Cali Regulators Hail End of Startup Phase for Clean Energy Projects

California’s aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard program has finally started to put a dent in the state power grid, more than six years since its launch and just around the corner from the first major deadline: 20 percent renewable energy in every utility’s portfolio by 2010. The California Public Utilities Commission reported this week that 870 MW of new clean generating capacity has been added since the start of the program — with more than 500 MW coming online in 2008 alone. That’s more than four times the amount added in any other year since the program was launched in 2003. As commissioners noted in their quarterly report this week:

Clearly, 2008 was a turning point for the RPS program and contracted projects are beginning to deliver in large numbers. This may represent the end of the start-up phase of the RPS program, as contracts signed in the earlier years of the program are now built and the renewable market begins to mature.

It’s not just the amount of energy that marks the turning point, but the type. Geothermal and small hydro projects currently make up the bulk of those certified by the utility commission as qualifying under the portfolio standard. But in 2008, solar projects accounted for the majority of the 24 GW worth of bids submitted for contracts with California’s PG&E (s PCG), Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. According to the utility commission’s report, utilities were offered 30 percent more solar energy in 2008 than in 2007 (meaning solar companies said they could commit to selling the utilities that much more energy).
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SunPower Earnings Give Solar Investors Hope

Like most sectors, the coming crop of quarterly earnings reports from solar companies will be watched closely. There are arguments for and against the health of solar power in the imminent recession.
On the one hand, companies needing capital may be stretched, silicon may be expensive and prices for solar panels may fall. On the other hand, solar power may be a beneficiary of state and federal fiscal stimulus plans.
In that respect it was very encouraging to solar bulls that SunPower’s third quarter numbers, released Thursday, were strong. The $377.5 million revenue in the quarter was above analysts estimates of $350.4 million, and the 60 cents a share net profit was above the estimated 56 cents.
And while the company’s guidance for the current quarter is in line with the Street’s estimates, SunPower sees 2009 being a moderately strong year. It forecasts its revenue next year to be between $2.05 billion and $2.15 billion (versus the Street’s $2.06 billion) and earnings of at least $3.50 a share (versus the consensus $3.67 a share).
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Congress Bickers, Solar Stocks Crumble

The failed passage of a financial bailout bill has taken a harsh toll on most corners of the stock market, but few sectors saw steeper one-day declines Monday than solar stocks. That’s largely because there was a second piece of bad news coming from Congress that had special meaning for the solar industry.

Much like the bailout debacle, the House of Representatives and the Senate can’t find agreement on how to extend energy tax credits that are key to a more mainstream embracing of solar panels among businesses and homeowners. Incentives such as tax credits and subsidies are crucial to lowering the costs of solar power to make it competitive enough to reach a large scale.

The perception that Congress had been dragging its feet was a big factor in driving down solar-stock prices this year. Now legislators are taking action, but the arguing and sniping from both houses is threatening to delay a bill possibly into early 2009. More details on the political deadlock can be found at Congressional Quarterly and Bloomberg.
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Chris Crocker Fails to Leave YouTube As Promised

Like Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking at the front door, a breakout the night before the big dance and other annoyances, one would think the right approach to Chris Crocker ought to be, “Ignore him and he’ll go away.” Alas, that appears not to work. After declaring dramatically last month that he was leaving YouTube forever, Crocker posted a new video yesterday entitled I Am YouTube.

What do you get for your two minutes and 20 seconds? Some claims that he’s made up with the YouTube powers-that-be (though he is still not a YouTube partner), some shameless boasting about being the so-called “face of YouTube,” a Tay Zonday ejaculation joke, and then some shameless plugging of his new single — that’s right, Chris Crocker is now available in dance music form. (The single reached the top iTunes top 100 the week of Sept. 22nd, according to a video blog post that week; it has since dropped off the charts.)

Crocker continues to intrigue me mainly because I fail to understand what his appeal is. While much of his earlier popularity was built on his championing of alternative lifestyles, ever since Leave Britney Alone! Crocker has abandoned his message to instead focus on self-promotion. Who are the people who now consider themselves Chris Crocker fans? What percentage of them contributed to the nearly 100,000 views I Am YouTube has so far received? What percentage does that leave? And how many viewers are like me, just gawking?

Lehman Collapse Unsettles Solar Sector

The turmoil on Wall Street has until now had a muted impact on clean technology, but that’s starting to change. Some solar stocks are reeling from the shock waves of Lehman Brother’s bankruptcy.

Evergreen Solar (ESLR), JA Solar (JASO) and SunPower (SPWR) took hard hits early Tuesday, falling between 10 percent and 28 percent at the opening. Although each stock has since regained ground — JASO and SPWR were actually back in the green as of midday trading — the three stocks have given up between a tenth and a third of their value this week.

Each company had been in a stock-lending agreement with Lehman, leaving the bankrupt firm with shares that could complicate their future earnings. As Reuters explains,

“Under the deals, the three companies all lent shares to a Lehman subsidiary as part of stock issuances. If Lehman fails to return the shares as laid out under the agreements, they could be counted as part of their outstanding share counts, diluting the earnings per share of the companies.”

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Evergreen Solar Shares Fall on Weak Outlook

Solar stocks have been down across the board this week, thanks to reports that Spain is considering cutting solar subsidies. Even a bright earnings report from SunPower couldn’t clear those clouds. So when Evergreen Solar said its second-quarter loss widened over the same period last year, investors were in no mood to be forgiving.

Marlboro, Mass.-based Evergreen Solar lost $8.9 million in the latest three-month period, the company said after Thursday’s closing bell, compared with a $7.5 million loss in the second quarter of 2007. Revenues came in at $22.8 million, slightly ahead of analysts estimates, and up $15.4 million the year before.

But it was the company’s third-quarter forecast that prompted investors to send shares of the company down as much as 12 percent in early Friday trading. Evergreen Solar said it expects to post a loss of 10 cents per share on revenue of between $24.5 million and $25.5 million. That was below prior expectations of a loss of 8 cents per share on revenue of $26.5 million.

At last check, shares of the solar firm, which is a joint venture between German solar maker Q-Cells A.G. and Renewable Energy Corp, were down $1.20 to $9.12.

SunPower Snags Massive Florida Solar Power Plant Deal

SunPower said this morning that it’s scored a sunny deal in the Sunshine state. The solar cell maker will build those two massive solar photovoltaic power plants that Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) has in the works (and we wrote about here). SunPower (SPWR) will design and build the plants, while FPL will own and maintain them. SunPower’s stock rose more than 12 percent on the news, to $68.57.

The bigger of the two will be a 25-megawatt plant in DeSoto County, Fla., which SunPower said will be “the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the U.S.” It will be slightly larger the 21.5-megawatt plant SunEdison and Duke Energy are building (and similarly claimed would be the largest in the country). But it pales in comparison to the 550-megawatt PV plant that Optisolar has been talking about.
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