Joined by state officials and local community leaders, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has announced plans for the largest solar power installation in San Diego.

SDG&E's program is aimed at increasing adoption of solar power among San Diego-area commercial customers, municipalities and institutions -- a key sector that can support more substantial generating sites. SDG&E plans the largest concentration in San Diego of advanced, solar-tracking technology, with an initial target of developing 70 to 80 MW of solar electricity, about two-thirds of which would be utility-owned and, the remainder, customer- or third-party owned. Combined, the installations could be enough to power more than 50,000 homes.

"This is an important step forward for San Diego and California as we continue on a path toward more energy independence," said Michael R. Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission. "We hope this innovative SDG&E program sparks a dynamic public-private partnership to dramatically increase the use of solar power here in San Diego, so that our children and their grandchildren can continue to enjoy the environmental benefits of clean energy."

"Our mission is to tap more renewable power -- from solar, wind and biomass sources -- to meet the increasing energy needs of our customers and to benefit our environment," said Debra L. Reed, president and chief executive officer of SDG&E. "With this program, we are hoping to plant the seeds for what will grow into an aggressive expansion of solar energy within San Diego, starting with some of our major customers."

"Expanding the number of major solar power installations in San Diego will help us meet our energy needs locally," said state Sen. Christine Kehoe. "This program is exactly what we should be doing all over the state and I look forward to seeing positive results for our region."

"It is terrific that SDG&E is proposing to have a direct hand in installing more solar power in San Diego," said Dan Jacobson, legislative director with Environment California. "This utility-driven project, combined with customer-owned solar installations on homes and businesses, can make this vision a reality in the not so distant future."

Reed said SDG&E has been in discussions with a broad range of potential community partners over the past few months, including municipalities, institutions and commercial customers. The utility will be working collaboratively with its partners to develop a program best tailored to San Diego.

SDG&E will employ technology featuring photovoltaic panels that track the sun's path throughout the day. As compared with typical commercial rooftop photovoltaic systems, the tracking technology will enable the photovoltaic panels to produce 65 percent more power during system peak energy demand and 40 percent more energy throughout the year. The utility will work with a variety of suppliers and installers on these projects.

SDG&E is evaluating its own facilities for potential solar generation, as well as retail and commercial parking lots, county landfills and other suitable sites. For example, as part of Westfield's planned expansion of its UTC shopping center near La Jolla, SDG&E plans to install solar "trees" in several UTC parking lots. The solar trees will stand as tall as 12 feet high with giant solar panels atop them to collect and process the sun's rays, while providing shade for parked vehicles. Eventually, in the future, shoppers driving plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles may be able to connect into the solar trees and recharge while shopping at UTC.

"Westfield is committed to revitalizing the UTC shopping center in a manner that incorporates sustainable practices and designs, and preserves natural resources," said Stephen Fluhr, regional vice president of management of Westfield. "Exploring a large-scale solar facility in partnership with SDG&E is one example of this commitment."

SDG&E also is negotiating agreements with the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Santee and Carlsbad to site solar generating facilities.

The utility filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission today to review and approve the framework of the program. With Commission approval, up to $250 million will be invested in solar installations over the next five years, with the first installations operational as early as next year. Applications for each installation will be filed separately with the California Public Utilities Commission for approval.

The initiative is part of SDG&E's long-term energy plan, which focuses on energy-efficiency and demand-reduction programs, and increased renewable resources from both within and outside the utility's service territory, as well as new electric transmission and generation.

"We will need a combination of all of these resources to meet the growing energy needs of our region and California's groundbreaking energy and environmental initiatives," said Reed.