PG&E Links Up With BrightSource In World's Biggest Solar Deal

Solar thermal startup BrightSource has secured the world’s largest solar deal with Pacific Gas and Electric (PCG).

BrightSource will build seven large solar power plants that throw off 1,310 MW of electricity for PG&E, with the first plant to be finished by 2012. This supercedes a previous deal between the companies for 900 MW. There were no financial terms announced.

The previous solar record was BrightSource’s deal with Southern California Edison, who contracted 1,300 MW in February.

BrightSource has over $160 million in private funding from diverse investors including (GOOG), BP Plc (BP), Chevron Corp. (CVX) and Cargill Inc. to name a few.

While this is all very exciting for BrightSource, Fortune’s Green Wombat blog is treating the news cautiously. It points out that that while BrightSource now has 40% of the “Big Solar” contracts in the U.S., it has yet to move an electron for these utilities. As a matter of fact, its system hasn’t been tested at large scale outside of Israel. Further, now that it has these contracts, it has to prove that can build the plants.

BrightSource now faces the challenge of licensing, financing billions of dollars in construction costs and then building nearly a dozen large-scale solar power plants to meet a 2016 deadline for the Southern California Edison (EIX) contract and a 2017 completion date for PG&E (PCG).  (The big wild card is whether transmission lines will be available to connect the power plants to the grid.) The first PG&E project is set to go online in 2012 with the first SoCal Edison solar farm to begin generating electricity the next year. Those first two power plants are part of a 400-megawatt complex BrightSource is planning for the Ivanpah Valley on the California-Nevada border.

“The biggest part of our strategy is to ramp up slowly and methodically,” BrightSource CEO John Woolard told Green Wombat. “We’re very, very careful about how we sequence the projects.”

To give you an idea of how arduous the licensing process is in California, consider that BrightSource filed its application to build Ivanpah with the California Energy Commission on Aug. 31, 2007 — the state’s first large-scale solar power plant application in two decades. But the energy commission currently estimates that it won’t sign off on the licence until around 2010, more than six months’ behind schedule as a multitude of state and federal agencies and green groups weigh in on the project’s environmental impact. The clock is ticking as BrightSource needs to start shoveling dirt on the construction site by the end of 2010 to qualify for federal loan guarantees that are part of the Obama stimulus package.

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