Google builds new solar power plants

Is Google an Internet company or a renewable energy developer? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. The company on Thursday was at it again, announcing that it was joining with the investment firm KKR to buy into six solar photovoltaic power plants being built by Recurrent Energy in California and Arizona. The plants total 106 megawatts of generating capacity.

The Victor Phelan plant (22 MW DC, 20 MW AC) in Southern California. (image via Recurrent Energy)

Google’s investment here is $80 million, the company said, which comes atop $94 million in put into four other solar power plants (totaling 88 MW) by Recurrent. Altogether, the company has made 14 renewable energy investments, adding up to more than $1 billion. From the Google Green Blog:

These investments are all part of our drive toward a clean energy future—where renewable energy is abundant, accessible and affordable. By continuing to invest in renewable energy projects, purchasing clean energy for our operations and working with our utility partners to create new options for ourselves and for other companies interest in buying renewable energy, we’re working hard to make that future a reality.

According to Google and KKR, five of the new Recurrent power plants will come in Southern California and one in Arizona. The companies said the plants will send power to three “offtakers,” but only identified one, Southern California Edison. The six projects are expected to be operational by January 2014.

“This partnership is ultimately about growing our clean energy resources in North America,” Ravi Gupta, a senior member of KKR’s infrastructure team, said in a statement. But of course a company like KKR, which manages some $90 billion in assets, also looks for return. Solar power plants, especially in California, where utilities need the clean energy to meet an aggressive renewable portfolio standard, obviously provide just that.

This solar investment comes just a few weeks after Google said it would invest $103 million into the Mount Signal Solar power plant, down near the border with Mexico, in Imperial County. Although just a single power plant, that 265.7 MW (DC) facility will provide more generating capacity than all 10 of the Recurrent plants put together.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling