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Big Plans by California’s Big Utilities

PG&E, SoCal Edison investing in green power

August 18, 2008 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Since 2002, Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility, has reached agreement with suppliers of solar technology, biofuel technology, and wind to generate 2,500 MW of renewable power, comparable to the output of three large coal-fired power plants.

PG&E says it will have 14 percent of its energy delivered from renewable sources by the end of this year.

Among the projects PG&E is pursuing are:

  1. A 5-megawatt photovoltaic plant in Mendota, designed and built by Cleantech America. The plant, considered one of the most advanced photovoltaic facilities in the world, will begin operating next spring.
    "Utility-scale PV solar in California has just transitioned from hopeful concept to reality," said Bill Barnes, Cleantech’s CEO.
  2. Contracting with Oakland-based BrightSource Energy to build a 900-megawatt solar-thermal electrical generating station in the Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles, at a cost of $2 billion to $3 billion. The new plant, which uses mirrors to focus sunlight and heat on boilers, should be operational within three years. It is the first new solar-thermal generating station in California in 20 years. PG&E also has reached agreement with Ausra Inc., a new solar-thermal startup, to build a 177-megawatt solar thermal plant, and with Solel for a 553-megawatt plant.
  3. Building a combined solar and biofuel plant that produces 107 megawatts of electricity near Coalinga, Calif. The solar thermal portion of the plant uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight during the day, plus it has a boiler system that burns gases produced from 250,000 tons of agricultural wastes – manures, green wastes, agricultural byproducts.
    "This hybrid technology combines two renewable resources abundant in California—solar energy and biofuel from the Central Valley," said Fong Wan, vice president of energy procurement at PG&E. "We will continue to add these types of innovative renewable energy sources to meet our state's climate change goals."

Not to be outdone, Southern California Edison, which serves the Los Angeles region, is deploying the nation's largest solar photovoltaic module system—a project that would place 250 megawatts of advanced photovoltaic generating technology on 65 million square feet of roofs of commercial buildings in and around Los Angeles. The first solar arrays in the $875 million project are being installed this month.

"These are the kinds of big ideas we need to meet California's long-term energy and climate change goals," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "If commercial buildings statewide partnered with utilities to put this solar technology on their rooftops, it would set off a huge wave of renewable energy growth"

Even Ironwood State Prison is going green. It has teamed up with SunEdison to install a 1.18-megawatt photovoltaic solar power system. The project meets the requirements of an executive order that Gov. Schwarzenegger signed four years ago that requires state agencies to take measures to reduce conventional energy purchases for state-owned buildings by 20 percent by 2015. Ironwood’s system can provide enough electricity for 4,300 homes. Two years ago SunEdison installed a similar 1.16-megawatt solar power system at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison.

"We are strongly committed to being a good neighbor and in doing what's right for our community," said Ironwood Warden Debra Dexter.

Keith Schneider, a journalist and editor, contributes to the Great Lakes Bulletin News Service from San Francisco, where he is the communications director for the Apollo Alliance, a national non-profit coalition focused on developing clean energy and good jobs. Reach him at keith@apolloalliance.org.

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