Sempra Energy Beams Over Completion of Solar Plant

California’s major utilities have been scrambling to meet a state mandate that requires using renewable energy sources to generate 20 percent of the electricity they supply by 2010. So San Diego’s Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) had good reason to bask yesterday as it announced its Sempra Generation subsidiary has completed the company’s first solar energy project, a 10-megawatt photovoltaic facility about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas, NV.

Except that electric power from the new solar plant is going to Pacific Gas & Electric to help the San Francisco regional utility meet its renewable energy requirement. PG&E says it has signed a 20-year power-purchase agreement for electricity generated by the solar plant. At peak production, Sempra’s new El Dorado Energy Solar facility can generate enough electricity for about 6,400 homes.

San Diego Gas & Electric, the utility owned and operated by Sempra Energy, currently generates about 6 percent of its total electric power from renewable energy sources. PG&E was at 12 percent—before Sempra completed its solar project in Nevada.

SDG&E has plans to develop its own sources of renewable energy, but the utility concedes it may not meet the state’s 2010 deadline. Meanwhile Sempra Generation, a more free-wheeling (i.e. unregulated) business unit, developed the solar project next to its 480-megawatt gas-fired power plant near Boulder City, NV.

Sempra says its new solar plant is the largest “thin film” solar power installation in North America. Construction began five months ago, and required installing more than 167,000 solar modules across 80 acres of Nevada desert. Sempra also plans to expand the El Dorado solar plant to 60 megawatts. First Solar, (NASDAQ: FSLR), of Tempe, Ariz., provided the thin-film solar panels, and led engineering and construction of the project.

The California Public Utilities Commission still must approve PG&E’s contract with Sempra for electricity generated by the plant.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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