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Germany inaugurates new solar power plant in its push for more

HOUSTON, Sept. 21 -- German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin recently inaugurated a large solar-powered energy plant in the eastern city of Espenhain, noting that Germany is the leading European country to install solar energy facilities.

Major oil companies are helping build the plants. Shell Solar GMBH, the Society for Solar Energy (Geosol), and WestFonds Real Estate Co. worked together to construct the $27 million plant near Leipzig, formerly one of Germany's most polluted areas.

Geosol developed the project while Shell Solar supplied the solar technology and was the prime construction contractor. WestFonds acquired interest in the plant through its investment fund for renewable energy projects, WestFonds Solar 1.

The plant features 33,500 photovoltaic panels capable of generating 5 Mw, enough to provide electricity for 1,800 households. The plant is part of a series of solar generators constructed in Germany. BP Solar International LLC is building plants in Germany.

Trittin actively promotes the development of large-scale solar projects, saying that solar power and wind power are key to the government's energy policy. On Aug. 1, an amendment to the Renewable Energy Sources Act became effective.

"It is an engine for innovation and increases export opportunities for German technology," he said of the act, which was created to provide a reliable legal framework for investments in solar, wind, hydropower, bioenergy, and geothermal energy.

The amendment calls for Germany to increase its share of renewable power to 12.5% of the country's total power generation by 2010 and to 20% by 2020. Currently, renewable energy from water, wind, and solar power represents 10% of the total.

"Supporting renewable energies will still cost an average household just 1 euro a month—the price of an ice cream cone," Trittin said when the act became effective.

Hans Willemsen, Shell Solar executive vice-president, said his company "has strategically been involved in the development of large- scale solar projects in Germany such as this, as we believe that these projects contribute to economies of scale, resulting in an increasing demand in the market for solar (PV) power."

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