East Bay Solar News: BrightSource Secures $1.6 Billion in Federal Financing, SunPower Opens Milpitas Plant



When it comes to solar power — both rooftop and utility-scale — there are few regions in the country as well-positioned as the East Bay. And recent news puts a pair of local companies even further out front. First, on Monday, Oakland's BrightSource announced that it had secured $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from the US Department of Energy, as well as a $168 million investment from Google. Then, on Tuesday, Richmond- and San Jose-based SunPower held a dedication ceremony for its new solar-panel manufacturing plant in Milpitas. Both developments could play major roles in guiding the future of solar power in the East Bay and around the world.

BrightSource’s financial news relates to its Ivanpah project, a 370-megawatt plant in the Mojave Desert that we profiled in our December 2010 cover story "Oakland Invades the Desert.” Ivanpah is the world’s largest solar project under construction; when completed in 2013, it will nearly double the amount of solar thermal power produced in the US. (On its heels, however, will be an even more massive plant from fellow Oakland company Solar Millennium.) The Department of Energy’s contribution to the Ivanpah plant reflects the federal government’s commitment to fast-tracking and subsidizing large-scale renewable energy projects, even when their collateral damage to the environment is of serious concern, as our story expressed.

SunPower’s event likewise brought in the big government guns. US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Governor Jerry Brown, and Senator Joe Simitian were in attendance at the dedication of SunPower’s first full-scale domestic solar-panel manufacturing plant. Brown used the platform to officially sign into law new legislation calling for California utilities to obtain 33 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020. Chu, meanwhile, announced an offer of a $1.2-billion conditional loan to the company for a utility-scale solar power plant it's currently developing in Southern California. The new 53,600-square-foot plant is the result of a partnership between SunPower and Milpitas-based electronics fabricator Flextronics.