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SCE Starts Second Rooftop-Solar Installation, Awaits PUC Decision

Southern California Edison plans to begin installing its second rooftop-solar array this week. The 1-megawatt array, slated for a Multi-Employer Property Trust building in Chino, Calif., is part of the utility’s plan to install 250 megawatts of solar panels on some 150 commercial roofs in Southern California.

The utility had hoped to begin laying tracks for the panels Monday but is waiting for city permits, which it expects to get this week, spokesperson Paul Klein told us Wednesday. SCE has already received materials at the site and is ready to begin when it receives the required paperwork. Once work starts, the installation on the 458,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in about a month and to be connected to the grid in 90-120 days, the utility said.

In December, Rosemead, Calif.-based SCE announced it had completed its first installation, a 2-megawatt array on a ProLogis distribution warehouse in Fontana, Calif., using thin-film solar panels from First Solar. The Chino installation also is using First Solar panels.

SCE hasn’t yet announced where its third roof will be, but the company is in final negotiations for that lease now, spokesperson Gil Alexander said last week. The utility is looking for large commercial rooftops in areas with a growing demand for electricity but is confining its search to buildings where the owners wouldn’t be likely to install solar themselves. Take the ProLogis building, for instance. It doesn’t use much electricity, so ProLogis was unlikely to install solar for its own use, Alexander said.

Meanwhile, the utility is awaiting a decision from the state Public Utilities Commission to determine whether its customers will pay for the 250-megawatt project. In September, the commission gave the go-ahead for the first three installations while it reviews the rest of the project, estimated at $875 million. The utility expects a proposed decision by the end of this month and a final decision in April. Chris O’Brien, Oerlikon’s head of market development for North America, says he hopes the project gets approved. “Our position is that it’s a great opportunity; we applaud SCE’s efforts,” he said.

The application has sparked some controversy from consumer activists, who want the utility to focus on cheaper forms of renewable electricity, and from some solar insiders, who would like to see more of the capacity developed under power-purchase agreements. Some of those private developers believe they can supply solar electricity for the same price or lower than SCE’s project. But SCE already works with private developers in an annual open bidding process, Alexander says. The utility has accepted several power-purchase contracts for other photovoltaic projects as part of that process, including one of approximately the same size as the ProLogis installation, he added.

Meanwhile, other utilities seem to be trying to avoid the same hurdles by including power-purchase agreements in their plans. San Diego Gas and Electric in July proposed a 70- to 80-megawatt project in which it would build, own and operate roughly two-thirds of the capacity, while independent developers would own the remaining third. And the Pacific Gas and Electric Company chose to split the spoils right down the middle when it announced the largest photovoltaic-solar plan yet last month. Under the plan, which calls mainly for ground-mounted instead of rooftop solar, PG&E proposes to own 250 megawatts of the capacity and to develop another 250 megawatts via independent developers.