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Investing In Renewable Energy

University of California, Merced
The University of California, Merced will host one of the SunPower installations financed by Wells Fargo.
(cc) Erik A. Olsson

There’s been a lot of news lately about various governments opening their coffers to finance renewable energy projects. Leading the way, the US Department of Energy, as part of the federal government’s Recovery Act initiative, has authorized more than $30 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy, loan guarantees for renewable energy, smartgrid upgrades, and related technologies.

But it’s not just government spending big on energy alternatives; the field is open to anyone with enough cash to spend.

Consider Wells Fargo and SunPower Corp. The two companies have launched a collaborative effort to fund up to $100 million in SunPower commercial-scale solar systems.

Under the financing program, SunPower will enter into power purchase agreements with qualified customers and Wells Fargo will finance the solar power systems that SunPower will design, build, operate, and maintain. Customers hosting the systems will buy the electricity from SunPower at prices that are competitive with retail rates, providing them with a long-term hedge against rising power prices and the ability to take advantage of the environmental and financial benefits of solar power with no initial capital investment.

“We see increasing opportunities over the next several years to support renewable energy markets,” said Barry Neal, director of Wells Fargo’s Environmental Finance. “By teaming up with SunPower, we intend to support growth in the solar energy market by making it easier and more affordable for businesses and public entities to benefit from solar electricity today.”

The first projects financed under the program include a 1.1-megawatt system for University of California, Merced, and a 1-megawatt system for the Western Riverside County Regional Wastewater Authority. Scheduled for completion by the end of 2009, both will be ground-mounted systems using the patented SunPower T20 Tracker technology, which follows the sun throughout the day and delivers up to 30 percent more energy than fixed-tilt ground systems.

Mac Irvin, managing director of SunPower’s structured finance group, commented, “SunPower offers high performance solar technology and financing expertise that helps customers maximize savings on their electricity expenditures. Our relationship with Wells Fargo strengthens our project finance efforts, streamlining the implementation of clean, renewable solar power for SunPower’s large commercial and public customers throughout the U.S.”

SunPower has more than 500 large public and commercial solar power systems installed or under contract, representing more than 400 megawatts, and they pioneered the use of solar power purchase agreements in 2000.

Wells Fargo is also not a newcomer to the field of renewable energy. The financial services company has provided more than $1.75 billion in financing for renewable energy projects since 2006. That includes funding for 27 wind projects, more than 150 commercial-scale solar projects, and 1 utility-scale solar thermal project.

Together, Wells Fargo and SunPower hope to prove that investing in renewable energy can be profitable for private enterprise and government alike.

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