PG&E to Announce Solar Investment?

solarthermalausraUpdated: The CEO of Northern California utility PG&E (s PGE) Peter Darbee, has been very vocal about his company’s desire to invest in and own solar projects, and suggested last month that the utility would “soon” do so. Is today the day he’ll give the word? At 11:30 a.m. (PST) PG&E is having a media event where it will discuss a “major solar energy investment announcement.” Update: Yep, PG&E announced it is investing in solar — for all of the details read here.

The press release says the reason for the media event is:

With many renewable power projects delayed, PG&E is committed to finding innovative new ways to add more clean energy to our power mix in order to protect the environment and meet our customers’ expectations.

Sounds like a solar investment plan to me. PG&E generates billions in taxable income and could provide much-needed funding for companies to get solar plants up and running. It’s significant because utilities don’t traditionally own solar power-generating systems, and the sagging economy has been forcing solar companies to delay construction of plants and cut staff. There’s another reason: insurance. A lot of the solar projects from which PG&E has agreed to buy power are being built by young startups, which by nature can be risky, unreliable, and prone to failure — particularly in these difficult economic times when capital is scarce. Now, will a company or project be named in the deal? We’ll keep you posted.

The Real Reason PG&E Wants to Own Solar Projects: Startups Are Risky

Last week the CEO of northern California utility PG&E, Peter Darbee, made one of the strongest pronouncements yet that it plans to invest in and own solar projects — rather than solely buy power from solar developers. By doing so PG&E can help usher along the solar power that will help it reach the state-mandated goal of 20 percent of its electricity generated by renewable energy by 2010, and the company generates billions in taxable income that could provide needed funding.

But here’s another reason: insurance. A lot of the solar projects from which PG&E has agreed to buy power from are being built by young startups, which by nature can be risky, unreliable, and prone to failure — particularly in these difficult economic times when capital is scarce. In recent weeks, three of the solar startups that PG&E has contracted with are showing signs of struggling, laying off staff, refocusing on different markets, and giving hintS of potential construction delays.

Take OptiSolar, which has been planning a 550MW-solar plant — dubbed Topaz Solar Farms — in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. and from which PG&E has contracted to buy power. The Hayward, Calif.-based company said earlier this month that it is laying off 300, or almost half, of its employees, and has delayed construction of a 1-million-square-foot, 600 MW annual capacity, Sacramento plant until at least the second half of this year.
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PG&E to Soon Take Equity in Solar Projects

Northern California utility PG&E (s pcg) will soon start taking equity stakes in solar projects, CEO Peter Darbee told the audience at the Clean Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., on Wednesday. Darbee has openly talked about possibly pushing PG&E to invest in renewable power before, but this morning he said the company plans to submit a filing to the SEC as soon as the next quarter that details its investment plans.

PG&E generates billions in taxable income and could provide much-needed funding for companies to get solar plants up and running. It’s a big deal because utilities don’t traditionally own solar power-generating systems, and the sagging economy has been forcing solar companies to delay construction of plants and cut staff.

Federal renewable-energy tax credits, which were just revised to include utilities, come in the form of tax breaks, so only companies that pay enough in taxes can take advantage of them. Last April Darbee said that the biggest barrier to taking equity stakes in solar projects was the fact that the credits didn’t extend to the utility industry. But the potential investments aren’t only coming from the utility sector: As we’ve previously reported, Fortune 500 companies like Google (s goog) and Microsoft (s msft) have also been looking at investing in renewable energy in exchange for the tax credits.

Darbee said at the summit this afternoon that the utility is looking to take stakes in central solar thermal plants, as well as distributed solar PV rooftops, similar to what Southern California Edison has done, and will look at different ways to partner with solar companies. Wind, Darbee said, will be secondary.

Apple to Sony & Nintendo: Let the Games Begin

Steve Jobs, as he was launching the latest version of Apple’s iPod, declared war on game console makers Sony and Nintendo. “It’s the best portable device for playing games,” Jobs said of the new iPod touch. Using the touch and the iPhone, Apple hopes to do battle with the Nintendo DS and PSP. But it’s a battle they will likely lose, for two reasons: One, the hardware isn’t optimized for gaming, no matter what Jobs says; and two, Apple lacks any killer apps when it comes to games. Read More about Apple to Sony & Nintendo: Let the Games Begin

PG&E’s CEO on T. Boone Plan: Not the Right Way

PG&E CEO Peter Darbee, at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Energy Summit at Stanford on Friday, told us that he was “concerned” about the plan unveiled last week by oil baron T. Boone Pickens to get the U.S. off oil. While reducing foreign oil consumption is the right thing to do, he said, the idea of replacing foreign oil with natural gas is a problematic one.

First of all, Darbee said, there isn’t that much domestic natural gas to go around, and the foreign natural gas providers are the same ones that currently provide us with oil. And from a national security perspective, converting our cars to natural gas wouldn’t change our energy-based security issues, he said; electric cars and hydrogen-based cars are a better alternative.

Darbee also said he’s becoming increasingly worried about the investment tax credit, which provides funds for up to 30 percent of the cost of a solar or wind system and is set to expire by the end of the year. As the Chronicle recently noted, PG&E has signed contracts with developers including several solar thermal companies that may put their projects on hold if the ITC is not extended. If the companies abandon their projects, PG&E would be left scrambling to meet the state renewable portfolio standard, which says the California utility must have 20 percent of its power from renewable energy by the end of 2010.

E2T Video: PG&E CEO Paints the Future of Utilities

The CEO of California utility PG&E, Peter Darbee, recently caught our attention in a big way when he said that he’d like to use PG&E’s deep pockets to buy and own solar thermal plants. Turns out that’s just the beginning of the things he’d like to change about how utilities operate.

Check out our video clip of a round table discussion with the man who was once named by Vanity Fair as a Golden State Eco-warrior. Darbee weighs in on electricity pricing, regulations, smart meters, and working with Google on plug-in hybrids.

MicroISVs Productivity: Eliminating Distractions is Key

MicroISVs, software developers who have fired their bosses and clients to start their own software companies, work on the bleeding edge of online technology. They are the earliest of adopters, among the fastest to jump on a new tool, idea, process or site that let’s them wring another .01% of effectiveness out of the long hours they put in.

Recently, I took an informal poll among several dozen microISVs I know, fishing for the absolute newest, best, shiniest way of being more productive. I got back all sorts of answers, from specific apps to bludgeon email into submission to doing absolutely everything you do on a computer in a text editor. I’ll explore more on those topics in future posts.

But right away I began to notice a common thread in their answers: they say simplicity and ruthlessly combatting distractions is key to building your productivity skills.

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32 GB iPod Touch reviewed- is it worth the high price?

I will be the first to admit I love my iPod Touch but am already up against the 16 GB of memory mine has.  I cannot even put all of the videos I’d like to carry with me because I’m up against the memory limit.  The newest iPod Touch with that 32 GB of flash memory would certainly ease my troubles but at $499 the question as always is if it’s worth the big bucks?  Dwight Silverman has reviewed the new iPod Touch for the Houston Chronicle and as always his POV is right on the money.  Check out the entire review to see what I mean.  Meanwhile here’s a teaser:

Overall, I think the 32-GB iPod Touch is the best media player in itsclass, as well as the best hand-held Web-access device. It’s not,however, the best value. I’ll stick to my current iPod for now.

My take on the Touch is the same as Dwight’s which shows you how good a device Apple has created.  It’s not only the "best media player in its class" but also the "best hand-held Web-access device".  That observation is spot on with my take on the iPod Touch.

Living a Microsoft Office Free Lifestyle

As part of my Leopard switch, I set one goal for myself: run nothing but Intel native applications. That meant finding a clear alternative for Microsoft Office.


Pages Sticking with the iWork ‘08 trial, I began my migration quickly and easily. All my Word documents changed peacefully to Pages by default and all opened just fine. The only minor issue I ran into was not having Microsoft’s font book, and therefor several obscure fonts were reset to Times New Roman. If anyone has a quick fix for this, I’d be interested to hear. I imagine I could take the font book from a Mac with Office installed and simply replace my font book with it?

Opening new documents was simple. Using the Blank template I was able to manage around Page’s Inspector. However I quickly ran into problems re-saving edited documents. Pages by default saves in the Pages format. So even editing a .Doc requires you save it as Pages. That’s a bit frustrating. You can export a file into Word for convenience, especially if you’re planning on sharing those documents with others. But it would be much more convenient to be able to choose your format directly from the Save screen. So I began saving my documents in the Pages format and getting rid of the normal Word documents when done editing them. Fortunately for me, I didn’t need to export documents as much as I thought I would. But again, it is frustrating after awhile. At least offer a keyboard command to quickly access the export feature so I don’t have to rely on my mouse as frequently.

The one real benefit I found with Pages and iWork was how quickly it opened. I imagine since Office is currently not Intel native, it requires more time to open. We’ll see how that remedies when Office ’08 goes on sale. But it’s nice not having to wait for a document to open. So far I’ve been happy with Pages, until it comes to creating a new flyer, not based on any of their templates. When creating a new layout or design, I can get more done and faster through Photoshop.

Keynote & Numbers

Keynote I’m lumping Keynote and Numbers together because as a writer my main focus lies solely on document editing. So for a more precise comparison, I recommend trying them out yourselves.

I think watching Steve Jobs’ Keynotes has created a bias for me. Or if you’re more familiar with An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore relies on Keynote for his presentation. Feature wise, Keynote offers very similar features as PowerPoint, just in a more clean, streamlined fashion. Since it meshes directly with iPhoto and iTunes, it’s a lot simpler to import music, photos, or even videos. One feature I truly love about Keynote is my ability to export it directly to iPod. When giving presentations I find it easier to carry around my iPod and A/V chord instead of a laptop and chords. Much less fuss, and much more streamlined. You may not retain as many features, but for someone that needs something portable, it’s a great idea. Over all I feel more satisfied with my Keynote presentations than I have with PowerPoint, so I’m going to stick with it.

Numbers Numbers was an interesting one for me. I could open my previous Excel files fine, but if they contained drop down menus, or set fields I began running into issues. Not a spreadsheet fiend, I think I’d prefer Excel only because of its familiarity and the fact it seems a business staple.


One thing I appreciate overall with iWork and Mac is the attention to detail. For example iWork allows you to move a document currently being editing to another folder without any errors. The document will kindly ask whether too start saving there, or save in two locations. Between Pages and Keynote I feel satisfied for most of my current office needs.

For students, something to keep in mind, is universality. Obviously Office is the preferred choice for schools and teachers, so it might be best for you to stick with it. Especially for note taking, I remember enjoying Word’s Notebook feature. Not only could I simultaneously record lecture from within Word, I could write clear outlined notes using its Notebook format. It was simple, efficient, and helped a lot.

If price is a factor for you, be sure and check out NeoOffice. It provides a classical approach and is completely free. iWork can be purchased for $79, and it looks like Office ’08 will run you up $150 for the Student/Teacher edition or $399 for Office Basic. If you’re running low on hard drive space, try testing out Google Docs and Spreadsheets, ZoHo, or Adobe’s new Buzzword. There are a variety of ways around office applications, so find what works most efficiently for you. If you have any recommendations or ideas, feel free to comment.

Vid-Biz: NBC, NBA, Ad Spending

NBC Reimbursing Advertisers; the peacock is paying out an average of $500,000 to advertisers due to a ratings shortfall (which started before the WGA strike). (MediaWeek)

NBA Taps Silverlight; Microsoft’s Flash competitor to power broadband video experience for NBA web destinations. (Broadcasting & Cable)

Strike Could be Boon for Online Ads; Lehman analyst says shift of just 1 percent of all 2008 broadcast ad revenue to online could result in $491 million of incremental spending. (paidContent)

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