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World News

Wildfire smoke slashes solar energy production in California

FILE PHOTO: Arrays of photovoltaic solar panels are seen at the Tenaska Imperial Solar Energy Center South in this aerial photo taken over El Centro, California, U.S., May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Smoke from wildfires in California slashed the state’s solar energy by nearly a third earlier this month because miniscule airborne particles reduced the amount of sunlight reaching panels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In the first two weeks of September, average solar generation in the California Independent System Operator, which covers 90% of utility-scale solar capacity in the state, declined nearly 30% from the July average, EIA said.

Compared with the same period last year, solar generation fell 13.4% in the first two weeks of September despite California having added 659 megawatts of utility solar, an increase of more than 5%.

California has more solar capacity than any other U.S. state. In 2018, solar provided 19% of the state’s electricity generation, according to EIA.

Fires in California have burned over 3.8 million acres (1.5 million hectares) since January, far exceeding any single year in state history.

They have been stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of extreme heat, high winds and dry-lightning sieges that scientists attribute to climate change.

Wildfire smoke contains pollution particles that are 2.5 micrometers or smaller, known as PM2.5. Those particles reached their highest level on record in the state on Sept. 15 after beginning to increase in mid-August.

Offshore winds pushed smoke from the largest fires in the northern part of the state into Southern California, where most of the state’s utility-scale solar plans are located, EIA said.

Reporting by Harshith Aranya in Bengaluru and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker

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