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Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

GETTING BACK TO NET ZERO – Rediscovering Our Sustainable Roots

Getting Back to Net Zero“Getting Back To Net Zero” by Brent Sauser provides basic information regarding what Net Zero is and what it takes to achieve a Net Zero solution, resulting in a building that produces more energy than it consumes on-site. This book covers easy to understand passive and active design principles as well as other essential information to help the reader understand that the ability to build Net Zero is HERE, NOW.  

ON SALE NOW FOR $3.99 at the following locations.

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Common Rooftop Solar Panel Installation Problems To Avoid

by Pacific West Roofing (August 2016)  www.pacificwestroofing.com

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A well-installed rooftop solar array doesn’t just generate clean energy. It also needs to have a solid, long-lasting foundation, which in most cases is a rooftop. In fact, about 80 percent of today’s solar panel installations are done on flat and sloped roofs.  This is because roofs are the ideal setting; they get the most unobstructed sun of any other place on most properties, they’re close to power lines, and on a sloped roof you don’t need any racks to mount the panels on.

But, what is a rooftop solar array truly worth if the roof is leaky or damaged? These installations have been growing in popularity for decades, but we still see situations where the installer did not understand or take the conditions of the roof into account.

Here are some common problems to avoid:

1. Installing New Panels On An Old Roof

Ideally, the array’s life and the roof life should be about the same. Your solar panels may generate power for 20 years, and your financing or Power Purchase Agreement could last just as long. Having such a system installed on a roof that only has about 10 good years left is asking for trouble. Many roof systems, such as a metal roof or cool roofing membrane, can last 20 years or more and are well suited to support a solar array.

2. Installing An Array On A Roof That is Unsuitable for Solar

A roof has to provide just the right conditions for your solar panels to perform well. For example, panels should be oriented toward the South or the West to get the most sun. They generally work best in cooler environments, making a cool membrane ideal. Most roofs are not designed to support the weight of a solar array or the foot traffic introduced by installation and maintenance. And in most cases, numerous penetrations will be made into the roof to mount the panels, which may be against the recommendations for many roofing systems. Unless you’re lucky, making sure your roof is 100 percent compatible with solar often requires planning years in advance.

3. Interrupting The Flow Of Water

Your roofing system is designed to shed water from the rooftop and away from the building. But, when solar panels are installed without regard for this, racks and wiring often interrupt the flow of water and keep if from draining properly. Water could even be forced upward, which usually results in a leak. Ballast material can also escape and clog drains. Repairing a roof can be much more difficult when there are solar panels installed, so it’s best to make sure these issues are addressed right away.

4. Treating The Rooftop Like A Construction Site

A good roof system is durable, but they all have their limits. A solar installer might drag racks and panels across the roof or drop tools without respect to the shingles or membrane, which can easily cause penetrations. Debris that doesn’t get cleaned up can clog drains and cause all kinds of problems. To avoid this, make sure to hire an installer who understands the needs and nuances of your roofing system.

5. Not Having a Maintenance Plan

Even without solar panels, a roof will need maintenance and regular inspections. But with solar installed, that need is heightened. You won’t get the return on your investment if your panels are covered in layers of dust or sitting in a pool of standing water. Regular roof and solar panel maintenance is always recommended to keep small problems from becoming big ones.

Many other roofing problems can arise with solar panel installations, and as installers develop new mounting methods the roofing system must always be a serious consideration.

Together, roofing and solar power make perfect sense, and we expect to see many more solar installations and clean energy integration in the future.  But, we hope that you will do your part to protect your roof by choosing the right solar installer, planning ahead, and committing to regular maintenance.

Solar Reflective Shingles: How Roof Color Impacts Your Wallet

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Have you ever regretted wearing a dark colored shirt on a hot summer day? The dark color absorbs more sun rays, making you feel warmer. The same basic concept applies to the roof of your home. Learn how a solar reflective roof can increase the lifespan of your shingles, save you money, and even reduce your impact on the environment.

Which Shirt Would You Choose On a Hot Summer Day? Dark colors absorb more of the sun's rays while lighter colors reflect more of the sun's rays. The Same Principle Applies to Your Roof. Typical asphalt shingles reflect 3-12 percent of the sun's energy.* Cool Roofing Granules from 3M™ reflect 20-25 percent of the sun's energy.* Solar Reflective Shingles Can: 1: Increase Lifespan: Granules protect the asphalt from the heat of damaging solar rays. Heat ages asphalt, making it stiff and enabling granule loss. Solar reflective granules remain 50°+ cooler∆ than standard granules and may increase the lifespan of shingles. Standard granules = aged asphalt and granule loss. Cool granules = cooler asphalt and less granule loss. 2: Save Money. Federal Tax Incentives: Save 10 percent material cost. Up to $500◊ Ask your contractor about possible state and local tax incentives. Reduced Energy Costs: Less Heat = Less Air Conditioning. Save 7-15 percent. Solar reflective shingles may meet requirements for ENERGY STAR, Cool Roof Rating Council, LEED. 3: Reduce Environmental Impact. Less heat into your home = Less energy consumed by AC. Longer lifespans in high heat areas = Less material waste. Nearly 2 million tons of asphalt shingles were diverted from landfills through recycling in 2014.** Q: Can I paint my roof with a white coating? A: It's not recommended. A roof is a breathable system. Putting a coating on top may cause moisture or condensation issues and may void your warranty. Are Solar Reflective Shingles Available in Other Colors? Yes! Ask your contractor if a solar reflective roof is right for your project. WWW.MALARKEYROOFING.COM

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

by Steve Hanley (Aug 16, 2016) cleantechnica.com

Solar power disrupts the business of existing utility companies. In exchange for being granted a monopoly to generate and distribute electricity in a given geographic area, utilities are guaranteed a certain rate of return. That gives them an incentive to spend more money on power plants and grid expansion. The more they spend, the more money they are allowed earn. That’s how the power game is played in the US.

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Why Utilities Hate & Fight Rooftop Solar

Utility grids are designed to distribute electricity from one or two central locations to many residential and commercial users. But solar customers often feed excess electricity back into the grid from its margins. That cuts into utilities’ profits, so they try their best to put up barriers to the practice.

They complain that solar customers are not paying their fair share to maintain the grid (and line the pockets of utility company executives). They try to lower the amount they pay solar customers for their electricity. Another favorite tactic is to impose a surcharge on the utility bills of customers with rooftop solar installations.

Solar customers argue that they are conferring a benefit on all people in the service area because their electricity is not made by burning fossil fuels. They say they should be compensated for the improved health prospects of the community. They also argue that they shouldn’t pay as much toward the upkeep of the grid and limited expansion needs because their electricity is used locally and doesn’t need to travel long distances over high-voltage lines.

Earlier this year, the Nevada public utilities commission (PUC) knuckled under to the demands of Warren Buffett’s NV Energy. It ended the requirement that the utility pay for excess electricity and imposed hefty monthly surcharges on rooftop solar customers. All across America, utility companies have initiated a war on rooftop solar. It’s not that they object to solar energy, as such. It’s just they don’t want to give up control over what they think of as “their grid.” They also don’t want their income reduced in any way.

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

Regulators in Arizona and New Mexico have sided with solar customers in two recent instances. On Thursday, the Arizona Corporation Commission rejected the request by UNS Electric to add fees for solar customers and do away with net metering. Solar advocates in the state applauded the decision, which came after two full days of testimony in front of the commission.

“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power,” Briana Kobor, a program director with Vote Solar, said in a statement. “I appreciate the Commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona.”

“This decision is great news for Arizona families and small businesses that plan on going solar, and for everyone who breathes cleaner air as a result,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt. “The decision sends a powerful message to Arizona utilities that the Commission will not simply rubberstamp their anti-solar agenda.”

Also last week, regulators in New Mexico approved a settlement that will decrease the amount of fees for solar customers in Southwestern Public Service Company’s service area. That utility had also proposed an increase in fixed charges for solar customers.

The struggle between utilities and solar customers is far from over. Elon Musk last week made some conciliatory remarks when he said there is room enough for all in the electricity markets of the future. He also foresees an end to net metering. Musk expects the demand for electricity to double or triple as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. But solar power advocates are happy to win two small skirmishes in the war this week.

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Arizona regulators table net metering request, add rooftop solar surcharge

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!

Instead of going quietly into the night, these giant power utilities are fighting back to preserve their guaranteed profits while resisting the growing movement to renewable energy, forcing rooftop solar owners to pay the penalty.  Perhaps with this level of 20th Century, antiquated, bottom-line logic they can also serve as the self-appointed defender of the typewriter, Walkman, floppy disk, and dot matrix technology.  The big utilities may slow solar down, but this world-wide Renewable Revolution will not be stopped.  Better to get on board than watch from the sidelines.   (Brent Sauser)

By Rod Walton (Aug 12, 2016) www.elp.com

High voltage post against dreamy backgroundArizona energy regulators voted Thursday to allow UNS Electric to add a monthly surcharge on customers with new rooftop solar systems. Solar power advocates, however, say the decision was a victory because the new charge is substantially lower than what UNS initially wanted to impose.

The Arizona Corporation Commission approved a $1.58 monthly charge on UNS customers who add rooftop solar power systems after new rates take effect probably by September. The fee was sized down from an original $5.95 monthly surcharge proposed by UNS.

Overall, UNS customers will pay about $4 more per month due to higher standard rates. UNS’ service territory covers much of Arizona outside of Phoenix.

The commission, however, tabled a net metering cut proposed by UNS and its sister utility, Tucson Electric Power. Arizona Public Service also has filed a request for a net metering cut. Net metering forces the utility to buy back excess power generated from rooftop systems at the retail rather than wholesale rate.

Solar advocates such as Earthjustice and Vote Solar applauded the commission’s delay and fee reduction. They argued that UNS and APS’ proposed cuts—trimming as much as 73 percent from the net metering paybacks, by some accounts—would have brought the growing rooftop solar adoption to a halt. Some analysts have said that if adopted the cuts would make rooftop solar uneconomical by the middle of 2017.

“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power. I appreciate the commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona,” said Briana Kobor, Vote Solar’s DG Regulatory Policy Program Director.

UNS will return to the commission with the proposed net-metering reduction plan once the regulators have heard other solar-related cases.

A report by the Solar Energy Industries Association several years ago estimated that distributed solar generation and net metering provides about $34 million annually back to Arizona Public Service customers. Some reports have put the overall net metering payback at close to $1 billion over a 20-year period.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar Energy: Pros And Cons Of Off-The-Grid vs. Grid-Tied Systems

by Kim McLendon (Aug. 10, 2016)  www.inquisitr.com

Solar energy is a very liberating concept for most people. Words like energy independence and going off-the-grid have a very exciting feel to them. They spawn images in the minds of potential buyers, ranging from sustainable living to a rejection of, or at least freedom from, the constraints of modern society. The truth is actually a bit more mundane, but far more practical.

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Before discussing off-the-grid v. grid-tied solar applications, it is important to consider a few practical points. First, it is a good idea to make sure the home is as energy efficient as possible before installing solar energy panels. The more energy a home uses, the more solar panels it takes to either defray or eliminate the electric bill. Often an inefficient hot water heater, dryer, or air conditioning unit will cost more in electricity over the course of a few short months, than the purchase price of a new appliance. It is important to replace inefficient appliances before estimating usage and installing solar equipment.

Solar energy needs are based on overall electricity usage, so it is necessary to calculate the number of panels necessary to create an efficient panel array for the house. Solar Estimator offers a tool for estimating how much energy one needs.

Choosing off-the-grid v. grid-tied systems really depends first on the location of the home, reliability of electrical service in the area, and the overall goals of the individual. Some people just want to save money on the electricity bill while others want to have electricity in the event of an emergency. A few just want that sense of freedom and independence. Some live in remote areas where electricity is not readily available.

Choose a grid-tied system if money is the only concern. In many areas, the energy company will pay to use the homeowner’s excess electricity and some people actually turn a profit at the end of each month. Grid-tied solar panels are also the most economical investment because that kind of system is far cheaper to install. Grid-tied solar panels don’t use the expensive battery arrays required in off-the-grid applications.

Off-the-grid v. grid-tied decisions are most commonly determined by budget considerations, and generally in a low budget situation grid-tied wins. Most home solar energy applications are grid-tied because it is a lot cheaper to install those battery-free systems that use the grid’s resources.

Solar energy applications in areas with excellent electrical repair response time may lend best to a grid-tied system. But for someone who wants emergency power, in the event of a long-term power failure, this just isn’t the way to go.

An off-the-grid system is by far the only choice for those interested in backup power in the event of a power failure. The biggest drawback of a grid-tied system is that in a power outage, the homeowner cannot use the solar array to restore electricity. Mother Earth News explains why the electric company ensures solar panels attached to their grid are not going to function in a power failure.

“However, for safety reasons, grid-tied systems cannot function when the grid power goes down (a live load on the line would present a danger to utility workers coming in to fix power outages), and to many independence-seeking homeowners, that is the biggest drawback of grid-tied systems.”

Solar energy users who feel comfortable with being without electricity whenever the grid fails to provide can cash in on the savings of a grid-tied system. If one lives in an area with consistently reliable utilities, and homeowners cannot imagine a situation in which the power could go out for days, a grid-tied system would be a good solution.

Off-the-grid systems can also leave their owners without power as well. Any time that usage exceeds output plus battery storage, power outages happen. For that reason, an ample array of batteries is desirable, and even a backup generator might be a good safeguard, especially in remote areas, in a situation of extended periods of cloud cover.

Off-the-grid solar applications require specialized deep cycle batteries, and it is these batteries that provide energy at night and on very cloudy days. Batteries are expensive, but the costs are going down.

Elon Musk, the Tesla car mastermind, is heavily invested in creating lithium ion batteries that would be cheaper and more efficient. He calls his latest invention a “power wall.” It is already competitive in price for the capacity it has. This 10kWh battery sells for just $3,500. Someday, not too long from now, these superior battery systems are expected to reduce considerably more in price, according to Revision Energy.

Off-the-grid solar energy systems will be revolutionized by this innovation, and become more reliable and affordable. So affordable, that according to Cleantechnia the power grid may eventually become obsolete. That isn’t happening soon, though.

Solar energy is currently far more commonly of the grid-tied variety rather than the off-the-grid application. That could change in the near future, as the cost of deep cycle batteries reduces and overall efficiency of the batteries increases.

Are there extremely inexpensive off-the-grid solar solutions now? Sure, there are, but they are generally designed by the homeowner and do not involve using traditional home wiring. These are minimalist systems that will afford very few modern conveniences. They usually involve moving a couple of golf cart batteries and an inverter around on a dolly from one usage point to another. It isn’t great, but it will work, and keeping such a primitive system around might be a good emergency preparedness measure. There are some determined individuals who use them every day, in cabins and tiny houses, but they aren’t designed to accommodate contemporary suburban lifestyles.

Off-the-grid v. grid-tied solar energy questions are easily answered by each individual depending on their needs, desires, and circumstances.

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Nevada Supreme Court Blocks Rooftop Solar Referendum

by Julia Pyper (Aug. 8, 2016) www.greentechmedia.com

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The Nevada Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling on Thursday that blocks constituents from voting to restore favorable rates to rooftop solar customers. The decision puts increased pressure on lawmakers to implement a policy change during the next legislative session.

The court ruling addresses a ballot initiative championed by the Bring Back Solar Alliance, a rooftop solar advocacy coalition backed by SolarCity. The referendum sought to repeal a piece of law that allowed utility regulators to impose higher fees on home solar customers.

Regulators approved the new tariff rate in late December. The order increased the fixed service charge for net-metered solar customers, and gradually lowered compensation for net excess solar generation from the retail rate to the wholesale rate for electricity over four years. The changes took effect on January 1, 2016 and promptly brought the rooftop solar market in the state to a standstill, causing companies to cut jobs. The changes were applied retroactively to all net-metered solar customers, eliciting a strong backlash from solar companies and consumer groups.

In February, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada rejected requests from NV Energy and solar advocates to approve a 20-year grandfathering period for Nevada’s roughly 32,000 existing solar customers (previous estimates put the number at 18,000). Instead, regulators voted unanimously to transition rooftop solar customers onto the contentious new rate plan over 12 years, instead of the initially proposed four.

More than 115,000 people signed the Bring Back Solar Alliance’s petition to overturn the solar rate changes. But after expressing some concern over the ballot wording last month, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled this week that the motion is not a referendum, but rather an “initiative petition,” which means solar advocates would have to launch a new petition urging lawmakers to pass a bill undoing the solar rate changes. Only if legislators fail to approve the measure during the 2017 session can it go to voters in 2018. The initiative petition requires more than 55,000 new signatures by the fall in order to proceed.

“The Supreme Court decision basically invalidated the ballot signatures,” said Chandler Sherman, deputy campaign manager for the Bring Back Solar Alliance, in an interview. “115,000 people said they want the opportunity to vote on this issue in November, but since this can’t be in the hands of the people because of the Supreme Court decision, we hope the legislature will take action to enact the will of the people and reverse the PUC decision, restore net metering and allow people to go solar again.”

Sherman said the Alliance does not currently plan to file a ballot initiative, although it is still an option. Now that the referendum is off the table, solar advocates are looking into filing a “bill draft request” with the state legislature instead. Similar to an initiative petition, a bill draft request calls on lawmakers to take up a legislative issue.

“Either way, it’s in the hands of legislators going forward,” said Sherman.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval also plans to push lawmakers to alter the new solar rates. In May, the governor’s New Energy Industry Task Force, convened in response to the net metering decision, passed a motion to grandfather existing solar customers on the old solar rates for 25 years. Recommendations from the Task Force will underpin legislation introduced by Governor Sandoval next year.

In an interesting twist, Sandoval announced last month that he will not reappoint PUCN commissioner David Noble, who wrote the order to increase solar fees and not allow grandfathering. Sandoval has been critical of the PUCN’s decision not to grandfather existing solar customers (which has become a highly politicized issue in the state) and appears to be holding Noble accountable.

On July 27, two days before the Nevada Supreme Court ruled on the referendum, NV Energy reentered the solar policy fray, filing a request for regulators to keep customers who installed their rooftop solar systems prior to December 31, 2015 on the previous net metering rates for 20 years. The utility asked for the grandfathering rule to also apply to customers with active or pending applications as of December 31, 2015.

When NV Energy initiated the request to reduce net metering compensation in July 2015, the utility asked that no changes be made for existing customers. Facing criticism, NV Energy also issued a statement in February saying it supports grandfathering. With its latest filing, utility executives blamed the unfavorable outcome squarely on national solar companies.

“Unfortunately, it appears that these out-of-state solar suppliers are more concerned with increasing the subsidies needed to run their businesses than taking care of their approximately 32,000 contracted customers, who are our customers too,” said Kevin Geraghty, senior vice president of energy supply at the utility. “It seems that they created uncertainty for customers who purchased or leased a rooftop system by not clearly communicating that their rates were subject to change in future regulatory proceedings. Many of these net metering customers entered into 20-year leases believing that they would be locked into a rate, and that they would save money because NV Energy rates would increase every year. Neither of these sales pitches are true.”

NV Energy’s latest filing requests a response from regulators in 90 days. However, it may be too late for meaningful regulatory action. The net metering docket has been untouched since the February rehearing. So to approve grandfathering, the PUCN would have to open a proceeding and decide to go back on a ruling it has already passed twice. NV Energy’s filing, coming amid the referendum and action from the governor, could help make grandfathering a reality. Though some may question why the utility didn’t take stronger action sooner.

A report from Credit Suisse notes that the approval of grandfathering in Nevada could have ramifications for the entire solar industry, “as it could restore nationwide faith in the grandfathering precedent.” But even if the old rates are restored for customers who installed their systems before December 31, 2015, the change does nothing to reboot the Nevada rooftop solar market going forward.

A recent poll found that a majority of respondents are in favor of bringing back net metering “to allow better rates for rooftop solar customers.”

“Constituents are paying attention — it’s a top-of-mind issue for Nevada voters and something people care about and want to fix,” said Sherman. “Now it’s up to the legislature.”

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Regardless of Fierce Opposition, Rooftop Solar Is Unstoppable

by Javier Sierra (Aug 4, 2016) www.huffingtonpost.com

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As the Spanish saying goes, the sun is the poor man’s blanket. And thanks to technology, it’s also our heating system, air conditioner, refrigerator and a shinning spot that lights up our clean energy future.

The solar industry is the fastest growing sector of the US economy. It currently employs more than 200,000 workers, thousands of them Latinos, and double that of the coal mining industry. And for us Latinos, solar energy is a three-fold blessing.

“Since I had my rooftop solar panels installed last year, I spend less than half of what I used to pay for dirty energy,” says Oscar Medina, a client of Solar City in Tucson, AZ. “It not only keeps my home cool in the Arizona desert, it also allows me to avoid using power from dirty coal.”

And one of those thousands of Latino solar workers is Roberto “Bobby” Rosthenhousler, another Tucson resident, whose mother is from Los Mochis, Mexico. He enthusiastically supports solar.

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“If you are Latino, this is a good choice,” says Bobby, who installs panels for Net Zero Solar. “As long as the sun is there, we are going to have a job. I want to be a pioneer because there is only room to improve in this industry.”

But dark clouds loom over solar —the backlash of public utilities. In the last four years, the explosive growth of rooftop solar has turned it into a severe threat to an archaic system based on a monopolistic model that heavily depends on dirty energy.

Take Arizona utility Tucson Electric Power (TEP), which owns, at least partly, four coal-burning plants, including the San Juan Generating Station in Northern New Mexico.

TEP is due to review its energy plan for the next few years, which presents it with the opportunity to drop at least a large part of its coal fleet and expand its clean, renewable energy portfolio. Alas, TEP plans to stick with the dirty coal plant, hike rates for its customers and damage Arizona’s growing rooftop solar industry with new fees on solar customers such as Oscar.

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Utilities across the country justify these rate hikes by arguing that rooftop solar clients continue relying on the electric grid without contributing their fair share to its maintenance. Study after study, however, indicates that rooftop solar reduces the stress and wear of the grid by using it less often. Furthermore, it limits the construction of expensive, dirty plants, thus substantially reducing coal pollution and the climate change it triggers.

These abusive practices may paint a bleak future for the rooftop solar industry. The clean energy progress, however, is unstoppable. A Cambridge University study indicates that photovoltaic solar panels will soon be more competitive than any fossil fuel energy. And this scares the living lights out of the energy dinosaurs.

“They need to let other environmentally friendly companies come in and provide a service that would especially benefit working-class families,” says Oscar. “It’s clear that utilities need to stop the pollution that makes people sick, especially us Latinos.”

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“My four-year-old is autistic,” says Bobby. “And that’s one other reason I went into clean energy. I worry about all those chemicals in the air affect my child. This is something I can give back to him.”

No matter how hard the utilities try, you can’t block the sun with an umbrella.

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Confused About Solar Policy In Your State? Follow The Money

by Steve Hanley (July 31, 2016) www.solarlove.org

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The state of Maine makes a good case study for trying to make sense of the tug of war going on across much of America when it comes to small scale solar power for homeowners and small businesses. A recent article in the Bangor Daily News lays out the arguments for all stake holders clearly and succinctly. As usual in the course of human affairs, it comes down to money, or as the Romans would say, “Qui bono?”

Most people would probably agree with the proposition that making electricity from sunshine instead of fossil fuels is a good thing. Even the rapacious Koch Brothers and Warren Buffett would concur. But business is business, as they say. Building power plants and the grid that brings electric power to our homes and businesses costs money — lots and lots of money. The total investment by the utility industry just in North America alone amounts to trillions of dollars.

To make investors more willing to lend money to the utilities, policy makers decided generations ago to grant the industry monopoly status. In return, investors are guaranteed a specified rate of return on their money. Utility stocks are not sexy, but they are a safe investment. Today when banks are paying a meager rate of 1% a year or less, the 5 to 7 percent return guaranteed on utility stocks looks quite attractive.

Some companies sell cars. Some sell clothing or food. Utility companies sell electricity. It’s what they do. Anything that lowers the amount of electricity they sell is a dagger pointed right at the heart of their business model. No wonder they are less than thrilled when some homeowner installs solar panels on his roof and buys less electricity from the local utility as a result.

Even though the cost of solar systems has declined significantly in the last 10 years, a residential solar installation can still cost $15,000 or more. Many residential solar owners want to sell the excess electricity their system makes back to the utility. The process is known as net metering. The electric meter on the home keeps track of how much electricity flows in and how much flows out. The customer then gets a credit on the monthly bill for the amount of electricity fed back into the grid, which helps pay for the cost of the system.

The biggest bone of contention between residential solar owners and utility companies is how much the utility should pay for that excess electricity. Home owners say they should get paid the same rate they pay to buy electricity from the company. That seems logical, but the utilities contend that sort of parity does not adequately compensate them for their cost of maintaining the electrical grid.

That’s where the trouble begins. Solar power advocates point out that utilities benefit from certain “avoided costs” when they take back electricity from solar customers. They don’t have to spend money to increase the size of the grid. Plus, the community gets the advantage of electrical energy that adds no carbon emissions to the local atmosphere.

Maine is currently governed by a Tea Party governor who has made a career out of denigrating individuals in favor of the large corporate donors who paid to put him in office. The governor’s energy office cites with approval a comment by the Dirigo Electric Cooperative in a 2008 rate case before the state’s public utilities commission. It referred to net metering as “a reverse Robin Hood program, taking from those who cannot afford self-generation to give to those who can.”

The Maine Public Advocate’s Office has expanded on that argument. It suggests that state and federal solar policy largely limits the benefits of solar power to landowners with high federal tax liability. In other words, the well-to-do. The federal tax credit for solar installations is not a cash rebate but rather an offset against any federal tax due.

“If all customers bear the costs of the program, all customers should have the opportunity to participate and obtain those benefits,” the Public Advocate says. By definition, people who rent their homes are ineligible for rooftop solar systems and cannot benefit from net metering programs.

What has solar customers in Maine riled up is a fear that what happened recently in Nevada will happen to them. The Nevada PUC allowed NV Energy to unilaterally amend its net metering program. Not only did it eliminate that benefit, it sanctioned the imposition of new monthly fees for residential solar customers, making it impossible for them to help offset the cost of their systems.

In Maine, the governor’s office is making noises that suggest it would favor a similar plan, one that would limit the net metering period to three years. Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon of Freeport called the governor’s suggestion a “reckless, ill-conceived plan.” Gideon sponsored a solar policy bill last session that proposed a successor to net metering and would have grandfathered existing customers for 12 years.

The heart of the dilemma is the fact that electrical grids have always been constructed on the assumption there would one or two large local generating facilities that would supply power to the community at large. They were never intended to accept input from multiple sources at the edges of the grid and are relatively inefficient at doing so.

In the final analysis, it comes down to how much economic pain each stakeholder should endure as society transitions to zero emissions alternatives to fossil fuels. If the utility companies get their way, they will put that transition off as long as possible in order to protect their economic interests.  While that is rational behavior in a traditional capitalist model, it makes no sense for a world imperiled by fossil fuel pollution. Ultimately, business as usual is a death warrant for the people of the world.

The only sensible policy is to eliminate the artificial market advantage fossil fuels enjoy due to subsidies and policy considerations. Only when the cost of fossil fuels equals their true economic impact on the community will the transition to zero emissions begin in earnest. The capitalist system contains a fatal flaw at its heart. As Chief Seattle once asked, “Who speaks for the Earth?”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Going green in L.A.: First solar-powered, net-zero apartment complex opens

by Rick Stella (July 26, 2016) www.digitaltrends.com

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Located a mere hop, skip, and jump from Los Angeles’ Staples Center, the country’s very first solar-powered, net-zero apartment building just officially flung open its doors for business. Dubbed the Hanover Olympic, this innovative and groundbreaking residence not only boasts a bevy of energy solutions geared toward powering its own 20 apartments but is also set up to feed surplus energy back into its surrounding grid. Such innovation doesn’t come without a steep price tag, however, as the cheapest eco-apartment — a studio — rents for roughly $2,100 per month.

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Developed by the Hanover Company, an upscale apartment management group, the Hanover Olympic absolutely bleeds 21st century tech. In addition to boasting features ranging from LED lighting and Nest thermostats to iPad-powered solar energy trackers, each unit offers General Electric Energy Star-rated microwaves, dishwashers, refrigerators, and washer and dryers.

“Downtown Los Angeles is the perfect location for Hanover to introduce our Eco-Apartment concept,” Hanover Olympic Acquisitions and Development partner Ryan Hamilton told Inhabitat. “The area is attracting innovators and first-adopters seeking a luxury lifestyle with new tech and top amenities. We have been able to do all of that and provide the city with its first and only solar-powered, net-zero apartment home, and hope that the success of this program will bring more attention to living a sustainable lifestyle.”

LA Apartment 02

Powering the entire structure are 10 photovoltaic panels secured to the roof of Hanover Olympic, with additional energy coming by way of 22o solar panels. All told, each unit receives roughly three kilowatts of energy from the solar panels, while excess energy not only pumps back into the grid but accrues Los Angeles Department of Water and Power credits each month.

Ground broke on the Hanover Olympic all the way back in July 2014, with reservations opened to the public in March. Interested tenants have the ability to choose between 539 to 579 sq. ft. studio apartments at $2,140 per month, 650 to 916 sq. ft. one-bedrooms at $2,728 per month, or 975 to 1,342 sq. ft. two-bedrooms for $3,297.

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In Texas, MP2 Energy Sees the ‘Shape’ of Rooftop Solar as Value to Substitute for Net Metering

by Jeff St. John (July 22, 2016) www.greentechmedia.com

The SolarCity partner explains how residential PV in a state without NEM works to mitigate risk and fill out the generation mix.

Solar panel on a red roof reflecting the sun and the cloudless blue sky

When SolarCity announced last year that it was moving into Texas, solar industry watchers scratched their heads. How, they asked, could a rooftop solar installer put together a money-making proposition for itself and its customers in a state without net metering?

The answer lies with its partner, MP2 Energy. The Texas-based energy company has joined SolarCity in its first rollout in Dallas last year, and in last month’s move into the Houston market. Together, they’ve created a customer offering that closely matches net metering, by paying the retail rate for solar power in excess of what the customer consumes, and locking in rates for the power they do buy from the grid in 12- or 24-month terms.

It’s an unusual offer in a state where, outside a few vertically integrated utilities like Austin Energy or San Antonio’s CPS Energy, solar incentives for customers are few and far between. Texas also has some very low electricity prices, driven by today’s low natural-gas prices and competition amongst energy retailers in the state’s fully deregulated electricity market.

That’s limited rooftop solar growth in what otherwise could be a hot market, as the state’s growth in utility-scale solar and its low PV prices attest. What makes the SolarCity-MP2 deal pencil out is MP2’s ability to tap the benefits of distributed PV, as both an energy retailer and “qualified scheduling entity,” or QSE, able to sell and buy energy in the energy markets run by state grid operator ERCOT, according to Maura Yates, the company’s vice president of sustainability.

MP2 managed about 1.5 gigawatts of power, including large-scale solar and wind generation assets, as well as about 50 megawatts of natural-gas-fired peaker plants, she said. It also does demand response, and serves as a retail energy provider for commercial and industrial customers including Southern Methodist University and Rice University, oil and gas facilities, and manufacturing sites.

Until recently, however, “We haven’t served the residential market, because we’re not in a race to the bottom” in terms of competing against other retailers on low prices, she said. “We did say we were going to enter residential when it made strategic sense…and it’s the partnership with SolarCity that makes it make sense.”

Specifically, rooftop solar provides a valuable resource in the form of a predictable source of generation during the times when Texas energy companies need it most — primarily on hot summer days, when the state’s wholesale energy prices tend to spike the highest, and show the most volatility.

And, unlike the blocks of power that Texas energy companies must buy on the wholesale market to cover their commitments during those high-risk times, solar generation comes in nice bell-curve shapes that more closely match the energy consumption patterns of the customers that MP2 serves, she said.

It makes sense to trade energy in blocks, or set amounts of power deliverable over specific increments of time. But power consumption rises and falls in curves, not blocks. That forces electricity retailers to create “shapes” through quickly buying and liquidating market positions, using complicated mathematical equations to hedge risk throughout the process, she said.

“Shape is the most valuable thing that solar has, and it’s more valuable in ERCOT than any other market we’ve worked in.” Those markets include Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, she said. ”When you start trending where volatility comes, when risk comes in the market, it’s highly correlated with when solar is in the market as well.”

“The shape brings value in almost every level of the market,” she said. “On the retail side, you can extract more value, because I’m able to reduce some of my peak distribution charges.” That’s because rooftop solar is generated at the distribution grid level, and doesn’t need to be transported across the state’s transmission grid from far-off generators, which adds costs to the power delivered to end customers.

“But on the wholesale side, that shape brings a lot of value from a sheer optionality standpoint,” she said. In other words, “When I’m a retailer and looking at a bilateral deal with a generator, the fact that I can purchase shape, rather than going to the market and buying a block — that’s a big deal.”

There are other Texas retail electricity providers with net-metering-like offers, she noted. But most limit how much net exported power they’ll pay for in a month, or force customers to forfeit any unused solar power at the end of each month. MP2 doesn’t cap for its program and allows customers to carry forward excess generation through the course of a year, like most net metering programs across the country.

That’s likely because they’re not in a position to use the relative certainty of rooftop solar production curves to manage risk in their portfolio as MP2 does, she said. “We don’t see ourselves as energy retailers — we see ourselves as energy risk managers.”

Taking this approach to rooftop solar seems more fruitful to Yates than seeking out changes to state solar incentive policies, such as lobbying for adding capacity markets to the state’s energy-only market regime, as she used to do in her previous job as government affairs director for the now-bankrupt SunEdison.

“Texas and ERCOT are probably better equipped to take on solar than any other market in the country,” she said. “And when you look at risk,” and matching solar generation profiles against it, “we think solar is better than anything we can get on the market.” 

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Florida Utilities Determined To Mislead Voters

YES ON 1?  UH . . . NO!

July 15th, 2016 by Steve Hanley (solarlove.org)

Rooftop solar power in Florida is under assault. A ballot initiative sponsored by the Floridians For Solar Choice would have prevented the state government or utility companies from imposing “barriers to supplying local solar electricity.” If passed, it would have allowed homeowners to install rooftop solar systems with few upfront costs. It would also have allowed shopping centers to install solar panels on their roofs and sell the electricity to their commercial tenants. Unfortunately, that amendment failed to gather enough signatures to qualify to be on the ballot in November.

Florida solar ballot intitiative

But the state’s utility companies have come up with a ballot proposal that sounds similar to the one Floridians For Solar Choice was promoting. Entitled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” it guarantees consumers “the right to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.” So far, so good. Then it adds what seems like an afterthought. “[C]onsumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”

That last language leaves it up to the state’s public utilities commission to decide such issues as whether local utilities can assess monthly “grid charges” to people with rooftop solar systems and whether utility companies need to compensate them for excess electricity fed back into the grid. Similar provisions imposed by utilities in Nevada essentially put the rooftop solar industry out of business. SolarCity decided to shut down its operations in the state, a move that put more than 500 people out of work.

The Miami Herald castigates the initiative with this headline: Florida’s solar amendment designed to mislead voters. The Florida Supreme Court approved the utility backed ballot initiative, now rebranded as “Yes On 1 For The Sun, by one vote. Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in a scathing dissent, “Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware. Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”

We like to think that the benefits of solar power are self evident and that solar is about to sweep away old fashioned generating facilities with their noxious fumes and toxic emissions. But as the chart above put together by the Energy and Policy Institute demonstrates, powerful interests — including the Koch Brothers == have deep pockets and are willing to spend millions to protect what they perceive as their God given right to pollute the environment just as long as it is profitable to do so.

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Big Data Center Company Sues Nevada Regulators, Utility Over Solar Deal

by Katie Fehrenbacher (July 14, 2016) FORTUNE.COM

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It’s the latest dispute in Nevada over solar.

The owner of some of the world’s largest data centers has sued Nevada regulators and that state’s utility over a solar energy deal that it says led to it being overcharged.

Las Vegas-based data center operator Switch filed a lawsuit this week that alleges that its agreement to buy solar power, partly brokered by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and utility NV Energy, was unfair, overpriced, and that employees of the state regulator acted inappropriately. The suit, which asks for $30 million in damages, claims fraud, negligence, and conspiracy.

The lawsuit is the latest dispute that has emerged involving solar energy in Nevada, a state with ample sunshine that was an early clean energy supporter.

As companies and residents in Nevada increasingly install solar panels, and sometimes unplug from the power grid, the state regulator and NV Energy are trying to figure out how to manage. The utility and the regulator have repeatedly clashed with both companies selling solar panels and customers buying solar panels.

NV Energy is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Switch, along with some of the world’s largest Internet companies like Google GOOG -0.15% and Apple AAPL -0.01% , have increasingly sought to buy solar and wind power to operate data centers as a way to manage energy costs and be more environmentally friendly.

Switch, which has two massive data centers in Nevada, says it started trying to buy solar power from NV Energy in 2011. Its data centers, which sell services to eBay, Zappos and Cisco, are power-hungry facilities that are filled with computers.

Switch says NV Energy ignored its requests to buy solar power, prompting it to file an application in 2014 to disconnect from the grid so that it could seek solar power from other sources like First Solar FLSR 0.00% .

In the summer of 2015, Switch says the Nevada Public Utilities Commission denied its application to leave the grid. The regulator found that because Switch was such a large power customer, leaving the grid would financially hurt NV Energy and force it to raise rates and thus harm other power customers.

Instead, regulators said that Switch could buy solar power for a higher price through a deal with First Solar, but with NV Energy as the middleman. Switch says it agreed to the deal because it felt like it had no other options, and because an important federal solar subsidy was set to expire by the end of the year that would have driven up solar prices even more (the federal subsidy ended up getting extended).

First Solar is now installing 180 megawatts of solar panels as part of a deal to sell the power to Switch. That’s enough energy to run close to 30,000 average American homes.

Following Switch’s solar deal, the regulator later allowed several large Las Vegas casinos to disconnect from the power grid, with the agreement that the casinos would have to pay hefty fees to NV Energy to leave.

Switch says the solar deal it agreed to was an unlawful attempt to “retain Switch as a customer of the monopoly NV Energy.” Switch also says that the NPUC’s attorney, Carolyn Tanner, acted inappropriately by discussing the case on social media using a pseudonym.

The NPUC said it has yet to receive service of the complaint and therefore has no comment at this time.

NV Energy said in a statement:

“Switch is a very important customer to NV Energy, and given how far we thought we had come over the past two and a half years of working with their team on a variety of issues and opportunities, we are surprised and disappointed with this turn of events. If we are eventually served with the complaint, we will vigorously defend our company and our employees from baseless claims.”

This isn’t the first time a company has accused the NPUC and NV Energy of colluding.

Late last year, regulators approved a plan to increase the fees and lower the rates that solar customers earn for generating electricity. The new rate structure makes roof-installed solar panels uneconomical in the state, according to solar companies, some of which stopped doing business in Nevada.

Following the solar roof rate change, solar companies like SolarCity SCTY 1.58% and SunRun RUN -1.17% accused the NPUC of being in the pocket of NV Energy. NPUC Chairman Paul Thomsen denied the accusation in an interview with Fortune.

Solar companies and solar customers are turning to other venues to fight the regulator’s decisions.

A ballot measure, dubbed the Energy Choice Initiative, if approved would enable companies to buy power on the open market rather than only through the utility. That measure will be voted on in November.

Another ballot measure would ask voters if they want to restore the more favorable solar rates. That measure is being contested in the state Supreme Court, but also made it onto the ballot in November.

Lawsuits have been pointed at all parties over the solar roof rate change. In March a solar group filed a lawsuit against the NPUC seeking to overturn the new solar rates. Earlier this year solar customers filed a class action lawsuit against NV Energy, alleging the utility provided false information to the state’s regulator. And another solar customer sued SolarCity accusing it of failing to disclose information about the potential rate change.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Renewable Energy Update – July 2016

by William R. Devine, Barry Epstein, Emily L. Murray/Allen Matkins Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP (July 8, 2016) www.jdsupra.com

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Renewable Energy Focus

Senator Heinrich to introduce energy storage tax credit bill

Greentech Media – Jul 5 There will soon be an energy storage tax credit proposal in both the House and Senate. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) will introduce an investment tax credit for energy storage, based on the existing credit for solar energy, next week. The legislation would give businesses and homes a 30 percent credit, but the credit would taper off starting in 2020. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) introduced similar legislation on the House side in May. The U.S. storage market is still a fraction of the size of the wind or solar industries; it totaled $111 million in 2013 but rose to $441 million last year, according to GTM Research. It’s expected to grow to $2.9 billion by 2021.

Big solar is leaving rooftop systems in the dust

Reuters – Jul 5 Solar power is on pace for the first time this year to contribute more new electricity to the grid than will any other form of energy, a feat driven more by economics than green mandates. The cost of electricity from large-scale solar installations now is comparable to and sometimes cheaper than natural gas-fired power, even without incentives aimed at promoting environmentally friendly power, according to industry players and outside cost studies. Buoyed by appeals to self-reliance and environmental stewardship, as well as government subsidies, the early solar industry was dominated by rooftop panels that powered individual homes and businesses. But such small-scale installations are expensive, requiring hefty incentives to make them attractive to homeowners. Today, large systems that sell directly to utilities dominate. They are expected to account for more than 70 percent of new solar added to the grid this year, according to industry research firm GTM Research.

MGM Resorts International expands solar array, now nation’s largest

Las Vegas Sun – Jul 6 The nation’s largest rooftop solar array is now on the Las Vegas Strip. After expanding a rooftop solar array atop the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, MGM Resorts International announced this Wednesday that its roughly 26,000 solar panels that span 28 acres set a record as the largest rooftop array in the U.S. At full production, the system will provide Mandalay Bay 25 percent of its energy.

GRID Alternatives and L.A. mayor announce low-income solar pledge

Solar Industry Magazine – Jul 1 GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles (GRID GLA), the largest affiliate of U.S. nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives, has unveiled its new LA 500 pledge. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined the nonprofit to make the announcement last Thursday at a low-income Los Angeles family’s home, where GRID GLA and students from three local vocational schools were installing a rooftop solar system. Through its LA 500 pledge, GRID GLA says it will provide no-cost rooftop solar to 500 low-income families in single- and multi-family dwellings and provide hands-on solar workforce training to 500 individuals in Los Angeles in the next two years.

Southern Company subsidiary acquires Henrietta solar power project from SunPower

PennEnergy – Jul 6 Southern Company subsidiary Southern Power has acquired a controlling interest in the 102-megawatt Henrietta Solar Power Project in Kings County, California, from SunPower, which will own the remaining interest in the project. The Henrietta Solar Project represents Southern Power’s first joint venture with SunPower, which developed, designed, and is constructing the facility and will operate and maintain it upon completion. Construction began in May 2015, and the project is expected to be fully operational in the third quarter of this year. Once operational, the facility is expected to be capable of generating enough electricity to help meet the energy needs of approximately 24,000 average U.S. homes.

Disclosure: Allen Matkins represented SunPower in connection with this transaction.

NextEra Energy Partners completes $312M acquisition of renewable projects

South Florida Business Journal – Jul 5 NextEra Energy Partners has completed an acquisition of renewable projects that includes two wind facilities: Cedar Bluff Wind Energy Center, located in Kansas, and Golden Hills Wind Energy Center in California. NextEra purchased the assets for about $312 million. The acquisition expands the contract renewable energy projects in the company’s portfolio to about 2,656 megawatts. Umbrella company NextEra Energy Inc. has over 44,000 megawatts of generating capacity.

SunEdison hopes to sell California solar stake to D.E. Shaw affiliate

SeeNews Renewables – Jul 7 Bankrupt renewables developer SunEdison hopes to sell its interest in the Mount Signal 2 solar project in California to hedge fund D.E. Shaw for $80 million, court papers show. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, D.E. Shaw affiliate DESRI MS2 Development LLC has sealed a deal to acquire SunEdison’s stake in the project, but needs the approval of a U.S. bankruptcy judge, who is to decide whether the asset should change hands through a private sale or an auction process.

Going Solar? Take Care of These 5 Prerequisites First

by Solar Power Authority (www.solarpowerauthority.com)

Rental Solar 01

You’ve explored your options for solar panels, reviewed the benefits, estimated the installation costs, and now you’re ready to install a PV array. But before you set up an appointment with your chosen solar panel company, you need to make sure you and your home are ready. By reviewing these five prerequisites ahead of time, you can make the installation process run much smoother.

1. Research Your City’s Rules

While every city and state is different, many require specific permits to install a home solar system, including a building permit, an electrical permit, or both. You’ll need to obtain these permits before the installation, and because the application and approval process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, it’s important to research ahead of time.

Many solar panel installation companies will handle both the permit application and costs, so confirm with the company when finalizing the contract. If your community has a homeowner’s association (HOA), you may also need to submit your plans and get approval from them before installing a system. Check your state’s laws and HOA rules for more specific details.

2. Review Your Past Energy Usage

Before finalizing your solar system’s size, analyze your past energy bills to see how much electricity you use. It’s best to look back a full year so you can see how it varies between summer and winter. Add up the total number of kilowatt hours (kWh) you consumed for 12 months and compare what your chosen system is estimated to produce.

Remember, the size of your roof will limit how many solar panels you can install, so you may or may not be able to produce as much energy as you’d like. Or, you may realize that your average energy use is lower than you thought, allowing you to downsize your array choice and the related costs.

3. Chat with Your Utility Company

You need to notify your utility company before installing and using your solar panels. Because different utility companies have different payment policies and net metering rules for homes using solar energy, your billing may change drastically. Some utility companies install a net meter to measure the net energy — the difference between the energy your panels produced and the amount of electricity your home used. Currently, 42 states offer net metering, while those states without these policies use different rules and measurement methods.

Electric companies that use net metering often switch traditional monthly billing to an annual True-Up bill, which allow energy consumption and production to be reconciled. At the end of the year, you will either owe money if you used more than you produced or be reimbursed if you produced more than you used.

4. Remove Any Barriers

The more direct sunlight hits your solar panels, the more energy you can produce. Thus, it’s important to make sure that nothing will shade your array, particularly during the peak energy production times of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To combat any potential obstructions, trim overhanging trees and relocate rooftop satellite dishes well before your installation date.

Typically, between 300 and 400 square feet of unobstructed roof space — preferably without skylights, pipes, or chimneys in the way — will be enough for a normal array. To get that much space, you may need to find a new place or position for roof vents or antennas. Before making any structural adjustments, though, you’ll want to confirm any city-specific roofing rules, as some building codes require a professional to relocate roof vents.

5. Audit Your Roof

The type of roof you have can impact installation time, materials, and costs. Spanish tiles and shakes, for instance, are more delicate, making for a trickier install than traditional asphalt shingles. Further, while most solar companies can install panels on nearly any roof, some may prefer that the roof be cleaned or swept before the install, so ask your solar representative for more details on any preparation that may be required.

While preparing your roof, review the current condition of your shingles. If you or a professional suspects your roof will need replacing within the next 10 to 15 years, it may make more sense to replace your roof before installing the array. Solar panels last 20–40 years, and it can be expensive to remove and reinstall the panels if you need to replace your roof during that lifespan.

Your qualified solar installers should advise you on how to prepare for your solar installation, but don’t hesitate to ask any questions that arise. The more you can plan ahead, the easier you’ll make it for the installers. And, soon enough, your home will be on its way to generating clean, renewable energy.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Top 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Solar Energy

by Erin Pierce (June 16, 2016) renewableenergyworld.com

Top 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Solar Energy – Renewable Energy World

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The solar industry is changing rapidly as it experiences unprecedented growth. Here are 6 facts that may surprise you about this increasingly popular source of power.

6.   Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth — 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. That’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use.

5.   The first silicon solar cell, the precursor of all solar-powered devices, was built by Bell Laboratories in 1954. On the first page of its April 26, 1954 issue, The New York Times proclaimed the milestone, “the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams — the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”

4.   The space industry was an early adopter of solar technology. In the 1950s, the space industry began to use solar technology to provide power aboard spacecraft. The Vanguard 1 — the first artificial earth satellite powered by solar cells — remains the oldest manmade satellite in orbit — logging more than 6 billion miles.

3.   Today, demand for solar in the United States is at an all-time high. The amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased more than 23 times over the past eight years — from 1.2 gigawatts (GW) in 2008 to an estimated 27.4 GW at the end of 2015. That’s enough energy to power the equivalent of 5.4 million average American homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The U.S. is currently the third-largest solar market in the world and is positioned to become the second.

2.   As prices continue to fall, solar energy is increasingly becoming an economical energy choice for American homeowners and businesses. Still, the biggest hurdle to affordable solar energy remains the soft costs — like permitting, zoning and hooking a solar system up to the power gird. On average, local permitting and inspection processes add more than $2,500 to the total cost of a solar energy system and can take up to six months to complete. The SunShot Initiative’s soft costs program works to make it faster and cheaper for families and businesses to go solar.

1.   California’s Mojave Desert is home to Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, the world’s largest operating solar thermal energy plant. It uses concentrating solar power (CSP) technology to focus 173,500 heliostats, each containing two mirrors, onto boilers located in three power towers. The plant, which came online in 2014, has a gross capacity of 392 megawatts (MW). CSP technology is unique in that it allows for solar energy to be stored for use after the sun sets — a key focus for our recent research and development efforts — which addresses some of the concerns over delivering solar power when and where it is needed most.

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Why more people now own their home’s solar panels — instead of lease them

by Susma Un (June 16, 2016) www.marketwatch.com

There has been a surge in the number of companies

willing to provide loans to homeowners

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The tide has turned for solar financing.

Until recently, customers who wanted to save on their monthly electricity bills by installing rooftop solar power systems didn’t have many options. Most solar installers only offered customers the ability to lease the solar roof panels for a monthly fee, typically after signing a 20-year lease. And if customers wanted help financing the transition to solar, there were few places to turn. But that’s changed a lot in the past year.

Solar leases and similar contracts accounted for 72% of home-solar sales in 2014, up from 42% in 2011, according to GTM Research, the research arm of energy news outlet Greentech Media. But that share is projected to drop back down to 57% by 2017 because more people are now able to buy the panels, which enables consumers to own the asset at the end of the loan term and generally saves them money.

About five years ago, before the residential solar market grew, homeowners typically paid upfront for solar panels. Then, solar companies started offering leasing programs and the number of residential solar systems grew even more. Now, as people are beginning to see the benefits of owning a system, the market is responding. Companies that previously offered leases are now are also giving out loans. SolarCity, one of the largest residential solar power companies, replaced its financing program MyPower with a new solar loan program in June 2016. Sunrun, another large residential solar power company which was built around the lease model also introduced loan options for homeowners in September last year. While the lease segment continues to be more popular among its customers, the company expects the share of loans to increase. “Our mix right now in the first quarter was 85% leased, 15% cash. We expect that maybe ticks up to 20%,” the company said in an email statement.

“The solar loan market has exploded,” GTM Research said in a report. Every solar financing company that used to earlier offer leases has introduced or is planning to introduce a loan, and an entirely separate group of pure-play loan providers has formed, the report said.

And more traditional lenders, companies such as Sungage Financial in Boston and Oakland, Calif.-based Mosaic, are also seeing rapid growth in customer demand for loans to buy solar powered equipment. “We are breaking records every month, and the longer term products — the 20-year loans are doing particularly well,” said James Robison, the vice-president of marketing at Mosaic.

In some states, such as New York and Massachusetts, several local banks and credit unions are offering loans for solar as state governments are actively encouraging residential solar. This is only happening in a few states, however, and about a dozen states — including Arizona, Colorado and Louisiana — are considering dialing back the incentives they currently offer.

Mortgage provider Fannie Mae last week came out with the HomeStyle Energy Program, which allows homeowners to borrow an additional 15% to finance their solar or other energy-efficiency systems. Also, state, local governments and/or other government agencies finance projects for homeowners through the PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy) program; the homeowner repays the loan via their annual property tax bills.

Ygrene, a company that provides PACE financing, has seen rapid growth in demand for solar projects, said Louis-Philippe Lalonde, the company’s CMO. Two months back, solar financing was 28% of the company’s business and it’s now about 35%, he said. The PACE program doesn’t require high credit scores and is accessible to a large number of people.

“Homeowners have so many options now,” Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage, an online portal that helps customers search for solar panel providers. Homeowners input their requirements on the ‘solar marketplace’ and are given a whole range of options from solar companies — much like Expedia does with travel packages.

Meanwhile, costs of installing solar power are falling. Solar panel prices cost 50 cents to 60 cents a watt — down from around $4.50 a watt in 2006, according to a Deutsche Bank report. According to GTM Research, the U.S. residential solar market has grown for 15 out of the last 16 quarters.

But of course all is not bright and sunny in the solar market.

There is risk that the demand for solar could fall if prices of panels go up.  Many U.S. states are considering curtailing solar-power incentives due to increasing pressure from electric utilities, The Wall Street Journal reported in March.

And the increase in the availability of funding for homeowners comes with several risks, including price transparency. With most companies offering both leasing and loan options, customers have no easy way to figure out which is more economical for them if they’re not comparing offers from multiple solar installers, Aggarwal says. He adds that not many customers are well-versed when it comes to details on how installers itemize quotes for loans versus leases and they will rely on the numbers that installers give as the best fit for their requirements. “Given that leases make better financial sense for leading solar installers, they often inflate costs of ownership and push the leasing option onto homeowners,” Aggarwal says. The company EnergySage helps standardize the way different companies present their quotes, but there is no industry mandate or requirement to present this in a certain way, as in the case of car sales.

And with more companies entering the sector, there will be increased competition, which could impact the interest rates and the way loans are structured for customers, Nicole Litvak, senior analyst of solar markets at GTM Research pointed out.

CLICK HERE to access the original article.

Minnesota utility to triple rooftop solar rebates

by Danielle Ola (June 2, 2016) www.pv-tech.org

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Minnesota’s largest utility, Minnesota Power, unveiled plans on Wednesday to triple the size of rebates available customers with residential solar panels through adding an extra US$1 million annually to the programme for the next three years; effectively tripling the rebate funds available to customers.

In addition to increasing the amount of money available for solar rebates, the utility also outlined intentions to expand its energy conservation programme and a new community solar garden in the proposals submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

MONEYAccording to the company, customers could now receive rebates of up to US$20,000 depending on the size of the system installed. For example, a typical residential customer installing a 5kW solar system on their home could receive roughly US$6,000 in SolarSense rebates, potentially reducing the cost of the system by 30%.

“Our customers’ interest in solar energy continues to grow and there are multiple ways we are seeking to respond to this trend based on individual customer preferences,” said Tina Koecher, manager of customer solutions for Minnesota Power, in a statement. “Expanding the SolarSense programme, for example, will allow us to provide additional incentives and expertise to people who have homes or businesses in locations with plenty of sun and want to produce solar energy on site.”

The Power of One Conservation Improvement programme

solar rebate 02Aside from the increased rebates, proposals put forward to the PUC included a renewing of a commitment to conservation and energy efficiency through its Power of One Conservation Improvement Programme. This includes rebates on energy-efficient lighting, appliances and heat, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

“Minnesota Power’s Conservation Improvement Programme has a proven track record, surpassing the state’s 1.5% energy savings goal since 2010,” Koecher said. “We intend to build on what’s been successful while also drawing on experience and best practices in the industry to make the programme even more responsive to customers. We’re confident that with engagement from our customers we’ll continue to be able to deliver on the state’s goal.”

Controversial community solar proposals

In addition to energy conservation and SolarSense residential rebates, the utility also submitted proposals for its first community solar garden. The garden is designed for customers who wish to go solar but who either rent or do not have a home or business site that is well-suited for this. Such customers would be able to purchase energy from the solar garden in a variety of ways. This will be reviewed by the PUC today.

The gardens would include a 1MW project and a smaller 40kW installation, both in Duluth, according to reports. US Solar would be assume both EPC and O&M responsibilities for the larger project, while the utility would own the 40kW installation.

However, the proposals have come under fire by clean energy advocates who say that “the proposal continues to reside outside the spirit and letter of the community solar law”, in a letter addressed to the PUC, and signed by more than 50 opposing organizations and individuals.

The overarching critique of the proposal as it stands is that it pushes out competitors and constrains innovation by not creating a process for other develops to build gardens in its territory. In addition to these concerns, critics questioned whether participants will get a fair rate and whether the project should count toward the utility’s requirements under the state’s solar standard; which requires utilities to get 1.5% of their electricity from solar by 2020.

Both the rebate and energy conservation proposals are subject to regulatory approval. The PUC is set to review all of Minnesota Power’s submissions today.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Consumers Can Profit from Leaving the Grid

by Joshua Pearce (May 31, 2016) www.huffingtonpost.com

High voltage post against dreamy background

Secret is Out

It is no secret that solar energy is a money maker. Since 2011, the cost of solar electricity has been less than what consumers pay their electric utilities in a growing swath of America. Solar costs have plummeted like a rock and are continuing to drop.

This has created a surging market for solar technologies – 2015 was the biggest year in solar in U.S. history. Yet the American solar industry is set to more than double installed solar power this year. It is now economical and indeed profitable for a growing number of Americans to even go off grid.

These solar systems use photovoltaic technology that converts sunlight directly into electricity. The vast majority of these systems are connected directly to the grid. Such grid-tied systems are normally net-metered meaning they provide energy for their neighbors during the day and pull power from the grid at night or during cloudy weather. The solar prosumer simply pays for the net electricity they use from the grid. This can be a boon for everyone as solar is a well established sustainable technology. Solar cuts expensive and polluting conventional power and cuts losses during transmission over power lines, as net metered solar’s surplus energy flows to the grid and is consumed by neighbors. Most importantly it benefits all ratepayers by preventing the need to build new, expensive power plants or transmission lines.

Utility Responses

This sounds pretty good and some utilities have embraced solar energy, but sadly others fear it.

Cowardly electric companies are getting nervous that their customers are gaining some power over their “power” and they have used old tricks to make solar less economic and have even attempted to take away fair payment for solar electricity provided to the grid.

Long Term Thinking

This may work in the short term, but a new study released by the journal Energy Policy indicates this could be a disaster in the long term. Solar is not the only distributed technology that has been gaining prowess. Batteries with the help of companies like Tesla have been improving rapidly and have just started cost declines similar to the those seen in solar. In addition, small-scale combined heat and power (CHP) technologies are finally ready for prime time. CHP units about the size of a small refrigerator can provide both electricity and heat for homes economically. This technological triple threat is driving a virtuous cycle of technological improvements and cost reductions in off-grid electric systems that increasingly compete with the grid market.

This is a big change as for the first time in history consumers could actually make money for leaving the grid. An environmental group did a study showing this – but they cherry picked prime states (e.g. California) to evaluate.

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Remarkably, the new study used one of the worst places in the U.S. as an example – the frigid Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where yes it literally snowed in May. Amazingly this study showed that already some households in the tundra of Michigan could save money by switching to a solar hybrid off-grid systems now in comparison to electric rates they are currently paying.

Across the region by 2020, 92% of seasonal households and about 75% of year-round households are projected to meet electricity demands with lower costs.

Furthermore, ~65% of all Upper Peninsula single-family owner-occupied households will both meet grid parity and be able to afford the solar systems by 2020.

What do you think they are going to do?

What this means is that simple economics could spur a positive feedback loop whereby grid electricity prices continue to rise and increasing numbers of customers choose alternatives, particularly in areas where utilities have chosen to treat their customers as threats rather than to embrace customer generated solar energy. There is a name for this effect: utility death spiral. If utilities want to survive and prosper in the longer term their best approach is one of embracing distributed solar power to keep as many solar homes as loyal paying customers as possible.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

U.S. solar power demand intensifies

by Jon Chavez (May 29, 2016) www.toledoblade.com

Local plant runs at full capacity as falling cost of electricity generation heats up market

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By all measures, 2016 is turning out to be a monster year for the solar industry, and by extension, for solar panel makers such as First Solar Inc.

The U.S. solar market is expected by year’s end to have grown 119 percent over 2015 numbers, with the number of panels installed providing a whopping 16 gigawatts of power, more than doubling last year’s previous record-breaking 7.3 gigawatts, according to Boston-based GTM Research.

Currently, the six production lines that employ 1,400 workers at First Solar’s solar panel manufacturing plant in Perrysburg Township are running at full capacity, producing commercial grade, thin-film solar panels for utility-scale solar power plants.

First Solar, based in Tempe, Ariz., has no room to expand its only plant in the United States even if it wished to do so.

According to GTM, which stands for GreenTechMedia, utility solar projects will be 74 percent of installations this year.

But Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energies Industry Association, said the market is booming for the consumer rooftop industry too.

A solar panel rolls on the line at First Solar in Perrysburg Township. Ohio has been slow to embrace green energy, said Jason Slattery of GEM. ‘Ohio is like the solar donut hole,’ he says.

Overall, the industry is being driven by continued falling prices in the cost of power generation from solar panels, an extension at the end of last year of federal tax credits for using solar, blossoming state policies mandating more use of green technologies such as solar and wind, new rules allowing those who have solar power to interconnect with the power grid, and the growing use of net metering — the act of someone with solar panels being allowed to use the power that they generate at any time.

“The growth has been strong year over year. As these facets continue to take hold, and the cost comes down steeply, that increases the ability of customers to go solar and that increases the likelihood of bigger projects getting done,” Mr. Gallagher said.

The surge this year in demand for solar panels is being driven, in part, by the previous uncertainty of the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, or ITC.

The credit was set to expire at the end of this year, prompting many large-scale solar projects to be fast-tracked and pushed to go in 2016 for fear of losing the valuable 30 percent tax credit.

At the end of 2015, the credit was extended through 2023, easing some of the pressure to get projects done this year, experts said.

“There may be a slight dropoff in 2017 because of the effect of the ITC,” Mr. Gallagher said. “A lot of projects were pulled forward by companies trying to get projects done this year. But we foresee strong growth in the market after 2020. By that time, we predict an annual market of 20 gigawatts of new solar projects.”

The residential market too is soaring, thanks to a new industry practice that began a few years ago — the leasing of panels.

“You already have lower prices so more customers can afford solar panels. But there’s increasing acceptance of third-party leasing models, like a car lease,” Mr. Gallagher said. “That takes down the upfront cost that many customers previously couldn’t afford.”

However, Ohio is a lagging participant in the surging solar market in the United States.

Only about 10 megawatts’ worth of new solar power was installed in Ohio in 2015, according to Solar Energy Industries Association.

One megawatt of solar power is enough to power about 164 homes.

GTM Research said in 2015 the state ranked 28th overall in solar installations.

For 2016, the solar energy association estimates Ohio will add just 15 megawatts, and in the expected upcoming boom years, just 25 megawatts for 2017 and 43 megawatts for 2018.

Jason Slattery, who is the director of solar for solar projects installation firm GEM Energy, one of the companies in the Rudolph/Libbe Group, said Ohio, whether deliberately or not, is reluctant to embrace green energy like solar.

“From our perspective — and we do solar development all over the U.S. — when looking at the surrounding states, Ohio is like the solar donut hole,” Mr. Slattery said. “We’re doing activity on solar projects in all the states surrounding Ohio. But Ohio is challenged.”

In 2014, the state legislature and Gov. John Kasich put a two-year freeze on mandates requiring utilities to find at least 25 percent of their power from solar, wind, and other green sources by 2025 and reduce overall energy consumption by 22 percent.

This year, a bill has been introduced that freezes Ohio’s renewable portfolio standard mandate permanently, although Mr. Kasich has said he is against it.

Mr. Slattery said the freeze and a permanent one make no sense when most other states are going in the opposite direction.

“Solar in Michigan is booming. Indiana’s booming. Pennsylvania, I would not say it is boom there, but it is doing more than Ohio,” Mr. Slattery said. “And New York is really booming.”

“Ohio is the first to freeze their [renewable portfolio standard],” he said. “And yet, what we’re seeing is the other states are increasing their [standards]. They’ve already met their goals and they’re increasing their requirements.

“Ohio is the oddball, which totally baffles my mind,” Mr. Slattery said.

However, the slowdown in solar expansion in Ohio has not affected state-based companies involved in the industry.

GEM Energy will grow 30 percent this year, Mr. Slattery said. “There is activity in development solar projects in Ohio, not as many as we’d like, but there is some growth planned over the next few years,” he said.

And the company is actively bidding on multiple projects in the surrounding states, Mr. Slattery added.

First Solar began noticing a jump in demand a year ago, prompting it to hire 60 more workers to push production at the area plant to nearly 600 megawatts and make it the largest solar module assembler in North America.

The growth spurt for 2016 and beyond means it is highly unlikely any dip in employment will occur at the Perrysburg Township plant over the next five years and possibly longer, company officials said.

The extension of the federal Solar tax credit, in particular, has given industry a huge boost and in turn, made the fortunes of First Solar and others in the industry look sunny.

“We already have a longer-term pipeline of projects that was quite strong,” Steve Krum, a First Solar spokesman said.

“The ITC extension rushed some projects in the early stage of development out a little further because there’s no need to get under the wire anymore,” Mr. Krum said.

“But the bigger thing is I think it has created a greater confidence in the industry on the whole. People can now go forward without the anxiety of a shoe dropping and curtailing things,” Mr. Krum added.

First Solar, which in 2011 began building a second U.S. plant in Mesa, Ariz. but then sold the nearly-unused facility in 2012 after the market was saturated with unsold panels, is now talking again about adding a plant if demand continues to grow.

The company would need a new facility to build its Series 5 and Series 6 solar panels — larger products now in prototype stage that have three times the wattage of the standard Series 4 panels now made in Perrysburg.

First Solar is developing the Series 5 at its plant in Malaysia. But Mr. Krum said that if the company decided in the next few years to go ahead with a new plant, it could be built anywhere.

First Solar chief operating officer Tymen de Jong, said in April during the company’s annual presentation to Wall Street analysts that it has the machinery for a new plant.

“We do have eight lines of stored tools that we purchased back in 2009. So if we choose to, we can do something like this: starting in late 2017 we can deploy four lines of Series 4 technology; we take them out of storage; we upgrade them to [Series 5] technology node,” Mr. de Jong said.

The new lines “requires a new building. …,” Mr. de Jong added.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Nevada panel recommends rooftop solar ‘grandfathering

by Associated Press (May 27, 2016) www.fox5vegas.com

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A Nevada task force wants to allow the state’s early-adopter rooftop solar customers to go back to an older, more favorable rate structure.

The state’s New Energy Industry Task Force voted Thursday to recommend a bill be drafted that would “grandfather” customers who applied to go solar by Dec. 31, 2015. The task force recommended letting customers keep the lower rates for 20 years from the date their system started operating.

Lawmakers could consider the proposed bill when they reconvene in early 2017.

The Public Utilities Commission voted to increase rates in December, saying it would eliminate a subsidy paid by customers without rooftop solar panels.

Rooftop solar companies dispute the cost-shift and cut jobs in Nevada, saying the rates made their business models unviable.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar & Storage Could Save Thousands For Multifamily Affordable Rental Housing

by Joshua S. Hill (May24, 2016) planetsave.com

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A new report shows how the combination of solar and storage could save residents of multifamily affordable rental housing thousands on electricity bills.

DSC_0916According to the authors of Closing the California Clean Energy Divide, which explores how battery storage technology combined with residential solar PV could provide greater control to system owners, “significant electric bill savings” could be in the offing to both property owners and residents of multifamily affordable rental housing in California. The authors also highlighted the increased potential in light of the recently enacted Assembly Bill 693, which established California’s Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program, including provision of up to $1 billion in cap-and-trade funding over 10 years to create incentives for installing solar PV.

The report, authored by the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE), California Housing Partnership, and the Clean Energy Group, reached several conclusions:

  • Adding battery storage to an affordable rental housing solar installation in California can eliminate demand charges for building electricity loads, resulting in a net electricity bill of essentially zero
  • Adding battery storage to California affordable rental housing can almost double the building electricity bill savings achieved over the savings realized through solar alone
  • Adding battery storage can achieve incremental utility bill savings similar to solar for about a third of the cost of the solar system for owners of affordable rental housing properties in California
  • Solar+storage projects result in a significantly shorter payback period than stand-alone solar projects

Specifically, the report found that affordable multifamily housing property owners in two specific territories — Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electriccould increase savings by nearly 100% simply by adding storage to solar installations.

“Our analysis, which is based on data from real buildings, shows that adding battery storage to a solar PV system installed on an affordable housing property in Southern California could increase the annual savings on a property owner’s electricity bill to 99 percent, which is nearly double the savings of what a solar-alone system can provide,” said Seth Mullendore, a program manager at Clean Energy Group.

“California has invested heavily to ensure qualified low-income properties have had equal access to our growing solar market,” added Sachu Constantine, CSE director of policy. “But recent changes to the critical underlying rates and tariffs may compromise the value proposition of solar for affordable housing residents and owners unless we find a way to include the combination of energy storage and solar in the Solar Roofs program.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Voters like green energy, conservative group says

by Bruce Henderson (May 20, 2016) www.charlotteobserver.com

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Renewable energy enjoys broad support among N.C. voters, pollsters for a conservative advocacy group said Friday in Charlotte.

Conservatives for Clean Energy commissioned the poll of 800 voters last month. It found deep support among Democrats and Republicans for solar and wind energy, but less enthusiasm for nuclear power and offshore drilling.

“It shows there continues to be strong support for renewable energy in North Carolina, and that’s driven by the economic benefits and technology, the fact that technology is making our lives better and in a lot of ways making it cheaper,” said Paul Shumaker, a Republican political strategist who presented the poll results in Charlotte.

Voters who support lawmakers in favor of:

New energy efficiency financing 88%

Renewable energy 87%

Offshore drilling for gas and oil 48%

New nuclear energy 42%

Fracking for natural gas 30%

Raleigh-based Conservatives for Clean Energy formed in 2014 with what it calls an educational mission. The group does not lobby lawmakers.

No major energy bills were expected in this year’s short session of the General Assembly.

But last week Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would place strict new requirements on solar and wind energy. The measure was referred to the Senate’s rules committee, where bills often go to die.

N.C. legislators last year let renewable energy tax credits expire, and took no action on a bill that would let green-energy developers sell electricity directly to their customers.

They have fended off attempts in recent years to freeze the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, which helped create the state’s solar industry that is now the nation’s third-largest.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association reports that the $6.3 billion invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency from 2007 to 2015 generated $12 billion in total economic impact.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

The Three Biggest Factors That Will Determine the Success or Failure of Solar Energy

by David Arfin (May 13, 2016) www.huffingtonpost.com

Are we going to see a bubble in the Clean Energy Space in the next 15 years? 

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Nope. A “bubble” suggests massive growth then a burst. Of course some companies and trends will indeed be overhyped and will disappoint while others will experience tremendous and continuous growth.

The trajectory of clean energy industry expansion and dips will depend on three primary factors: technology, public policy and investment. From this, business models will be created and evolve that leverages (or influences) the three primary factors.

Technology: growth in solar, wind, storage, electric vehicles, carbon reduction, energy efficiency will all require better, faster, smaller, smarter, data driven technological innovation. This will come from physics, chemistry, earth science, engineering, data science, etc. The rate of change will depend on how global economies choose to motivate the best minds and other resources to enable breakthroughs and progress.

Public Policy: policy comes in many shapes, sizes and flavors. They range from direct incentives (rebates, tax credits, Feed in Tariffs), to energy policies (net metering, community solar, rewarding efficiency) to pricing externalities (taxing carbon) to how infrastructure is funded (expanding roads for urban sprawl vs. putting in EV lanes or EVE charging stations). Of great concern to the clean tech industry is having stability in policy. Two great successes for stability can be found in the California Solar Initiative with a 10-step plan to reduce rebates and another in the long-term extension of the Investment Tax Credit in 2008 and in 2015.

Investment: achieving breakthrough technology and market deployment requires money and people who are provided tools to enable growth.

With these three factors in mind, entrepreneurs and intra-preneurs can create new businesses and industries that leverage the opportunities afforded by technology, policy and investment.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

LETTER: DON’T PAINT SOLAR POWER THAT WAY

by Gary Gentry (May 13, 2016) www.azcentral.com

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It would help to understand the controversy over rooftop solar power if we understand how the electricity grid works.

The electricity grid is like a full tank of water with a pipe putting water in (generators) and a pipe taking water out (electricity users). The volume being removed must exactly match the volume coming in; the laws of physics don’t allow it to be otherwise.

John Kannarr’s letter in The Republic (May 8) is totally wrong in concluding that producing solar power during the day is of no benefit.

Everyone knows that peak demand occurs in the early evening and that demand earlier in the day is lower. But demand during the day is not zero. Refrigerators and clocks don’t shut down in the afternoon. Offices, businesses and homes still use electricity during low demand periods and APS still produces it.

In that sense there is really no such thing as “excess power.” So every kilowatt produced by rooftop solar panels goes into the grid, allowing APS to avoid burning fuel to produce that kilowatt. That’s a benefit to APS and the environment and should be considered in the pricing.

CKICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar Hits Millionth Installation In The U.S. – Faster Growth Ahead

by Michael McDonald (May 12, 2016) yahoo.com; oilprice.com

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In February, the millionth solar installation was completed in the United States. That momentous number has taken forty years to arrive. Fortunately for renewable energy advocates everywhere, the next million installations will likely take a lot less than forty years. At the end of 2015, the U.S. solar market had a total capacity of 27 gigawatts.

While that number may sound like a lot, in reality it’s only 1 percent of the overall electrical mix of the country. Given that, solar still has a long way to go before it becomes a major energy production source in the U.S. Conversely, solar power also has a long potential growth runway ahead of it.

Solar power installations are expected to grow 119 percent in 2016, or roughly 16 GW of additional installed base. That compares to 7.3 GW installed in 2015. By 2020, the U.S. could have 100 GW of installed capacity and an annual growth installation rate of 20GW. On the whole then, solar still seems to have years of growth ahead of it.

Solar’s growth is changing the economics of the conventional utility industry. Now that more than a million households have solar panels, grid managers are set to cut the amount of electricity they buy from conventional power plants by 1,400 MW starting in 2019, according to industry consultants ICF. That amount represents the power capacity consumed by roughly 800,000 households.

While it sounds extreme to call conventional electrical generation a business in secular decline or even at risk of being disrupted, there might be more truth in either of those arguments than many investors would like to believe. The cuts to the conventional grid due to solar represent more than $2B in lost revenue. Adding to generation woes, environmental rules are becoming tougher and tougher with no sign of turning back, and wholesale power prices are being driven largely by the price of natural gas. The current minor rebound in natural gas and oil prices notwithstanding, there is still a glut of both commodities, and that is especially true for U.S. natural gas. Against this backdrop then, it’s little wonder that electrical wholesalers seem to be struggling. Revenue from electricity sales fell 1.3 percent to $388 billion in 2015.

Yet it’s too soon for either environmentalists or solar business owners to begin celebrating. An industry with almost $400 billion in annual revenues is still very much a lion in a cage match with a solar mouse. Utilities can call on political power and the ability to effectively arbitrage prices based on peak usage throughout the day (though storage batteries are increasingly undermining this latter tool). In addition, there is nothing to stop major energy companies from entering the solar business on their own either in the rooftop segment or with a distributed grid model. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, utilities and generation firms still command the lion’s share of capital in the industry. It is well within the capacity of utility firms to buy part or all of various new technology companies thus giving themselves a call option on changes in the industry.

Utility companies have many tools at their disposal to help deal with the changing environment if they accept that the environment is changing and choose to adapt. After all, mammals were a lot smaller than dinosaurs, yet the former survived the changing environment of the Ice Age as the latter died in droves. Utilities could learn a thing or two from that historical analogy.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Salt Lake City ramping up solar power use

Associated Press (May 11, 2016) www.roanoke.com

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski says she wants to double the government’s use of solar power from 6 percent to 12 percent by the end of the year.

The mayor made the announcement Tuesday with Rocky Mountain Power CEO Cindy Crane, whose company’s new solar program is powering the switch.

Biskupski says the city’s subscription to Rocky Mountain Power’s program will provide more than double of renewable energy output than all of the 4,000 solar panels the city has installed on its own.

The company’s solar power comes from a 20-megawatt solar plant in Millard County. The city will subscribe to three megawatts of solar power, or about 9,000 solar panel’s worth.

Biskupski says she wants to ramp up the use of renewables to 50 percent of municipal operations by 2020.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

It’s never been easier to buy a solar-powered home

by Mike Wheatly (May 9, 2016) realtybiznews.com

Many consumers looking to purchase a home are unaware of a new solar program that allows them to bundle solar into their mortgage during their home purchase. The program, “Solar Ready Homes” allows qualified borrowers to exceed their loan limit by up to 20 percent for the purpose of including energy efficient improvements like solar into their loan.

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One of the best ways that Solar Ready Homes can work for you is to increase your purchasing power and allow you to qualify for a larger mortgage. According to the HUD website, on an FHA, you can qualify for up to 33% of your debt to income ratio with energy efficient improvements, but only 29% without these upgrades. This is because a larger percentage of your income can be applied to your mortgage thanks to the reduction in your household living expenses.

Here’s an example of how this works from the HUD website:

If the buyer’s total monthly income is $5,000, then their maximum allowable monthly payment at 29% is $1,450, and the maximum mortgage they can qualify for is $313,100.

However, through the Solar Ready Homes Program:

The maximum allowable monthly payment for the same person at 33% is $1,650, and the maximum mortgage that they can get is $356,300. That amount makes a huge difference in the kind of house that you can afford! At the same time, your monthly bills will be lower, thus saving you money every month and creating a budget to allow for the higher payment.

Solar Ready Homes is a concrete way for families to both save money and make a large scale change in the way they live their lives in regard to the environment. Solar Ready Homes, when added to a mortgage, is a smart way to pay for energy efficient improvements to a house that you plan to buy, or add during a refinance. In addition, buyers are eligible to apply for state and federal incentives.

Comparing the Solar Ready Homes program to leasing solar or power purchase agreements, the homeowner misses out on these state and federal incentives. In most cases, homeowners are hit with hidden fees or escalators for early termination. These alternative programs are impractical in today’s market by creating unnecessary difficulties for both buyers and sellers.

For example, a Fresno, Calif., couple trying to sell their house told The Los Angeles Times that it attracted multiple offers, but two sets of buyers backed out of the contracts due to the leased solar panels on their roof. The buyers felt the long-term cost of the lease agreement was too high or they were concerned about the credit qualifications they had to meet in order to take over the lease. Ultimately, the couple had to pay $22,000 to break the lease with the solar company so that they could sell the house.

“Solar Ready Homes is not a second mortgage. It is something that you get in addition to your regular mortgage…”, the couple said.

Making your house more energy efficient isn’t just about helping the environment and saving you money. Energy efficient homes are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, cost less to maintain, have lower monthly utilities costs, and generally last longer. Overall, an upgraded home is more comfortable all around. This means not having to deal with drafts in the winter, not worrying about the cost of cranking the AC when company comes over, and having peace of mind that your children, pets, and older visitors will always be in a comfortable, healthy environment.

At this time, Solar Ready Homes is not a second mortgage. It is something that you get in addition to your regular mortgage or mortgage refinance and roll into your primary mortgage. That means that you only make one mortgage payment every month and there’s no additional lien on your property or increase to your property taxes from it.

How Solar Ready Homes works:

If you are purchasing or building a home that you want to add energy efficient features to, you would first get approved for a regular mortgage for the purchase. Then, you would contact Solar Ready Homes – to be bundled into that mortgage – to pay for energy efficient improvements.

If you are refinancing a mortgage for a home that you already own and you want to add some energy efficient renovations, you would again contact Solar Ready Homes to be rolled into the new mortgage.

Solar Ready Homes can be applied to most home mortgages and to make things even easier, you don’t have to do anything to qualify for the program. In fact, if you already qualify for your main mortgage, you will (in most cases) also qualify for energy efficient improvements.

Whatever your reason for wanting to pursue this type of mortgage, the results are the same: a more comfortable, energy efficient, environmentally sound home that is cheaper to maintain and has lower monthly utility costs.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Letter: Can we move the solar debate forward?

by Sally Rings (May 6, 2016) www.azcentral.com

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For years I have read the articles about the ongoing battles about solar energy in Arizona, and they are almost entirely about the bottom lines of the utility companies and the solar industry.

Virtually nothing is said about the kind of energy each is promoting, and yet the difference is huge. Fossil fuels, which are the primary sources of energy sold by utility companies, are life-destroying on many levels: the obliteration of ecosystems in the mining, the pollution and illness caused in the burning, and the global warming increases at all stages.

On the other hand, solar energy is clean and renewable, contributing to the sustainability and balanced flourishing of life. My hunch is that, because people understand this, if offered energy from both sources at the same price, they would choose solar over fossil fuels (unless they have a vested interested in fossil fuels).

My hope is that, as negotiations begin among those connected to both sources of energy, the long-term effects of both would enlarge the conversation beyond short-term bottom lines.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Deal Between SolarCity Corp And APS Ends Fight, For Now At Least

by Aman Jain (April 29, 2016) www.valuewalk.com

SolarCity made a deal with Arizona Public Service, putting an end to the public fight pitting the utility company against solar companies. On Thursday, the agreement between Arizona’s biggest utility and the nation’s largest solar company was announced, and hopefully this deal means the competing measures asking voters about how to treat rooftop solar power are finally being removed.

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Strong foundation for future reforms

Both sides have agreed to negotiate how solar customers who produce extra power on their rooftops are to be paid. Lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey negotiated with SolarCity and APS. The governor’s office will participate in the talks, and if all goes well, then eventually, other solar firms and utilities will sign on as well.

Less than an hour after Republicans in the Arizona Senate started taking steps to send Arizona voters separate rates for rooftop solar users and regulate solar leasing companies as utilities, Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, announced the deal. Lesko said these actions are intended to enable constructive discussion between Arizona electric utilities, including APS and SolarCity.

The fight started two years ago when utilities started preparing rate cases and began pushing added fees for rooftop solar customers. The rooftop solar industry fought back, saying the utilities were protecting their profit by trying to kill the industry.

Citizens’ initiative from SolarCity: the hero

The SolarCity-backed citizens’ initiative is seen as the primary reason behind the announcement. The initiative commanded utilities to pay people who produce power with rooftop solar panels the full retail price for the power they send back to the grid.

After a citizens’ initiative was filed earlier this month, Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, and Lesko crafted the voter referrals with help from APS. This task needed a massive signature-gathering effort, while only House and Senate approval was required for the legislative referral.

In less than two weeks, the initiative collected more than 40,000 signatures, said Kris Mayes, the former Arizona Corporation Commissioner who was chairing the citizens’ initiative. The initiative needed 225,000 signatures to get on the ballot by July 7.

“The people of Arizona resoundingly support solar,” Mayes said. “And I think that’s why the governor’s office decided to show some leadership in this process and help these parties along.”

This is a big deal, especially that even without a precedent, a large utility like APS and the nation’s largest solar company, SolarCity, are coming together for negotiations, said Mayes.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

These States Don’t Want You to Get Solar Power

By Julian Spector (Apr. 29, 2016) CityLab, www.citylab.com

High legal barriers in 10 states make it especially difficult to put solar panels on rooftops.

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A lot has been said already about the success of the states that are leading the adoption of solar energy. There’s plenty to celebrate, as solar installations smash records and as the industry grows 12 times faster than the U.S. economy. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that many people live in places where the government is either not facilitating a solar market or is actively smothering it.

Solar obstructionism takes center stage in a report, aptly titled “Throwing Shade,” out Tuesday from Greer Ryan at the Center for Biological Diversity. The organization advocates for an energy system that’s clean, equitable, and wildlife friendly, so Ryan set out to rank the states based on how well their policies encourage rooftop solar panels. Then she analyzed the 10 worst-scoring states with the highest solar potential in order to better understand how the absence of state-level policies—or the presence of antagonistic ones—hampers the growth of solar markets.

In theory, those 10 states could produce up to 35 percent of the nation’s energy supply from rooftop solar installations. Instead, they only account for 6 percent. If we imagine a world where men and women could install solar panels wherever they provided the most benefits, we would expect the regions with the most potential to have the most installations. State policies and regulations intervene, though. Texas and Florida, for example, rank second and third for potential in the U.S., but rank 12th and 14th in terms of how much distributed solar power they actually produce. Here are some key actions these states (which also include Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin) take that prevent solar growth:

Stopping community solar

The 10 worst-ranking states for solar policies all have something in common: a complete lack of community solar laws. These are crucial for expanding solar access to people who don’t own a roof (renters, for example), or whose roof doesn’t support solar panels.

A community solar installation provides clean energy to multiple customers who subscribe to it. As such, this approach requires certain rules to make sure these people get credit on their electricity bills for energy produced at the solar site. That’s a departure from buying all your power from a utility or using what you produce on your own property, and it requires a legal framework to make it possible.

This is a relatively new sector of the solar industry—it’s only been around since 2006 and there are about 100 community solar sites in the U.S. It’s expected to grow in the coming years, and states that don’t allow it are cutting off a vital ingredient for a healthy, equitable solar industry.

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Avoiding solar mandates

Twenty-nine states have chosen to expand their clean energy supply by requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. This is what’s known as a market creation policy, because it jumpstarts a certain amount of demand and can help the renewables industries get going in that market.

Of the 10 states in the report, seven don’t have these standards, and the other three (Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin) have already met their targets, which Ryan identifies as “unambitious.” Texas, for instance, set a goal that it was able to meet a full 15 years ahead of schedule. None of these states are expanding solar production to meet a renewable power goal.

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Blocking third-party ownership

If you have tens of thousands of dollars lying around, it’s easy enough to put solar panels on your roof. For everyone who doesn’t have that kind of cash, third-party ownership offers an alternative route: You let a company install the panels on your house, and sign a contract to pay them for the electricity, usually through a lease or power purchase agreement.

This model accounted for 72 percent of all the residential solar installed in the U.S. in 2014. But, in seven of the 10 worst states for solar policy, this arrangement either isn’t allowed or has an unclear legal status, which deters businesses from providing the service. This ensures the only companies that can sell power to residents are the established utilities, and minimizes access to rooftop solar for everyone who can’t afford it.

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Obstructing public input

It’s hard to talk about distributed solar power without talking about democracy. The policy battles here largely revolve around small governmental bodies favoring the monopolies of existing utilities over the ability of individuals to obtain power as they choose.

Alabama serves as a case in point. The state lacks every major policy needed to promote distributed solar. Ryan points out an “astonishing lack of transparency” in how Alabama plans for its energy sources. Alabama Power serves most of the state, and the public service commission neither allows for meaningful public comment on the utility’s investment plan, nor requires the utility to even release that plan and its underlying economic analysis. That means the ratepayers shoulder the cost of the utility’s investments, without the opportunity to push for greater solar assets.

“We’ve seen that in existing solar markets, public input is hugely impactful, when regulators and legislators listen,” Ryan tells CityLab. “Without public input, there’s nothing to stop corporate interests or utilities from preventing rooftop solar access.”

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Solar Energy War: Utilities Set Their Sights on Rooftop Solar

by Travis Hoium (April 24, 2016) The Motley Fool www.fool.com

FREIBURG IM BREISGAU, GERMANY - MARCH 23: Solar panels stand on the roof of the Sun Ship part of the Freiburg Solar Settlement on March 23, 2012 in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. The Solar Settlement is an ensemble of 59 homes and a commercial building created from sustainable materials generating 445 kW, per year from its solar panels. The photovoltaic roofs produce more energy than consumed by the settlement and whose supplementary income largely compensates its low additional costs. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

Slowly but surely, utilities are eating away at the revolution taking place in rooftop solar. Nevada eliminated net metering altogether, California and Hawaii reduced net metering credits for customers, and utilities across the country are starting to increase base fees and challenge net metering to reduce the savings solar provides.

The result is effectively a war between residential solar companies and the utilities they’re trying to disrupt. And where your solar investments are positioned in this battle could tell you a lot about their future.

Why the battle over net metering is taking place
The core disagreement between utilities and solar companies is over the price homeowners are credited for solar electricity they export to the grid. The solar energy that’s produced and consumed at a home isn’t in question — it’s only what’s exported that matters.

As the rules stand today, in most states customers are credited with their full retail rate, known as net metering. If the rate you pay for electricity is $0.12 per kWh, you would get a $0.12-per-kWh credit for the electricity exported to the grid. Companies like SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY), Sunrun (NASDAQ:RUN), and SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) love this structure because they can sell electricity to homeowners for less than their retail rate (in this example, $0.12 per kWh), offering savings to go solar. 

solar farm 04But utilities argue that they can buy solar electricity from large solar farms at a more cost-effective rate than homeowners can. And that makes sense. NV Energy, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B), was behind Nevada’s massive cut in net metering and its numbers show the problem for rooftop solar. The utility has signed contracts in the last two years with First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) and SunPower to buy solar energy for $0.039 per kWh and $0.046 per kWh, respectively — far below what you would pay for solar on your roof. So, why should it then be happy buying solar energy from customers for $0.114 per kWh, which is the latest retail rate for electricity? And why should regulators force the utility to buy that more expensive solar energy? 

That’s the picture if you’re looking at the system as a whole. And it’s hard to argue that the utility doesn’t have a point that it can procure solar energy more effectively than homeowners. But that doesn’t take into account other system benefits, like locally created supply, reduced need for transmission lines, reduction in demand during peak summer air condition hours or choices in energy, something that’s new to the industry.  

Does choice in energy matter?
One thing residential solar companies would argue is that choice in energy matters. If a customer wants to generate their own electricity they should be able to. And that’s true.

But what can’t go overlooked is that solar systems are still reliant on the grid for reliable operation of a home, and net metering, in one form or another, is the only way to make rooftop solar truly economical until batteries that allow 100% self consumption are an economical option.

Customers have the choice to go solar, but in most cases they’re also reliant on compensation from the grid to make their solar choice work. And that tension between choice and compensation is the battle between solar companies and utilities today.

Community solar could solve all of these problems
rooftop solar 03What could solve this problem is if customers begin getting the choice to buy solar energy from a community solar farm. These are larger solar installations that could leveraging the lower cost that scale provides, but it would still sell energy directly by customers, just like a rooftop solar system. Think of it as owning a small piece of a solar farm for yourself. And the utility would be able to accurately predict energy production and costs, making for more predictability on the grid.

I think community solar will end up being a win-win-win for customers, solar companies, and utilities in the long term, but they’re relatively new to the industry right now. Keep an eye on this as a structure going forward as a way to balance everyone’s interests.

Where do you stand in the solar war?
I don’t write any of this to take sides in rooftop solar vs. utilities, but rather to lay out the position different companies have in this battle. Utilities are often seen as the bad guys, trying to kill off a threatening innovation like rooftop solar. But there’s a logical reason to think that utilities could actually help bring more solar energy to the grid more cost effectively than rooftop solar companies can. And that’s one of their best arguments for utilities against net metering. If your goal is more solar energy production and not more energy choice, you may lean to the utility side of the argument.

But rooftop solar companies also have a good point that they bring choice to a market that’s never had choice before. I just wouldn’t expect them to win the argument that net metering will make sense forever given the low-cost solar alternatives and potential cost shift to non-solar customers in high-penetration markets.

When investing in solar, it’s important to know where your company stands as the industry changes in the long term. And if you’re counting on net metering to fuel your company’s business model — as SolarCity and Sunrun are — you may want to reconsider how sustainable that model is. Utilities across the country are chipping away at net metering, and that may not be good for the disruptive rooftop solar market.

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Renewable energy is smart investment for utilities

PJ Wilson, Columbia, MO.  (April 23, 2016) www.stltoday.com

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The commentary “Wrong fix for electricity problems” (April 13) from Rachel Payton of Americans for Prosperity falsely claimed that renewable energy and Missouri’s clean energy laws are to blame for recent rate increases in our state.

My organization, Renew Missouri, is one of our state’s leading clean energy advocates; we helped pass Missouri’s Renewable Energy Standard in 2008 with 66 percent of the vote, along with other clean energy policies. I feel the need to respond to some of the untruths in the commentary.

It is important to point out that Americans for Prosperity is funded primarily by the Koch brothers, two of the richest individuals in the world linked to hundreds of millions of dollars of political activity through “dark money” organizations. The group advocates primarily for fossil fuel interests, which is where the billionaire Koch brothers derive their wealth. 

As the Post-Dispatch observed this year, Ameren Missouri has raised electric rates by nearly 50 percent since 2007. This alarming trend comes not from renewable energy investments, but rather from Ameren’s expensive retrofits to their aging coal plants and the rising costs of fossil fuels.

Missouri’s Renewable Energy Standard requires that utilities’ rates not grow by more than 1 percent as a result of clean energy investments. Accordingly, Payton’s claim that renewables will cause nearly 15 percent rate increases has no basis in reality. A review of Ameren’s rate cases reveals that roughly half of their rate increases over the past decade are due to the rising cost of coal, which Ameren uses to create over 70 percent of its electricity. On the other side of the state, Kansas City Power & Light and Springfield City Utilities have made investments in wind energy.

Don’t let the robber-baron Koch brothers and their shills deceive you: Renewable energy is the smartest investment a utility can make for the future.

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Arizona solar ballot initiative launched by super PAC

by Ryan Randazzo (April 15, 2016) azcentral.com

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Arizona voters could weigh in on whether utilities can charge special rates to solar customers that make it less economical to go solar.

An industry-backed super PAC called Yes on AZ Solar filed paperwork Friday seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would preserve the system of net metering, where utilities give solar customers a one-to-one credit for most of the excess power they send to the grid.

The group will be lead by Kris Mayes, a former chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission and director of an energy council at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability. She will take a leave from ASU to run the campaign.

The initiative is called Arizona Solar Energy Freedom Act, and because it seeks to amend the state Constitution, will require 225,963 signatures by early July to get on the ballot this fall.

AZ-Solar 02“We believe Arizonans have the right to decide this issue for themselves,” Mayes said Friday. “Do we want to be the solar capital of the world? Do we want the right to produce our own power? Arizonans will overwhelmingly say, yes, we do. Solar is part of who we are as Arizonans. This will enshrine that fact in the Constitution.”

Mayes said the initiative is being backed by the solar industry, and that additional filings will be made regarding its supporters. Christine Brown of Lincoln Strategy Group is the committee treasurer. Mayes said “significant” resources will be put into the campaign.

“We are in this to win it,” Mayes said.

Arizona Public Service Co. and other utilities have been adding new fees to solar customers, contending they don’t pay their fair share of maintaining the power grid. The initiative, if passed, would end that practice.

AZ-Solar 03“This is a ridiculous attempt by California billionaires to get richer by forcing higher energy costs on Arizona consumers,” APS spokesman Jim McDonald said Friday. “It works against Arizona families and is detrimental to sustainable solar in Arizona.”

Net metering helps customers lower their utility bills because the credits they get for excess power accumulate and offset power they draw from their utility at night or when they have multiple appliances running, requiring more power than their solar panels generate. Except for rural homes off the power grid, most solar homes don’t have batteries to store the power, so it must be used instantly or sent to the grid for others to use.

Utility policies such as net metering traditionally have been regulated by the five Arizona  commissioners, who are elected to their statewide office and vote on such matters. Commission Chairman Doug Little on Friday declined to comment on the initiative, saying he wanted to take the weekend to review it.

Utilities adding fees for solar customers

As the price of solar panels dropped in recent years and leasing arrangements became common, utilities across the country have sought ways to amend net metering and get solar customers to pay more for their utility service.

In addition to preserving net metering, the initiative seeks to protect solar customers from other fees that single them out, and from unnecessary delays in gaining utility approval to begin generating power, which has been a problem recently as some customers wait weeks to turn their systems on.

The initiative would protect solar customers for six years, through 2022. After that, new solar customers could face rate changes, but those who install solar by then would be allowed to remain on their existing rate plans as long as they continued to use solar.

Mayes said the initiative would prevent fees like those in Nevada, where regulators made changes in December and February to solar customers’ rates. That prompted some solar companies to leave the state.

AZ-Solar 04UniSource Energy Services, with 93,000 customers in Mohave and Santa Cruz counties, is requesting similar changes from its regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission and the state’s biggest utility, Arizona Public Service, is scheduled to file a rate case in June that is expected to make major changes to solar rates, in addition to the average $5 a month in special fees those customers pay now.

If the Arizona Corporation Commission approves new solar-specific rates, and the initiative makes it to the ballot and passes, then the utilities will be given 90 days to come into compliance with the law.

Letting voters weigh in on solar debate 

The UniSource case has drawn support from utilities like APS and opposition from the statewide solar industry, which fears that if they pass, they will set a precedent for APS and other utilities.

“Time has shown that demand rates are not popular,” said Mark Holohan of Wilson Electric, a board member of the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association, who learned of the ballot initiative Friday.

“All the utilities in Arizona are proposing radical changes to residential rates,” Holohan said. “I think this is an exciting thing to go to the people of Arizona to seek their opinion on the subject, since there appear to be some radically different thoughts on it.”

Salt River Project, which is regulated by its own elected board of directors, enacted new rates on solar customers last year and has seen a dramatic drop-off in the number of people installing solar. The initiative Mayes is pushing would not affect SRP rates, only those investor-owned and co-op utilities regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

The initiative comes just weeks after two solar advocates won election to the Salt River Project board of directors, traditionally a difficult, small-time election for outsiders to win.

Paul Hirt and Nick Brown ran for the board because they disagreed with the board’s new solar fees. Those charges can largely wipe away any savings solar customers see by generating their own power.

Hirt is an Arizona State University professor of history and sustainability. Brown is an energy consultant who moved to the area in 2011 to help ASU develop solar.

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Here Are The Top 10 US Solar States

by Guest contributor (April 15, 2016) cleantechnica.com

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These 10 states are leading the US in harnessing the power of the sun.

Talk about an energy revolution. In 2007, there were no utility-scale solar power plants in the US. Today, there are hundreds.It’s not just what this growth means for cutting carbon pollution and fighting climate change that’s so exciting – it’s also what it means for the economy. Solar power is creating jobs almost 12 times faster than the overall US economy. Last year, the US solar workforce grew by more than 20 percent for the third year in a row. Better for the environment and a dynamic tool for economic growth and job creation, socaliboomlar power shines in plenty of ways. That’s why many states are investing in it – and seeing the results. To show how, new statistics from the Solar Energy Industries Association ranks the top 10 solar states, based on cumulative solar capacity installed, as of March 2016.

Here are the solar leaders of 2015:

1. California

The Golden State takes the gold! With 13,241 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity capable of powering an estimated 3.32 million homes, California is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to solar energy in the United States. California has more solar jobs and installed more megawatts of solar capacity last year than any other US state.

2. Arizona

Second in the country, Arizona boasts an impressive 2,303 MW of solar capacity, enough to power 327,000 homes. According to new research from Environment America, Phoenix comes in at number three on the list of cities with the most installed solar PV capacity in the US, despite the efforts of utilities and the Arizona Corporation Commission to restrict the use of distributed solar in recent years.

3. North Carolina

Not only does North Carolina have a lot of solar energy, with 2,087 MW of capacity capable of powering 223,000 homes, it’s also creating a lot of solar jobs. In 2016, solar jobs in North Carolina are expected to grow 10.2 percent, compared to an overall growth rate of just 1.3 percent during the same period. Regardless of who you cheer for during March Madness, that’s a team we can all root for.

4. New Jersey

In New Jersey, 528 solar companies employ 7,100 people. Together, they have installed 1,632 MW of solar capacity, enough to power 257,000 homes. The Garden State might not be the sunniest place in the country, but they are proving that solar power is an important source of energy today.

5. Nevada

Despite pushback from utilities and the public utility commission that has cast a cloud over solar in the state, Nevada still has the most solar capacity per capita in the US, with 1,240 MW of solar energy for its 2.84 million residents, enough to power 191,000 homes.

6. Massachusetts

Massachusetts installed 286 MW of its total 1,020 MW of solar capacity in 2015. With all that energy, the Bay State could power 163,000 homes with solar.

7. New York

In 2015 New York’s solar jobs grew 13.3 percent over the previous year, and are expected to grow another 11 percent in 2016. Its 638 MW of solar capacity has the ability to power 108,000 homes.

8. Hawaii

Honolulu is the top city in the nation for installed solar PV capacity per capita. Hawaii’s capital led the state to a total of 564 MW of solar capacity, which is enough to power 146,000 homes. In an even more impressive feat, 100 percent of new electrical capacity added in the state came from solar in 2015.

9. Colorado

In 2015, $305 million was invested into solar projects in Colorado – a 44 percent increase over 2014. That investment helped lead to an additional 144 MW of solar capacity, bringing the state’s total up to 540 MW. That’s enough climate-friendly energy to power 103,000 homes.

10. Texas

Coming in at number 10, Texas has a solar capacity of 534 megawatts, which could power 57,000 homes. Solar is growing quickly in the Lone Star State. In fact, San Antonio recently ranked number seven on the list of top solar cities in the US, according to new research from Environment America.

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Excess Solar Goes to Arkansas Co-ops

by Derrill Holly (April 14, 2016) www.ect.coop

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A large solar project built to meet the needs of a major aerospace and defense contractor is also providing electricity for Arkansas electric cooperatives.

The utility-scale 12.5-megawatt array serves a manufacturing and testing facility operated by Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings in East Camden, Ark. With an annual output capacity of 16.8 MW, the power is primarily used for plant operations. But builder Silicone Ranch Corp. has a power purchase agreement with Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. to buy the balance.

Little Rock-based AECC estimates the facility will annually provide approximately 20,000 MWh of excess energy that will be wheeled into the wholesale market. Officials at the G&T said the actual amounts of power for purchase could vary based upon manufacturing plant operations and local weather conditions.

“This innovative partnership benefits electric cooperative members by providing predictable energy costs and contributing to the strong economic growth in the Camden area,” said Duane Highley, AECC’s president and CEO. He said they’re “constantly evaluating energy sources to ensure that our 17 retail distribution cooperatives and their more than 1.2 million members have reliable electricity that is affordable.”

East Camden is served by Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corporation whose technical and engineering staff provided consulting services to Silicon Ranch throughout development of the project.

Mark Cayce, general manager of Camden-based Ouachita EC, said such projects help keep electricity rates affordable for members and promote economic growth in the co-op’s service territory.

System testing of the more than 151,000 solar panels and other components began late last year and the single axis ground mounted pedestals reportedly worked well.

“With the unusually sunny Arkansas winter we have been witness to the exciting potential solar has in Arkansas,” said Gary Vaughan, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s director of production operations.

The facility was formally commissioned during a brief ceremony March 31. Arkansas Republican Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton attended the event along with Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

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San Diego County Nears Solar Threshold

by Consumer Bob (April 5, 2016)  www.nbcsandiego.com

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San Diego has one of the highest concentrations of home solar customers in the country. But while the number of solar companies is growing, there are changes coming that could take money out of your pocket.

By one estimate, the average neighborhood solar project runs around $24,000.

Houses along Interstate 15 in Scripps Ranch and in the East County make up the epicenter of San Diego’s solar universe.

“The industry is growing by leaps and bounds to the tune of 30 to 50 percent growth per year,” said Daniel Sullivan with Sullivan Solar Power.

He estimates there are now more than 200 companies offering solar in the county.

In March, during what is normally one of the slowest times of the year, San Diego County saw the second highest number of installations ever.

One reason for the rush? San Diego County is about to reach its 5 percent solar threshold. At the current installation rate, that’s about 60 days out according to Sullivan.

Until recently, that would have been the end of net metering, or the point where San Diego Gas & Electric credits solar customers for their excess electricity.

The Public Utilities Commission extended net metering until at least 2019, but it did agree with power companies to add new fees once the 5 percent cap is reached.

“Those that go solar after the cap is hit are going to pay probably around $200 more per year on their annual electricity bills than if they’d gone solar beforehand,” Sullivan said.

There will also be a one-time installation fee of about $150. 

If you want to take advantage of the savings, expect some delay. 

“We have to get the permits, we have to secure the equipment and that time line can be roughly 30 days,” said Sullivan.

 He predicts San Diego will reach its net metering cap by late May or early June, San Diego Gas & Electric is predicting mid-summer.  

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Renewables still waiting for an industry leader

by Joe Ryan (April 5, 2016) www.sltrib.com

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More than a decade after the birth of the modern renewable energy industry, solar and wind await their John D. Rockefeller.

Clean power remains a tumultuous and fragmented business, crowded with companies grabbing for slices of an emerging market that aspires to reshape how the world meets its energy needs.

They rise and fall as technology advances and demand seesaws.

Some have grown into sprawling regional players, often propped up by government subsidies. A few, like Suntech Power Holdings and Q-Cells SE, soared to prominence, then all but flickered out.

Yet there are still no companies that dominate the industry.

To an extent, clean energy resembles the early and volatile days of oil, when wildcatters flooded the hills of western Pennsylvania and gave rise to an unruly scrum of an industry.

Into that chaos stepped Rockefeller, who in the mid-1860s began assembling the Standard Oil Trust, the predecessor of Exxon Mobil Corp. At its peak, the trust controlled 90 percent of the U.S. market and dominated the globe.

Rockefeller imposed order on the riotous young oil market, creating the modern oil industry.

“We are a long, long way from anyone in the clean energy space exercising the kind of monopoly power that Standard Oil did,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an industry researcher. “It surely will consolidate, but we’re a long way from that yet.”

Executives from the largest contenders for the renewable energy crown, including First Solar Inc. and Enel SpA, will gather at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York starting Monday.

A handful already have the scale to operate in multiple countries and the ability to line up global financing. Some of the prime contenders to lead the industry are:

• Enel — Chief Executive Francesco Starace is using the Italian utility’s dominance in its home market as a base to build an international giant developing clean-energy power plants.

©Alessandro Paris/Lapresse Roma 25-06-2007 economia Presentazione primo "Punto ENEL" nella foto Francesco Starace (direttore divisione mercato ENEL)

It’s also acting as a technology incubator for start-ups that bring utilities into new grid- and consumer-oriented businesses.

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• First Solar Inc. — Led by Jim Hughes, the biggest developer of utility-scale solar plants also is working on systems that grid managers use to integrate variable flows of power into their networks. It’s the biggest U.S. solar company.

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• Iberdrola SA — The Spanish utility led by Ignacio Galan is among the largest developers of renewable power plants, with generators and grids in the U.S., U.K., Brazil and Mexico.

• State Grid Corp. of China — If dominating the industry means controlling the assets delivering electricity, this company will be at the lead, with the power grid that serves the most populous nation. State Grid has been expanding international connections from the Philippines to Brazil in search of deals to jointly develop energy resources.

• Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co. — China’s biggest wind turbine maker emerged last year as the world leader in the technology and is one of the nation’s few companies with a global footprint, building wind projects over the past eight years in 15 foreign countries with a total of more than 1 gigawatt of capacity.

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• SolarCity Corp. — The rooftop solar developer backed by Elon Musk has revolutionized the home solar market by writing contracts that make the systems affordable for homeowners. Its efforts have accelerated the industry’s growth and challenged the traditional utility business model.

Clearly, his style is different from GreenspanÕs, but my judgment is heÕs doing a good job. One, he is carefully listening to whatÕs going on in the economy. HeÕs paying attention to all the right things. He took action on the discount rate. That was an important step. HeÕs got a steady hand and heÕs making the moves that need to be made at the right time. HeÕs not overreacting to the volatility that weÕve been experiencing in the markets. We are a very capital-intensive industry. WeÕre looking out over the next five years and weÕre reinvesting about $23 billion into our industry. WeÕre seeing the demand for electricity continue to grow. We donÕt see even a rocky economy changing our plans. [Despite the financial turmoil] it has been no problem accessing either commercial paper or the bond market. We think that a cut in the federal funds rate is an expected, appropriate action.Ó

• Duke Energy Corp. — The largest U.S. utility owner’s operations stretch from the country’s Midwest to the Southeast, cobbled together by former CEO and industry visionary James Rogers. He was among the first to capitalize on deregulation allowing independent power producers and utilities that transfer electricity across state lines.

The blueprint for global domination, though, remains on the drawing board. And questions abound about what a clean energy “supermajor” might look like, to borrow a term from the oil industry.

Will they need to rule both the wind and solar markets? Are traditional utilities with sprawling infrastructure and vast customer bases best positioned to rise? Or will it be new companies entirely?

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“We are still in the formative years,” said Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower Corp., a San Jose, Calif.-based panel producer majority-owned by the French oil major Total SA. “It is not clear yet what the business model will be that will catalyze you to be a supermajor.”

The top of the clean-energy pile can be precarious. SunEdison Inc. — the clean-energy developer based in Maryland Heights, Mo. — christened itself a “supermajor” in July when it announced its ill-fated takeover of rooftop installer Vivint Solar Inc. Since then, SunEdison shares have dropped 99 percent.

“My pets have a longer average lifespan than the solar companies I write about,” said Jenny Chase, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst.

Wind and solar technology has been around for decades, yet the modern industry only started booming in 2004, when Germany pioneered a method of subsidizing clean energy through feed-in tariffs.

That mechanism guaranteed wind and solar companies a transparent revenue stream, allowing them to secure bank financing and develop enough scale to reduce costs.

Now, a dozen years later, David Crane, the former president and chief executive of NRG Energy Inc., said the moment for a supermajor could be ripe. He points to a recent selloff in renewable stocks that opens an opportunity for a private-equity giant or pension fund to cobble together a green behemoth.

Others, though, predict clean energy will remain a decentralized and fragmented industry, making it unlikely for anyone to dominate. Antitrust laws put in place partly to break up Standard Oil ensure that no one company ever will have Rockefeller’s market power.

Still, size and global reach is important for renewables to drive down costs in what’s essentially a commodity business focused on selling electricity, said Francesco Venturini, CEO of Enel Green Power SpA. He predicted that the industry would ultimately be led by a handful of players, rather than a single monopolist.

“I don’t think there is going to be one Rockefeller,” he said.

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Florida Supreme Court allows utility-backed solar amendment on ballot

posted by: Jim Turner (March 31, 2016)  www.orlandoweekly.com

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Floridians will get a chance this fall to put solar-energy regulations into the state Constitution.

The Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling Thursday, found that the wording of a controversial ballot initiative backed by major utilities meets the legal standards to go before voters in November

The court did not rule on the merits of the proposed amendment, which is sponsored by a group called “Consumers for Smart Solar” and has already been slotted as amendment number 1 on the November ballot. Instead, the court found that the measure meets wording requirements, such as being limited to a single subject and being unambiguous.

“We look forward to making our case to the people of Florida that we must advance solar energy —- and do it the right way —- a way that protects all consumers, whether they choose solar or not,” Consumers for Smart Solar Co-Chairman Dick Batchelor, a former state legislator, said in a release after the ruling.

But critics expressed disappointment, as they contend the measure is simply an effort by the utilities to maintain control over solar energy and limit private use.

“This amendment hoodwinks voters by giving the impression that it will encourage the use of rooftop solar when, in fact, it would do the opposite,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who argued against the amendment March 7 at the court.

The Consumers for Smart Solar amendment was introduced in July after a separate amendment, backed by a group known as “Floridians for Solar Choice,” was proposed to allow businesses to generate and sell up to two megawatts of power to customers on the same or neighboring properties. The Floridians for Solar Choice proposal ultimately failed to receive enough petition signatures to get on the 2016 ballot.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga was joined by justices R. Fred Lewis, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston in supporting the Consumers for Smart Solar ballot language Thursday.

“When read within the full context of the ballot title and summary, none of the terms contained within the ballot title and summary are misleading and none of the terms constitute political or emotional rhetoric,” the majority opinion said.

The Consumers for Smart Solar measure would generally maintain the status quo in allowing Floridians with solar equipment on their property to sell energy to power companies.

The ballot summary states: “This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

Justice Barbara Pariente wrote a sharp dissent Thursday that echoed views of opponents of the initiative.

“Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware,” Pariente wrote in the dissent backed by justices Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry. “Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”

Pariente added that “the ballot title is affirmatively misleading by its focus on ‘Solar Energy Choice,’ when no real choice exists for those who favor expansion of solar energy.”

In the majority ruling, the four justices said they disagreed with opponents of the amendment.

“Nothing within the Florida Constitution currently provides electricity consumers with the specific right ‘to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use,’ ” the majority ruled. “Although the Florida Constitution provides a general right to ‘acquire, possess and protect property,’ this court has recognized that it does not secure the right to own any specific good or asset.”

Backers of the rival Floridians for Solar Choice proposal, who are now aiming for the 2018 ballot, have argued that the Consumers for Smart Solar proposal was intended to confuse voters.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a key supporter of the Floridians for Solar Choice coalition, said opponents will vigorously campaign against the utility-backed amendment.

“We will absolutely continue to shine a light on their dirty tricks and hope that the voters of Florida will see their ballot initiative for what is it: a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a sham designed to keep more money in the power companies’ pockets,” Smith said in a prepared statement.

With deep financial support from Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Gulf Power, the Consumers for Smart Solar proposal had raised $7.22 million as of Feb. 29, compared to the $1.55 million raised by Floridians for Solar Choice.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Renewables investment grew 300% in last 10 years, double that of coal and gas

By Sami Grover (March 30, 2016) www.mnn.com

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Last year was a remarkable year for renewables and renewable energy investment. So good, in fact, that investment in renewable generation during 2015 was twice as high as investments in new coal- and gas-fired power plants. That’s just one of the snippets of good news from a new report from the United Nation’s Environmental Program entitled Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016. Another eyebrow-raising factoid: Renewables represented 53.6 percent of the gigawatt capacity of all energy generation technologies installed in 2015 — the first time renewables had ever represented a majority of newly installed capacity.

But the truly good news is that this appears to be a long-term trend.

Tracking year-on-year renewable energy investment shows a rise from $73 billion in 2005 to a whopping $286 billion in 2015, which represents a growth of nearly 300 percent. This figure is, of course, even more impressive when you consider that the price of solar panels and wind turbines keeps on dropping, so every dollar spent in 2015 buys a whole lot more than it did back in 2005.

Now, we should be careful not to get too carried away. Investment in 2012, 2013 and 2014 actually dipped, and shifts in economic headwinds or policy decisions can have a significant impact on the short-term prospects of clean energy growth. So just because last year was a banner year does not mean that every year moving forward will break similar records. Indeed, the report points out that investment in European renewable energy, for example, slumped thanks to fickle government policy and a rapid scaling back of subsidies that had proved more popular than expected.

But short-term policy volatility aside, it really is beginning to look like a fundamental transition in energy generation is underway on a global level. Given that the Paris Climate Agreement has sent a signal to investors that almost every government in the world is committed to a low carbon transition, we can expect increased policy certainty that should drive a continued growth in investment. And as renewables get less and less subsidy dependent, their vulnerability to policy shenanigans will also be reduced.

No wonder investors are beginning to see the economic case for divesting from fossil fuels and investing in renewables instead. The only question now is not whether this transition will happen, but whether it will happen fast enough to curtail the worst impacts of global climate change. Here, sadly, the jury is still out. In a press release announcing the launch of the new UNEP report, Prof. Dr. Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, pointed to low commodity prices as a potential incentive for governments to keep relying on fossil fuels:

“Despite the ambitious signals from COP 21 in Paris and the growing capacity of new installed renewable energy, there is still a long way to go. Coal-fired power stations and other conventional power plants have long lifetimes. Without further policy interventions, climate altering emissions of carbon dioxide will increase for at least another decade. […] The commitments made by all nations at the Paris climate summit in December, echoing statements from last year’s G7 summit, require a very low- or no-carbon electricity system.”

So, in summary, 2015 was a great year for renewables. But we’re going to need a whole lot more great years if we’re going to pull this off.

CLICK HERE to access the original article. 

Technicians working on solar panels

Technicians working on solar panels

Buffett Says He Loves Renewables, So Why Is His Company Trying To Kill Solar Energy?

by Joe Romm (March 7, 2016) thinkprogress.org

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Warren Buffett’s recent annual letter to shareholders extols renewable energy. Yet he fails to mention that his company is working to crush solar energy in Nevada and around the western United States.

In Part One, I explored how Buffett, despite being one of the world’s most successful investors, mistakenly downplays the climate risk to his company, Berkshire Hathaway (BH). In particular, he fails to tell investors of the climate risk associated with his massive $1.1 billion investment in Canadian tar sands giant Suncor, a company that can only make a big profit by helping to destroy a livable climate.

Buffett’s letter is equally questionable on renewable energy. The “Oracle of Omaha” portrays himself and BH as a friend to renewables. For instance, Buffett says of his energy subsidiary, Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE): “Last year, BHE made major commitments to the future development of renewables in support of the Paris Climate Change Conference. Our fulfilling those promises will make great sense, both for the environment and for Berkshire’s economics.”

“That company has invested $16 billion in renewables and now owns 7% of the country’s wind generation and 6% of its solar generation,” Buffett’s letter elaborated. “Indeed, the 4,423 megawatts of wind generation owned and operated by our regulated utilities is six times the generation of the runner-up utility. We’re not done.”

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Yet his solar-hyping shareholder letter never mentions that BHE owns NV Energy, which almost single-handedly destroyed the exploding solar rooftop market in Nevada. As we reported last year, Buffett’s utility successfully lobbied the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to slash the “net metering” payments to solar customers for the electricity they put back on the grid (when their rooftop PV generates more power than they themselves are using at the moment). NV Energy defeated Elon Musk’s SolarCity, a very big solar installer, which lobbied against the massive rate hike.

Customers who buy solar will no longer be paid for any excess electricity at the retail rate (some 11 cents per kilowatt-hour). Instead they’ll be paid a rate that keeps dropping until it hits the wholesale rate (2.6 cents per kwh) — “even though the utility doesn’t have to pay for any of the solar panels’ hardware or maintenance, and transmission costs are negligible, since the electricity is being generated close to where it is used.”

Thanks to its successful lobbying, NV Energy will ultimately be able to take whatever excess electricity it buys from solar customers at 2.6 cents per kwh and simply sell it to other customers at 11 cents! Now that is capitalism.

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Even worse, NV Energy got the PUC to to punish people who already bought solar! The change in net metering will be applied even to customers who bought solar under the previous rate structure. So if you got a PV system in good faith under a rate structure in which it was economical, you still get screwed, by possibly as much as $11,000 over the next 20 years. That kind of sounds more like greed than capitalism.

Significantly, while the NV PUC voted 3-0 for this new rate structure in late 2015, a year earlier they issued a report finding that rooftop solar customers actually give back more to the grid than they cost.

Buffett never mentions this fight in his shareholder letter, even though it received a great deal of media coverage, including the BloombergBusiness “Buffett vs. Musk” wrestling cover, and even though Buffett has not been shy about giving interviews defending NV Energy. For instance, here is what Buffett told CNBC last week:

We do not want our million plus customers that do not have solar to be buying solar at 10.5 cents when we can turn it out for them at 4.5 cents or buy it for them at 4.5 cents. So we do not want the non-solar customers, of whom there are over a million, to be subsidizing the 17,000 solar customers.

There are two major problems with Buffett’s argument. First, it just isn’t true. Second, Buffett makes virtually the opposite argument in his shareholder letter.

Rooftop Solar Helps, Not Hurts, NV Energy’s Other Customers

First, the PUC study found rooftop solar doesn’t “cost shift,” and in fact concluded “there was a $36 million net benefit to all customers over a 25-year period,” as the Las Vegas Sun explained in December.

It’s fairly obvious that — even if we ignore all of the many well-documented benefits of distributed solar — the 17,000 solar customers couldn’t be cost-shifting very much to over a million other customers because they are such a tiny fraction of the customer base. Also, they use much if not most of the rooftop solar directly themselves. The cost shift would only occur for the even tinier fraction of power they sold back during peak demand — a time, it must be pointed out, when electricity costs are generally very high. Indeed, that power is often provided by expensive “peaking” natural gas plants that run only tens of hours a year.

Moreover, forcing the rooftop-solar owners to pay the wholesale price would only save the non-rooftop customers money if NV Energy lowered their rates. After all, if NV Solar simply takes the net metered electricity at wholesale prices and then sells it to their million other customers at the current retail rate, then those customers have not saved a nickel! The PUC apparently required NV Energy to create a separate account in which to deposit this additional revenue, but I’m told it’s still unclear how/if that would be passed along to customers.

And this whole discussion is moot in any case because distributed solar has been documented to have many benefits to everyone on the grid. For instance, it reduces the need for the utility to spend money to upgrade transmission and distribution (T&D) into rapidly-growing urban and suburban areas.

Of course, that’s one of the many reasons Buffett and NV Energy don’t like rooftop solar. As a regulated monopoly, the utility can make a guaranteed profit from building new T&D — and from building its own peak power plants, whether those are natural gas or solar. They can’t make a profit on rooftop solar unless they get the PUC to force those customers to sell them that power at ridiculously low prices.

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Worse, “this is far from the only move Buffett is making against solar,” as DeSmogBlog reported last month. For instance:

In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power — a division of PacifiCorp, which is a fully-owned subsidiary of… you guessed it… Berkshire Hathaway Energy — proposed a charge for solar net metering customers similar to that which passed in Nevada. The Utah Public Service Commission voted that proposal down.

Is BHE trying to kill rooftop solar because of greed, as it appears, or to protect its customers, as Buffett claims? Well, if in fact rooftop solar were actually hurting BHE or its customers, then you’d think Buffett would say so in his shareholder letter.

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Instead, here is what Buffett writes: “To date, renewables have helped our utility operation but that could change, particularly if storage capabilities for electricity materially improve.”

Buffett elaborates on this point in the letter. He notes that because traditionally, “utilities were usually the sole supplier of a needed product and were allowed to price at a level that gave them a prescribed return upon the capital they employed,” they didn’t need to be efficient. Quite the reverse, he explains, “The joke in the industry was that a utility was the only business that would automatically earn more money by redecorating the boss’s office. And some CEOs ran things accordingly.”

Now, however, “That’s all changing.” Federal tax credits and state policies are promoting renewables through policies that “may eventually erode the economics of the incumbent utility, particularly if it is a high-cost operator.” But Buffet says there’s good news for his shareholders:

BHE’s long-established emphasis on efficiency — even when the company didn’t need it to attain authorized earnings — leaves us particularly competitive in today’s market (and, more important, in tomorrow’s as well).

In short, BHE has not seen its economics erode because of pro-renewables policies. And, he explains, that erosion is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future given how well BHE is managed.

So it would appear that BHE is going after rooftop solar simply to kill the competition — and allow it to keep all for itself the guaranteed profits from any renewables it builds, from the T&D it builds, and from the renewable tax credits the competition might have gotten. This strategy may make short-term business sense, but it invalidates any claim that Berkshire Hathaway Energy is somehow a champion of renewables.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article. 

Will SRP ever see the light on solar energy?

by Nick Brown (March 25, 2016) www.azcentral.com

Viewpoints: Salt River Project, the nation’s largest public electrical utility, only gets about 5 percent of its power from renewable sources. That’s not nearly enough.

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Salt River Project  has a rich history of providing dependable and affordable electricity to its ratepayers, which number nearly one million accounts and about two million people in metro Phoenix.

The nation’s largest public electrical utility, SRP’s electrical district ended 2014 with a $40 million surplus on just under $3 billion in revenues. Fiscal responsibility, high quality customer service, dependable electrical service and overall sound management are hallmarks of the utility.

Yet, SRP’s progress toward renewable energy deployment is poor.  Only 5.7 percent of its power is generated by renewable energy sources, according to the utility’s own website.  By comparison, 23.8 percent of PG&E’s power is from renewable sources, 21.6 percent of SoCal Ed’s, and 23 percent of Austin Energy’s.  By capitalizing on Arizona’s abundant solar energy, SRP can become a leader in clean energy.

The district must become more innovative and more supportive of rooftop and utility-scale solar energy.   Several policies and projects will result in a greener SRP, including:

Get rid of the rooftop solar tax

Roll back the E-27 rooftop solar tariff that has taken away the solar option for ratepayers and crippled the solar industry in the SRP service area.  In February 2015, SRP implemented a demand charge for new solar customers that lacks a technical basis, and that drove 2,200 solar jobs out of Arizona last year.

This knee jerk reaction to the solar boom has turned out to be bad for SRP customers who want to use clean energy, bad for Arizona’s solar industry and awful for the state’s reputation among businesses that are looking for friendly places to locate innovative enterprises.

Developing SRP rate plans should be done through an even-handed, unhurried, transparent fact finding process that considers multiple studies, expert opinions and public input.

These things didn’t happen last year, and unlike rate making processes of the Arizona Corporation Commission, SRP’s deliberations rarely include any of these features.

SRP decisions should include these ideas:

  • Develop a pricing plan that incentivizes solar rooftops to face west

  • Solarize select areas of the canals

  • Build solar farms at Apache Lake and Canyon Lake

  • Couple demand reduction with solar energy

  • Develop a microgrid project

  • Develop thermal energy systems in commercial centers

SRP will continue to develop and purchase energy from regional wind farms, solar farms, hydroelectric facilities, biomass plants, and geothermal plants.  It will continue to subsidize energy audits, LED lighting, home insulation and time-of-day use plans.

Continued success of these programs, in conjunction with initiatives such as those outlined above, will maintain the financial strength of the SRP Electric District, reduce exposure to fuel price increases, reduce SRP’s greenhouse gas emissions, provide cleaner air and water for Arizona, and provide ratepayers and our grandchildren the lowest cost electricity over the long term.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

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Poll: Solar Energy Issue Could Swing US Election

by Sandy Dechert (March 24, 2016) CleanTechnica.com

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In the upcoming US election, independent voters in the key swing states—the most influential of influential voting sectors—will be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate who vocally supports solar energy, according to a new poll by Public Opinion Strategies.

When asked the question “If a Republican candidate for office showed more vocal support for increasing residential solar energy options, would you be more likely or less likely to vote for the Republican candidate, or would it make no difference to your vote?”
68% responded “no difference.” However, over a quarter (27%) of independent voters—who are exceptionally hard to influence—said that solar campaigning by a Republican candidate would make them somewhat or much more likely to vote for the GOP. Only 5% said they would be less likely to do so—presumably the hard-core fossil fuel advocates.

From Tyson Grinstead, spokesperson for the Alliance for Solar Choice and former Political Director for South Carolina Senior Senator and former Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham (R, SC):

“Independent swing state voters may pick the next President. This poll shows solar energy is a key issue that could motivate them in November. In a particularly contentious election cycle, both parties should pay attention to any issue that can move this critical voting bloc.”

Swing state independents of all demographic types—partisan, ideological, geographic, gender, and other groups—would almost unanimously like to see solar energy on the increase. Their reasons: to promote competition, provide more jobs, and decrease electricity rates. Also, about 6 in 10 (58%) are forceful in their commitment (strongly favor increasing it).

And the numbers of solar advocates among independents overwhelm the detractors. Almost 9 out of 10 survey respondents (88%) think that the opportunity for homeowners to adopt solar energy is an important part of providing choice and competition in the American electricity market. A similar number (89%) feel that the US will benefit from growing new solar jobs in their states. And over three-quarters of independent voters (77%) agree that a growing solar power market in America will help keep electricity rates down for consumers.

Swing state independents opposing an increase in solar use: only 7%.

Six hundred independent voters in eleven key swing states took part in the poll: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Alliance for Solar Choice commissioned the poll from Public Opinion Strategies.

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It’s interesting that fully two-thirds (67%) of independent voters favor net metering, which allows homeowners, businesses, local school districts, and other organizations to get full retail credit for the extra energy their rooftop solar panels produce. This extra solar energy goes onto the electricity grid for the utility company to sell at the full retail rate to other customers. Only 24% oppose it. Net metering currently prevails in 42 states, according to the pollsters.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

New Perovskite Solar Cell Recycles Its Own Photons

by Tina Casey (March 24, 2016) cleantechnica.com

Perovskite solar cells have only been on the scene for a few years and they’re already on track to catch up with — and surpass — silicon as the go-to material for the next generation of super efficient solar cells. In the latest development, a bi-national research team has figured out that perovskites have a unique ability to re-create their own photons and recycle them for an extra energy boost.

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New Solar Cell Recycles Photons

For those of you new to the topic, perovskites are a class of synthetic crystalline minerals. The discovery of naturally occurring perovskite dates back to the 19th century, but it took researchers about 150 years to catch on to its high solar potential, and to realize that they could easily make their own perovskites in the lab.

Lead halide perovskite solar cells have emerged as the go-to technology, with researchers around the world charting an “exceptional” rise in conversion efficiency in just a few years of tinkering.

The key characteristics of lead halide solar cells include long charge carrier lifetimes and high emissions yields, leading researchers to wonder if the material is “recycling” photons.

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The new study answers that question. It comes from a team at St John’s College at the University of Cambridge, partnering with the University of Oxford and Amsterdam’s FOM Institute AMOLF.

According to author Richard Friend, the recycling observation was conducted on a new solar cell created by co-author Luis Miguel Pazos Outón. The cell was the first demonstration of a back-contact solar cell using perovskite, and it had not been engineered specifically to demonstrate high energy production.

For their research, the team leveraged the fact that when light falls on perovskites, they emit light as well as absorb it.

They used a laser to measure photon activity within a nanoscale piece of lead-iodide perovskite, about 500 nanometers thick. As expected, they observed a high-energy light emission close to the laser point.

The surprise was that another high-energy light emission near the infrared end of the scale was appearing farther away. The farther-away emission was also accompanied by another emission consisting of lower-energy photons.

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Those two types of farther-away emissions provided the team with enough evidence to conclude that the perovskite chip was “recycling” photons, combining them with incoming photons:

This single cell proved capable of transporting an electrical current more than 50 micrometers away from the contact point with the laser; a distance far greater than the researchers had predicted, and a direct result of multiple photon recycling events taking place within the sample.

The result, as described by co-author Outón, is to concentrate many charges in a small area, a quality that silicon and other materials “simply don’t have.” As Outón explains:

The low-energy component enables charges to be transported over a long distance, but the high-energy component could not exist unless photons were being recycled.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the original article.

Nevada Solar Power Business Struggles To Keep The Lights On

by Jeff Brady (March 11, 2016) www.npr.org

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Nevada’s home solar business is in turmoil as the state’s Public Utilities Commission starts to phase out incentives for homeowners who install rooftop solar panels. Some of the largest solar companies have stopped seeking new business in the state and laid off hundreds of workers.

Even for small solar installers, this once-booming business has slowed to a trickle. The warehouse at Robco Electric in Las Vegas was filled to capacity with pallets of solar panels stacked high last year. Now, it’s nearly empty.

“The PUC made a decision and it just devastated our industry,” says Robco President Rob Kowalczik. He’s all business when talking about how the PUC sided with the utility and pretty much killed off residential solar in Nevada. But when it comes to his workers, he chokes up.

“The hardest thing is to lay people off,” says Kowalczik. So far, his company has let 25 people go. The solar division of his company is down to a few salespeople and one installation crew.

One of the 25 is Connie Berry. She was just a few months into her job as an installer for Robco. Now, she’s looking for work in the construction business, but she holds out hope her solar job will come back.

“It’s been two months now since I got laid off, and I was hoping to get a call back. … I got my tools. I’m ready to go,” says Berry.

In front of Robco Electric, you’re more likely now to see the company’s sales cars parked in the middle of the day. Sales and marketing manager Tim Webb says last year they would have been out chasing down new leads all day. He says there were a lot of other solar companies on the road, too.

“It was kind of like the solar gold rush here. All these companies flocked into town, set up an office and sold systems. Now they’re gone. There’s just a few of us remaining,” says Webb.

Companies like Solar City say they were left with no choice but to stop doing business in Nevada when the PUC changed the rules for something called “net metering.”

Net metering allows homeowners with solar panels to sell excess electricity they generate to the utility at retail rather than wholesale rates. It’s a great deal for homeowners because they can do something good for the environment and save money on their energy bills.

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But every kilowatt generated on someone’s roof is one less the local utility sells. And utilities use that ratepayer money to maintain the electrical grid.

In this case, the local utility, NV Energy, is owned by Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway. During an interview with CNBC last month, Buffett echoed an argument utilities across the country have been making: When solar customers don’t pay to maintain the power grid, that leaves everyone else to pick up the tab.

“We do not want the nonsolar customers, of whom there are over a million, to be subsidizing the 17,000 solar customers,” Buffett said, talking about NV Energy’s customers in Nevada.

Buffett said NV Energy can produce solar power from large, centralized plants for less than it costs to buy electricity from rooftop solar customers under the old net metering rules.

“We do not want our million plus customers who do not have solar to be buying solar at 10.5 cents [per kilowatt hour] when we can churn it out for them at 4.5 cents,” he said.

SolarCity co-founder and CEO Lyndon Rive says utilities like NV Energy are just trying to protect their monopolies.

“They want to deploy the infrastructure. They do not want to let consumers deploy that infrastructure because then they don’t get a regulated rate of return on that infrastructure,” says Rive.

Rive wants big changes for the country’s power grid. Instead of central generators delivering electricity out to customers, he imagines a grid where customers produce their own power and compete with the local utility. Under Rive’s vision for the grid, there’s a smaller role — and less profit — for utilities.

“We need them to manage the lines and let the rest be a competitive market. Competition will drive innovation, which will then create products that we couldn’t even think of today,” he argues.

The big solar companies haven’t given up completely on Nevada yet. Solar City and others plan to challenge the changes to net metering, first in the courts and then with a ballot referendum in November.

In the meantime, solar customers like Dale Collier are the big losers. His home in Henderson, outside Las Vegas, has 56 solar panels on the roof. He refinanced his house to pay for them.

“I thought this was [one of] the smartest things I ever did; now I think it might be one of the stupidest things I ever did,” says Collier.

Up until the changes to net metering in Nevada, he was saving about $150 a month on his power bill. But once the incentives are phased out, he figures having solar panels will cost him money.

NV Energy asked regulators to grandfather in people like Collier. But the PUC rejected that request, saying all solar customers — new and existing — should get the same deal.

The question now is whether Nevada’s experience will spread to other states. Solar advocates successfully preserved incentives next door in California. Now they’re focused on another sunny state, Arizona, where the next battle over residential solar incentives appears to be heating up.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Rooftop solar companies ask Ducey to veto Lesko’s bill

by Ryan Randazzo (March 21, 2016) The Republic/azcentral.com

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Rooftop solar companies are hoping Gov. Doug Ducey (Arizona) vetoes a bill passed by state lawmakers that would put new requirements on the way they describe and market their products.

Senate Bill 1417, sponsored by Republican Debbie Lesko, was transmitted to the governor Thursday.

It prevents installation companies from beginning work on rooftop panels unless an interconnection has been approved by the utility. This requirement is waived if a utility takes more than 60 days to approve an interconnection.

It also puts new requirements on how solar companies must describe the estimated amount of money customers will save on their utility bills and disclosure regarding how those savings are calculated, including how they estimate utility rates to increase.

“The legislation feigns to protect consumers from bad actors but results in placing all solar business at a disadvantage by increasing costs through burdensome red tape,” said a letter endorsed by the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association and a handful of solar companies sent to Ducey on Friday.

The letter said that the industry already is heavily regulated, noting the the Registrar of Contractors and Attorney General have oversight of companies that somehow harm consumers.

In addition, a similar bill that passed last year has hardly had a chance to take effect since Jan. 1.

The letter reminds Ducey of his pledge to “get out of the way of business” and avoid new regulations.

Ducey issued an executive order in January 2015 placing a moratorium on regulatory rule making.

“Onerous regulatory mandates on businesses are one of the greatest barriers to job creation,” Ducey said at the time. “As a state that has yet to fully recover from unprecedented job losses during the recession, it is imperative that we take every possible action to ease the burden on Arizona employers and continue to move our economy forward. This order is a significant first step toward achieving that mission.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Net Metering: Who Pays for Energy Subsidies?

It’s looking like the battle lines have been drawn.   Power utility companies are fighting back by demanding to pay wholesale rates, instead of retail rates,  for power produced by roof-top solar net-meter customers.  Not only do roof-top solar energy producers currently pay the same monthly fees and taxes as non-solar customers, but now the power company giants insist roof-top solar producers pay more . . . . much more, $50 per month on top of the other fees and taxes.  Why $50?  Why not $75 or $100? I mean, if we are going to be forced back to the 20th century to sustain the mighty energy monopolies why not go all the way and crush the renewable energy movement altogether!  How much insanity does it take to turn our backs on renewable energy technology that has been proven to benefit the environment, reduce CO2 emissions, and that is renewable and sustainable?  What will be our destiny? Will we be permitted to continue our renewable energy revolution, or will short sighted politicians enforce solar energy obstacles (see recent Nevada legislation) that result in the total return to fossil fuels . . . all in the name of the almighty dollar?  Perhaps the following news article can shed more dollar driven evidence to where the lines are being drawn.    (by Brent Sauaer)

By Earl. J. Ritchie (University  of Houston Lecturer) March 16, 2016 forbes.com

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A huge controversy has arisen in California and other states over the way solar electrical generation is subsidized by net metering, or the way in which people who produce solar energy – usually through rooftop panels – are reimbursed for the energy they generate and send back to the electric grid. Proposed or already approved reductions have been greeted by public protests, lawsuits and even a proposed amendment to the national Energy Policy Modernization Act, which would limit the ability of states to reduce subsidies.

The fight pits solar rooftop owners and the solar industry against utility companies and free marketers.

The issue

Forty-three states have mandatory net metering plans. Most net metering plans in the United States require utility companies to buy back excess electricity generated from distributed (residential and business) solar installations at the retail cost of electricity.

With the slightest bit of thought you will recognize that this is not a valid business model. No business can cover the cost of operation and profit necessary while buying their product at the same price that they sell it. In the case of utility companies, they must provide billing, support services, grid maintenance and other operational functions. For the amount of electricity provided by net metering, these costs are not covered. Typically, unrecovered costs are transferred to customers who do not have solar installations by raising electricity rates.

This is not a problem as long as the fraction of feed-in energy is small. Once solar capacity becomes a significant portion of electricity generated, as has happened in California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii, there is a free-for-all over who will pay these unrecovered costs.

The California example

California has by far the largest amount of solar generating capacity in the United States, representing over half of total U.S. installed solar capacity. The combination of government incentives and the decreasing costs of solar photovoltaic panels has made solar installations highly profitable, resulting in explosive growth of solar installations and the industry that markets, finances and installs the equipment.

Since solar electricity now represents 7.5% of California supply and is expected to continue to grow, the subsidy is no longer a trivial issue. A heated controversy began as a result of requests in 2015 by the major publicly traded utilities, Southern California Edison , Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, to be compensated for unrecovered costs of net metering by additional fees and lowering the price they pay for net metered electricity. The solar industry and green power advocates responded with vociferous objections, with one spokesman calling it a “war on solar.”

In a 2016 decision generally regarded as a victory for the solar industry, the California Public Utilities Commission retained net metering at retail cost but imposed certain fees on residential solar installations. To some extent, the Commission kicked the can down the road by indicating that they will reconsider net metering in 2019.

The bigger picture

Net metering applies to rooftop solar, which represents about one third of U.S. solar capacity. The issue of subsidizing renewable energy is much broader: utility scale generation is roughly twice the size of rooftop solar, and subsidy considerations also apply to wind power and other renewables. In addition, it is a worldwide issue. The U.S. only represents about 10% of installed solar photovoltaic capacity; the largest capacities are in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Public discussion often focuses on economic analyses, which are typically slanted to the viewpoints of the authors. Analyses by utility companies tend to focus on the cost of providing generation; analyses by solar advocates often include imputed environmental benefit and avoided cost of transmission and other generation facilities. Although pro-solar analyses may conclude that solar is currently economic, the IEA reports that only 4% of solar installations in 2014 were economic without subsidy. This means continued growth of solar in at least the near-term will be dependent upon subsidies.

How much should the subsidy be?

There is no reason net metering credits need necessarily be at full retail cost. Some international jurisdictions value credits below retail cost. A recent “value of solar” calculation by the Minnesota Public Utility Commission places the value above retail cost, largely on the basis on the value of avoided carbon emissions. Ideally, subsidies should be no higher than is necessary to achieve the desired utilization. As solar costs decrease, subsidies should also decrease.

The drafters of net metering legislation recognized the limitations discussed here and often included reductions when caps on the amount generated are reached. This has not prevented the beneficiaries of subsidies from complaining when they are reduced.

Who pays?

There is strong public support for alternative energy development and renewable energy incentives. This does not answer the question as to what the form and amount of incentives should be. Net metering at full retail cost transfers the cost to utility customers who do not install solar. Other forms of incentive, such as tax credits, are paid by state or local governments out of general tax revenue.

Even if the imputed environmental benefits and avoided costs of future fossil fuel power plants are taken at face value, someone has to pay the up-front cost of new solar installations if solar capacity is to grow at the rate that solar advocates desire. It has been well demonstrated that the number of homeowners and businesses willing to install solar drops dramatically if subsidies are reduced. For example, when the Nevada Public Utilities Commission voted to reduce net metering credits, the solar installation companies SolarCity, Vivant and SunRun announced they would pull out of the state. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the changes were quoted as saying they would never have invested in their PV systems had they known Nevada’s net metering program would be scaled back.

So, who is to pay? Will you and I pay through general taxes? Will utility customers pay through higher rates? At present, the utility companies would have solar users pay through lower credits. The solar companies would have utility customers and the general public pay. Free marketers would eliminate subsidies and have no one pay. As the late Sen. Russell B. Long said, ”Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that man behind the tree.”

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Solar Power Tax Exemption Will Be On Florida Ballot

by Jake Richardson (cleantechnica.com) March 16, 2016

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Florida House Joint Resolution 193, Solar or Renewable Energy Source Devices, recently passed the Florida Senate unanimously. “We have given the people of Florida an opportunity to have a voice on solar. If approved by the voters, we have an opportunity to become a leader in solar and bring thousands of jobs to this state. I am confident that the voters will approve this amendment with overwhelming support,” said Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). 

As a result of its passing, the proposed amendment to the state constitution will be on the August 30th state primary election ballot, and if Florida voters approve of it it will become law. If that happens, solar or renewable energy installed on commercial or industrial properties will be exempt from property tax. Additionally, it would abate ad valorem taxation.

Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), Representative Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers), and Representative Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) are the resolution’s sponsors, so it was a bi-partisan effort.

Some supporters of the resolution are:

Florida Solar Energy Industries Association
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
The Nature Conservancy
Christian Coalition
Conservatives for Energy Freedom
Florida Retail Federation
Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association

“We applaud and thank Senator Brandes and Representative Rodriguez for their leadership on this legislation which will give Florida citizens an opportunity to weigh in directly on expanding solar energy across the state,” stated Trish Fields, Vice President, State Partnerships and Strategic Engagement at AEE.

Everyone knows Florida has plenty of sunlight, so it could be a solar power leader, though it has yet to capitalize on this abundant, free, and natural resource. Florida also has plenty of rooftops which are currently empty, so there is plenty of space available for solar power systems without having to use land.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are about 6,000 solar jobs currently in Florida, but that number could be expanded if more favorable solar laws are passed.

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California Bridges the Green Divide with Nation’s Biggest Solar Program for Low-income Renters

by Junko Movellan, Correspondent (updated February 15, 2016) RenewableEnergyWorld.com

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Solar is not just for homeowners. The advent of community solar is now enabling those who don’t own a home to go solar and enjoy all of its benefits. But regardless of whether someone decides to own or rent, solar still seems to be for those who have a disposal income. That is, until now.

Last October, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation’s largest solar bill for low-income renters. The Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program was created under AB693, which will dedicate about $100 million per year over a period of ten years.

“AB 693 is a very important new program for California because now, all consumers, including renters can enjoy the benefits of pollution free solar electricity generated right where we live and work,” Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), said.

The new program has the goal to install at least 300 MW of rooftop solar PV on multifamily affordable housing projects.

“[The] minimum [is] 300 MW,” Scott Sarem, CEO and Co-founder of Everyday Energy, said. “We are targeting more like 500 MW.”

Everyday Energy is a California-based solar project developer for multifamily affordable housing. The company has worked closely with CALSEIA, the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CALEJA) and Assemblymember Susan Eggman, who is the author of AB693.

“This program was born out of necessity,” Sarem said.

Although California is the largest solar state in the U.S. and has a track record of implementing solar on multifamily affordable housing, the existing program has failed to reach out to low-income renters and disadvantaged communities in California.

Demand to Create a Bigger Successor of MASH Program

In 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) established the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program as a component of the California Solar Initiative (CSI), the nation’s largest ratepayer-funded solar program.

The MASH program received a budget of $108.3 million, or 10 percent of CSI program funds, to stimulate and encourage solar installations on existing multifamily affordable housing properties. It was so successful that 100 percent of the available funding was reserved quickly. In 2013, the legislature passed a bill (AB 217) authorizing the extension of MASH with an additional $54 million in funding and a 35 MW installed capacity goal for the program.

Between the program’s inception and now, MASH has completed 356 projects, representing 26.1 MW-DC of installed capacity statewide. However, that means that MASH has served only 6,700 low-income renters. An analysis by the Center for American Progress reported that only 4.2 percent of the solar installations under the CSI served households with incomes of less than $40,000 per year.

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Lower-income families are more vulnerable to energy costs than higher-income families because energy represents a large portion of their household budgets. Reducing electricity bills with solar can help those families to reduce a financial burden and spend money on other necessities, such as food or health care.

AB 693 would fill the deficit and extend the direct economic benefits of solar systems to low-income renters.

Program Benefits Everyone Through Reduction in Low-Income Rate Assistance

While MASH was funded by electric ratepayers, the new program will be funded by “cap-and-trade money, [with] no additional cost and no subsidy by taxpayers,” Sarem said. From July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2026, the CPUC will annually authorize the allocation of $100 million, or 10 percent of available funds, whichever is less, from the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Option Revenues, which are collected from large GHG emitters.

The program funded by cap-and-trade not only benefits tenants at low-income multi-family housing properties, but also all the ratepayers statewide. Here’s how:

California requires utilities to assist energy customers with household incomes that are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.  The program knowns as California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) offers discounted rates for low-income customers to meet basic needs, such as heating, cooling and lighting.

According to data provided by CPUC, over 4.5 million households are currently enrolled in the CARE program, representing about 84 percent of the total estimated eligible households. Low-income customers that are enrolled in the CARE program receive a 30-35 percent discount on their electric bills. In 2014, the subsidy program cost about $1.3million to utility ratepayers in California.

“Utility ratepayers would also benefit from solar offsets provided (by the new program) to CARE recipients, which would reduce the basis for calculating CARE discounts and thereby reduce CARE program outlay,” Sarem said.

Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing Moving Beyond California

Solar for multifamily affordable housing will expand beyond California. Last July, President Obama unveiled the Climate Action program, which includes a commitment to install 300 MW of solar systems across federally subsidized housing by 2020 and to make it easier for homeowners to borrow money for solar panels.

At the White House, the U.S. Department of Energy hosted the National Community Solar Summit in November 2015, bringing 68 partners, including cities, states and businesses, to create the National Community Solar Partnership. Everyday Energy, as a key participant, presented California as a best practice to further promote solar programs that benefit affordable housing communities nationwide.

Even though it is a goal set at the national level, right policies and infrastructure must be placed at the state level for better implementation. One of the important state-level policies is virtual net metering (VNM).

In California, VNM was first approved by the CPUC when the MASH Program was created. Under traditional net metering, one solar system is physically installed and connected to each utility account. However, VNM allows a multitenant building to install a single solar system for the benefit of multiple tenants by allocating energy credits among individual units as well as to common area load. It also allows for a more cost-effective design than traditional net metering.

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The term VNM is not particularly standardized or used consistently in the U.S. In California, the VNM applies to electric customers of multitenant buildings that share a common service delivery point while in other states, the term can be called “neighborhood net metering” or “community net metering,” and it can include and expand to participants from additional properties (either located on-site or off-site). Currently, at least 11 states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and Washington, D.C., have authorized community net metering.

Some solar for multifamily affordable housing projects are underway in Massachusetts, New York and Washington D.C. under the neighborhood net metering arrangement.

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