Apple Plants Its Second Solar Farm, in Nevada

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The hottest trend in manufacturing these days may be the solar farm.

A factory at a greenfield site with ample land around it contracts with a solar-panel maker and a utility to erect a large number of panels near the site, which help power the factory and keep everything green. Lots of companies now have them, even Crayola Crayons, notes Energy.Gov.

Putting a solar farm next to a factory also means that the power doesn't have far to go. Having a power source hundreds of miles away means energy is lost during transmission, because power lines aren't perfect conductors. Check the inverter box that sits between your laptop and the wall sometime. That warmth you feel is energy being lost in the form of heat.

Solar farms are quickly becoming routine projects. As of last September, California alone had more than a dozen large solar projects underway.

Apple ( AAPL) is now funding construction of its second such facility, which will power a new data center outside Reno, Nev.

Apple is contracting directly with the local utility, NV Energy ( NVE), to place panels on 137 acres, according to a story first reported by Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm.

NV Energy is in the process of being acquired by Mid-American Energy, which in turn is owned by Berkshire-Hathaway ( BRK.A).

Mid-American, in turn, was among the utilities which pioneered in this area, buying turnkey plants built by First Solar ( FSLR) and SunPower ( SPWR), then using its financial strength to sell notes against them through its Solar Star Funding unit, according to a Business Wire press release.

Apple did a similar deal for its data center in Maiden, N.C., with SunPower providing panels backed by fuel cells from Duke Energy ( DUK) and privately held Bloom Energy doing the heavy lifting. In Nevada, NV Energy plans to combine photovoltaics with concentrated solar-power mirrors, meaning the facility will supply energy at night as well as during the day. Until the array is complete, Apple will power its center with geothermal power from the local electrical grid.

Google ( GOOG) says it has put $1 billion into solar and wind projects that will generate 2 Gwatts watts of energy. The Apple Nevada project is rated at 20 Mwatts.

Solar farms aren't always wildly popular. Environmentalists sued to stop one in California recently, KQED reported recently, citing risks to endangered species. Companies such as First Solar that install many solar farms now track risks to species on their Web sites. ( Here's First Solar's.)

All of which means that the biggest story in Apple's solar-farm announcement is that it's not a big story.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and GOOG.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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