By Cassandra Sweet and Katy Stech
A Delaware bankruptcy court on Wednesday approved the sale of two large, unbuilt California solar-power plants from Solar Trust of America to NextEra Energy Inc. (NEE) and BrightSource Energy.
NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light and a fleet of power plants and wind and solar farms, bid $50 million for a 1,000-megawatt solar power project called Blythe, according to court records and California documents.
Solar Trust filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, several months after its majority owner, Solar Millennium AG (S2M.XE), filed for insolvency in Germany. The filings were among a string of bankruptcies by solar companies that struggled against falling prices and a glut of cheap solar panels made in China.
Solar-power developer BrightSource, of Oakland, Calif., offered $10 million for a second Solar Trust project in the California desert, called Palen.
BrightSource is building a 392-megawatt solar-power plant called Ivanpah in the California desert and has several other projects under development. The company, which is backed by VantagePoint Capital Partners and other investors, canceled its planned initial public offering in April, blaming poor market conditions.
NextEra, of Juno Beach, Fla., is building a 250-megawatt solar-thermal power plant in California that will use curved mirrors to collect heat to drive power generators. The company obtained an $852 million federal loan guarantee to build that project.
NextEra bought a large solar farm last year from First Solar Inc. (FSLR), called Desert Sunlight, for which the companies obtained a $1.5 billion loan guarantee.
California regulators approved construction permits for both Solar Trust projects. The new owners may need approval from the California Energy Commission to modify the permits to use different technology.
Solar Trust had received preliminary approval in 2011 for a $2.1 billion federal loan guarantee to build the Blythe solar-power plant using Solar Millennium's solar-thermal technology. The developer didn't receive final approval for the loan guarantee and in August 2011 said it would modify the project to use cheaper solar panels, rather than the curved mirrors and steam generators originally envisioned.
Solar Trust filed for Chapter 11 a day after it was scheduled to make a $1 million rent payment to the U.S. Interior Department for occupying thousands of acres of public land. Company officials said the bankruptcy case was key for protecting transmission rights agreements the firm had reached with utilities, which made the projects valuable.
The transmission rights also enabled the company to borrow more than $200 million from Edison International's (EIX) Southern California Edison utility, Solar Trust said in court papers.
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