News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Carrizo Plain Solar Ranch Starts Pumping Power Into Grid

California Valley Solar Ranch| Photo courtesy NRG

The California Valley Solar Ranch, a 250-megawatt solar power generator being built in Central California's Carrizo Plain, started delivering power California's grid this week. Project owner NRG Energy and builder SunPower announced Wednesday that 22 megawatts of power from the project's photovoltaic panels is now being delivered to the Northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which has agreed to buy all the power the California Valley Solar Ranch generates until 2037.

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Construction on the California Valley Solar Ranch site began in September 2011. The project is expected to be fully built by December 2013, at which point NRG and SunPower will operate the facility in a two-year joint arrangement, with NRG assuming complete operational responsibility in 2016.

"We congratulate NRG and SunPower on this important milestone at the California Valley Solar Ranch," Fong Wan, PG&E's Senior VP for energy procurement, said in a press release. "PG&E provides to its customers some of the cleanest electricity in the nation, more than half of which comes from sources that are renewable or carbon free. This project will play an important role in our efforts to meet California's 33% renewable portfolio standard and make progress towards a clean energy future for all Californians."

"The companies have worked very hard with county staff, resource agencies, environmental organizations and the local community to construct a renewable energy facility while protecting the unique and sensitive landscape of the Carrizo Plain," added Jim Patterson, chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. "We appreciate both the local and global environmental and economic benefits this project has brought to our county."

The Solar Ranch consists of single-axis tracking photovoltaic panels on 1,966 acres of former grasslands in the Carrizo Plain, renowned worldwide for its wildlife value. The area is home to endangered and threatened species including the California condor, the San Joaquin kit fox, and the giant kangaroo rat. The project received a $1.237 billion loan guarantee in September 2011 from the Department of Energy under the controversial loan program that benefitted now-bankrupt company Solyndra. This company seems to be using that cash backing more effectively, though.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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