A new big solar panel farm in the works in California

Photo by Katie Fehrenbacher/Gigaom

Solar panel and project maker SunPower announced on Friday that it has plans to build a 100 MW solar panel farm in the California central valley area of Kings County, and SunPower plans to sell the power from the project to utility PG&E. Called the Henrietta Solar Project, the farm could provide enough solar power for 36,000 homes when its built in late 2016.

California has a state mandate that requires its investor-owned utilities (that includes PG&E) to have 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020. That has led to the construction of 2,871 MW of clean power projects in the state since 2003, and 11 percent of those projects came online during the first half of 2012, according to a state report released last month. In other words, California’s utilities have been building these types of solar power projects at a break neck pace in recent months (at least compared to the rest of the U.S.).

The Henrietta Solar Project will use solar panels that sit on trackers, instead of the large mirrors used to concentrate the sun, which are found in other projects like BrightSource’s Ivanpah. The cost of silicon solar panels has plummeted in recent years. Though, SunPower sells a premium, more efficient solar panel, and also builds solar projects.

Project development and rooftop solar panel lease programs are offering a bright spot in a difficult solar market for solar panel makers like SunPower and First Solar. SunPower has yet to return to profitability and for the second quarter of this year recorded $84.2 million in net losses compared with $147.9 million in net losses from the second quarter of 2011.

The Henrietta Solar Project still needs to be approved by the California Public Utility Commission. SunPower says the project will create 200 jobs during construction and pump $72.7 million into the local economy.

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