By Julie Schmit, USA TODAY
FONTANA, Calif. — The view from a warehouse roof here is consistent. In every direction, there are blocks and blocks of warehouse roofs baking in the Southern California sun. Rather than letting them sit bare, a California utility hopes to blanket roofs like these with solar panels to produce enough electricity to power 162,000 homes.
Southern California Edison has installed solar on two warehouse roofs and is working on another in the Los Angeles region. The utility expects to do 100 to 125 more, totaling about 1.5 square miles of roof space in the next five years.
The program, in which the utility owns the solar, is the largest of its kind in the nation, not surprising since California is the No. 1 solar market. But utilities in other states, including North Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona and New Jersey, have smaller plans to rent roofs for their own mini-solar-power plants, too.
The phenomenon, while in its infancy, presents another way for solar to spread in a bigger way than it has historically done when home and business owners put solar on roofs. The deep-pocketed utilities are planning bigger installations. Yet the systems don't consume green land or require new power-transmission links, as do some massive solar farms planned for deserts in California, Arizona and Nevada. As such, rooftop solar is likely to face fewer environmental hurdles than the farms and can get permits and be built much faster. …