Two major utilities in California and New Jersey this week announced plans to vastly ramp up solar power. The deals come as Congress wraps up economic stimulus legislation that includes provisions to free up credit for renewable energy companies.
Both plans require approval from state agencies, but both states have requirements to increase the share of renewable energy in overall energy production so approval is likely.
In California, Southern California Edison and BrightSource Energy Inc. signed contracts to build solar power projects that would produce 1,300 megawatts of electricity — enough to serve about 845,000 homes — from solar thermal plants.
Solar thermal plants use mirrors to direct the sun's rays to a tower that collects the heat to boil water. The steam from that boiling water in turn rotates a turbine to create electricity.
The companies said they believe the deal is the largest ever for a solar power venture.
The first of seven planned solar thermal plants, sized at 100 megawatts, would be located in Ivanpah, Calif., and could be operational in early 2013.
The complete 1,300 megawatts of projects would produce 3.7 billion kilowatt-hours of clean energy and avoid more than 2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, SCE said.
Brightsource estimated construction would create 1,700 jobs and then the facilities would require 3,500 full-time employees.
California has set a mandate of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewables like solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power by 2010.
$773 million plan in N.J.
New Jersey's largest utility, Public Service Electric & Gas Co., said it wants to install 200,000 solar panels in an ambitious $773 million program.
Electricity from the panels would help power not only the buildings they are attached to but also the overall power grid. The company said the project would be the largest pole-attached solar installation in the country.
Video: Solar school The program would cost consumers about 10 cents a month on utility bills in the first year, and as much as 35 cents a month in five years. It would meet about 7 percent of the state's renewable portfolio standards requirements through 2020, according to PSE&G.
"The program strongly supports New Jersey's aggressive renewable energy and environmental goals and helps to strengthen the competitive solar industry in the state," said Ralph LaRossa, president of PSE&G. "We will also make solar energy available to every neighborhood in our service area."
The 120 megawatts of solar capacity would eliminate 1.7 million tons of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of removing nearly 310,000 cars from the road for one year, PSE&G said in its filing.
The company said the solar initiative would also mean hundreds of green jobs.
New Jersey has set a mandate of achieving 22 percent of its energy from renewables by 2021.
PSE&G said its plan would meet nearly 7 percent of the state's renewable portfolio standards requirements through 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.