First Desert Sunlight Solar

[Desert Center, California USA]

Exclusive Aerial Photos of First Solar’s 550 MegaWatt (AC) Desert Sunlight project.

From Desert Sunlight

Nestled between Newberry Springs and the Fairmont Butte on my July 4th SoCal (Southern California) weekend road trip, I had my eyes on another First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) project, Desert Sunlight.

Awakening to a rare cloudy morning in Palm Springs, I finalized the arrangements with JacksonAir for the over flight originating from Thermal, California. As the noon departure time approached, the pilot agreed to an hour delay in hopes the sky would clear. Without the option to reschedule until the next day, I agreed to proceed with the flight under non-ideal conditions.

From Desert Sunlight

Our flight route from Thermal followed Interstate 10 (I-10) turning north at Desert Center paralleling Kaiser Road to Desert Sunlight. As the total flight time was just one hour, it took a scant 20 minutes or so to reach Desert Sunlight.

From Desert Sunlight

Approaching from the southwest towards the project substation, Desert Sunlight was circled twice for the photo opportunity and capped by a direct flyover. From the photos, Desert Sunlight module installation would appear to be about thirty plus odd percent (30+ %) complete as of July 5, 2013. I did not confirm the figure with First Solar since they have declined to comment on project percentage completion questions in the past.

From Desert Sunlight

However, the project construction observed from the air does not match any of the site plans included in the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm Project (CACA 48649) Record of Decision signed by then US Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar or the Final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). Is the final site plan nonetheless filed with the Bureau of Land Management and Riverside County, California?

From Desert Sunlight

Per “First Solar’s CEO Discusses Q2 2013 Results – Earnings Call Transcript” at Seeking Alpha, First Solar Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Mark Widmar said:

To date, we have not recognized any revenue for Desert Sunlight. However, as disclosed during our Analyst Day event, we currently expect revenue recognition criteria under GAAP to initially be met in 2013 and to begin recognizing revenue for Desert Sunlight project in the second half of 2013 through the 2014 time period.

From Desert Sunlight ground survey

As dictated by past practice, I also made a terrestrial visit to Desert Sunlight later the same day. Upon taking photos at the main project gate, I was promptly greeted by site security. Rather enlightened compared to AVSR1, the Desert Sunlight security folks did not challenge my right to take photos from a public road but did inform me the land in front of the fence was private project property.

Driving further northwest up Kaiser Road, I stopped for a less heated photo session and even attempted to launch the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter for a bird’s eye view. The wind was too strong, and, with no joy, I was forced to land the drone with extreme haste.

From Desert Sunlight ground survey

Once again, the ground based visit to a utility scale solar photovoltaic project proved most unsatisfying versus the aerial survey. Because of the building enclosures, it was not even possible to identify the inverter manufacturer. SMA America, LLC, a unit of SMA Solar Technology AG (ETR:S92), is the front-runner since the solar technology and commercial partnership with the General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) is brand new.

In addition to being located close to the Joshua Tree National Park, Desert Sunlight has attracted unwanted attention because of recent bird deaths per “Water Birds Turning Up Dead at Solar Projects in the Desert” by Chris Clarke for KCET ReWire. Besides general construction related issues and power lines, birds appear to be mistaking utility scale solar plants for lakes or wetlands.

I just licensed two of my aerial solar photos to a documentary. I won’t share the details, but I’ll let folks guess as to which ones!


  1. Gunther,

    Our farm is about 600 ft west from the Sunlight project. Our farm incurred substantial damage from our neighbor to the west of us. Is it possible to obtain a larger image to enable us to zoom to see where his berm breached wreaking havac upon us?

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