Pacific Gas and Electric Co.(PG&E) has announced plans for a five-year program to develop up to 500 MW of clean solar photovoltaic power in its northern and central California service area, one of the largest undertakings of its kind in the country.

The proposed program consists of up to 250 MW of utility-owned PV generation - PG&E's first direct investment in renewable generation in over a decade - and an additional 250 MW to be built and owned by independent developers under a streamlined regulatory process. PG&E is submitting its plan to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval, which could come later this year.

If all projects are up and running by 2015, they are expected to deliver more than 1,000 GWh of power each year, equal to the annual consumption of about 150,000 average homes. In all, this program would meet over 1.3 percent of PG&E's electric demand.

"I applaud PG&E for its commitment to making a direct investment in clean, renewable solar energy generation that will eventually power tens of thousands of California homes," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "By bringing renewables online as quickly as possible and advancing the development of green technologies, this effort will advance California's aggressive push to meet our long-term energy and climate change goals while keeping California on the leading edge of this booming industry."

"This program represents an unprecedented commitment of our capital and expertise to speed the delivery of clean, renewable energy to our customers," said PG&E CEO and President Peter Darbee. "With many renewable-energy projects delayed, we can't afford business as usual when it comes to protecting the environment and meeting our customers' expectations."

PG&E's solar program targets mid-sized projects, typically one MW to 20 MW, mounted on the ground or rooftops, within its service area. Where feasible, projects developed and owned by PG&E would be built on land already owned by the utility or near its substations to minimize the cost and delays of interconnecting them to the power grid.

Projects developed by independent parties would be offered a standard contract and pricing derived from the utility's own costs to streamline review of their applications.

Since 2002, PG&E has entered into contracts for more than 20 percent of its future electric power deliveries from renewable sources. On average, more than 50 percent of the electricity PG&E delivers to its customers comes from generating sources that emit no carbon dioxide, making the company's energy among the cleanest in the nation.