OptiSolar outshines SunPower in PG&E deal

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced a deal today that will see it purchase 550 megawatts of solar power capacity from Topaz Solar Farms LLC, a subsidiary of low-key thin-film startup OptiSolar Inc. of California. Another deal, this one with SunPower Corp., involves the purchase of 250 megawatts of solar capacity. Together, the two solar farms are expected to deliver 1.65 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy annually to California electricity customers.

“These landmark agreements signal the arrival of utility-scale PV solar power that may be cost-competitive with solar thermal and wind energy,” said PG&E chief operating officer Jack Keenan.

This is a huge boost for OptiSolar, which also plans to build more than 200 megawatts of solar PV in Ontario to take advantage of the province’s 42-cent per kilowatt-hour feed-in tariff. A 500 MW manufacturing plant is being built in Sacramento to supply the modules, and product from OptiSolar’s first but smaller plant in Hayward is already being shipped to projects in Sarnia, Ontario.

OptiSolar executive vice-president Phil Rettger, who is also a company co-founder, said in an interview this afternoon that the deal with PG&E is a clear sign that solar PV has become an economic option at utility scale. “Based on the fact we won these contracts through a competitive bidding process, the market seems to indicate this,” he said. He wouldn’t say how large OptiSolar’s project pipeline has grown, but said the company is in active negotiations.

One interesting point made in the PG&E press release should be highlighted, however: “Both projects are contingent upon the extension of the federal investment tax credit for renewable energy and processes to expedite transmission needs.”

Yet another wake-up call for U.S. federal politicians asleep at the switch.