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First Major Utility Company Invests in Solar Energy

New America Media, News Report, Mary Ambrose Posted: Aug 19, 2008

Editor's Note: Businesses, environmental groups and government agencies across the United States have their eyes on California, where PG&E has become the first major American utility company to invest in large-scale solar energy.

SAN FRANCISCO For the first time, a big, American utility company is investing in large-scale solar energy. Pacific Gas & Electric has decided that solar is part of the answer for Californias energy needs.

At a recent press conference with the senior executives of the two solar companies theyve chosen for the project, OptiSolar and Sunpower, PG&Es Chief Operating Officer Jack Keenan said that by 2013, this move will provide energy at a market rate for almost 250,000 houses a year, and create about 1,000 jobs in California.

Both OptiSolar and Sunpower have purchased land in San Luis Obispo County, just north of Los Angeles, and are in the final stages of securing approval from the local authorities to install their solar power panels there. This area was chosen because it has, as Tom Werner, CEO of Sunpower put it, big transmission lines and big sun.

Big sun makes California particularly well suited for solar power. Sun and demand correlate here, says PG&Es Fong Wan, which means California houses use the most energy during the hot summer months.

Solar energy has long made sense in California. Innovators and entrepreneurs have been working on it for years. Sunpower was funded in 1985 by a Stanford professor. But until recently it has been realized on a small scale and that has made it expensive.

The whole game is bringing the cost of solar down. Its an economy of scale, says Adam Browning, executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative (www.votesolar.org), a non-profit campaign that urges cities and towns to use solar energy.

When the big players are interested, the cost comes down. But Randy Goldstein, CEO of OptiSolar, says solar has been missing the technology and business models to function on a bigger scale.

The roadblock cited by all, including a representative from the National Resources Defense Council, is the possible loss of tax breaks for renewable energy. The growth of solar energy is largely being developed by states and companies, according to Browning, and Keenan says its up to the government to provide the proper frame for success. But the tax breaks for this industry will run out at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, solar companies are frantically making the case that they are driving development in cutting-edge technologies. After all, noted Browning, We can deliver solar energy more cheaply than we can fossil fuel.

Related Articles:

Ethnic Californians Want Government to Do More on Environment

Sustainability: Bridge to Tomorrow

Living Without a Car: My New American Responsibility

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