SoCal Edison, PG&E Make Big Alternative Energy Commitments

SoCal Edison, PG&E Make Big Alternative Energy Commitments

California's two biggest utility companies, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric, have in the past week announced commitments for nearly two gigawatts of alternative energy, in the form of wind and solar power projects.

SCE yesterday signed a 20-year contract with Caithness Energy for a 900-megawatt wind farm to be built in northern Oregon, while at the end of last week PG&E announced that it had signed two agreements to develop solar facilities in central California's San Luis Obispo county that would total 800 MW of solar energy.

The SoCal Edison project, which involves raising just over 300 wind turbines on the 30 square mile plot of Oregon, will be able to operate within the current grid of the region; because no transmission upgrades are needed, the facility will be able to come online more quickly than other such projects. The company said it expects the plant to be fully operation by 2012, and will generate 2 billion kilowatt-hours of wind energy per year, equal to 10 percent of SCE's total portfolio of renewable energy.

PG&E is working with San Jose-based SunPower corp to use SunPower's OptiSolar thin-film panels in building the world's two largest solar facilities on San Luis Obispo county ranches. When the two plants come online in 2011 and 2012, their 800MW capacity will generate a combined 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, and will more than double the total solar-power generating capacity of the United States.

Together, the plans announced yesterday have the ability to provide enough power for an estimated 1.2 million homes in California, although solar industry groups say that PG&E's project in particular is dependent on a renewal of the federal alternative energy tax credit, which is currently set to expire at the end of 2008.