California puts Solar PV on Utilities Christmas Shopping List

California Public Utilities Commission Headqua...

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As part of its year-end approval of pending renewable energy procurement contracts the California Public Utilities Commission got some good news from the falling prices of solar PV panels. Of the 544 MW of solar projects on the CPUC’s December 15th agenda 294 MW (54%) were at or below ‘grid parity’ which is defined in California market price referent rule as the costs of building a new combined cycle natural gas fired power plant. The other projects approved were priced higher but still judged reasonable by the CPUC when other cost factors such as transmission costs were considered.

Southern California Edison reported to the CPUC that it has cancelled proposed contracts with 95MW of solar PV projects because the transmission costs were too high. But SCE won the day with approval for15 PV projects totaling 144 MW using a Renewable Standard Offer program designed to attract small projects of up to 20MW using a reverse auction process where the project offer a price and compete for a place in the total 250MW to be procured.  The CPUC reviewed the process and found it produced very attractive price results for customers each priced lower than the 2009 MPR of $108.98/MWh.

SDG&E’s request to purchase 96-150MW, from Tenaska Solar Ventures was approved.  PG&E also won approval for a proposed purchase of 150 MW PV from Sempra Generation, which was also priced below the market price referent cost.

Not counting the recently approved projects, California’s big three investor owned utilities now provide 17% of their 2010 retail electricity sales from renewable power sources with PG&E at 15.9%, SDGE at 11.9% and SCE at 19.3%.  Each has a way to go to reach the 33% RPS target so they will keep shopping until they drop beyond this Christmas season.