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Google, KKR To Invest $189 Million In US Solar-Power Projects

By Cassandra Sweet Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Google Inc. (GOOG) and KKR & Co. L.P. (KKR) said Tuesday they would invest a combined $189 million in U.S. solar facilities. Google said it would invest $94 million in four California solar farms under construction near Sacramento. KKR said it plans to invest $95 million in U.S. solar facilities, including the Sacramento facilities and other projects it has not yet announced. The Internet company and private equity firm agreed to buy a majority stake in the Sacramento solar facilities from developer Recurrent Energy, a unit of Sharp Corp. (6753.TO, SHCAY). The facilities, which together will have 88 megawatts of generation capacity, have long-term contracts to sell their electricity to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The investments are the latest in a string of large solar-power deals involving major U.S. energy companies, including Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. and NRG Energy Inc. (NRG). Federal and state incentives, and renewable-energy requirements in states like California, have made solar power a lucrative business for project owners. Meanwhile, solar-panel prices have declined, as weak solar-power demand in Europe and an oversupply of panels from China have put pressure on manufacturers. The Sacramento solar facilities bring Google's total investment in clean-energy projects to $915 million, the company said. The Mountainview, Calif., company invested $280 million in roof-top solar systems last June, and spent an additional $75 million on rooftop solar-power systems in September. "We're very committed to continue investing in this sector," Axel Martinez, assistant treasurer at Google, said in an interview. "We think a future in which sustainable sources of energy are abundant are critical to our own business, as well as the overall economy." Martinez said the Sacramento solar farm purchase entailed low risk relative to their expected returns, which make them "very sensible investments." KKR, of New York, said it has established a new venture, called SunTap, that will invest $95 million in solar power projects, including the Sacramento solar farms. The company declined to say how much of the $95 million it would invest in those facilities. The investments follow two solar-power purchases earlier this month by MidAmerican Energy, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA, BRKB). MidAmerican agreed last week to buy a 49% share of a $1.8 billion solar-power plant owned by NRG Energy Inc. (NRG) that U.S. solar-panel maker First Solar Inc. (FSLR) is building in the Arizona desert. That deal followed MidAmerican's announcement earlier this month that it would buy a $2 billion California solar farm from First Solar. The deals put Iowa-based MidAmerican, which owns fleets of wind farms and conventional power plants, in the solar-power business for the first time. California utilities are required to use solar, wind or other renewable power for one-third of the electricity they sell by 2020, as part of the state's 2006 plan to combat climate change. -By Cassandra Sweet, Dow Jones Newswires; 415-439-6468; cassandra.sweet@dowjones.com

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