Southern California Edison turns on first of commercial rooftop solar PV installations

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Southern California Edison has completed the first of its proposed 150 solar photovoltaic installations on Southern California commercial rooftops. The company says the five-year project could eventually cover about two square miles of existing commercial roofs with 250 MW of peak-generating capacity. First Solar engineered the rooftop system, manufactured the thin-film modules, and supplied the balance-of-system equipment for the initial project and has also been chosen by SCE to supply panels for the second installation.

A 600,000-square-foot ProLogis distribution warehouse in Fontana, CA (about 50 miles east of Los Angeles) hosts the first installation site (see photos). The 2-MW system has been fitted with 33,700 First Solar cadmium-telluride TFPV panels, making it the largest single rooftop solar PV array in the state.

SCE officials also announced the site selected for their next rooftop installation, a 1-MW system to be placed on a 458,000-square-foot industrial building in Chino, CA (about 20 miles west of Fontana), owned by the Multi-Employer Property Trust and advised by Kennedy Associates. Decisions have not been made–nor a timeline of when SCE might make its selections–on other building sites.

Although SCE originally said that construction on the Fontana system began in mid-July and that the system would connect to the grid in early September, the utility did not receive its first regulatory response to the project until Sept. 18, when the California Public Utilities Commission authorized the recording of costs for the first three installations. SCE awaits regulatory review and response to the entire $875 million project, a ruling that is due in March 2009.

SCE believes the rooftop PV plan will create new jobs in Southern California in the solar industry. For example, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, one of the utility’s project partners, has expanded its solar installation apprentice training program.

Solar and renewable energy champion Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand to dedicate the system and made the following statement.

“Here in California, we are taking action to protect the environment by passing laws and setting standards and our companies and entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge. Edison’s rooftop plan is the nation’s largest solar installation program by a utility, and it is just one example of how private companies are helping us reduce our emissions and meet our renewable energy goals.”

Officials from Edison International and First Solar were also on hand and offered their views.

“This innovative solar rooftop initiative is a natural extension of our industry leadership in renewable energy,” said Ted Craver, chairman/CEO of SCE’s parent company, Edison International. “We are driving solar technology forward and identifying creative new ways to integrate solar power into the electricity grid. A program of this scale could transform solar generation, helping bring costs down and providing us with another important way to meet the environmental challenges of the future.”

“SCE is one of the nation’s leading utilities,” noted John Carrington, First Solar’s executive VP of global marketing and business development. “We commend their strategic decision to invest in utility-retained generation; this pilot program is sited in the high peak load areas and will provide efficiencies to the grid while creating hundreds of jobs in California. We are excited to have been awarded the first and second pilots in SCE’s commercial solar rooftop installation project and look forward to working together on future opportunities.”

In a business section story about the project, The Los Angeles Times reports that “not everyone is enamored of Edison’s plan.”

Consumer activists object, saying “Edison should be looking to cheaper sources of renewable power, such as large solar and wind farms and geothermal plants. They contend that Edison International shareholders, not utility ratepayers, should finance the company’s huge bet on photovoltaic rooftop solar, one of the most expensive forms of clean energy,” according to the paper.

“This is not the most cost-effective renewable they could invest in,” Sepideh Khosrowjah, policy advisor for the Division of Ratepayer Advocates of the California Public Utilities Commission, told the Times. The independent advocacy operation has asked the commission to reject the ratepayer-financed plan, the report says.

The story goes on to say that “others fear that Edison would drive up the cost of solar panels by gobbling a limited supply and that the utility would have an unfair advantage over private-sector solar providers, which don’t have a captive group of ratepayers to fund their operations.”

“This is a solar monopoly that will eliminate its competition,” said Michael Boyd, president of the nonprofit Californians for Renewable Energy Inc., in a filing with utility regulators, according to the Times report.

(Photos courtesy of Southern California Edison)

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