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Google still showers money on solar

Google joins KKR for its first solar investment in the U.S. with $94 million in four solar farms in the Sacramento area.

Recurrent Energy

Despite dropping its internal solar technology development, Google continues to put money into solar power.

Assistant treasurer Axel Martinez said today that Google will invest $94 million into four commercial solar photovoltaic projects alongside private equity firm KKR. Google is investing equity in SunTap Energy, an entity created by KKR for solar investing.

The projects themselves are operated by Recurrent Energy, a company which specializes in commercial and utility solar photovoltaic projects. With a generating capacity of 88 megawatts, they will produce about 160,000 megawatt-hours per year, or enough to power 13,000 homes.

The solar farms will feed electricity into the grid run by the Sacramento Utility District, which created a feed-in tariff for renewable energy. A feed-in tariff pays a renewable power producer a higher rate than power from conventional sources, a model that's used in Europe. In the U.S., solar is subsidized with a federal tax credit.

Three of the Sacramento projects will be completed in early 2012 with the fourth coming online later in the year, Recurrent Energy said. "This investment is a clear demonstration of solar's ability to attract private capital from well established investors like Google and KKR," Recurrent Energy CEO Arno Harris said in a statement.

Google last month officially pulled the plug on an internal effort to engineer cheaper solar concentrator technology, part of a larger streamlining effort. But Martinez indicated that Google intends to keep investing in renewable energy projects which typically have a very predictable return.

With this project, Google has a clean energy portfolio of $915 million, including investing $880 million since January. The Sacramento investment is the first where Google has invested in solar farms using solar photovoltaic technology, Martinez said.

Updated at 6:00 a.m. PT with corrected figure for projected yearly energy production.