Google Gets Back On The Clean Energy Horse

Some observers took Google’s decision to pull the plug on its “Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal” initiative as a sign that the company was perhaps losing its appetite for clean power. But Google insisted it had simply taken that particular research project as far as it could go, and that more investments in renewable energy would follow. Proving the point this week, Google said it was pouring $94 million into four photovoltaic projects that Recurrent Energy is building in the Sacramento, Calif., area.

This is a familiar equity play by Google, whose portfolio of clean energy investments is now closing in on a cool billion bucks ($915 million, to be precise). But an interesting twist here is the investor joining in with Google in backing the Recurrent projects: leveraged-buyout specialist Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, known widely as KKR.

image via SMUD

The firm has made a handful of clean-energy investments, totaling around $1.5 billion, over the past year, backing the French wind power operator Sorgenia and T-Solar, a Spanish solar company. But this new investment, dubbed SunTap, is its first move in the United States. KKR said it had established a $95 million line of equity for the Sacramento projects and other possible U.S. projects down the road.

The four plants being built will provide 88 megawatts of generating capacity to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District as part of a feed-in tariff program the utility is embarking on. KKR said the plants, all of which are expected to be completed before the end of next year, would produce 160,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in their first year of operation, equal to the amount used by 13,000 average U.S. homes.

“Recurrent Energy is a leading solar developer and Google embodies innovation,” Raj Agrawal, head of KKR’s North American Infrastructure team, said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with these two leaders to serve [Sacramento Municipal Utility District] with a substantial and reliable new source of renewable energy and to contribute to our country’s vast growth in clean energy resources.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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