Your Electric Bill at Work

How Pacific Gas and Electric is giving clean tech a jolt.

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Behold the chicken-and-egg problem of renewable- energy technology: Not enough people build it because it’s expensive, yet it’s expensive because not enough people build it. Enter California’s old-school utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, which may have discovered a way to give clean tech a push. In April, PG&E agreed to pay approximately $1.5 billion to BrightSource Energy, which will build a cutting-edge solar plant to power more than 175,000 homes. The deal came with an unusual condition: PG&E will earn royalties on the company’s future sales. The utility is betting that by shelling out for the plant, it’s helping BrightSource reduce production costs and become a dominant force in the commercial solar energy market. The arrangement, in essence, turns the utility into a venture capitalist. If BrightSource pays off, says Hal LaFlash, PG&E’s director of clean technology policy, it’s a win for consumers too: “That revenue would offset future [electricity] rates.” In January, a major French electric utility announced a similar deal with solar manufacturer Nanosolar. If other power companies follow suit, the leading lights of green investing could be…your lights.

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Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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