Feds and Private Sector Funding Major Solar Panel Projects

July 6, 2011

Two recently announced projects are designed to substantially increase the installation of solar panels, both to feed energy to the grid and to supply energy to individual homes.

On June 22, 2011, government and private industry collaborators announced Project Amp, which is expected to lead to the installation of photovoltaic solar panels on about 750 industrial buildings in 28 states. The energy would be fed to the grid, and would be enough to power about 90,000-100,000 homes. The project would support about 10,000 equivalent full-year jobs. The Dept. of Energy says this will be the largest single rooftop solar project in US history, and the amount installed will nearly equal all photovoltaic solar installed in the US in 2010.

DoE is providing a conditional partial guarantee of a $1.4 billion loan for the project, and the full project cost is expected to be about $2.6 billion. Prologis owns the buildings and will be the developer and construction manager, as well as an investor. NRG Energy is the lead investor, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch is the lender and applicant.

Candidate buildings owned by Prologis are in 28 states. However, company officials declined to identify the 28 states, the buildings involved, or the timing for the projects. Nonetheless, the press release noted that Phase 1 will involve 15 MW of power on a building in southern California, with the power to be sold to Southern California Edison.

Taking an entirely different approach, on June 14, 2011, Google and a company called SolarCity announced they were teaming up to spur installation of solar panels to power individual homes. They say they are committing $280 million to the project, and say other companies can follow suit and profit by investing some of the cash they have on hand to support projects that provide environmental benefits and jobs.

For this project, homeowners can either purchase a solar system or essentially lease one, sometimes with no money upfront.

SolarCity says each homeowner's monthly electricity cost, which can be set at a fixed, stable rate, should be equal to or less than the current cost. SolarCity can provide system monitoring, do needed repairs, guarantee performance, and provide insurance against damage or theft. The deal is supposed to be upgradeable as technology advances, or transferable if the homeowner sells the house.SolarCity says it has already installed or is installing more than 15,000 similar systems in AZ, CA, CO, MD, MA, NY, NJ, PA, TX, and Washington, D.C.  This new program will be available in the same states and D.C., though the exact package differs in each jurisdiction due to varying state and utility rules and financial incentives. The new funding is available now, and SolarCity says it is using a variety of promotional tools to get the word out. It expects the money will support installations in about 7,000-10,000 homes.