First Solar Seeks to Build Solar Test Farm Near PMGA


Tempe-based solar-panel manufacturer First Solar wants to develop a 20-acre test farm in east Mesa, a project that could include 18 jobs and $20 million in investment for the area, according to documents submitted to the city.

The Nasdaq-traded company is seeking Mesa zoning and design approval for the First Solar Arizona Test Site, proposed near 80th Street and Germann Road, just south of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

First Solar would be relocating employees from the company’s former Mesa property at Elliot and Signal Butte roads, where GT Advanced Technologies is now mass producing sapphire crystal for electronics giant Apple Inc.

The project would allow First Solar to retain the jobs in Mesa but would not create any new positions, spokesman Steve Krum said. The company will maintain some testing operations at the current site near the Apple factory, Krum said.

The field where First Solar plans to open its new test farm is currently used for agriculture and zoned for light-industrial development. Much of the land surrounding the property is vacant, with the exception of an industrial office park adjacent to the north.

First Solar would develop the test farm over three phases, and the facility is expected to produce about 2.4 megawatts at build-out, according to documents submitted to the city.

That’s about enough power for a few hundred homes, meaning the site won’t be producing a significant amount of energy into the power grid like a typical solar farm.

First Solar will be testing “advanced solar voltaic systems and solar panels” to support the company’s worldwide research and development operations, project documents said.

The facility will be fenced off with a screen wall designed to be aesthetically-pleasing while allowing the public limited views of the solar panels.

The Mesa Planning Commission is scheduled to review the First Solar project at a Wednesday, Sept. 17, public hearing, and the Mesa Design Review Board got its first look on Sept. 9.

First Solar in 2011 announced plans to build a $300 million factory in Mesa, with the possibility of housing as many as 5,000 employees there. By the time the project was finished in 2012, however, the company was closing some of its factories around the world and scaling back expansion plans.

First Solar last year sold the building to Apple, which in turn leased it to supplier GT Advanced Technologies.

The company did not give an expected opening date for the Mesa solar testing site.


By Parker Leavitt, AZ Republic