California solar has a sunny week
Photo: BrightSource EnergyIt’s only Tuesday but two milestones have been reached this week in the long march toward a carbon-free future.
On Monday, BrightSource Energy became the first solar power plant developer to complete the financing of a large-scale project in two decades. The United States Department of Energy finalized a $1.6 billion loan guarantee BrightSource’s 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System solar thermal power plant now under construction in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. (The feds initially had pledged $1.37 billion but threw in another $230 million Monday.)
As the deal closed, Google announced it was investing $168 million in the Ivanpah project. The search giant had been an early investor in BrightSource but dramatically upped its stake with this latest investment.
“We need smart capital to transform our energy sector and build a clean energy future,” Rick Needham, Google’s director of green business operations, wrote Monday on the official Google blog.
“This is our largest investment to date, and we’ve now invested over $250 million in the clean energy sector,” he added. “We’re excited about Ivanpah because our investment will help deploy a compelling solar energy technology that provides reliable clean energy, with the potential to significantly reduce costs on future projects.”
BrightSource previously had secured a pledge from NRG Energy to invest up to $300 million in Ivanpah. NRG, which operates fossil fuel and nuclear plants, has in the past two years invested in several big solar projects.
Now to Tuesday’s news. California Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to sign into law a requirement that the state’s utilities obtain 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is jetting in for the signing ceremony at a new photovoltaic panel manufacturing plant in Silicon Valley operated by SunPower and Flextronics.
According to SunPower, the new factory has created more than 100 jobs and will supply 75 megawatts’ a year worth of panels for the San Jose company’s photovoltaic farm projects and rooftop projects in the U.S.
Solar company PR people have been flooding my inbox in recent days with statements regarding the 33 percent renewable portfolio standard, but the reality is that not much is going to change.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger previously had issued an executive ordering mandating that 33 percent standard, and regulators and utilities have been operating under the presumption that the target needed to be met.
Still, executive orders are subject to revocation by a governor’s successors. Brown’s action enshrining the 33 percent standard into law sends a strong signal to investors, renewable energy entrepreneurs, and utilities.
But the renewable energy news isn’t all sunny these days. Congressional Republicans continue to try to scrap the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program. If that happens, Ivanpah may be the first and last big solar power plant built in California for some time.