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PG&E to buy power from solar farms on coast

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Thursday it has signed contracts to buy electricity from two huge solar power plants to be built near the Central California coast.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Thursday it has signed contracts to buy electricity from two huge solar power plants to be built near the Central California coast.

The utility said it will buy a total of 800 megawatts of renewable energy — enough to power 239,000 homes each year — from subsidiaries of Hayward-based OptiSolar Inc. and San Jose-based SunPower Corp.

Officials said the projects represent a major expansion of photovoltaic solar technology, which has been mostly confined to the rooftops of homes and businesses.

The two plants in San Luis Obispo County will be able to generate more electricity than all the PV solar-electric systems panels installed in the U.S. in 2007, when 473 megawatts of capacity was added, according to the Solar Electric Power Association.

Julia Hamm, SEPA's executive director, said PG&E's announcement "represents the largest single photovoltaic commitment from an electric utility anywhere in the world."

Privately held Optisolar's 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm project is expected to begin delivering power in 2011, while SunPower's 250-megawatt project is expected to start power delivery in 2010.

PG&E said it has now entered contracts to buy more than 3,600 megawatts of renewable energy, which represents more than 24 percent of its future power deliveries.

California's investor-owned utilities are required to secure 20 percent of the electrical supplies from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar by 2010.