Renewable Energy Sources Wind California Obispo

California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company plans to build two of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic projects in San Luis Obispo County: a 550-megawatt “solar farm” and a 250-MW “solar ranch.”

The Bay Area utility announced the agreements with OptiSolar Inc. and SunPower Corporation on August 14 and expects both of the record-breaking solar power plants to be fully operational by 2013. OptiSolar’s 550-MW Topaz Solar Farm will begin producing power from its thin-film solar panels in 2011, while SunPower’s 250-MW solar ranch will employ the company’s crystalline solar cells to begin producing power in 2010.

Both of the facilities will break all current records for solar photovoltaic systems when they are completed, and the agreement led SunPower to declare on its home page that “utility-scale solar power has officially arrived in the United States.”

Topaz Solar Farms LLC, a subsidiary of OptiSolar, is already charging ahead on its project, having submitted a Conditional Use Permit application to the San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department in July. See the PG&E press release and the SunPower and OptiSolar Web sites.

PG&E’s announcement dwarfs other large-scale solar power plans that would otherwise garner headlines. For instance, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) announced in July that it will install 70-80 MW of advanced, solar-tracking photovoltaic systems throughout its service area. The utility will own about two-thirds of the systems, with the remainder being privately owned, and the systems will be located at SDG&E facilities as well as retail and commercial parking lots, county landfills, and other locations. The utility plans to invest up to $250 million in solar installations over the next 5 years.

Meanwhile, another subsidiary of SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra Energy, plans to develop a 10-MW solar photovoltaic facility near Boulder City, Nevada, about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The facility will employ thin-film solar panels from First Solar, Inc. But not all large solar plants are being built in the West, as Kovatch Enterprises and Green Energy Capital Partners have announced plans to build a 10.6-MW solar plant in Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania.