California utilities continue to announce efforts to site central station and distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) installations as an alternative to natural gas-fired power, which is the dominant source of electricity in the state.

Southern California Edison (SCE) on Wednesday announced a long-term agreement with Arizona-based First Solar Inc. for 250 MW of solar PV-generated supplies from a ground-mounted installation in southern Nevada near Primm, NV, and the California border. First Solar's Silver State South project would interconnect with SCE's proposed new Eldorado-Ivanpah 220-kV transmission line that is slated to connect growing solar PV developments in both Nevada and California with the Rosemead, CA-based utility's Southern California grid system.

On Tuesday Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E) said it has entered a 25-year contract with the solar unit of NRG Energy Inc. for 26 MW of supplies from a proposed solar PV facility NRG plans to develop in a desert portion of San Diego County near Borrego Springs, CA.

"This is the largest solar PV contract that SDG&E has signed for a project slated for its service territory," said a utility spokesperson. "This one project alone will increase the amount of solar power generated in San Diego County by 25%."

The state's third large power utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., earlier in February issued its first request for distributed solar PV installations of 1 to 20 MW in size throughout its service territory in a five-year program aimed at gaining contracts for a total of up to 250 MW of PV projects that the California Public Utilities Commission approved for the San Francisco-based combination utility last December.

Over the same time period, PG&E will develop another 250 MW of small-scale solar PV projects throughout its service territory.

The vast majority of the California utilities' power comes from natural gas-fired generation plants in California. While all three utilities still have at least one major gas-fired power project under development, the bulk of the projects now before the California Energy Commission are renewable projects, many by independent power plant developers.

SCE's project with First Solar is expected to begin commercial operations 2014 and be fully operational by May 2017. "First Solar's technology makes solar PV an excellent option for clean, emission-free power we can deliver to our customers," said SCE's Marc Ulrich, vice president for renewable and alternative power.

The NRG project for SDG&E is expected to be operational next year, and SDG&E Senior Vice President James Avery said he hopes it will be the "first of many [PV] projects to come."

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