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Solar PV Eating Solar Thermal's Lunch

(Solar photovoltaic vs. solar thermal story updated for new lawsuit against six major solar projects)

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The news that Tessera Solar sold its 850 megawatt Calico Project on Wednesday to a New York-based energy project development company wasn't a surprise. Just a week ago, Southern California Edison canceled its power purchase agreements with Tessera. Yet the sale of the Calico project to a company called K Road Power -- staffed by former Sithe Energies and Goldman Sachs officials -- has broader implications for the photovoltaic solar industry.

For one, the 850 megawatt project, one of the largest solar projects yet approved in the U.S., dwarfs First Solar's 550 MW Topaz project. In fact, First Solar (FSLR) had been the rumor mill favorite to walk away with the Calico project ever since the Southern California Edison-Tessera deal fell apart last week.

K Road Power noted in buying the Calico project that 750 megawatts of the 850 MW total will be changed to standard photovoltaic modules. Tessera's project had been predicated on using its proprietary SunCatcher thermal technology, which will now only be featured on 100 MW of the 850MW Calico project, according to a statement from K Road.

Suddenly, 750 MW has materialized out of thin air for the standard PV module market, and at the expense of solar thermal.

It's not clear which solar module player among the publicly traded companies was in line to supply the modules to the Calico project, if any, but it will be one of the largest projects constructed in the U.S., pending approvals and a raft of permitting challenges associated with large-scale project reviews.

Some 750 megawatts of solar PV suddenly materializing out of thin air for competitive bidding is bullish for solar PV, though the K Road Power CEO was cagey about any relationships.

K Road Power CEO William Kriegel said that while K Road is new and designed to focus on the U.S. Southwest, it grew out of Sithe Energies, which has developed 15 gigawatts of energy projects. The company is familiar with all of the players in the standard PV module market, but makes decisions on a case-by-case basis and depending on specific contract economics and site considerations. K Road was developed to focus on solar specifically.

"We're familiar with all of the companies in the module space and we have good relationships with all of them. We are not a technology company. Our job is to develop projects and find the best partners based on cost and performance," the K Road CEO said.

Mind you, 750 megawatts is nothing to sneeze at, considering total U.S. solar market growth in 2011 is expected to be between 1 gigawatt and 2 GW.

It's not just the usual U.S. solar players, such as First Solar, SunPower (SPRWA), and MEMC Electronic Materials (FSLR), as well as Recurrent Energy -- bought by Sharp this year -- that have been vying for U.S. solar project business.

Stock quotes in this article: FSLR, SPWRA, WFR, STP 

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