PG&E Launches 500-MW Solar Power Initiative

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced plans for a five-year program to develop up to 500 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) power in its northern and central California service area, one of the largest undertakings of its kind in the country.

The proposed program consists of up to 250 megawatts (MW) of utility-owned PV generation, PG&E’s first direct investment in renewable generation in over a decade, and an additional 250 MW to be built and owned by independent developers under a streamlined regulatory process. PG&E is submitting its plan this week to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval, which could come later this year.

If all projects are up and running by 2015, they are expected to deliver more than 1,000 gigawatt-hours of power each year, equal to the annual consumption of about 150,000 average homes. In all, this program would meet close to 1.3 percent of PG&E’s electric demand.

“This program represents an unprecedented commitment of our capital and expertise to speed the delivery of clean, renewable energy to our customers,” said Peter Darbee, PG&E’s CEO and president. “With many renewable-energy projects delayed, we can’t afford business as usual when it comes to protecting the environment and meeting our customers’ expectations.”

PG&E’s solar program targets mid-sized projects, typically 1-20 MW, mounted on the ground or rooftops, within its service area. Where feasible, projects developed and owned by PG&E would be built on land already owned by the utility or near its substations to minimize the cost and delays of interconnecting them to the power grid.

“PG&E continues to demonstrate its leadership role with the announcement of this new 500 MW program, as well as last year’s announcement of plans to purchase the output of two PV plants totaling 800 MW,” said Julia Hamm, executive director of the Solar Electric Power Assocation (SEPA).

PG&E was the number one ranked utility in SEPA’s 2007 Top Ten Utility Solar Integration Rankings for the most solar electric capacity on the customer side of the meter. In addition, the utility received the SEPA Award for Solar Portfolio Leadership in both 2007 and 2008 for its on-going efforts to diversify its electricity portfolio with a suite of solar programs.

PG&E’s solar program comes after similar announcements from Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric in the last year. Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar said this new announcement is great step forward for PG&E to being part of a growing group of utilities procuring solar power..

“We believe that utility involvement in the distributed generation solar industry should be conditioned on opening access for private solar companies to provide the same value to ratepayers.  On first look, PG&E’s application appears to meet this standard,” Browning said. “We congratulate PG&E on its balanced approach and demonstrated commitment to developing a strong solar market in their service territory.  We expect that their efforts will garner the program support and approval.”

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