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Going Green: State’s Solar Industry Growing

By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer

February 28, 2012 - Local companies are taking advantage of the region’s sunshine, continuing Southern California’s status as a leader in the solar industry.

According to the “California Solar Cities 2012” report by the Environment California Research & Policy Center, the City of Los Angeles is number two in solar installations and second in the amount of solar energy generated statewide, following San Diego.

Ollie McKinney, head of administration at the Long Beach-based Lite Solar, shows some
examples of solar installations at commercial real estate properties. Lite Solar,
which has been in business for two years, is a subsidiary of multi-family housing
developer and operator International Finance, also based in Long Beach.
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville)

State incentive programs like the California Solar Initiative (CSI) support the growth of businesses in the solar industry through its residential solar subsidies.

Long Beach is home to several solar production and installation companies, including Lite Solar in Bixby Knolls.

Ollie McKinney, head of administration for Lite Solar, said the two-year-old local business has already developed successful relationships in the commercial real estate sector. As of January, Lite Solar has closed $100 million worth of commercial solar panel installation projects.

Lite Solar is a wholly owned subsidiary of real estate developer and operator International Finance, a 40-year-old company which has been based in Long Beach for more than a decade. In looking for its own energy savings solutions, International Finance decided to install solar panels on covered parking at its multi-family unit apartment buildings across the nation, according to McKinney.

“The story that we tell about why they need solar is the truth, because that’s exactly why we went into it,” he said. “We know their bottom line as well as they do, because we are in that business.”

Lite Solar employs about 100 people today, and McKinney expects the company to grow to a maximum of about 300 employees. About 75 of the firm’s employees work in Long Beach. The business sub-contracts for some jobs, such as those outside the state.

Lite Solar has a proprietary system design and construction methods for its covered parking and energy backup systems. According to McKinney, having that backup system is important due to concerns about the stability of our existing power grid and the expectation that solar flares in 2012 could cause widespread power outages.

To that very point, energy providers like Southern California Edison (SCE) have been working on growing their solar portfolios for decades. Today, SCE buys 65 percent of U.S.-generated solar power.

“In California, we are blessed with an abundant source of renewable fuel from the sun,” according to a statement by Stuart Hemphill, senior vice president of SCE’s Power Procurement. “We are encouraged by all of the initiatives and innovation taking place in the industry to take advantage of this plentiful source of power. Our productive partnerships with customers and developers will help assure Edison continues to lead the way in renewable power.”

Melicia Charles, customer generation programs supervisor with the California Public Utilities Commission’s Energy Division, told the Business Journal via e-mail, “Last year, California reached a major milestone of installing over 1,000 megawatts of solar statewide – over 60 percent of which can be attributed to the CSI Program. CSI incentives began at $2.50 per watt at the beginning of the program, and now range from $0.35 to $0.65 per watt in the Los Angeles area. Even though the incentives are declining, the program is still going strong and solar is being installed in record numbers.”

Charles notes that Los Angeles County has more than 136 megawatts worth of installed and pending projects associated with the CSI Program – the most in the state. The county also has the second highest number of projects in the program, with more than 7,600 in all. “All of this translates into a robust environment for green job growth,” she said.

The Environment California Research & Policy Center rankings listed Long Beach at number 23 with 563 “grid-tied” solar systems installed. Fresno and Sacramento, two cities with about the same population as Long Beach, were ranked fifth (2,146 installations) and tenth (1,119), respectively.

For a copy of the policy center’s report, California Solar Cities 2012, visit here for more information.