By Jonathan Marshall
Fifty down, 200 to go.
That could be the motto of PG&E’s renewable energy team, which is working non-stop to bring more clean power from solar cells to customers throughout Northern and Central California.
Last month, the utility dedicated three new solar photovoltaic (PV) plants in Fresno County, with a combined output of 50 megawatts (MW). With more than 200,000 panels spread over 328 acres, those plants provide enough renewable energy to serve the daily needs of about 15,000 typical homes in PG&E’s service area.
But they represent only the first-year down payment on a five-year PG&E program to build 250 MW of new solar PV generation, owned and operated by the utility.
PG&E already has selected contractors to build out solar PV installations at three new sites in Fresno County to meet its 50 MW goal for Year 2 of the program. At the rate everyone’s moving, they should beat PG&E’s goal of going operational by October 2012.
Even better, PG&E was able to take advantage of plummeting PV prices through its bidding process. The total construction cost for 2012 will be even more competitive than this year, helping customers reap the advantages of renewable energy at reasonable cost.
This year, for the first time, two of the projects will use solar panels from Q-Cells; the third will use modules from Suntech. Both companies have their North American headquarters in San Francisco, reflecting the importance of the California market.
Q-Cells is acting as construction contractor on its two projects, while M. J. Avila is handling their site preparation. This minority- and woman-owned firm has worked in the Central Valley for three decades and prepped two of the sites for the first-year projects.
Cupertino Electric, which built two of the first-year projects, will handle construction on the third site, with Ahtna Government Services performing site preparation. The Native Alaskan firm also performed site preparation on one of the first-year projects.
In total, the three projects for Year 2 should generate about 250 temporary jobs before they start generating job-sustaining electric power.
In parallel with its own building program, PG&E is also engaging independent solar developers, through competitive bids, to supply another 250 MW over five years.
All projects in both programs are from one to 20 MW in size. Unlike some larger projects, they can be located relatively near to existing electrical infrastructure, reducing the need for costly, multi-year transmission projects.