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HAYWARD, CA-Locally headquartered Optisolar has agreed to sell its solar project pipeline and its core development team to Tempe, AZ-based First Solar for $400 million in First Solar stock, according to a document filed with the SEC today by First Solar. The news comes one month after Optisolar laid off half its staff, suspended the build-out of its 650,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Sacramento and began reviewing its real estate needs in an attempt to conserve cash while seeking additional finding, including a loan from the federal Department of Energy.

The acquisition includes a 550 megawatt (MW) AC solar development project under a power purchase agreement with PG&E; a project pipeline of additional 1,300MW AC, which are in negotiation with Western region utilities for solar development projects; strategic land rights of approximately 136,000 acres (approximately 210 square miles) with the potential to deploy up to 19 gigawatts (GW) AC of utility-scale solar power projects; the core development team responsible for assembling and executing on the solar project pipeline.

First Solar says it expects to construct solar power plants developed under the acquired solar power project pipeline over the next several years and sell them to a combination of regulated utilities, diversified energy companies and other independent power producers. Project development is planned to begin as early as 2010.

The transaction gives First Solar more firepower for its US utility expansion. In November 2007, First Solar gained EPC capabilities of utility scale solar plants in the US by acquiring Turner Renewable Energy. Since that time, First Solar has constructed a 10MW AC plant in El Dorado, Nev., with Sempra Generation and entered into a strategic agreement with Edison Mission Energy to develop and construct utility-scale solar generation in California. First Solar was awarded the first three projects in Southern California Edison’s utility owned generation program.

“Optisolar has created an impressive and well-designed development pipeline. Adding these resources, along with their development team, is our next logical step to delivering multi-GW of solar power to U.S. utilities over the next several years,” First Solar chief executive Mike Ahearn said in a prepared statement. “As First Solar continues to drive down its manufacturing and EPC [engineering, procurement and construction] costs, OptiSolar’s project pipeline and the ability of our team to continually expand our existing pipeline, will enable us to bring solar energy on-line quickly and further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the grid.”

“Combining the solar industry’s cost-performance leader with a multi-gigawatt solar power project portfolio and the expertise of a world-class development team is a tremendous step forward for utility-scale PV solar generation,” company chief executive Rany Goldstein said in a prepared statement.

The transaction is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2009. Optisolar, having shed its power plant development unit, will focus on manufacturing thin-film solar panels.

As for Optisolar’s other real estate, the company has three leaseholds in Hayward, at 31032 Huntwood Ave., 31023 Huntwood and 31172 Huntwood Ave. The first address, owned by Rreef, is its 80,000-square-foot headquarters and production facility, the second address is additional administrative space, the square footage and ownership of which was not immediately available, and the third address, owned by PNK LLC, is 60,000 square feet of expansion that the company committed to in the fall but has not yet occupied.

Company spokesperson Alan Bernheimer told GlobeSt.com recently that the company is in the process of determining which spaces to let go and which spaces to keep. One of the leases, at 31023 Huntwood, is set to expire soon, he said. The company’s manufacturing plant in Sacramento, in leased space within McClellan Business Park, has been partially built out but its completion is being put off until the second half of 2009. The company has longer-term plans to expand the plant to one million square feet.

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