial solar deal in U.S. history.

Apple's solar plant in Maiden, N.C.
Apple's 100-acre solar field in Maiden, N.C. boasts 14 megawatts of capacity and feeds the company's data center there.Credit: Apple

Apple over the next year or so is expected to surpass Walmart as the largest corporate user of solar power.

The company this week announced it will invest $850 million dollars to build a solar power plant through a partnership with First Solar, one of the nation's largest photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers and provider of utility-scale PV plants. Through a 25-year purchasing agreement, Apple will get 130MW (megawatts, or million watts) from the new plant.

"This deal is like an insurance policy for Apple; the sun will still be shining 25 years from now, so Apple can be sure they will be getting emissions-free power at the same reasonable cost -- even in 2040," said Amit Ronen, director of George Washington University's Solar Institute.

The new solar project is notable for a number of reasons.

"First, from what we can tell, this is the largest commercial solar deal ever in the U.S.," Ronen said. "And it's a pioneering example of how a major retail electricity customer can go to the market to obtain the kind of power they want to receive at a competitive price."

The Apple/Solar City project ranks in the top 10 of U.S. PV installations. (In addition to Apple, PG&E will get 150MW from the plant.)

Currently, the largest solar power plant operating in the world is the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in Riverside County, Calif. and the Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. Both offer 550MW of capacity, according to Ronen.

At the end of 2015, the 579MW Solar Star Project in Rosamund, Calif. will be the largest.

An even larger 750MW solar facility has been approved and will be built by McCoy Solar Energy, "and even larger solar power plants have been proposed in India," Ronen said.

Walmart has led corporate America in deploying PV panels. Almost all have been rooftop installations at store and corporate office locations. It has held the top spot for solar power capacity use for at least the past three years, according to Ken Johnson, vice president of communications with the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA).

Apple is now on the cusp of taking that spot, Johnson said, leaping from fourth place behind Walmart, Kohl's and Costco. (IKEA is fifth.)

Apple already has several large solar power installations around the U.S. Its largest, the 100-acre solar field in Maiden, N.C., boasts 14MW of capacity for its nearby data center. In 2013, Apple announced plans to build an 18MW solar plant to power a new data center in Reno.


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