OptiSolar to solar electrify Sarnia, Ontario Canada

OptiSolar granted approval to build a 40MW (Megawatt) solar farm in Sarnia

In Ontario goes solar, Tyler Hamilton of the Toronto Star first broke this story. I first wrote about OptiSolar in this post, Gen 3 Solar changes name to OptiSolar.

The 40MW Sarnia solar farm is slated to occupy almost 365 hectares (about 902 acres) and will be constructed by OptiSolar, Inc. subsidiary OptiSolar Farms Canada Inc. in four (4) 10MW phases.

The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) has agreed to purchase power from OptiSolar Farms Canada at 42 Canadian cents (convert to USD) per kWh (kilowatt-hour) for 20 years as part of their Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP) for Solar PV Energy. The Ontario feed-in tariff was crucial to OptiSolar’s decision to place the solar farm in Sarnia. The OptiSolar Solar PV Contracts were awarded on page 4 of this Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program Quarterly Report Q1 2007 January – March.

Per the Toronto Star, Peter Carrie of OptiSolar Farms would not disclose the cost of the OptiSolar showcase project, although he claimed a 10MW scale photovoltaic installation costs about $70 to 80 million Canadian today. OptiSolar Farms has purchased the required real estate and expects to begin construction in 2008 leveraging local contractors. All four phases should be installed and operational by 2010.

OptiSolar has not yet announced thin film amorphous silicon (a-Si) solar module or solar panel products. So how did OptiSolar land this deal without launching a product? Perhaps there wasn’t much competition for the award? I was unaware of this generous Ontario solar electric feed-in tariff. A number of OptiSolar’s Board of Directors have Canadian connections. Co-founders Randy Goldstein and Phil Rettger also co-founded OPTI Canada Inc. (TSE:OPC) and have a track record of successful process development while Geoff Cumming, Chairman of the Board, may have lined up the financing for the estimated $280 million Canadian project.

It appears the expanded OptiSolar Hayward, California USA facility is sufficient for up to 100MW of annual manufacturing capacity using the ErSol Thin Film module production plant as a rough benchmark. But, as I learned at the Intersolar 2006 PV Industry Forum, glass is a major material cost for thin film module production. SCHOTT Solar is building their 30MW thin film amorphous silicon (a-Si) solar module facility near one of their glass factories in Jena, Germany. And Shell Solar decided to partner with glass processing leader Saint-Gobain to form the AVANCIS joint venture to develop and produce CIS solar modules. Although there may be a local glass source for OptiSolar, I had an inspiring idea. Perhaps OptiSolar has plans to expand future production in Ontario, Canada, or Detroit, Michigan USA. Each of these areas have been impacted by the struggling American auto makers, and I believe they have all of the required raw material infrastructure already in place. Economic incentives are bound to be available as demonstrated by Pennsylvania luring AE Polysilicon to the Keystone state.

While OptiSolar appears to have plans that span the PV value chain targeting large scale photovoltaic power plants, Peter Carrie said:

…the goal in Ontario is to showcase OptiSolar’s technology and demonstrate its performance, while at the same time generating revenues from electricity production.

This leaves OptiSolar’s business model unclear. Is full vertical integration their end goal or are they proving their prowess as a solar solution systems provider?

In Canada, critics claim the renewable energy projects approved in Ontario are a smoke screen to cover the government’s focus on nuclear and coal based electricity generation.

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