California Utility to Become Biggest in Solar

CALIFORNIA - In another big boost for the economic viability of large-scale solar power plants, California utility PG&E said it will buy an additional 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal power over the next five years. That’s on top of the gigawatt the utility already has committed to purchase.

"PG&E (PCG) has identified solar thermal technology as a reliable energy source that can provide millions of American electric customers with some of the cleanest and most cost-effective renewable energy," said PG&E CEO Peter Darbee in a statement. A 1,000 megawatts of solar electricity would power about 750,000 homes, according to PG&E.

One likely beneficiary PG&E's pledge is Silicon Valley solar startup Ausra. The company, backed by green investor Vinod Khosla and venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, has been negotiating with PG&E to build solar power plants for the utility. Ausra executive vice president John O’Donnell declined to comment on the status of those negotiations.

So far PG&E has signed a deal for a 553-megawatt plant with Israeli solar company Solel and is continuing to negotiate a 500-megawatt deal with BrightSource Energy, the Oakland, California-based company founded by solar pioneer Arnold Goldman.

Today’s commitment, made at the Clinton Global Initiative summit in New York City, would make PG&E the nation’s largest solar utility, putting it ahead of California utilities Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE). The announcement comes as Florida utility FPL (FPL) said it would spend $1.5 billion over the next seven years to build solar thermal power plants, including a 300-megawatt power station using Ausra’s technology.


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