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Canadian Solar enters 'new era' selling unsubsidized solar power in Italy

A deal Canadian Solar Inc. struck to sell electricity from a portfolio of unsubsidized solar plants in Italy "marks the start of a new era" of competition in the country's power sector, Canadian Solar Chairman, President and CEO Xiaohua "Shawn" Qu said.

The electricity will be sold under a 10-year contract to commodities trader TrailStone GmbH, which will act as market representative for the projects in the Italian wholesale power market, according to a Dec. 17 news release. The solar plants, which total 17.6 MW, are expected online in the second quarter of 2019. Canadian Solar, a solar panel maker and power plant developer, jointly owns the projects with Manni Energy, a construction and engineering firm.

"Nowadays, solar [photovoltaic] plants can sell electricity at lower prices than conventional power plants," Qu said. "This opens up an unprecedented market independent of government support programs."

The Canadian Solar announcement comes days after Octopus Investments Ltd. said it is selling electricity from an unsubsidized portfolio of solar projects in Italy to oil supermajor Royal Dutch Shell PLC under a five-year contract.

"The first and most visible impact of this ... technologically driven energy transition is that the levelized cost of energy associated with renewables capacity is becoming increasingly competitive in more and more parts of the world," Francesco Starace, CEO of the Italian energy company Enel SpA, told investors in November. "It's a trend that started somewhere back a couple of years ago in Latin America. It's now coming to Europe, too."

The levelized cost of energy for utility-scale solar PV plants now ranges between $36/MWh and $44/MWh, compared to a levelized cost of energy for combined-cycle natural gas plants of $41/MWh to $74/MWh, Lazard Ltd. reported in November.