California ratepayer advocate complains of high solar power costs
by Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times
November 11, 2011 | 6:04 pm
Photo: Mirrors concentrate solar power at Mojave Desert power plant. Photo Credit: PBS
California consumers will be paying too much for electricity generated by a large solar-thermal power plant being built in the Mojave Desert, the state's independent ratepayer watchdog agency said.
The Division of Ratepayer Advocates questioned the California Public Utility Commission's 4-1 vote Thursday to approve the Mojave Solar Project's 25-year power contract with Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
"The commission has the power to keep the cost of renewable energy reasonable," said the division's acting director, Joe Como. The commission, he said, "is signaling to the market that California will accept overpriced renewable energy and that it is willing to lock customers into higher rates for decades to come."
In a statement, the PUC confirmed that the contract "is more costly than other procurement opportunities available to PG&E," but said it "determined that the value of adding the Mojave Solar Project to California's fleet of renewable energy generation capacity warranted approving the project."
The contract had to be renegotiated higher because of an expected delay in upgrading the transmission network, the PUC said.
PUC Commissioner Mark J. Ferron said he has "high confidence" that the Mojave plant will get built.
"The technology is tried and true, the financing is all wrapped up with the U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee," he said, "and we're told that the hard hats are on and the bulldozers are ready to roll."