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GE Invests in 20-Megawatt Solar Greenhouse Project in Italy

General Electric Co., the world’s biggest maker of power-generating equipment, invested $58 million to build a greenhouse on the Italian island of Sardinia that will use the sun’s energy to provide power to the national grid as well as to grow crops.

The Su Scioffu project in Villasor, Italy, a venture with Moser Baer India Ltd., began generating electricity Aug. 30 after the first five megawatts of a planned 20 megawatts of capacity became operational, according to a statement today by both companies. The rest is scheduled to start up this month.

GE has invested almost $1 billion of equity and debt in 46 solar power plants in six countries. The company, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, has spent $6 billion on a portfolio of renewable projects, including solar, wind, biomass and hydro and geothermal power assets, according to its website.

“Solar has continued to be a very interesting space for us in Europe,” Andrew Marsden, a managing director and European leader of the company’s GE Energy Financial Services unit, said yesterday in an interview. “We are currently talking to Moser Baer about more projects in India and Europe.”

The Su Scioffu project will add about 90 jobs in Villasor, a community of 7,000 people near Cagliari, supporting both the local economy and the agricultural sector, according to the statement. Moser Baer Clean Energy Ltd., the development unit of India’s second-largest maker of solar cells, will jointly own the greenhouse, which will be on 66 acres (27 hectares).

U.S., Canada

Sumeet Bidani, head of business development for Moser Baer in North America, said the company expects to replicate the greenhouse design in the U.S. and Canada.

“Anywhere there’s competition for land between agriculture and other needs, this dual-use greenhouse allows light to penetrate while producing power efficiently,” Bidani said today in an interview at the Solar Power International conference in Dallas.

The electricity generated by the Su Scioffu project is enough to power about 10,000 Italian homes, GE said.

“We like the way the project supports jobs in agriculture,” Marsden said. “There is a stronger emphasis in Europe on not using arable land and encouraging building-mounted solar.”

Italy, which last year installed more solar power capacity than any other country except Germany, has set a target of reaching 23 gigawatts of capacity by 2016, according to the GE statement.

Trina Solar Ltd. and other companies are providing solar panels for the project, Marsden said. Additional financial details of the project weren’t disclosed.

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