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Industrial buildings across U.S. to go solar

Department of Energy backs massive public works project to install solar panels on unused roofs of industrial buildings across the nation, creating thousands of jobs.

At 733 megawatts, Project Amp overshadows what was previously thought of as a massive rooftop undertaking: the Toys 'R' Us installation of 20 acres' worth of solar panels. Toys 'R' Us

The Department of Energy has issued a $1.4 billion conditional loan guarantee to fund a massive project that would install solar panels on unused industrial roof space across the U.S.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced yesterday that support for Project Amp would come from American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 funds.

The project's aim is ambitious, with a goal of installing 733 megawatts' worth of photovoltaic solar panels across 28 states within the next four years. Once complete, the Project Amp solar panels are expected to generate enough electricity to power over 88,000 U.S. homes per year.

Different from many private solar roof installations, the electricity generated from the Project Amp solar panels will feed directly into a branch of the national electric grid, not the host building itself.

Project Amp definitely qualifies as massive. At 733 megawatts, it's almost equivalent to the amount of all the solar projects that got built in the U.S. in 2010. To put that figure in perspective, Toys 'R' Us recently announced a 5.38-megawatt solar roof project, and those panels are expected to cover 20 acres of industrial roof space.

The project is being carried out in the interest of public infrastructure and job creation under economic duress. It's also being financed in large part by the federal government.

The project is not a public works project by strict definition, however. Project Amp is also backed and largely under the control of the private sector. The U.S. government's promised loan of $1.4 billion is going to a project that will cost $2.6 billion. Phase 1 of the project, which includes only 15 megawatts of solar power, is being financed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, power company NRG Energy, and industrial real estate management company Prologis. The industrial roofs to host Phase 1 of the solar panels are buildings owned and managed by Prologis, who will also oversee installation.

The total project will create the "equivalent of more than 10,000 full-year jobs" across 28 states, according to NRG Energy.

Phase 1 of the project, which is expected to be completed this year, will source 90 percent of materials from within the U.S. as another way to support and stimulate job growth at home. The electricity generated from Phase 1 will be sold to California Edison.

"As one of the world's largest owners of distribution facilities and an active solar industry participant, we're pleased to be a partner in a project of this magnitude," Drew Torbin, vice president of Prologis Renewable Energy, said in a statement.