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One of SunPower's current installations is shown here. SunPower signed a contract to provide California with 250 MW of flat panel solar photovoltaic power by 2012, helping to reestablish the U.S. as the global leader in solar.  (Source: MMA Renewable Ventures/SunPower)
California is thinking green with solar, nuclear, and wind

California is thinking green.  Hot on the heels of San Francisco's announcement of its big green tax cut -- subsidies for solar panel installation that will provide citizens with energy savings -- California has more big solar news.

The state's largest utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has signed deals with OptiSolar and SunPower to provide 800 MW of new solar power to the state in the form of massive solar photovoltaic plants.  The move will reestablish the U.S. as the global leader in solar power by being the world's largest set of grid-tied photovoltaic installations, surpassing solar-hungry Spain and Portugal.

The arrays will provide residents with 1.65 billion kilowatt hours each year and will power up to 250,000 homes.  Jack Keenan, CEO and senior vice president of PG&E states, "This commitment not only moves us forward in meeting our renewable goal, it's also a significant step forward in the renewable energy sector.  Utility-scale deployment of PV (photovoltaic) technology may well become cost competitive with other forms of renewable energy generation, such as solar thermal and wind."

With the upcoming capacity, 24 percent of PG&E's power will come from renewable resources. This exceeds the 20 percent that the state demands of the company by 2010.  Keenan says the new installation will help to ease California's massive power demands during peak afternoon hours.

The estimated completion date for Optisolar's 550 MW is 2013, while SunPower should finish up its 250 MW in 2012.  Both plants will be built in the sunny central San Luis Obispo County, north of Los Angeles.  The new farms are somewhat unique in that typically farms of this size have used solar thermal technologies instead of photovoltaics.  One cost efficient thing about the new plants is they'll be able to use almost entirely preexisting lines.  This will reduce the construction costs and thus reduce the cost per kilowatt hour as well.

OptiSolar's plant, the larger of the pair, will cut as much carbon emissions as removing 90,000 cars from the road.  It will use the company's cutting edge thin-film photovoltaic equipment.  It has already filed for permits and hopes to begin construction by 2010.  Randy Goldstein, CEO of OptiSolar states, "The Topaz solar farm will grow clean electricity on previously disturbed, unused farmland with low-profile panels minimizing visual impact.  It's designed to be compatible with key wildlife species and avoid environmentally sensitive areas."

OptiSolar currently employs 400 people in Hayward, California at a solar panel manufacturing plant.  In order to aid the construction it plans on creating another in Sacramento.  This new plant will create 1,000 "green-collar" jobs.

Meanwhile SunPower brings considerable experience to the table, having installed 350 MW in capacity in 450 sites on three continents.  Among its achievements are the installation of the largest U.S. photovoltaic facility, 14 MW at Nellis National Air Force Base in Arizona, and the installation of the world's first utility-scale photovoltaic plant in Bavaria, Germany.  The company has plans to sell solar panels at Wal-Mart, JC Penney, and Macy's to compete with IKEA's new solar offerings.  Sam's Club is also offering competitive products.

Adam Browning, executive of the Vote Solar Initiative praises the initiatives stating, "What you are seeing here is the foundation of an industry that can deliver electricity cleanly, cheaply, and reliably than the fossil fuel alternatives.  That's really good news because the Department of Energy predicts we will need 386 gigawatts by 2015 just to keep up with load growth...This is a very large, great leap forward in economies of scale. This is the wave of the future."

California also is considering new nuclear expansion with California firm Fresno Nuclear Energy Group LLC.  The company plans to build a new plant in San Joaquin Valley, in addition to California's four operational nuclear plants, which provide the state with a great deal of electricity.  The firm has contracted Constellation Energy in Baltimore to design build and operate the plant. 

The new nuclear plant would provide 1,600 MW of power, and would cost approximately $4B USD.  Californian citizens will vote this fall on whether to allow the construction of the plant.  Costs for nuclear range between $0.05 and $0.11 by current estimates, while costs for solar range between $0.15 to $0.20.  Both can be significantly cheaper than this thanks to federal subsidies.

Officials behind both the solar and nuclear projects warn that if Congress does not renew tax credits for alternative energy, efforts will likely slow and whither.  It currently looks likely that Congress will indeed renew these measures as they enjoy strong national support.

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Government Subsidies
By HsiKai on 8/15/2008 1:01:19 PM , Rating: 2
After reading the article I was interested in finding how much the government pays in subsidies for nuclear power to make it a more feasible power alternative. I found one study that indicates a 60-90% subsidy for nuclear power and a more recent 3.4-4.0 c/kWh subsidy, however this is from 2005. Does anyone have more up-to-date numbers on subsidy information? I'm still checking through DoE, though I doubt they'll have it.

As well, it indicates that nuclear power can be levelized to 3.1-8.2 c/kWh. Interesting. (See: )

RE: Government Subsidies
By Entropy42 on 8/15/2008 1:09:18 PM , Rating: 2
I didn't look over the site you linked, but you have to be very detailed with reading what everyone classifies as a subsidy. For example, many places treat any government sponsored research as a subsidy for that technology. Its not as simple as "well pay you X/kWh to make this energy competitive".

RE: Government Subsidies
By HsiKai on 8/15/2008 1:24:40 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I was noticing that. On the DoE site they list $922 million in R&D and $199 million in tax expenditures as "subsidies" which no doubt help the company in the long run, but I am more interested in the more direct and immediate ways they reduce the price per kWh. With respect to that, in 2007 is says "$146 million in Federal Electricity Support."


On a side note, does anyone else find the site silly? I think the site makes more sense with respect to domain and subdomain naming conventions, but I guess the general public isn't used to that.

RE: Government Subsidies
By masher2 on 8/15/2008 1:40:55 PM , Rating: 1
> " On the DoE site they list $922 million in R&D and $199 million in tax expenditures as "subsidies" which no doubt help the company in the long run, but I am more interested in the more direct and immediate "

One also has to remember that the lion's share of federal R&D funding doesn't go directly to nuclear fission power that is currently generating electricity, but rather to both fusion power programs and environmental research associated with cleanup of nuclear sites, most of which are associated with nuclear weapons research, rather than commercial power generation.

Still others are not nuclear-specific at all, but rather general electric support/distribution programs (such as enhancing power grids) which nuclear receives a pro-rata share based on the percentage of power it supplies.

This is from the GAO report:
We estimate electricity-related tax expenditures totaled $18.2 billion from FY2002 to FY2007 (2007 dollars):

•$13.7 billion for fossil fuels
•$2.8 billion for renewables
•$1.7 billion for transmission
•None assigned to nuclear

RE: Government Subsidies
By HsiKai on 8/15/2008 2:38:49 PM , Rating: 2
... lion's share ...

Yes, that's very true, but that's why I'm looking for either total federal subsidies (and possibly broken down into how it was spent) as taking an aggregate from all the respective departments with energy investments would be overly time consuming.

For instance, your link only relates to DoE electricity related tax expenditures, and as you quoted is estimated at $18.2 billion from FY02-07. It goes on to say

• We did not analyze subsidies related to electricity end use or consumption, such as those designed to promote energy efficiency and conservation or to provide low-income energy assistance.
• We did not gather data on possible electricity-related R&D funding by federal agencies other than DOE.

So that covers R&D, loans (and those guaranteed) and other expenses unrelated to .

My link indicates that "[t]otal Federal energy-specific subsidies and support to all forms of energy are estimated
at $16.6 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2007" and gives a breakdown for each energy beneficiary. But thanks for the link, it has some interesting information.

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