Google invests $145M in big Calif. solar project

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, September 12, 2014

Google Inc., the Internet technology giant and green energy investor, will provide $145 million in equity funding to help construct one of the world’s largest brownfield-to-renewable energy sites.

The 82-megawatt Regulus solar project in Kern County, Calif., will cover a 737-acre former oil and gas field with nearly a quarter-million solar photovoltaic modules, whose electricity output will be sufficient to power roughly 10,000 California homes.

The project, being constructed by SunEdison Inc. of Belmont, Calif., will be the firm’s largest project in North America. The solar farm will sell its output to regional utility Southern California Edison under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA), according to officials involved in the project.

“Our investment in the Regulus solar project will give new life to a long-valued piece of land, and there’s something a little poetic about creating a renewable resource on land that once creaked with oil wells,” Nick Coons, renewable energy principal at Google, said in a blog post published yesterday.

Prudential Capital Group and Santander Bank N.A. provided term financing for the project, which will be owned and operated by SunEdison subsidiary TerraForm Power Inc.

Since 2010, Google has pumped more than $1.5 billion into 17 renewable energy projects amounting to 2.5 gigawatts of clean energy capacity. Those investments have been targeted largely at U.S. wind and solar power, including the promotion of third-party financing for residential solar systems.

‘Continually looking’ for more

The new equity partnership between Google and SunEdison follows a $250 million deal announced in April between Google and SunPower Corp. of San Jose, Calif., to help finance thousands of residential solar leases. Google pledged to contribute $100 million to that program, with $150 million coming from SunPower.

Google in 2011 committed a record $280 million to support a similar third-party residential solar program with SolarCity Corp. of San Mateo, Calif., the nation’s No. 1 solar firm. And it gave $75 million to help establish a new fund to be managed by Clean Power Finance to install solar panels on 3,000 homes.

The company’s interest in developing utility-scale renewable energy plants like the one in Kern County extends to other solar sites in California and Arizona as well as wind farms in California, Iowa, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas. Google has also made smaller investments in renewable energy projects in Germany and South Africa.

“We’re continually looking for newer, bigger and better projects that help us create a clean energy future,” Coons wrote in the blog post announcing the Kern County investment. “This cycle makes financial sense for Google and our partners while supporting construction jobs in local communities and clean energy for the planet we share.”

Bob Powell, SunEdison’s North American president, said partnerships like the one forged with Google, Prudential and Santander make Regulus “a prime example of how SunEdison’s end-to-end approach benefits everyone involved in a solar project.”