Image Credit: kateausburn/Flickr

San Luis Obispo County in California will be the site of the world’s largest photovoltaic project, as groundbreaking ceremonies took place on May 3 marking the beginning of major construction at Topaz Solar Farms. The plant, a partnership between Warren Buffet’s investment company MidAmerican Energy Holdings and First Solar Inc., will be completed and on-line sometime in 2014. With an expected construction cost of over $2 billion, the U.S. Department of Energy has offered some federal loan guarantees as part of its investment in renewable energies.

The massive 550 megawatt project will be using First Solar’s advanced thin film solar module technology, which has the smallest carbon footprint of any solar system on the market. It will generate enough electricity to power 160,000 California homes while offsetting over 370,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of taking 73,000 cars off the road. The solar array will stand just five feet tall across 3,500 acres, minimizing any visual impacts for nearby residents, and generates renewable energy with no air emissions, no waste, and no water use.

Due to California’s renewable energy mandate signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, all sellers of electricity must serve a certain percentage of their load from renewable sources: 20 percent by the end of 2013, 25 percent by the end of 2016, and 33 percent by 2020. The 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm project will certainly help the state’s electric utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, achieve that goal, and they have agreed to purchase the electricity generated by the plant for the next 25 years.

[via Solar Building Magazine]