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Chinese solar panel maker Yingli has signed a deal to supply the 170MW project being developed by Centinela Solar Energy in California

Located about 90 miles east of San Diego in California’s Imperial County, the project is expected to start commercial operation in the middle of 2014. Spread over an area of 1,600 acres, it will be among the largest solar projects in the world.

Yingli was a major supplier for China’s largest solar project, the Huanghe 200MW solar farm built in Qinghai province at the end of 2011. It is also aiming to be a key supplier to utility-scale projects in the US.

“We are now working with several of the top utility companies in the nation, and are cementing our reputation as the ideal module supplier for large-scale projects,” says Robert Petrina, Yingli Americas’ managing director.

Demand for solar panels from US utilities has surged as states set targets for renewable energy generation. Developers built 477MW of utilty-scale projects during the second quarter of this year, a quarterly record, according to the US-based Solar Energy Industries Association. The US market is expected to install 3.2GW of solar power this year, up by 71% on last year.

Yingli is one of the world’s largest solar module makers, with annual production capacity of 2.45GW as of August 2012. This month it started hiring 2,000 new workers for its Baoding assembly plant to respond to strong demand in emerging markets, according to a report by The Beijing News.

However it will need to source solar cells for the panels in this project from a third-party outside China if it is to avoid import tariffs recently imposed by the US on Chinese cells.

Centinela Solar Energy, part of the LS Power Group, awarded the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC), as well as the operations and maintenance for the project to Fluor Corporation. John King, executive vice president of LS Power, says Yingli offered “competitive warranty terms”.

Centinela has a 20-year power purchase agreement with San Diego Gas and Electric for the power generated by the project, which is expected to be able to power more than 60,000 homes.

California has the largest installed solar power capacity in the US, at more than 1GW in July. It is one of the first significant projects to feed into the Sunrise Powerlink Transmission Line.

Yingli will report its third quarter financial results later today.

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