In the midst of overwhelming debate over climate change - an issue that seemingly paralyzes politicians - the Chinese government has announced its intention to construct a 2-gigawatt solar power plant in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia. Mike Ahearn, CEO of the Arizona-based company which will construct the plant, describes the unprecedented project as “an encouraging first step forward toward the mass-scale deployment of solar power worldwide to help mitigate climate change concerns.”

As outlined in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between First Solar and the Chinese government, the project will be developed in four phases over a nine-year period, with Phase 1 beginning 1 June 2010 and Phase 4 to be completed by 2019. Phase 1 will initiate a 30-megawatt demonstration project, while Phases 2, 3 and 4 will consolidate a further 100 megawatts, 870 megawatts and 1000 megawatts respectively.

The magnitude of the development is many times greater than any solar plant in operation or even contemplated, including projects such as the 290-megawatt Starwood Solar I and the 500-megawatt solar thermal project in the Mojave Desert.

If successful, the Ordos plant will cover a staggering 25-square miles, cost billions of dollars and power 3 million Chinese homes.

Central to the project will be its operation under a government feed-in-tariff scheme. According to Ahearn, a long-term price guarantee for the electricity produced by the plant “is necessary to create a strong solar market and facilitate the construction of a project this size, which in turn continues to drive the cost of solar electricity closer to ‘grid parity’ - where it is competitive with traditional energy sources.”

During the initial stages, First Solar will review opportunities to establish module and supplier sites in Ordos, as well as facilitate expansion of supply chains for thin film photovoltaic module production and recycling of photovoltaic modules after use as measures to support First Solar investment.

Vice mayor of Ordos Municipal Government, Cao Zhichen reinforces his commitment to “Ordos’s low carbon future” citing discussions about renewable energy with First Solar as a demonstration “to investors in China that they can confidently invest in the most advanced technologies available.”