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Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

Are solar panels vulnerable to hackers?

by Megan Treacy (Aug. 10, 2017)  www.treehugger.com

With the rise of internet-connected devices, it seems that the threat of any piece of our lives being hacked is growing exponentially. The prospect of a smart, interconnected energy grid being vulnerable to attack by malicious hackers has lead to many experts warning that safeguards should be put in place before we move too far in that direction, but a new study says that even the energy generating devices themselves could be vulnerable.

Dutch researcher Willem Westerhof found that the inverters in solar panels, the part that converts the electricity generated by the panels into electricity that can be used by the grid, had 17 different vulnerabilities that could be taken advantage of by hackers.

The issue is that the inverters are internet connected, which means that hackers could potentially remotely access and control the inverters, altering the flow of electricity which could overload the system and cause instability in grid. That instability could then cause power outages. A field study to test this idea found that it was indeed a possibility though Westerhof is not releasing the details of his findings lest any potential criminals are looking for inspiration.

The good news is that several inverters would have to be compromised at once to cause any significant issues in the grid and even then it would be unlikely to cause a total black out. The even better news is that this is preventable.

When new solar panels are installed, users should change any default passwords. The other really hack proof solution is to disconnect the inverters from the internet, which would remove the weakness completely.

“Solar producers should seek to isolate the products from the internet ASAP,” said Dave Palmer, director of technology at cyber-security company Darktrace to the BBC. “And [they should] also review their physical access security to reduce the risk of a local attack from someone physically breaking into their facilities.”

This is yet another example of how having everything connected to the internet, while really convenient, also introduces a host of new problems. For a clean energy smart grid to really take off, we’ll need protections in place, even down to the lowly power inverter.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Miami makes solar mandatory for new houses

by Bobby Magill (July 26, 2017) www.greenbiz.com

South Miami became the first city outside of California to require all new homes to install solar panels on their roofs. Six cities in the Golden State began requiring solar to be installed on new homes over the past few years. But in Florida, where voters killed proposed solar restrictions last year, South Miami is now a pioneer.

Last week, the South Miami City Commission in a 4-1 vote approved a law requiring solar panels to be installed on all new homes built in the city.

Mayor Philip Stoddard said the city is trying to cut its carbon footprint because the region will be deeply affected by climate change, especially as sea levels rise.

“We’re down in South Florida where climate change and sea level rise are existential threats, so we’re looking for every opportunity to promote renewable energy,” Stoddard said. “It’s carbon reduction, plain and simple. We have a pledge for carbon neutrality. We support the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Stoddard said he expects only a few new homes and other buildings to be built in South Miami this year because the city of about 11,000 is surrounded on all sides by dense urban development and has very little space for new construction. But the requirement for new homes complements the city’s push for existing homeowners to put solar on their roofs.

The new law won’t put solar panels on all the region’s homes and it won’t significantly cut climate pollution, but it is the first concrete step by a city outside of California to require renewable energy to be considered as part of the design of any new home.

It also sets an example for other cities that may be considering doing the same thing.

Action to expand renewables on the local level is critical at a time when the federal government has stepped back from advocating for renewable energy, said Jeremy Firestone, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware.

Rooftop solar helps wean America’s electric power system off coal and natural gas power plants that pollute the atmosphere with large amounts of carbon dioxide. President Barack Obama made support for rooftop solar a part of his Climate Action Plan (PDF), which the Trump administration has abandoned.

“These mandates will have an effect locally,” Firestone said. “As to the larger effect, they would hopefully move states to increase the fraction of (electricity) generation that has to be dedicated toward renewable energy.”

Solar installation mandates also would help accelerate the acceptance of rooftop solar across the country, said K Kaufmann, spokeswoman for the Smart Electric Power Alliance, a nonpartisan renewable energy education organization in Washington, D.C.

As solar panel costs have fallen in recent years, a growing number of homes have installed them, often with the assistance of companies such as SolarCity, which helps to finance and install photovoltaic panels.

Rooftop solar makes up only a tiny fraction — less than 1 percent — of all the electricity generated in the U.S. The amount of electricity generated by solar panels installed on homes and businesses across the country is expected to grow by 70 percent by the end of next year.

So far, the largest city in the country to mandate rooftop solar panels is San Francisco, which began requiring them on most new buildings beginning in January. The city mandates that solar panels, a “living roof,” or a combination of the two occupy between 15 and 30 percent of the surface area of a new rooftop. A “living roof” is covered with grass, trees or other vegetation.

Other California cities that have mandated solar panel installations include Culver City, San Mateo, Lancaster, Sebastopol and Santa Monica.

In Florida, the rooftop solar mandate didn’t come easily for South Miami.

Florida utilities and other groups launched a ballot initiative last year in an attempt to limit the expansion of rooftop solar. The proposed amendment to the state constitution would have allowed utilities to charge fees to solar panel owners as a way to make up for the loss of revenue when homeowners generate their own electricity, according to Politifact.

The state’s largest utilities spent more than $20 million to support the ballot initiative, but the measure failed at the polls in November. South Miami’s electric utility, Florida Power and Light, which supported the ballot measure, did not respond to a request for comment.

In June, the South Miami solar mandate was opposed by the Washington, D.C. lobbying group Family Businesses for Affordable Energy, which says on its website that homeowners expose themselves to “predatory companies” that hide various costs associated with solar installations. The group did not respond to requests for comment.

“Despite all our sunshine, public utilities have spent tens of millions of dollars to fight solar,” Stoddard said. “The measure’s defeat helped clear the way for the city to push solar panel installations for both new and existing homes.

“I expect to see a lot more residents voluntarily putting solar on houses.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Fears of a ‘utility death spiral’ could be slowly killing solar power

by Leanna Garfield (July 11, 2017) www.finance.yahoo.com

solar panels

The growth of rooftop solar power has skyrocketed in recent years. Globally, there are now approximately 305 gigawatts of solar power capacity, up from about 100 gigawatts in 2012. 

But solar’s proliferation is slowing, partly due to a well-funded lobbying campaign by conventional utility giants. According to a recent New York Times report, several large US utility companies have been working with state politicians nationwide to reverse economic incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.

The utility companies say that rules letting homeowners sell excess power back to the grid — a process known as net metering — are unfair to those who do not want or can’t afford their own solar installations. They also argue that renewable energy could be hurting traditional sources, including oil, coal, and natural gas. (REALLY! . . . isn’t that the whole idea!)

Some energy writers have coined this competition from renewables as a “utility death spiral.”

Five investor-owned utility companies in Indiana — some of the largest financial contributors to the state’s elected officials — have contributed at least $3 million to mostly Republican candidates over the past four elections, according to campaign finance filings. In 2016, the utility industry also gave over $21 million to ballot initiative to ban third-party sales or leasing of solar panels.

Almost every state is now reviewing its solar energy policies, and some, like Hawaii, Nevada, and Arizona have already started to phase out net metering.

In many locations, utility companies bundle distribution costs for electricity, and charge a uniform per-kWh rate for solar power. When this pricing model combines with net metering, solar customers receive a subsidy partially paid by other non-solar customers in their state.

Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an industry organization comprised of the country’s largest investor-owned electric companies, is pushing to buy back solar at lower rates. That means the cost would become higher for homeowners who choose to buy solar power.

“We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,” EEI spokesperson Jeff Ostermayer told Business Insider. “A fair system means paying private solar customers the same, competitive price we pay for other solar energy, instead of above-market rates that result in higher costs for all customers.”

In spite of all this, the solar industry continues to grow (albeit slower than in the past decade). In 2016, the amount of new solar power installed worldwide increased by about 50%, reaching 76 gigawatts. China and US spearheaded the surge in solar — both countries nearly doubled the amount of solar photovoltaic panels they added in 2015. But in 2017, that growth is projected to hit just 2%, this year’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance Outlook said.

“While it is true that some utilities perceive rooftop solar as a threat to their business model, rooftop solar is, in fact, thriving in many new markets and is projected to grow dramatically across the country in the years ahead. Most states have strong policies in place that support the adoption of solar, because consumers are demanding access to this form of energy,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), told Business Insider.

According to SEIA, the cost of installing solar panels has declined more than 70% since 2010, making it a more attractive as an alternative energy source to homeowners.

David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy group, believes that the new lobby campaign by utility companies could continue to hurt the growth of solar, especially in the US.

“Utilities are trying to block rooftop solar because it presents an existential threat to their monopoly business model,” he said.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar Energy is Getting Cheaper and Cheaper

July 2, 2017 (www.wallstreetpit.com)

According to a new report from GTM Research – Greentech Media’s market analysis and advisory arm — solar prices are continuing to drop, and there aren’t any indications that the trend is slowing down. In fact, GTM has predicted that by 2022, average global solar project costs will be down by around 27%, which is equivalent to an annual decline of approximately 4.4%.

GTM also says the decline in cost is not exclusive to the U.S. It’s happening all around the world and in some locations, the price decrease is even higher than what’s being experienced in the U.S.

The figures were derived from a new PV system pricing forecast developed by GTM Research solar analyst Ben Gallagher. It’s not just the numbers that are significant; it’s the reason behind those numbers as well. Gallagher believes the drop in cost is being driven by the reduction of all related costs, including that of tools, materials and manpower.

At present, solar cost is at its lowest in India — 65 cents per watt. So far, that’s the lowest record in the entire world. China offers the second lowest cost — $0.80 per watt.

On the other end, solar energy is most expensive in Japan — $2.07 per watt. Apparently, it’s because there’s more ‘engineering scrutiny’ involved owing to the incidence of earthquakes, heavy winds and mountainside erosions.

In the U.S., it’s $1.10 per watt and in the U.K., it’s $1 per watt.

The decline in cost is mostly beneficial to almost everyone, of course. Especially because we are in desperate need to transition to clean and sustainable energy, and what’s primarily deterring consumers from shifting is the perceived high price of solar energy. We said ‘mostly beneficial’, though, because there’s a downside to it too.

Lowering the cost of solar power makes it more attractive. However, the dynamic sometime may come at a price.

As stated in the report, India was able to achieve that low price primarily because of the low labor cost involved, paying their ‘labor force and engineers next to nothing’. And then there’s also the worry that in their attempt to keep production costs at a minimum, there might be a tendency to ‘cut corners’, make use of low quality materials and do stuff in a substandard way. We know that’s never a good thing because it compromises the safety of the structure built and the quality of its output.

So while declining solar power costs are welcome news, we should also be wary about the way it’s being achieved. We do want to keep our planet from deteriorating further, but we have to make sure it’s done the proper way — through resourcefulness, innovation and technological advancements, and never through oppressive, dishonest and unscrupulous practices.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Finding new solar power

by Layne Cameron & Thomas Hamann (June 26, 2017) www.msu.edu

Unless you have unlimited funds, finding solar power that is affordable and highly efficient is largely out of reach. A Michigan State University chemist is hoping to change that.

Thomas Hamann, the James L. Dye Chair in Materials Chemistry, intends to use a $465,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a new paradigm for capturing solar energy.

“We’re capable of making photovoltaics that are close to 50 percent efficient, but only NASA can afford those,” Hamann said. “Little changes to existing technology won’t cut it; we need to make paradigm changes and discover new approaches.”

Hamann is working on a platform called a dye-sensitized solar cell that is potentially quite cost effective. His big challenge is to make them more efficient. These solar cells comprise three components: a semiconductor; dye, which acts as the light absorber; and redox molecules that shuttle electrons. Hamann is exploring new materials for semiconductors as well as new redox molecules.

“We’re making new redox molecules and combining them with various semiconductors to understand and control recombination – the back reaction that generally limits the efficiency of solar cells,” Hamann said. “There’s probably been more than 1,000 dyes tested, but little research has focused on developing new materials or redox molecules.”

The best dye-sensitized solar cells achieve more than 10 percent solar-to-electricity power conversion efficiency. They fall short of their 20-percent potential level largely because of energy lost in each electron-transfer step, Hamann said.

One way Hamann and his team are tackling this issue is by developing new cobalt-based redox shuttles. By changing the ligands that bind to the cobalt center, he has shown they can control the rate of electron transfer by a factor of a billion. Combined with the ability to modify the redox potential, this paradigm offers to possibility to quickly transfer electrons where they are needed, but not suffer from recombination. 

“All redox shuttles investigated to date have been generally constrained to a small potential window in order to minimize the driving force of dye regeneration with optimized, existing dyes,” Hamann said. “This energy constraint limits the ability to fully understand and optimize the kinetics.”

By elevating redox shuttles into the research spotlight, Hamann hopes to open up new paths to improved performance through kinetic manipulation. He’s also looking forward to the new science this will spur.

“Our ultimate goals are to develop a next-generation solar cell as well as eventually find a way to convert it to a carbon-free liquid fuel,” Hamann said. “Solving the conundrum of finding renewable energy has always been a goal of my research. I enjoy attempting to solve important problems, and I believe we can find sustainable approaches, build new transmission lines and develop new storage batteries to solve these issues.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Where a solar roof works and where it doesn’t

by Megan Geuss (May 19, 2017) arstechnica.com

This is not a one-size-fits-all product.

Last week, Tesla and Tesla’s newly purchased solar-panel company SolarCity announced that they’d be taking pre-orders at $1,000 a pop for installations of their new solar roof product. The solar roof is made up of tiles—some that produce solar power and some inert—that look just like regular roof tiles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the solar roof late last year, just before investors were about to vote on whether the electric-car company should buy SolarCity. At the reveal, Musk told the crowd that “the goal is to have a roof that’s less than the installed cost of a roof plus electricity.” Later, in a conversation with reporters, Musk said, “It’s not gonna make sense for somebody to replace a brand-new roof with a solar roof.”

But after that announcement, the CEO got bolder with his claims on the cost of his company’s roof, saying at a shareholder meeting that “It’s looking quite promising that a solar roof actually [costs] less than normal roof before you even take the value of electricity into account.”

Perhaps Musk meant this as a long-term projection, because when pre-orders opened up last Wednesday, Tesla and SolarCity also rolled out a calculator to give prospective customers an estimate on how much a solar roof would cost them. For many, the projected cost was well above the cost of a basic asphalt roof with a 30-year warranty, but roughly in line with the cost of a normal roof plus solar panels. For others, the projected cost was much more than what they would expect a new roof with any amount of solar panels to cost.

Right now, making the economics of a solar roof work out for you depends on the state you live in, how much electricity you use, and the size of your house.

Take Lee, for example

Take our senior editor, Lee Hutchinson, for example. He’s got a 2,600-square-foot house outside of Houston. Using Tesla’s solar roof calculator, he found that a Tesla-brand roof would cost him… $99,100 to install (the calculator estimated solar tiling for 3,700 square feet of roof, which Lee chose not to edit due to the fact that some of his roof has gables and angles that will add square footage to the total calculation).

That price was without adding a $7,000 Powerwall, which Tesla initially recommended. That’s expensive on its own, and with a $180-per-month-on-average electricity bill, Lee isn’t burning through enough electricity during the day to justify the cost. With a few exceptions (including Austin), most utilities in Texas don’t permit net metering, so he can’t sell any excess energy back to the grid. And while many households with smaller roofs or higher energy bills might expect to recoup the cost of a solar installation over 30 years, Tesla’s calculator says installing a roof on Lee’s house would actually cost him $41,000 over 30 years.

Lee noted that his house only cost about $200,000 originally, so, on first impression, he was concerned that adding an extra $100,000 on to that cost would raise his property taxes—especially in Texas, where property taxes tend to be higher due to the fact that the state doesn’t collect income tax (Lee’s are around four percent). He was also concerned that an increased property value would raise insurance premiums as well.

Tesla’s calculator noted that Lee could expect a $23,500 federal investment tax credit, but that’s deducted from income tax at the end of the year. Without some special financing, it wouldn’t help soften that perceived initial outlay.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article. 

This Is the Fastest Growing Job in the U.S.

by Madeline Farber (May 8, 2017)  fortune.com

As the solar industry continues to grow, so do its job opportunities.

It’s no surprise then that the fastest-growing job in the U.S. between 2012 and 2016 was for a solar photovoltaic installers or someone who assembles solar panels on roofs, according to MarketWatch, which cites a study from personal finance technology company SmartAsset. The job pays about $42,500 a year.

Overall, the U.S. added 211,000 jobs in April, MarketWatch reports. This is an overall increase in employment, but some states and industries performed better than others.

The second fastest-growing field was for mathematics and computer jobs, two of the fields that fall under STEM. Out of all 50 states, Michigan performed the best in this field—boasting a 200% increase in computer and information research scientists between 2012 and 2016.

Other industries also saw growth—namely personal care jobs and skincare specialist occupations. For example, in Utah, the number of personal care aids increased 313% to 6,780 jobs. But the salary isn’t great: MarketWatch reports those positions only pay $21,890 per year. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the number of skincare specialist grew 187% to 890 positions. The average salary is $33,760.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

NREL Scientists Outline Photovoltaic Potential

Golden Colorado (May 9, 2017)  www.photonics.com

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), along with their counterparts from similar institutes in Japan and Germany and researchers at universities and industry, outlined a potential worldwide pathway to produce a significant portion of the world’s electricity from solar power in a paper in Science.

The paper, “Terawatt-Scale Photovoltaics: Trajectories and Challenges,” focuses on the recent trajectory of photovoltaics (PV) in the wake of a solar energy conference. Fifty-seven experts met in Germany in March 2016 for a gathering of the Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutes (GA-SERI), where they discussed what policy initiatives and technology advances are needed to support significant expansion of solar power over the next couple of decades.

“When we came together, there was a consensus that the global PV industry is on a clear trajectory to reach the multi-terawatt scale over the next decade,” said lead author Nancy Haegel, director of NREL’s Materials Science Center. “However, reaching the full potential for PV technology in the global energy economy will require continued advances in science and technology. Bringing the global research community together to solve challenges related to realizing this goal is a key step in that direction.”

The GA-SERI paper discusses a realistic trajectory to install 5 to 10 TW of PV capacity by 2030. Reaching that figure should be achievable through continued technology improvements and cost decreases, as well as the continuation of incentive programs to defray upfront costs of PV systems, according to the paper, which was also co-authored by David Feldman, Robert Margolis, William Tumas, Gregory Wilson, Michael Woodhouse and Sarah Kurtz of NREL.

GA-SERI’s experts predict 5 to 10 TW of PV capacity could be in place by 2030 if there is a continued reduction in the cost of PV while the performance of solar modules are improved; cost and time requirements are lowered to expand manufacturing and installation capacity; more flexible grids are able to handle high levels of PV through increased load shifting, energy storage or transmission; there is an increased demand for electricity by using more for transportation and heating or cooling; and continued progress is made in the storage of energy generated by solar power.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are the member institutes of GA-SERI, which was founded in 2012. NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

This is one of the sweetest tax breaks around

by Bill Bischoff (May 4, 2017) www.marketwatch.com

One of the residential energy tax credits expired at the end of 2016, but it had a lifetime limit of only $500. So it was basically a waste of space in our beloved Internal Revenue Code. Meanwhile, another much more lucrative credit for solar energy equipment is still available. Here’s what you need to know to cash in.

Solar energy credit basics

You can claim a federal income tax credit equal to 30% of your expenditures to buy and install qualifying energy-saving solar equipment for your home. Since this stuff is expensive, it can generate big credits. And there are no income limits. Even billionaires are eligible.

As the tax law currently reads, the 30% credit is available through 2019. But who knows what will happen if big tax changes are enacted? So it might be best to take advantage sooner rather than later. In 2020, the credit rate will drop to 26% and then to 22% in 2021. After that, the credit is scheduled to expire.

The credit can be used to reduce both your regular federal income tax bill and any alternative minimum tax (AMT) that you owe. If your credit is so large that you cannot use it all on one year’s return, you can carry the excess credit forward to future years.

All in all, this is one of the sweetest tax breaks around for individual taxpayers.

Qualified expenditures

You can only claim the credit for expenditures on a “home,” which can include a house, condo, co-op apartment, houseboat, mobile home or a manufactured home that conforms to federal manufactured home construction and safety standards.

The credit equals 30% of expenditures (including costs for site preparation, assembly, installation, piping, and wiring) for the following gear.

  • Qualified solar electricity generating equipment for your U.S. residence, including a vacation home. You must use the residence yourself. So the credit cannot be claimed for a property that is used exclusively as a rental.
  • Qualified solar water heating equipment for your U.S. residence, including a vacation home. To be eligible for the credit, at least half of the energy used to heat water for the property must be generated by the solar water heating equipment. The equipment must be certified by the nonprofit Solar Rating Certification Corporation or a comparable entity endorsed by the state in which your residence is located. Keep the certification with your tax records. You cannot claim the credit for equipment used to heat a swimming pool or hot tub (that would be too good to be true). Finally, the credit cannot be claimed for a property that is used only as a rental.

Claiming the credit

Keep proof of how much you spend, including any extra amounts for site preparation, assembly, and installation. Also keep a record of when the installation is completed, because you can only claim the credit in the year when that happens. Claim the credit by including Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits) with your Form 1040.

Additional goodies may be available

You might also be eligible for state and local tax benefits, subsidized state and local financing deals, and utility company rebates. Hopefully the energy savings, together with the federal tax breaks and other available incentives, will justify the cost.

Plus: Expanded credit opportunities for 2016 installations

For 2017 and beyond, the 30% credit is limited to expenditures for qualified solar electricity generating equipment and solar water heating equipment. But for 2016, you could also claim a 30% credit for the following expenditures.

  • Wind energy equipment for your U.S. residence (including a vacation home).
  • Geothermal heat pump equipment for your U.S. residence (including a vacation home). The equipment must have met the requirements of the Energy Star program that was in effect at the time of purchase.
  • Fuel cell electricity generating equipment for your U.S. principal residence. Vacation homes don’t count here. The maximum credit is limited to $500 for each half kilowatt of fuel cell capacity.

You can claim a credit on your 2016 return if the installation of the qualified equipment was completed last year. If you already filed your return without claiming your rightful credit, file an amended return with Form 5695 to cash in.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

5 States With the Highest Solar Capacity per Capita

by Travis Holum (May 2, 2017)  newsfeedback@fool.com

Solar energy was the single biggest source of new electricity capacity in the United States in 2016 and now makes up over 1% of all electricity generated in the country. And with solar energy now cost-competitive with coal, natural gas, and nuclear in most of the country, the industry is primed for growth in the next decade. 

What’s surprising is where all of this solar is being installed. Sure, California is a big solar state, but when you look at the top five solar states per capita, there are some surprisingly solar-friendly states in the nation. The five states with the most solar per capita are Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, California, and Arizona.

Nevada takes the top solar spot

California is by far the biggest solar state, with 18,296 MW of solar capacity having been installed through the end of 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, enough to power 3 million homes. But it’s not the top solar state per capita. 

Nevada actually has the most solar relative to its population, with 745 watts per capita, or nearly three solar panels per person. At peak sunlight, that’s enough to power 67 high-efficiency LED light bulbs. Most of the solar power isn’t on residents’ rooftops; it’s instead in large utility-scale power plants in the Nevada desert. For example, SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) has built 150 MW at the Boulder City 1 and 2 power plants, and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) has built the 250 MW Moapa Solar Project near Las Vegas. With plenty of solar resources and the ability to export energy into Southern California’s energy market, Nevada will probably remain near the top of the solar per capita list for years to come. 

Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix

Second on the list is Utah, with 488 watts per capita, a surprisingly high level for a state that gets very little national attention in solar. And its 1,489 MW of total solar installations will power 292,000 homes, or 40% of all homes in the state. Utah is also the home of Vivint Solar (NYSE: VSLR), one of the biggest residential solar installers in the country, and with lots of solar resources on the southern side of the state, the industry has a bright future there. 

Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously

Hawaii is third, with 472 watts of solar per capita, and if you’ve visited the state recently, this is no surprise. Rooftop solar is commonplace, and now islands such as Kauai are pushing toward 100% renewables.

Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has built a solar-plus-storage plant on Kauai, and AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) recently signed a deal to build 28 MW of solar and 100 MWh of energy storage for just $0.11 per kWh, less than the average retail price of electricity in the continental United States. And with Hawaii’s electricity costs about triple the national average –because it burns oil for most electricity — this is a state that could be No. 1 in solar per capita very soon. 

California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential

California is fourth in the country, with 466 watts of solar per capita. It’s home to a large number of utility-scale solar projects and is the No. 1 state for rooftop solar as well. California has been more aggressive than most states in adopting policies both to drive solar growth and to provide fair compensation for all consumers, with time-of-use rates for residents having become a renewable portfolio standard that drove utility installations over the last decade. Its sheer size may make it hard for it to become first in per capita rankings, but this will be the biggest state for solar overall for a long time. 

Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy

Arizona is the fifth-highest solar state per capita, at 430 watts. The state has been home of some of the biggest fights in residential solar, with utility APS opposing net metering vigorously. But large projects such as First Solar’s 290 MW Agua Caliente project are still going up, and it’s hard to fight the low cost of solar in the state. And with abundant solar resources, Arizona should be a big solar state in the future. 

Lots of surprising states are going solar 

If you’re into solar energy, there are some surprising states to keep an eye on beyond these top five. North Carolina is the No. 2 solar state in the country by cumulative amount of solar capacity installed through 2016, with 3,016 MW of solar, a surprise for a state that hasn’t typically been seen as solar-friendly. Georgia and Texas are Nos. 8 and 9 nationally, with 1,432 MW and 1,215 MW, respectively, but both have abundant solar resources and should move up the list. 

What’s certain is that with solar energy now competitive with fossil fuels for utilities, commercial users, and homeowners across the country, the amount of solar energy per capita will only grow in the future. 

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

APS says solar, energy efficiency to make up 50% of new production

by Frank Andorka (April 13, 2017) www.pv-magazine-usa.com

Arizona’s largest investor-owned utility says the next 15 years will include significant increases in solar production, battery storage products and significant reductions in coal-fired production plants.

APS' 2017 Integrated Resources Plan predicts its customers should expect to see more utility-scale solar development by the company, like this facility outside Tucson, Arizona.

With the net-metering battle in its rearview mirror, Arizona Public Service (APS) is forging a new electricity-generation future – and says solar will play a crucial role for at least the next 15 years.

APS filed its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the state’s Corporation Commission (which regulates utilities) late yesterday, and it contained good news for consumers who want to be powered by solar, including a prediction of a significant increase in private rooftop solar capacity. The plan is the result of a three-year-long, back-and-forth discussions with customers.

The plan says Arizona’s customers can expect more solar power and energy efficiency programs over the next 15 years, generating nearly 50% of the utility’s new energy growth. It says it will also expand its battery-storage programs beyond its existing 500 MW of pilot programs to support solar power and its smooth integration into the grid.

Among APS’ other commitments are to develop a more robust and advanced grid infrastructure to allow an increase of distributed energy resources, batteries and microgrids, as well as figuring out the best ways how solar, energy storage and other technologies interact. Lastly, APS pledged to reduce its use of coal will drop from 21 percent to 11 percent under the plan.

APS serves about 2.7 million people in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties. Renewable energy currently makes up around 12% of the utility’s non-carbon based electricity production.

Arizona currently supports 7,310 solar jobs, more than half of which are in installation, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census. It ranks No. 1 in access to solar resources and has a current renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of reaching 15% of its utility production from renewable energy by 2025.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Florida Plays Catch Up on Solar Energy Playing Field

by Rachel Iacovone (March 10, 2017) www.news.wgcu.org

Florida is looking toward solar energy as a solution — not only for its energy problems but for its economic issues as well. Though it is the third most populous state, it currently ranks fifth in the nation on solar energy yields. Florida Power and Light hopes to change this, with plans to add three solar sites by 2018 and eight more in the coming years.

Despite its moniker, the “Sunshine State” Florida is not using its solar energy opportunities as much as one might expect.

Florida’s 400 megawatts of solar energy last year pales in comparison to California’s 18,000 and so do the Sunshine State’s 8,200 solar industry jobs when compared to California, which boasts more than 100,000 solar-related jobs.

With Florida making the short list of most populated states alongside California, clean energy proponents, as well as Florida Power and Light, hope to catch up to solar states. FPL spokesperson Alys Daly recently talked about the state’s current solar situation on WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.

“Right now, our solar is in line with the country’s, which is about 1 percent,” Daly said. “That’s not including the last three plants that we built over on the west coast of Florida, and that’s not including the eight new plants that we’re developing. While the national average is about 1 percent for solar, the rest of their generation is made up of much more oil and coal where ours is clean, natural gas and nuclear.”

FPL has 11 active solar sites. It plans to bring another three online by 2018 and eight more in the future.

Industry experts attribute FPL’s current ability to expand the state’s solar industry to the sharply declining price of solar energy over the years.

Twenty-five years ago, solar energy cost $90 dollars per watt. Now, the price has dropped to $3, and Americans can afford to invest in solar, though Daly says it’s more cost effective to wait on FPL’s expansion rather than invest in personal roof units.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

How much are rooftop solar panels worth? Arizona utility regulators to decide

by David Wichner – Arizona Daily Star (Dec, 10, 2016) www.tuscon.com

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After years of debate, Arizona utility regulators finally appear ready to decide a long-burning question: What is solar energy generated on customers’ rooftops really worth?

The Arizona Corporation Commission is expected to decide the issue on Dec. 19, when it will consider proposals to change rates for rooftop solar customers including controversial cuts to credits solar customers get for the excess power they generate.

And that could have a major impact on the cost and adoption of rooftop solar in territories of state-regulated utilities including Tucson Electric Power Co. and the biggest state-regulated utility, Arizona Public Service Co.

Under the process, known as net metering, solar customers are credited monthly at the full retail rate for excess power — for TEP about 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Any credits left at the end of the billing year are credited at each utility’s comparable cost for wholesale power, for TEP about 2.5 cents per kwh.

While solar companies and advocates want to keep the full retail credit rate, TEP has proposed cutting the net-metering credit rate from the retail rate to the cost of power from its most recent utility-scale solar farm, about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, reasoning it is a similar resource.

APS has proposed a rate not much more than the avoided cost of fueling conventional power plants, about 3 cents per kwh.

In a ruling in late October, a Corporation Commission administrative law judge said regulators should scrap the current system of reimbursing customers with rooftop solar at the full retail rate for power.

For the near future, Judge Teena Jibilian said, new credit rates for solar customers should be based on short-term studies based on costs avoided by rooftop solar, or on the cost of power from large, utility-scale solar farms.

The cost studies would be based on a rolling five-year examination of the benefits and costs of rooftop solar, potentially eliminating from consideration long-term benefits including reduced pollution and public-health costs.

That riled solar advocates, who insist long-term societal benefits of solar including lessening the need for new fossil-fuel power plants and reduction of health risks should be fully counted.

The judge’s recommendation, will form the basis for the Dec. 19 hearing, but the full Corporation Commission has final say and can reject or modify the proposal.

For its part, TEP agrees with most of the judge’s decision but has sought clarification on several issues, company spokesman Joe Barrios said.

The company wants it made clear that “banking” of solar energy credits — allowing one month’s excess production to be credited toward the next month — would end under the new rules.

In commission filings, TEP said it prefers the solar-farm cost proxy for setting solar export rates over the avoided-cost methodology, but that the commission should clarify that utilities could use either.

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Any cuts to net-metering rates would reduce the advantages of solar and extend the financial payback period for such systems by years.

In fact, the prospect of fewer solar benefits has caused many customers to balk at installing their own panels, especially since the utilities have been telling customers changes are on the way.

Kevin Koch, owner of the local solar installation firm Technicians for Sustainability, said his business has been down since TEP filed to change net-metering policy effective June 1, 2015.

The matter was put off along with other utilities’ net-metering change requests, to await the outcome of the value-of-solar proceeding, but TEP’s notices that net-metering rates could change chilled the market, Koch said.

“That created a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the marketplace,” he said.

TEP didn’t see much of a drop off overall, however.

This year through November, TEP counted 3,019 rooftop solar installations tied to its grid, compared with 3,199 in all of 2015, and 1,937 in 2014.

The uncertainty isn’t limited to TEP.

William Rood was interested in installing solar on his SaddleBrooke home when he found that his power company, Trico Electric Cooperative, was proposing changes including new demand charges and lower net-metering rates for rooftop solar customers.

With Trico’s help he calculated that the proposed new credit rate of 7.7 cents per kwh would extend his payback period more than two years. Still, Rood decided it was worth it.

In October he spent about $20,000 to install a 6.36-kilowatt photovoltaic system that offsets most of his power usage.

“I decided to go ahead with it because it was the right thing to do,” said Rood, a retired newspaper reporter and editor.

Rood may have avoided the new rates after all.

In a pending rate settlement with the Corporation Commission’s utilities staff, the Trico net-metering changes would apply to customers who applied to install their systems after May 31. All prior customers would be grandfathered under the old rate system.

But in a recommended order issued last week, a Corporation Commission administrative law judge recommended that the new rules should apply to Trico customers who apply to install solar after the effective date of the new rates, likely early next year.

The judge in the value of solar case also has recommended that all solar customers be grandfathered under current retail credit rates until each utilities’ new rates are approved.

Though the matter isn’t settled, Rood said he’s glad regulators are rejecting the idea of retroactive changes.

“The grandfathering thing, I think, is just patently unfair,” he said.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Utah lawmakers: Time to take ‘training wheels’ off booming solar industry, retire state tax credit

by Emma Penrod (Nov. 17, 2016) www.sltrib.com

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A proposal to extend tax credits for electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles garnered a favorable recommendation this week, but by only a narrow margin. And another committee recommended phasing out a state tax credit for residential solar installations, which is projected to take a toll on the state budget in 2016 — $20 million, up from less than $1 million annually, as Utah experiences a solar-installation boom.

If the trend continues, the impact could be as high as $60 million by the end of 2017, according to bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden.

That money, he said, could be used to hire as many as 400 teachers with a salary of $50,000.

Improved technology and cheaper installations are behind solar’s exponential growth, Peterson said, so it’s time to retire the state tax credit, which provides Utah residents with a refund of up to $2,000.

“We want to promote the independence of the industry,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee. “The industry was given some training wheels, so to speak, with the tax credit, to kind of prop it up. And it seems to have immediately taken off, suddenly and unexpectedly. So it seems time to pull those training wheels off and let the industry run under its own strength.”

Peterson’s proposal would place a temporary moratorium on the tax credits beginning when a bill is signed into law next spring. He estimated that by that time, the state would have already issued $20 million to $30 million in solar tax credits.

From that point on, he said, the bill would create a cap for solar tax credits issued each year, starting with a budget of $4 million in 2018. The cap would be reduced by $1 million each year, until the credit’s full phase-out in 2021.

To increase the number of residents able to take advantage of the tax credit, the bill would also gradually reduce the amount of each individual refund by about $500 each year.

But the bill does not have the support of the solar industry, representatives said, which fears that the loss of tax credits, coupled with possible electrical rate changes for residential solar customers, could reverse the industry’s growth in Utah.

“We’ve actually already seen a slowdown in the solar industry, and people are actually considering layoffs,” said Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association. “These are discussions that are much bigger than today … in my opinion, if we added this on top of that [rate change], we would seen an incredible loss of jobs in the state.”

Evans said he believes prosperity in the solar industry creates tax revenues that negate the impact of the $2,000 credit. Each installation, he said, immediately generates $800 to $1,000 in sales tax, and an additional $350 returns to the state in the form of income tax from the employees installing the array, he said.

The bill also raised eyebrows among members of the interim committee, who questioned whether the solar tax credit was being unfairly singled out among other tax credits impacting the state budget.

“Here’s my struggle — I think this is worthy of looking at, but I think we’re looking at it in isolation and narrowing the scope,” said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. “I’m thinking of the subsidies we provide for oil and gas … over time, for every dollar that we’ve given to renewables, the federal government has provided $74 in subsidies to oil and gas.”

After a lengthy discussion, Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, questioned whether the committee ought to fast-track a bill that appeared to be generating substantial controversy.

But others argued that it was time to begin phasing out the tax credit to channel more money to education.

“At what point do we tell the school kids, thanks for the help, we’re good?” asked Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. “The car’s moving again. We appreciate the jump start — the battery was dead — but we’re driving down the highway now, and we’re still asking the kids to help push the car down the highway, even though the car’s started, it’s running, it’s very, very profitable.”

In a separate Wednesday hearing, the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee voted narrowly in favor of endorsing a bill that would incentivize the sale of electric vehicles in Utah.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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We have all gone through a very long and stressful year.  Yet . . . each of us has so much to be thankful for.   May we take the time to close our eyes, take a deep breath, and feel gratitude for all that truly matters in our lives.  May God bless you for your continued acts of random kindness and love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

VOTE NO ON FLORIDA AMENDMENT 1!

by Brent Sauser

The November election is quickly approaching and NetZeroMax is working hard to defeat Florida’s Amendment 1 . . . . the “so-called” Solar Rights amendment.  Please take the time to view the attached videos that go into detail regarding the level of deception involved with the wording of this misleading amendment.  It gives the noble impression of assuring that non-solar consumers will not end up subsidizing roof-top solar owners.  That sounds reasonable to most who have not researched this issue. 

Florida does not rank in the top 10 states for solar production.  Of those top 10 solar producing states NOT ONE has demonstrated any evidence that roof-top solar results in a negative financial burden on non-solar consumers . . . NOT ONE!  On the contrary, roof-top solar is a BENEFIT, not a burden to all power consumers.  We don’t need deceptive and false language in the Florida constitution.  Having this clause in the amendment gives the powerful power monopolies the green light to assess additional fees on roof-top solar owners in response to assuring the non-solar consumers are not financially burden (which is not true anywhere in the USA).  In reality, those additional fees go right to their bottom line profits as they laugh all the way to the bank, knowing that they pulled one over on the Florida voter.  

Amendment 1 will stifle solar progress to the point where Florida will have to change their motto to “The anti-Sunshine State”.   Amendment 1 BLOCKS the sun in Florida.  VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 1!

GreenBuild 2016 – Los Angeles

by Brent Sauser

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I had the pleasure to attend the 2016 GreenBuild Convention in Los Angeles, CA.  This was my 6th GreenBuild that dates back to 2009.  I spent the majority of my time walking the exhibition hall.  My overall impression was very positive with high marks for the quantity and quality of exhibitors, wonderful venue location, and depth of classes offered.  I enjoyed talking with many of the exhibitors about their products who were eager to share their expertise.  Quite honestly, the convention was better than I expected.

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However . . . . I came away with a sad feeling that the freshness and trendiness of the GreenBuild experience has faded, the luster and excitement of what once was a significant and relevant movement, now appeared mainstream, even boring.  I attribute that to three observations:

1.    Attendance:  After talking with several exhibitors it was their collective opinion that attendance was down.  I agree.  I remember packed aisles with past GreenBuilds, but numbers have tapered off.  Considering the expense to exhibit at GreenBuild the expectations were high.

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2.     GreenBuild is just another of many similar, but competing certification programs.  What was once the trailblazer for green building is now one of many certification programs that have their own conventions, certification process, and testing for future professionals.   Each one is a little different from the other but are more similar than different overall.  The original CEO of the USGBC jumped ship to spin-off another certification program that focuses on “well building”.  Over saturation of these, well intended building certification programs could be diluting the overall direction of green building and be more of a deterrent then benefit to the green building movement.  Evidence of this could be seen in the more vanilla exhibits at the convention this year.  I didn’t really see any leading edge products and several exhibitors that usually come to GreenBuild no longer participate.

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3)   The massage chair factor: My unscientific measurement for determining when a movement has “jumped the shark” is by how many totally unrelated exhibitors are sprinkled throughout the floor.   Admittedly, they fill space and add revenue, but don’t contribute to the  vision of what GreenBuild once stood for.  I have nothing against massage chairs or massage devices (in fact, I bought two!), but when the quest for maximizing revenue to fill spaces, because those spaces cannot be filled with GreenBuild relevant exhibitors, it’s only a mater of time before what once was leading edge and unique is filled with exhibitors of massage chairs, tasers, and magic cleaners.

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Several years ago I wondered if this day would come, where GreenBuild would evolve into just another kind of home show, but it has.  Unless GreenBuild decides to come to the Orlando Convention Center (my back yard), I will investigate what other conventions to attend that now carry the torch for green building and sustainable design.  But as for GreenBuild, stick a fork in it!

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VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 1 – FLORIDA!

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Floridians for Solar Choice is a grassroots effort working to help more homes and businesses generate electricity by harnessing the power of the sun. Our coalition is working for good solar policy in Florida to give Florida’s families and businesses the right to choose solar power.

vote-no-on-1-org-logo-v3-01-01 Amendment 1 is an effort by big monopoly utilities to choke-off rooftop solar and keep a stranglehold on customers by preventing them from generating their own power. In March, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled 4-3 to allow the utility-backed petition on to the November ballot. The utilities may have more money, but they are on the wrong side of this issue.  We need you to fight alongside us and urge your friends, family and neighbor: 

Vote NO on 1 on November 8th!

Visit http://www.flsolarchoice.org/amendment1/ for more information.

Transparent Solar Glass – Just Think of the Possibilities!

by Brent Sauser (www.NetZeroMax.com) Sep. 2, 2016

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Wait a minute!  Transparent solar glass!  Really!  I always thought you got solar energy from those bulky, roof mounted, rectangular panels.  And, they aren’t that pretty to look at either.  

Photovoltaic solar technology continues to make amazing advances in various ways to harvest solar energy.  Considerable research has been focused in the development of transparent solar glass.  This is made possible by allowing visible light through the glass, while harvesting the unseen UV and infra red light to create solar energy.   At the present time testing has produced 10% efficient transparent solar glass, which is less than the traditional solar panel.  However, when you consider the vast expanse of vertical surfaces from millions of buildings in the US, the potential for solar energy harvesting from transparent solar glass is endless.  Typically, there is more vertical surface area in a building than roof surface.   Transparent solar glass greatly increases the solar energy harvesting potential for each building.  Just think of the possibilities!

But, hey . . . don’t take my word for it.  Check out these videos . . . .

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 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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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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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.

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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)

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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.

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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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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.

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Consumers Can Profit from Leaving the Grid

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

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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.

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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

First Solar 01

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.

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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

Rental Solar 03

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.

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.

Letter: Can we move the solar debate forward?

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

IMG_1267net meter 03

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.

SolarCity SCTY

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.

solar panels 02

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.

USA MAP 01

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.

USA MAP 02

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.

USA MAP 03

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.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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