Renewable energy investment firm CleanPath will pour more than $800 million into large photovoltaic solar projects in North America, the company said yesterday.

The company's new fund is expected to invest in more than 1,000 megawatts of solar power plants over the next five years. The plants will range in size from 5 MW to more than 100 MW.

(Credit: Screenshot by CNET of

Financing has been a major bottleneck for big solar projects that many see as critical to driving down the cost of the emissions-free power source.

The tax equity market, the key financing tool used by solar developers, has recovered in the years since the collapse of major player Lehman Brothers. In that market, developers sell the future tax benefits of the project to a financial partner who uses them to reduce tax liability.

But solar financing activity is still not at the levels enjoyed prior to the crisis.

"We are looking to do things that are not being done," CleanPath Chief Executive Matt Cheney said in an interview. "There is certainly an opportunity here."

Given the high risk associated with financing the later stages of big solar projects, Cheney said CleanPath expected to generate returns of more than 15 percent.

"If you are developing a large-scale solar farm, the checks that you have to write for PPA reservations and transmission deposits and things like that are into the millions," he said. "It may in fact be difficult for many development shops to finance those later stage deposits and other things. We are writing the big checks."

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