Recovery Act Propels 3 GW of Solar Projects to Front in California

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In a last-minute race to the finish-line, the CEC has approved a staggering 2,800 MW (or 3 GW) of solar projects this month in California.


Among them are Tessera Solar‘s 709 MW Imperial Valley Solar project in Imperial County (scaled down from 750 MW, by BLM request) and NextEra Energy‘s 250 MW Beacon Solar Energy Project, the first large-scale solar-thermal power projects permitted in California in two decades.

During the same time, only one 760 MW fossil plant was approved: Mirant Corp.’s 760-MW Marsh Landing Generating Station.

This ratio of clean energy approvals to dirty energy approvals reverses the pattern over the last ten years. Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution! While 11 Gigawatts of clean energy languished in “environmental reviews”, between 2000 and 2008, 20 Gigawatts of dirty power plants in California were promptly approved and installed.

The sudden uptick in approvals for the solar projects comes perilously close to a deadline, however. A total of 11,180 MW – or 11 GW-worth of clean energy projects are applying for Recovery Act funds, but the projects have to be under way by year’s-end in order to qualify for the stimulus funding that their private financing is predicated on.

All solar installations can get a 30%-off tax deduction because the current congress figures, accurately, that it’s cheaper to switch to clean energy in the long run, balanced against the high costs of fossil energy (in community health, wars, expensive peak oil exposure and skyrocketing climate change costs).

For businesses that made no profit in the recession (to take a tax break against), that 30% tax credit can instead be taken in the form of a credit. But that expires December 31, 2010.

About 11 Gigawatts of solar has been queued up for years to get approved in California, so getting almost a third of it through the CEC approval process is a major step forward. State regulators, environmental lawyers, and of course, the solar companies involved have been working round the clock over the last year to get this unprecedented supply of clean energy through.

Another 56 Gigawatts of clean energy projects, not applying for Recovery Act funding, and ranging in size from 2,500 MW solar or wind farms to smaller 1 MW community solar or fuel cell projects also await approvals.

The Recovery Act is jump-starting clean energy in America with a level of support for clean energy that this country has never seen before. In the next six months, we’ll know how much actually made it through, not just in California, but nationwide.

Source: CEC filings Proposed ARRA projects

Image: Flikr user Calovi

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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