California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has signed new solar contracts that are expected to produce enough electricity to power about 530,000 homes during peak hours.
PG&E said Wednesday its partnership with Oakland-based BrightSource Energy is the nation's largest solar deal, and would produce a record total of 1,310 megawatts of solar thermal power. The deal includes seven solar projects, the first of which is slated to begin producing power in 2012.
The plans still require review and approval by the California Public Utilities Commission. A spokeswoman there said there was no timeline for when the commission would vote on the plans.
If the commission approves the projects, all seven of the solar thermal plants could be up and running by 2017, said Keely Wachs, a spokesman for BrightSource. The plants will be located in California's Mojave Desert, and Arizona and Nevada.
BrightSource's solar thermal plants use mirrors to reflect sunlight, which heats water stored in boilers. The steam from the boilers turns turbines that generate electricity, which is then sent by power lines to homes and businesses.
PG&E provides power to 15 million customers in northern and central California. The power produced by the solar thermal plants would reach the most customers during peak hours — noon to 7 p.m.
Demand for electricity is especially high during peak hours in summer months, when people use air conditioning.
"We can harness the sun's energy to meet our customers' power requirements when they need it most — during hot summer days," said John Conway, senior vice president of energy supply for PG&E.
In February, BrightSource also signed a deal with Southern California Edison to produce 1,300 megawatts of solar power over the next seven years. In March, it announced a deal with Nevada developer Harvey Whittemore for a solar thermal plant to be built in Coyote Springs. Wachs said 400 of the 1,310 megawatts for PG&E will come from the Nevada site.
BrightSource now has a total of 2,610 megawatts of solar thermal power under contract, the most of any company in the nation.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the deal an important step toward achieving the state's renewable energy goals.
"This announcement serves as more evidence that reliable, renewable and pollution-free technology is here to stay and sunshine will eventually power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across our golden state," he said in a statement.