Two gigantic solar plants will be built in California under deals announced Thursday between utility Pacific Gas & Electric and companies OptiSolar and Sun Power. Together, the plants could generate 800 megawatts of electricity at peak capacity, enough to power 239,000 homes. (Perspective: The total peak capacity of every photovoltaic panel in the U.S. as of last year was 750 MW.) The largest plant will cover nine square miles with solar panels, but it will be “very visually unobtrusive,” says OptiSolar CEO Randy Goldstein; with panels only three feet high, “It almost looks like a lake.” Both plants aim to be up and running by 2011, dependent on state and local approval and a renewal of tax credits currently stalled in Congress. Photovoltaic power has until now been constrained to rooftops, considered too inefficient for utility-scale use; the PG&E deals are “monumental,” says Julia Hamm of the Solar Electric Power Association. “I really think it demonstrates that the time for solar has come.”