PG&E to Soon Take Equity in Solar Projects

Northern California utility PG&E will soon start taking equity stakes in solar projects, CEO Peter Darbee told the audience at the Clean Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., on Wednesday. Darbee has openly talked about possibly pushing PG&E to invest in renewable power before, but this morning he said the company plans to submit a filing to the SEC as soon as the next quarter that details its investment plans.

PG&E generates billions in taxable income and could provide much-needed funding for companies to get solar plants up and running. It’s a big deal because utilities don’t traditionally own solar power-generating systems, and the sagging economy has been forcing solar companies to delay construction of plants and cut staff.

Federal renewable-energy tax credits, which were just revised to include utilities, come in the form of tax breaks, so only companies that pay enough in taxes can take advantage of them. Last April Darbee said that the biggest barrier to taking equity stakes in solar projects was the fact that the credits didn’t extend to the utility industry. But the potential investments aren’t only coming from the utility sector: As we’ve previously reported, Fortune 500 companies like Google and Microsoft have also been looking at investing in renewable energy in exchange for the tax credits.

Darbee said at the summit this afternoon that the utility is looking to take stakes in central solar thermal plants, as well as distributed solar PV rooftops, similar to what Southern California Edison has done, and will look at different ways to partner with solar companies. Wind, Darbee said, will be secondary.

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