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Buffet's agreement could boost solar power in the U.S.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 10th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings has agreed to buy a $2-billion photovoltaic farm in San Luis Obispo County. Many feel this could bring a desperately needed ray of financial sunshine to the long suffering U.S. solar-energy industry.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The U.S. still relies on fossil fuels for 83 percent of its energy needs, with solar power only accounting for only one percent of the country's alternative energy production. In addition, high-profile bankruptcies haven't helped the cause of solar power, most noticeably that of Fremont, California based Solyndra, which folded last September after receiving a $535-million federal loan guarantee.

Green energy supporters said the move by Buffett's company could get other investors to focus on solar energy's strengths, which have been disregarded in the face of recent bad publicity.
 
While the purchase of the photovoltaic farm is considerably more modest than his $34-billion purchase of BNSF Railway, but it could give a similar kind of boost to the solar power business that the 2009 acquisition did to the railroad industry, experts said.

"In a lot of ways, this is classic Warren Buffett," Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University says. "He comes into an industry that is starving for capital investment. At the same time, this is something that also tells people it's time to take solar power seriously."

MidAmerican is buying the 550-megawatt, thin-film photovoltaic solar energy development, called Topaz Solar Farm from First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Arizona. How much the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary is paying for the solar project, which will be able to generate electricity for about 160,000 homes, has not been disclosed.

First Solar will build and operate the solar plant for MidAmerican, the companies said.

The U.S. solar industry has struggled for several reasons. It has been bludgeoned by falling solar-panel prices and, some say, unfair competition from China.

The value of the nation's solar industry has grown 67 percent, to $6 billion, since 2009, making it the fastest growing segment of the nation's renewable energy offerings, Michelle Kinman, a clean energy advocate for the group Environment California says. The solar industry also is producing jobs at a fast rate during a time of distressingly high unemployment in America.

"Solar power currently employs about 100,000 people in the U.S., with about one-quarter of those jobs here in California," Kinman said. The industry is expected to add 25,000 jobs around the nation over the next year.

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