PG&E: Top of California Solar Utility Heap

With its 150,000th solar installation and many more to come, San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric is cleaning up and shaping up to become America’s largest solar utility. It added 45,000 customers last year alone, and connects on average 4,000 new solar systems a month, reportedly more than “any other energy company in the nation,” PG&E’s milestone press release explained.

“Every month, thousands of PG&E customers are choosing to go solar to help them save on their bill and to reduce their carbon footprint,” said PG&E VP Laurie Giammona. “Solar power is critical to California’s clean energy future.”

PG&E bolstered its boast with testimonials from water-intensive customers like Marine Mammal Center and Mondavi Vineyards, but most homeowners across Northern and Central California stand to gain from the utility’s suite of options like solar calculators, energy checkups, renewables incentives and financing options. However, the most interesting news of PG&E increasing solarization is its Green Option, which it explains as “a new clean energy program that will provide up to 100 percent solar power for a modest cost premium each month.”

Enrollment isn’t until 2015’s fourth quarter, but it allows customers to “buy into a pool of clean solar energy, locally produced in the utility’s service area.” As PG&E explained in January:

PG&E will buy energy for the program from newly developed small and mid-sized solar projects located within its service area. Participating residential and commercial customers can choose to cover either 50 or 100 percent of their energy use.

They will pay the incremental cost of the new solar energy they consume, as well as related program costs. The initial estimated premium of two-to-three cents per kilowatt-hour likely will fall over time as solar costs decline relative to the cost of PG&E’s standard power, which is more than 25 percent renewable today.

Under a separate program option, customers will be able to contract directly with a third-party developer for a share of the output of a local solar project.

Whether or not this “pool of clean solar energy” involves the solar goldmine that First Solar is building, with $850 million of Apple’s market-making money, for PG&E in Central California has not been fully confirmed — but solarizers should definitely keep it in mind. Because the utility still has some significant problems, from ongoing nuclear nightmares to executive pay insults to a forthcoming criminal trial in 2016. It can use all the good news it gets.

And that’s what solar is for PG&E: good news that keeps on coming. After all, the utility might not have most of its aforementioned problems if it would have solarized even faster.

This article appeared at Solar Energy