Alan Bernheimer, spokesman for First Solar, says that before the current development rush in California, the company had constructed about 300 MW of utility-scale solar projects in North America.

Bernheimer adds that First Energy's development pipeline now totals about 2,700 MW. That includes 1,330 MW from the Topaz solar farm, Desert Sunlight solar farm and Antelope Valley solar ranch combined.

With government agencies concerned about the effect of solar energy projects on the landscape, Bernheimer says that First Solar works with public-sector officials in the design process to ensure that projects have a limited impact on the environment and wildlife.

He says the scale of First Solar's two largest projects, Topaz and Desert Sunlight, were cut significantly from the original plans. The company worked with government agencies and community and conservation groups to modify the designs.

Bernheimer says, "Topaz, for example, was originally designed to occupy 6,000 acres, but was reduced to 3,500 acres. In addition, over 17,000 acres of additional land nearby will be conserved in perpetuity." Working with BLM, the company trimmed the Desert Sunlight project's size, to 3,761 acres, from an originally planned 19,000 acres.

Topaz is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The project is located on the northwestern corner of the Carrisa Plains in San Luis Obispo County. The site, which is near transmission lines, will provide a maximum of 550 MW of alternating current, which can power 160,000 homes.

According to First Solar, the thin-film photovoltaic panels stand about 5.5 ft above ground at their top edge. They are supported by steel I-beams driven into the ground. The project will create around 400 construction jobs and 15 long-term positions.

The top 10 projects also include three natural-gas generating plants. Libby says that reflects a balancing of renewables and fossil fuels to meet the state's needs.

Buildings also are well-represented on the list. The top 50 roster contains more than 20 new facilities, including hospitals and courthouses.

Note: The Top Starts ranking is based on total project cost. ENR California used multiple sources to create the list, including the McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge database, news reports and submissions from owners, contractors and design firms.