News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

SunPower, PG&E Shake Hands on Central Valley Solar Deal

SunPower solar cells | Photo pgegreenenergy/Flickr/Creative Commons License

In yet another example of the burgeoning trend toward solar development on marginal agricultural land in the San Joaquin Valley, SunPower and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) have agreed that the Northern California utility will buy power from a proposed 100-megawatt photovoltaic power facility which SunPower will build for a third party in Lemoore Station. Lemoore Station is a small Kings County town which is probably mainly familiar to Californians from other parts of the state as the settlement visible in the distance a few miles east of Harris Ranch.

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Under the terms of the agreement, PG&E will buy power from Parrey, LLC's Henrietta solar project for a twenty-year period at a price lower than $.104 per kilowatt. That's set cheaper than the "Market Price Referent," the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) estimate of the cost of gas-fired power over the long term. If SunPower and PG&E can make that deal work, it would mean it's possible for utility-scale PV to outcompete even today's remarkably inexpensive natural gas.

The CPUC must still approve the power purchase agreement. The Henrietta facility is projected to begin construction in 2015 and start delivering power in October 2016. SunPower will build the plant using the firm's proprietary Oasis power plants, which consist of 1.5 megawatts of PV and energy management equipment combined into modules. SunPower's hope is that these power blocks will allow rapid and economical construction of utility-scale PV.

According to PG&E, the Henrietta site is on what is essentially worn-out farmland:

The Project is located on private land. The Project's current land use is generally described as non-prime agricultural land. The land is not subject to a Williamson Act contract. The land is degraded and has low quality soils. The site is heavily disturbed with very low historical occurrence of endangered or threatened species.

The project, if approved, is expected to create 200 construction jobs.

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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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