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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.

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Duke Energy-Backed Bill Takes Aim at Solar in North Carolina

by Jan Lee (May 31, 2017) www.triplepundit.com

Duke Energy, America’s largest utility company, made a surprising announcement earlier this year. In its February filing to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, the company declared the cost of solar unaffordable in the state.

The argument went like this: Federal law requires electric utility companies to buy back the power generated by renewable energy at a price set by the local utilities commission (called the “avoided” costs). In North Carolina, that rate is set every two years.

But with natural gas prices dropping, Duke claimed the cost of solar became too high to justify. The company estimated the cost discrepancy amounted to as much as $80 million a year or $1 billion over the course of completed contracts.

For the residential customer, that equates to about $20 more a year in utility bills, Duke further claimed.

Not surprisingly, local solar developers, such as Strata Solar, disagreed and challenged Duke’s computations.

Now, a handful of North Carolina state representatives have come up with an answer, and it has the enthusiastic support of Duke Energy.

North Carolina House Bill 909, otherwise known as the Sound Energy and Renewables Policy Act, would force independent clean-energy startups into a cumbersome bidding process controlled by the state’s utility company. The bill would set an artificial ceiling of 400 megawatts for each of the next five years.

The renewables sector in North Carolina estimates it would have access to more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy projects each year without the legislation.

The North Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance is opposing the bill. Chris Carmody, executive director of the trade association, said the bill would make it unaffordable for small solar providers to compete with Duke, which does offer solar energy to its customers.

“[It] would allow Duke to eliminate all competition,” Carmody told Southeastern Energy News.

Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) said he sponsored the bill because of what he calls “stagnation” in communications between stakeholders in the state’s clean-energy industry, big and small.

But a number of critics see Duke Energy as the winner – and the instigator of the bill.

Although Duke Energy doesn’t agree, it has a history of objecting to the large number of solar farms in North Carolina, which it reportedly attributes to North Carolina’s adherence to the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA). Carmody says the concept of a privately-established bidding process was supported (and some say proposed) by Duke until last February when the company suddenly backed out.

Duke Energy isn’t the only large utility company to take issue with PURPA, which requires companies to “pay back” homeowners that can generate electricity on their own property, such as with a wind or solar installation. In Montana, Colorado and even California, utility companies, solar installers and often consumers are locked in debates over a federal law that makes small solar installations possible. To the large-scale utility company, that “avoided” cost is lost revenue. To the solar installer, it means a foot in the door in a utility industry once only operated by large companies like PG&E and Duke Energy.

Solar installers call Duke’s efforts to limit new projects under PURPA illegal. Last year the company got into hot water with state regulators when it stopped hooking up small solar projects to its grid. Installers accused the company of preventing the construction of new projects and blocking consumers from having solar energy.

Duke denied the charges, saying that it would “do what we need to maintain the reliability and resiliency and the quality of the power on our grid.”

Bill 909 would not only reduce the number of solar installation companies in North Carolina, but it would also shrink avoided costs for utility companies. Current revisions of the House bill also cut the size of projects that could qualify under PURPA in North Carolina, a step that some clean-energy advocates like John Wilson of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy say would “reconstruct [PURPA} as a barrier to participation in energy generation by independent companies.”

And this may not be the end of arguments over PURPA, a law that was created in the 1970s in recognition of a budding renewables industry.

Oregon, Utah, Montana and other state utility commissions face pressure from utility companies that want new rates, contract lengths and other considerations when it comes to utility markets that they don’t necessarily control.

As consumers have become more educated about PURPA, what is often called an obscure federal law with big clout, utility companies like Duke Energy are looking for ways to protect profits in an industry that once had few regional competitors.

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Utah’s Decision On Solar Rates Leaves People In Limbo

by Judy Fahys (Dec 22, 2016) kuer.org

Snow’s been swept from the roof of a Davis County home where workmen mount supports for new solar panels. Aaron Gray manages quality control, and he loves what he does. But a piece of Gray’s heart is back where he used to work: Las Vegas. His wife and two sons still live there.

“It’s hard — it’s hard to be away from my family,” he says. “I mean those two little guys are my life, along with my wife, and she takes the sole burden of raising those two boys while I’m gone.”

This time last year Solar City began laying off most of its Nevada workforce. The new rates brought rooftop solar investments to a standstill. Gray’s job was one of the casualties when the market collapsed.

“It was tough,” he says. “It’s — I mean it’s not a good way to roll into the holidays. You’re not knowing where the next move is going to be.”

Gray won’t move his family here because he’s worried this job could disappear too. That’s because Rocky Mountain Power has asked to restructure its rates for Utah customers with rooftop panels.

Now Gray’s worried that Utah’s booming solar industry might screech to a halt like Nevada’s did. And he’s in good company.

Thousands of solar industry jobs evaporated in Nevada when utility regulators ended net metering. That was last year, and now Utah’s economy is bracing for a final decision on rooftop solar rates here and the impacts it might have.

Paul Murphy is the spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power in Utah, a sister company of NV Energy and the utility behind Nevada’s rate rewrite.

“This is an issue that’s facing every utility in the country.”

Murphy says rooftop solar customers enjoy subsidies of about $400 a year from traditional residential customers. And, with projections of rapid growth, the subsidy would add up to around $667 million dollars over the next two decades.

“People talk about being fair and I think the issue is about fairness,” he says. “Is it fair to force others to pay for their neighbors’ rooftop solar panels?”

Rocky Mountain Power recognizes that its customers want clean energy. It secures power from large-scale arrays in southern Utah and offers it through a subscriber-solar program.

“If the goal is to have clean energy,” says Murphy, “the most economical way to add solar energy to the system is to go to big, big solar farms.

“Which you have,” a reporter says.

“Which we have,” Murphy says.

It’s a classic power struggle: rooftop solar companies fighting for traction in terrain where a competitor had a monopoly for decades. Similar battles are happening in half the states in the country.

“I think all eyes are upon Utah now the same way all eyes were upon Nevada,” says Austin Perea, a solar-industry analyst with GTM Research in Boston.

“Last year Nevada installed nearly 90 megawatts of solar,” he says. “This past quarter, they installed just over 1 megawatt on the residential side. So, it basically cratered the market.”

Perea hints that Nevada’s become a cautionary tale for other states – partly because it had more solar jobs per capita last year than any other state, nearly 9,000.

Utah ranked tenth on that list — with around 2,700 jobs — and looked primed to boom. But, lots of people want to know if Utah’s solar industry will keep growing so fast. Much depends on what Utah utility regulators ultimately decide.

Sarah Wright, director of the non-profit Utah Clean Energy, is one of the organizations that urged regulators to reject Rocky Mountain Power’s plan to start the new rates this month. She and some staffers were stuffing envelopes late on a Friday afternoon two weeks ago when the PSC announced the rates are suspended – but only temporarily.

“This is a reprieve,” she says, noting that Utah’s rooftop rates won’t be settled until August or later. “The problem is that the proposal that Rocky Mountain Power put on the table for net-metering customers would have dramatically hurt customers going forward and the industry.”

Rocky Mountain Power is talking with the solar industry and advocacy groups like Wright’s about a possible compromise.

“Our goal,” says Wright, “is to see a proposal go forward that works for all customers and allows the solar industry to thrive.”

While negotiations continue, the future for solar workers like Gray remains uncertain.

“It’s very much the same feeling to be in limbo of what the decision is going to be by the PSC here.”

Meanwhile, he’ll keep making that six-hour drive to see his family in Las Vegas every other weekend.

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.

CHILLING EFFECT

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.

As rooftop solar costs drop, utility attempts to raise barriers may not work

by Mary Ellen Klas (Nov. 12, 2016) www.miamiherald.com

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Florida’s utility industry steered more than $20 million of their profits into a failed constitutional amendment to impose new barriers to the expansion of rooftop solar energy generation, but developers say that as the cost of installing solar panels drops, the state could quickly become a leader in private solar energy expansion no matter what the energy giants do.

The Florida Solar Energy Industry Association estimates that over the next five years, Florida homeowners, businesses and utilities are projected to take advantage of the falling prices and install 2,315 megawatts of solar electric capacity — 19 times more than the amount of solar installed in the last five years.

“Solar prices are in free-fall, and no one knows where the bottom is,” said Chris Delp, an attorney with the Tampa law office of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.

Large companies, such as Elon Musk’s Solar City, are offering zero down, low-interest loans, and people can also cut their expenses by deducting 30 percent of their costs under a federal Investment Tax Credit program that was extended last year, he said. “The economics are just going to make these regulatory barriers irrelevant. Florida’s utilities could work with customers to roll out solar or they could work to rule it out.”

What approach will Florida’s investor-owned utilities take?

Will they encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar systems — as utilities in Georgia, California, New York and dozens of others states have done — or will they ask regulators to stifle rooftop solar expansion, as they attempted to do with Amendment 1, so that they can control the development of solar themselves and limit the hit to their bottom line?

According to the Florida Public Service Commission’s 10-year site plan, utilities plan to increase their solar generation, but solar will make up only a tiny fraction of all energy generation supplied by the regulated utilities in the next 10 years. Gulf Power has announced it will add up to 500 megawatts of solar power to its fleet by 2024 and Florida Power & Light has asked the PSC for permission to add 1,200 megawatts over the next four years as part of a settlement agreement to raise its electric rates.

Florida ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, according to SEIA, but is only 14th for cumulative solar capacity that is installed. That could change, Delp said, if the emerging interest in solar installation in Florida, fueled by the drops in prices, results in more people installing their own electricity generation, circumventing utilities.

“I don’t think this was their intent, but what the utilities did with Amendment 1 was bring the discussion of solar energy development in Florida to the forefront,” said Delp, who is working with a company building a 30-megawatt private solar farm in Leesburg. “It’s now a kitchen table issue. There is awareness that there is a lack of solar in Florida and that we lag behind so many other states.”

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Solar Panel Installations Soar as Prices Fall to an All-Time Low

by Mike White (Sep 24, 2016) www.trendintech.com

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More and more people are opting to have solar panels installed in their homes, offices, and other buildings as they recognize the potential savings and environmental benefits there are to be made.  It’s because of this rise in demand that firms have been able to sell them cheaper than ever before and are now at an all-time low, allowing, even more, people to reap the benefits.

There are two separate Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory Reports that offer a detailed analysis of the lowering prices in solar panels. The first is called Tracking the Sun IX and is centered around installed pricing trends in the rooftop solar market and the second is entitled Utility-Scale Solar 2015 and focuses on large-scale solar farms that deal with bulk power supplies.  Both reports show a significant fall in prices in installed solar technologies since 2010.

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The installed price of solar technologies takes into consideration everything that is needed to get the solar system running effectively such as the panels, electronics, and hardware.  Estimates suggest that the cost of solar installation has fallen consistently at around 5 percent per year since 2012.  Even though both commercial and residential solar installation prices fell there is still a huge difference in the price they both pay comparably.  When looking at residential systems, the cost ranges between $3.30 and $5.00 per watt, while commercial users pay between $1.60 and $2.60 per watt approximately.

According to the reports, the price of solar power purchase agreements (PPA’s) has also fallen to below $50 per megawatt-hour in four out of the five areas that were examined. Currently, the cost of electricity is around $30-$40 per megawatt-hour, so the gap is closing in between the two.  Also, with the extension of the federal renewable energy investment tax credit to run until 2019, this should push solar sales even further and will force prices down to match.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Nevada Supreme Court Blocks Rooftop Solar Referendum

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

nevada 01

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.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Florida Utilities Determined To Mislead Voters

YES ON 1?  UH . . . NO!

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

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

Florida solar ballot intitiative

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Minnesota utility to triple rooftop solar rebates

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of One Conservation Improvement programme

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

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

Controversial community solar proposals

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Consumers Can Profit from Leaving the Grid

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

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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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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.

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Renewable energy is smart investment for utilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arizona solar ballot initiative launched by super PAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utilities adding fees for solar customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting voters weigh in on solar debate 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Excess Solar Goes to Arkansas Co-ops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Rooftop solar companies ask Ducey to veto Lesko’s bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Net Metering: Who Pays for Energy Subsidies?

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

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

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

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

The issue

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

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

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

The California example

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

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

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

The bigger picture

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

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

How much should the subsidy be?

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

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

Who pays?

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

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WHY BIG RETAILERS ARE GOING SOLAR

By Katie Fehrenbacher (March 8, 2016) fortune.com

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It’s about economics, not just environmentalism.

Years ago, big retailers and tech companies installed solar panels as a way to take an environmental stance. But these days it’s often an economic choice that is fueled by the promise of lower and less volatile energy costs.

On Tuesday, Whole Foods WFM 1.43% said that it planned a huge project to cover nearly one-fourth of its stores with solar panels. After construction is complete, Whole Foods says it could be among the top 25 biggest commercial U.S. solar suppliers alongside Walmart WMT -0.01% , Walgreens WBA 1.04% , and Target TGT 0.81% .

According to a report last year by the Solar Energy Industry Association: “While solar has long been viewed as an environmentally responsible energy choice, businesses now deploy solar because it is a smart fiscal choice as well.”

Whole Foods’ global sustainability leader, Kathy Loftus, said in a statement that the move was about “lower energy costs,” among other goals. Whole Food’s global energy coordinator, Aaron Daly, told Fortune that the solar project is about “environmental stewardship while saving money and reducing the power price volatility for our stores.”

Another report from SEIA found that in every quarter in 2015, the average cost of solar systems for commercial businesses dropped steadily. Across 2015, the cost of solar systems for commercial businesses slid by an average of 10% to a low of around $2 per watt by the end the year.

Whole Foods is working with solar panel suppliers NRG NRG -2.72% and SolarCity SCTY 4.86% to cover its stores in solar. These companies, which build solar projects for homes and businesses in huge numbers, can provide Whole Foods and others with attractive deals that potentially make solar cheaper than a typical monthly utility bill. These solar deals also fix the rate that companies pay for solar power over time so companies can hedge against a spike in grid prices.

Add in attractive state and federal incentives, and solar looks like a good deal. That is particularly true in California, which is expected to be home to a third of the solar installations for commercial companies and community solar farms next year.

Overall, U.S. solar is growing rapidly. Last year, the U.S. built more solar power than natural gas power for the first time ever.

Indeed, SEIA’s list of the top 25 commercial solar companies reads like a who’s who of the Fortune 500 including Walmart, Apple AAPL -0.20% , Intel INTC 1.01% , Costco COST 1.28% , and General Motors GM 0.46% .

Don’t expect the trend to reverse. There are still ample ways to reduce the cost of solar for commercial companies.

In contrast to the really cheap solar deals that utilities are doing, commercial companies are still facing hurdles with so-called soft costs, or the added costs of everything that isn’t hardware like marketing, software, and paper work. The soft costs edge up the total cost of commercial solar. But solar companies expect to be able to reduce these soft costs for commercial solar deployments, too, through new algorithms, use of data and even new startups.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

What Will the Year 2016 Bring?

by Brent Sauser

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2015 is quickly coming to an end and we are left with more questions than answers.

  1.  Will the debate over human influenced global climate change continue to divide a world?
  2.  Will politics over human influenced climate change continue to dominate the conversation instead of common sense?
  3.   Will we waste more time pointing fingers and name calling those on both sides of the issue?
  4.  Will the growing movement toward renewable systems slow down, speed up, or stay the same due to recent legislation by Congress to extend the 30% solar tax rebate program beyond 2016?
  5.  Will more people come to the realization that it makes good common sense to lower our overall power consumption and decide to go solar to offset what power we do consume?

These and more questions face us as we transition from 2015 to 2016.  It is anticipated that because of the recent solar tax rebate extension by Congress, the total number of solar installations will increase over 2015, but not to the levels projected when 2016 ended the tax rebate program.  Now that the solar rebate program extends through 2020, the forecast is indicating a moderate increase of solar installations each year.

It is a fact that in many parts of the USA power parity has already occurred.  Just check out costs per kWh in San Diego and Hawaii.  Going solar already makes good common sense . . . . . dollars and cents!   We installed a 7.5 kW roof top solar array in early September.  Last month we paid $10.44 for our power bill.   That is the minimum amount we pay and reflects the fee for net meter hook up as well as taxes.  Our bill also indicated a 97kWh surplus that the utility has “banked” in our favor.  What did you pay on your power bill last month?

Do the math . . . .  we paid $24,000 for our 7.5kW solar array.  The 30% federal tax rebate brings that total amount down to $16,800.   Our Enphase microinverters and Axitec solar panels are warranted for 25 years.   Assuming our system achieves Net Zero . . . . our total investment remains $16,800 over the 25 years.  Those who decide to stay on grid power will, in contrast, pay over $26,000 over the same period of time, and that is without taking into consideration rate increases.  So, you decide which makes more sense, staying on grid power or going solar.  Putting close to $200 back in my pocket each month is no small thing.  And here’s the good news; we managed to do all this in a 20 year old home with an eastern orientation.  I promise, it can be done.  It takes a lot of planning, research, along with a bit of lifestyle adaptation to make it work, but it works.

Let the politicians and intellectuals point fingers all they want.  All I know is I’m saving close to $200 every month on money I’m not spending on power bills.  That really adds up over time.  If you can’t afford to pay for a solar array outright, there are low interest loans increasingly available throughout the USA.  Check it out.

If this is the time of year to make resolutions I hope you will consider moving to a more Net Zero life style.  I wish you not only a happy new year, but a sustainable new year too.

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Smart Meters: FACT vs. FICTION

by Greg Miller, Senior Tech. Analyst (Wall St. Daily)

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If you think we live in a connected world, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

By the time the Internet of Things (IoT) gets up to speed, just about everything will be connected to the web – systems, networks, devices, homes, appliances… you name it.

The upside here? Greater streamlining and functionality, as well as bigger savings.

But there’s a downside, too – one we’ve previously highlighted: security concerns.

One of the most controversial IoT devices is also one of the first – smart meters.

These meters – whether for water, gas, or electricity – hold the compelling promise of both reducing energy demand and saving millions of dollars for consumers. With electric meters, for example, consumers could ease demand for the fuels needed to produce electricity.

But in many cities, these meters, particularly the electric ones, have met with opposition.

So what’s the truth here?

Smart Meters: Friend or Foe?

To be blunt, many of the concerns and fears over smart meters are downright farcical. For example…

Smart Meters Make You Sick: Yes, some people really believe this. It’s entirely baseless.

However, it’s not uncommon for such fears to accompany new technologies. Remember when cellphones were supposed to give you brain cancer? They didn’t – and they don’t.

Some early smart meters used public spectrum similar to Wi-Fi, but almost all of them now use the same frequencies as your smartphone. So if you have a smartphone and don’t get sick from it, the same theory applies to your smart meter when it reports data back to the utility – it’s that simple.

Similarly, there was a remarkable phenomenon once known as Wind Turbine Syndrome – people said the windmills were making them sick.

But when Simon Chapman, a public health professor in Australia, looked into it, he found that not a single complaint had been lodged by people on land where the turbines were actually located when they received rent from the turbine company.

It turns out that the “cure” was money! So if people think smart meters are making them ill, the cure is for them to save money.

Smart Meters Are Harmful to Wildlife: Another claim that’s devoid of evidence. Unless you believe we should tear down every cell tower over a specific concern about smart meters, it’s unwarranted.

Smart Meters Are Dangerous: Specifically, this refers to the fear that electric meters are prone to catch fire. Well, one now-discontinued model in particular was allegedly responsible for an unusual number of fires.

But there are also fires associated with standard meters. After all, whenever you have electricity, there’s a fire risk. But a properly installed, modern smart meter that meets National Electric Safety Code standards doesn’t have any hazards that old-school meters don’t already have.

Smart Meters Infringe Civil Liberties: This one does have some factual merit – but only a little. You see, these meters not only report how much water, gas, or electricity you consume, but when.

They also report this data much more efficiently, easily, and immediately. The concern is that authorities might use the data to snoop on people or sell the information to other parties.

It’s true that law enforcement has used electric data in the past in order to identify indoor marijuana-growing operations. But on balance, this is a minor concern, easily remedied with legislation.

In fact, smart meters can actually increase your privacy. Under the old system, whenever a utility employee walks onto your property to take a reading, you can’t stop him.

How’s that for an invasion of privacy? With smart meters, human readers become unnecessary and utilities won’t be on your property unless there’s a malfunction.

Smart Meters Are Inaccurate: Some smart meter opponents claim that the new meters are woefully inaccurate and, far from saving consumers money, actually lead to higher electric bills.

There was indeed an issue with this several years ago. But today’s smart meters are really quite accurate. In fact, if they were as inaccurate as opponents say, they wouldn’t have privacy concerns!

Even if a consumer ends up with a “lemon” smart meter, there’s an easy way to guard against overbilling: Simply keep your old bills!

Electric usage doesn’t change much from one year to another unless there are big temperature differences. You should compare new bills to old ones and ask about any usage or billing discrepancies.

The real concern with smart meters isn’t overbilling, though. It’s that they might not save consumers as much money as they should!

But it’s still better than the old school method…

We’re All Getting a Raw Deal

For years now, consumers have gotten a raw deal from utilities. That’s because they’ve tended to be charged a flat rate per kilowatt hour – with that rate based on the utilities’ average cost of producing or buying the power.

But there’s no such thing as an “average cost.”

As you know, electricity tends to be more expensive during the day when there’s greater demand from businesses. By contrast, it’s cheaper at night. In fact, sometimes the nighttime cost of energy even becomes negative.

Unlike businesses, though, home consumers use most of their electricity at night. That means they should pay less per kilowatt hour than business customers. Smart meters make that possible.

But even in areas where utilities have introduced time-of-day pricing, they haven’t shared the full benefits with homeowners. Why? Two reasons…

First, much of a utility’s costs lie not in producing or buying the power, but in the electricity grid that gets it to customers. That cost is more or less fixed and it’s higher for homes than for businesses per unit of power sold.

Second, utilities aren’t installing all these expensive smart meters with the idea of losing money!

Your Smart Meter Checklist

So if you have a smart meter now or if your utility proposes installing them, here are the real questions you should ask:

  • Who’s installing the meters? Can you be sure that the utility’s employees or contractors are competent? And will a senior electrician sign off on each installation before turning the power on?
  • Who checks meters for accuracy? Is there a tester independent of both the utility and manufacturer? Do utilities have an easy way for new smart meter customers to dispute their bills, or will customers have to Twitter-shame them every time they’re wrong?
  • Who gets usage information? Does the law prohibit utilities from selling the information to third parties? Does law enforcement need a warrant to get it? How will utilities try to prevent hacking and improper use of the information by third parties?
  • How much of a discount will homeowners get for nighttime electricity use? The appropriate amount will vary depending on where you live and how your utility gets its power, but the discount should be substantial – a real long-term saving if you schedule big electricity usage for off-peak hours. If the utility doesn’t have time-of-day pricing, why not?
  • How will these meters work with self-generated electricity? I’ve warned before that utilities are starting to feel a big challenge from solar power and they’re changing how they bill consumers to discourage further solar development.

With smart meters, utilities should pay daytime rates for the power they buy from solar homes, but only charge nighttime rates when the home is taking power off of the grid.

If you get proper answers to these questions, you should welcome smart meters. You’ll probably save some money and you’ll help lower the amount of resources dedicated to electricity generation.

If you don’t get satisfactory answers, then it’s fair to ask what the utility is hiding and what’s actually in it for you.

How Much Was Your Power Bill?

by Brent Sauser

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I know this will sound like bragging, but we paid $11.08 for our electric bill last month.   That’s right . . . . $11.08!  Our total billable power consumption was only 5kWh.  The cost for that power was only 55 cents, but then you add the mandatory taxes and net meter hook-up fees and you get to $11.08.  Can’t get much lower than that per month while still being connected to the power grid.  Hey . . . I’ll take it. 

As we are moving into the fall and winter seasons the sun is at a lower angle in the sky and the days are shorter, which means less time for direct sunlight on the solar panels.  My daily records show fewer kWhs per day than in the summer months, which is understandable.  However, in like manner our overall power consumption is reduced by cooler temperatures.  Less A/C time means lower power consumption.  So, even though the sun is at a lower angle  and there is less of it,  power consumption has decreased as well. 

We are using Enphase micro-inverters that enable us to monitor each solar panel individually.  We are only into month #4 in the Net Zero process and look forward to see how our energy consumption balances with our energy consumption during the cooler months of the year. 

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SAUSER HOME GOES SOLAR!

By Brent Sauser

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After three years of preparation the Sauser home has finally taken the “leap” and installed a 7.54 kW roof-top solar array. Because our 22 year old, east facing home is not oriented to the south, we ended up placing solar panels on the east, south, and west roofs. We are on track to produce close to 700 kWh of electricity this month. By the way, our electrical consumption last month was only 564 kWh. A year from now we hope to report that we are a Net Zero home.

We decided to go with:IMG_1259

  • (29) 260W Axitec polycrystalline solar panels (2 on east roof, 10 on south roof, and 17 on west roof).
  • (29) Enphase M215 micro inverters (for maximum flexibility in solar panel orientation, maximum potential for energy production, and best tracking and reporting software).

3 Guys SolarOur system was installed by a local solar installer with a long and impressive resume of solar installations . . . 3 Guys Solar. I highly recommend 3 Guys Solar to all those living in the Central Florida region. They can be reached at: http://www.3guyssolar.com, or at (407) 865-9338. Ask for Andy or David and drop my name. They will be happy to help you design and install the right solar array for you . . . from start to finish. They were able to install our complete system in one, very hot day.

DSCN4989If you are thinking about going solar and taking advantage of the 30% Federal Tax Rebate (that expires at the end of 2016) I suggest you follow the Sauser plan for preparation. Remember, a solar installation should be the LAST thing you consider AFTER doing as many energy conserving things beforehand. Three years ago our electrical consumption was over 2020 kWh per month. Since then we:

  • Replaced our aging asphalt shingle roof with an Energy Star rated roof system.
  • Added daylighting with a Solatube for our living room.
  • Installed a solar powered attic exhaust fan.
  • Replaced all incandescent bulbs and CFLs with LED bulbs
  • Installed a NEST thermostat and raised the temperature to 80 degrees during the day and 79 degrees at night. Turned off the thermostat (A/C) when the house was empty.
  • Replaced our old, energy-hog water heater with a GE GeoSpring hybrid water heater. I have adjusted the setting to “Heat Pump”, which is the most energy efficient setting.

IMG_1262Each one of these energy saving decisions has served to reduce our overall electrical consumption to be where we are today, that is, 564 kWh consumed on the hottest month of the year! The solar array required to support a 564 kWh usage will be much smaller than the one needed to support a 2020 kWh consumption rate.

IMG_1267My wife and I couldn’t be any happier with our decision to go solar. We are excited to see what the next 12 months will bring in energy production and see if we achieved Net Zero or not. There is something about being sustainable that gives a feeling of peace and security. Now is great time find out for yourself before the 30% Federal Tax Rebate runs out. Remember, to be eligible for the rebate your solar array must be totally functional. Plan on a minimum of three to four months for that to happen.

Obama’s Recent Renewable Energy Push . . . Too Ambitious?

by Brent Sauser

The Obama administration recently announced its intention to accelerate their efforts to reduce CO2 and Greenhouse gas emissions by severely restricting coal production in the USA.  The objective is to clear the way for greater use of renewable energy on a larger scale.  This will result in higher electric energy bills in areas where coal is a substantial supplier for energy production.  The Obama administration has stated that the more rapid transition to renewable energy will NOT be without sacrifice in the form of higher power bills to finance the transition.  OUCH!

In a personal effort to reduce the “pain” of this transition the Sauser household is installing a 7.5 kW roof top solar array.  Our calculations have determined  (at least on paper) that we should be able to generate as much (or more) energy on site than we consume over the course of a year.  We will be Net Zero.  Being Net Zero will insulate us from whatever cost impacts this recent Obama declaration will create.  In other words, we will be on the positive side of this transition  . . . saving energy and saving money in the process.  I invite you to do the same for your home.   Remember, there is a 30% tax rebate until the end of 2016.  Time is running out.

PV Solar Is a Bargain

by Brent Sauser

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Biting the bullet to go solar can be a big decision.  Not too many people have that kind of money to invest all at once.  Yet, today there are numerous ways to finance a PV solar system if you are lacking the total funds up front. 

Once that investment has been paid you can enjoy the benefit of your own private power plant for the next 25 to 30 years  . . . . without any additional costs.  Meanwhile, your power utility continues to raise your electrical rates on a regular basis.  Over the course of 20 years it is conceivable that you will pay up to twice as much for utility power versus having your own PV solar array.  

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The Sauser household is in the process of having a 7.5kW roof top solar array installed.  We have managed to reduce our monthly kWh consumption to be covered by a 7.5kW PV system.  We should be able to generate enough power to satisfy our monthly electrical needs.  On paper, we believe we can achieve Net Zero in our humble 3-bedroom home.  The future of Net Zero is in the ability to retrofit existing homes to come as close to Net Zero as possible.  The transition of our home to Net Zero will serve as the primary case study for my next book:  Retrofit to Net Zero. 

Residential solar installs post largest quarterly growth ever!

By Lucas Mearian – Computerworld (June 9, 2015)

 Analysts expect a 24% increase in solar power this year!

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Residential installations of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels in the U.S. led the solar power market in the first quarter of this year, posting a record sequential 11% growth rate. That’s the largest such uptick in history.

Residential systems were up 76%, compared with the first quarter of 2014, according to a U.S. Solar Market Insight report released today.

In all, the U.S. solar market saw just over 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of capacity installed in the first quarter, according to the report. It was the sixth consecutive quarter that solar power capacity in the U.S. grew by more than 1GW.

“We forecast that PV installations will reach 7.9GW in 2015, up 27% over 2014,” the report stated.

Residential solar installation costs dropped to $3.46 per watt of installed capacity this quarter, which represents a 2.2% reduction over last quarter and a 10% reduction over the first quarter of 2014.

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The U.S. Solar Market Insight report is a quarterly publication from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA); it’s based on data collected from almost 200 utilities, state agencies, installers and manufacturers.

Collectively, more than 51% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. came from solar in Q1, 2015. In the first quarter, the residential and utility PV market segments each added more capacity than the natural gas industry brought on line, the report said.

New installations of solar power capacity surpassed those of wind and coal for the second year in a row, accounting for 32% of all new electrical capacity, according to a a report released earlier this year by GTM and the SEIA.

One of the factors spurring growth in solar power is the expiration of the federal government’s solar investment tax credit (ITC). That measure, passed in 2008, offered a 30% tax credit for residential and business installations. When it expires in 2016, the tax credit will drop to a more permanent 10%.

Even so, the first quarter of any year tends to be slow for solar installations due to inclement weather in the north as well as for business accounting and tax reasons. That seasonal slowdown was seen in both the commercial and utility solar markets this year, both of which were down quarter-over-quarter from the last quarter of 2014.

Non-residential solar installations saw a 24% sequential downturn and a 3% downturn compared with the first quarter of 2014.

“The non-residential market continues to struggle from longstanding barriers to customer origination and project finance, and it remains more sensitive to state incentive reductions than residential solar,” the report said.

The double-digit growth in residential solar systems was particularly notable because nearly one-fourth of the residential solar installations have now come on line without any state incentives. That compares with 2012, when only 2% of residential solar power growth came on line without state incentives.

The uptick in residential solar — sans state incentives — is due to a trend with solar power reaching price parity with other forms of energy due to net energy metering and the leasing of third-party-owned systems. Net metering allows PV users to sell back any unused power to utilities.

“The residential juggernaut will continue to roll on, while the non-residential market will pick up, particularly in California and New York. And the utility-scale pipeline has reached unprecedented levels ahead of the looming federal Investment Tax Credit expiration,” the report stated. “We anticipate another record year for solar in the U.S. in every market segment.”

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Deutsche Bank analysts believes the cost to finance solar installations will also drop from 7.9% last year to about 5.4% this year. Financing for installations is expected to stabilize at around 6.5% by 2019.

Amit Ronen, director of George Washington University’s Solar Institute, was a key Congressional staffer behind the 2008 ITC legislation. Along with the ITC law, one of the driving forces behind adoption of solar power and the ensuing reduction of costs, he said, has been the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative. That effort helps fund research, manufacturing and market creation. SunShot has a goal for solar energy to reach price parity with conventional power sources by 2020.

“They say they’re about 60% of the way there because [of solar] panel prices…. They’ve come down 80% over the past five years,” Ronen said in an interview late last year.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

NetZeroMax.com Passes 2 Million Site “HITS”! WOW!

by Brent Sauser

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July of 2012 seems a long time ago.  Back then NetZeroMax.com launched somewhere behind the distant moon of Triton, with very little interest or website attention.  But, sure as the rising sun, each new article brought a few more interested people and subscribers.  It took close to 18 months to achieve our first 1,000 subscribers.  Today we are grateful to the over 14,500 subscribers who keep coming back to read from the over 200 “green” articles on the website.  NetZeroMax.com now appears throughout the internet by links and cross-links, and can be found listed under numerous sustainable design and energy saving topics.

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Eclipsing 2,000,000 site “HITS” is no small accomplishment and we are very thankful for those who found NetZeroMax.com and keep coming back for more interesting Net Zero information.  Our website is no longer hiding behind some distant moon, but in clear site for so many to see and enjoy.  Perhaps, most importantly, those who visit will continue to learn about how easy it is to take Save Energy 1affordable steps toward becoming Net Zero themselves.  I’m pleased to report that we have managed to lower our power bill by $50 per month, and are taking steps to improve upon that by adding a TruTankless electric water heater this summer, and a 7kW roof top solar array in April of 2016.  Saving energy saves money! 

There is so much more to do before the 30% Federal Tax Rebates end at the conclusion of 2016!  We must make plans NOW to assure that when the door closes we are NOT on the outside looking in . . . and paying higher energy prices to offset those who took advantage of the rebate.  Time is running out. 

Let’s get going!

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Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes

By Diane Cardwell (April 18, 2015) The New York Times – Energy & Environment

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HONOLULU — Allan Akamine has looked all around the winding, palm tree-lined cul-de-sacs of his suburban neighborhood in Mililani here on Oahu and, with an equal mix of frustration and bemusement, seen roof after roof bearing solar panels.

Mr. Akamine, 61, a manager for a cable company, has wanted nothing more than to lower his $600 to $700 monthly electric bill with a solar system of his own. But for 18 months or so, the state’s biggest utility barred him and thousands of other customers from getting one, citing concerns that power generated by rooftop systems was overwhelming its ability to handle it.

Only under strict orders from state energy officials did the utility, the Hawaiian Electric Company, recently rush to approve the lengthy backlog of solar applications, including Mr. Akamine’s.

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It is the latest chapter in a closely watched battle that has put this state at the forefront of a global upheaval in the power business. Rooftop systems now sit atop roughly 12 percent of Hawaii’s homes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, by far the highest proportion in the nation.

“Hawaii is a postcard from the future,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, a policy and advocacy group based in California.

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Other states and countries, including California, Arizona, Japan and Germany, are struggling to adapt to the growing popularity of making electricity at home, which puts new pressures on old infrastructure like circuits and power lines and cuts into electric company revenue.

As a result, many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts.

The shift in the electric business is no less profound than those that upended the telecommunications and cable industries in recent decades. It is already remaking the relationship between power companies and the public while raising questions about how to pay for maintaining and operating the nation’s grid.

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The issue is not merely academic, electrical engineers say.

In solar-rich areas of California and Arizona, as well as in Hawaii, all that solar-generated electricity flowing out of houses and into a power grid designed to carry it in the other direction has caused unanticipated voltage fluctuations that can overload circuits, burn lines and lead to brownouts or blackouts.

“Hawaii’s case is not isolated,” said Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and chairman of the smart grid program at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical association. “When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly — every two years or so — there’s going to be problems.”

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The economic threat also has electric companies on edge. Over all, demand for electricity is softening while home solar is rapidly spreading across the country. There are now about 600,000 installed systems, and the number is expected to reach 3.3 million by 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group, has been warning its members of the economic perils of high levels of rooftop solar since at least 2012, and the companies are responding. In February, the Salt River Project, a large utility in Arizona, approved charges that could add about $50 to a typical monthly bill for new solar customers, while last year in Wisconsin, where rooftop solar is still relatively rare, regulators approved fees that would add $182 a year for the average solar customer.

In Hawaii, the current battle began in 2013, when Hawaiian Electric started barring installations of residential solar systems in certain areas. It was an abrupt move — a panicked one, critics say — made after the utility became alarmed by the technical and financial challenges of all those homes suddenly making their own electricity.

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The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not.

It was but one sign of the agency’s growing impatience with what it considers the utility’s failure to adapt its business model to the changing market.

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Hawaiian Electric is scrambling to accede to that demand, approving thousands of applications in recent weeks. But it is under pressure on other fronts as well. NextEra Energy, based in Florida, is awaiting approval to buy it, while other islands it serves are exploring defecting to form their own cooperative power companies.

It is also upgrading its circuits and meters to better regulate the flow of electricity. Rooftop solar makes far more power than any other single source, said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, but the utility can neither control nor predict the output.

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“At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don’t keep that balance things go unstable,” he said, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility’s main control room. But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.”

For customers, such explanations offer little comfort as they continue to pay among the highest electric rates in the country and still face an uncertain solar future.

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“I went through all this trouble to get my electric bill down, and I am still waiting,” said Joyce Villegas, 88, who signed her contract for a system in August 2013 but was only recently approved and is waiting for the installation to be completed.

Mr. Akamine expressed resignation over the roughly $12,000 he could have saved, but wondered about the delay. “Why did it take forceful urging from the local public utility commission to open up more permits?” he asked.

Installers — who saw their fast-growing businesses slow to a trickle — are also frustrated with the pace. For those who can afford it, said James Whitcomb, chief executive of Haleakala Solar, which he started in 1977, the answer may lie in a more radical solution: Avoid the utility and its grid altogether.

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Customers are increasingly asking about the batteries that he often puts in along with the solar panels, allowing them to store the power they generate during the day for use at night. It is more expensive, but it breaks consumer reliance on the utility’s network of power lines.

“I’ve actually taken people right off the grid,” he said, including a couple who got tired of waiting for Hawaiian Electric to approve their solar system and expressed no interest in returning to utility service. “The lumbering big utilities that are so used to taking three months to study this and then six months to do that — what they don’t understand is that things are moving at the speed of business. Like with digital photography — this is inevitable.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Photo credits: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times

The Science of Net Zero Construction

By Brent Sauser

The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has completed their Net Zero experimental home in Maryland. The Net Zero data illustrates a building that is not only zero net energy but reaps a surplus of power over the course of a year. The attached video demonstrates its energy efficiency and energy savings. The home is aesthetically conventional and aside from the solar panels on the roof, does not look much different from other homes in the general vicinity. However, the big difference is this home saves over $4,200 a year in energy bills. Isn’t it time we all take a closer look at crossing over the “line” from wasteful 20th Century construction methods and embrace a 21st Century, Net Zero approach to construction. Costs have come down significantly to no longer point the finger at budget busting GREEN systems. It is affordable and doable. The “line” is in view. Let’s cross over it together!

Green Key Village – Net Zero Community – Update

by Brent Sauser

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It’s been fifteen months since the launch of Green Key Village – a Net Zero residential community of single family homes, located near the Villages in Central Florida.  I thought it would be a good idea to return to the development to assess its progress.  Admittedly, it was a glorious winter day in Florida that cried out, “ROAD TRIP”, so Geri and I decided to make the hour long journey to the development.

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When we arrived I was pleased to see more Net Zero homes constructed.  We spent the better part of the the afternoon talking with Matthew (Green Key Village sales rep) regarding Net Zero design, original expectations versus current status, and potential ways to increase public awareness to the benefits of building Net Zero.

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As of today only four phase one lots have been sold, which is far below original expectations.  Inside the sales office I noticed that Green Key Village had taken the time to conduct energy audits for each model constructed.  The results of each audit was indicated on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) created by the DOE.  A rating of 100 is considered industry standard based on current building codes.  Anything lower than a 100 rating is considered BETTER than industry standard (good thing), and any score higher than a 100 rating is considered LESS ENERGY EFFICIENT than industry standards (bad thing).  In each audit (except two) the Green Key Village homes rated BELOW ZERO . . . . . . over 100 points BETTER than industry standard.  Of the two homes that rated above zero, one rated at “2” and the other “7”.  Matthew said that an investigation is underway to make the necessary modifications to assure these two models score below zero in the future. Green Key Village is dedicated to providing an Net Zero product.

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It may be a combination of factors that have contributed to only four homes sold in the last 15 months.  Remote location, proximity to the Villages (retirement community), price (they are a little pricey), style (Key West architecture), or the perceived “trendiness” of building Net Zero.  Perhaps the public isn’t aware of how beneficial it is to live in a Net Zero home.  I suggested that they might consider conducting Net Zero seminars to the residents of the Villages and other nearby locations.  The public needs to be made aware that Green Key Village represents where the future is going.   It is the new “mainstream”.  The wasteful construction practices of the 20th Century are still occurring around us only because the public doesn’t know any better . . . and the current codes still allow it, to some degree.  Green Key Village has boldly taken a giant leap forward setting the bar high for the rest of us to follow.  Who wouldn’t get excited about saving $150 per/month (on average) for the life of their home?  Over 20 years that amounts to $36,000 right back in the owners pocket!   That’s what Green Key Village has to offer.  If you are in the area, why not take a couple hours and check out Green Key Village for yourselves.  It makes for a great Saturday afternoon drive! 

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 CLICK HERE to read my original article on Green Key Village.

Truly smart meters will speak a language that people understand ($$$)

by Michael Graham Richard (January 29, 2015 – TreeHugger.com)

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A few years ago, smart meters and the smart grid were hot ideas in the media. Even the president of the United States extolled their virtues in a 2009 speech, saying that they would help average people save energy and cut their utility bills. While the number of smart meters installed since then has mushroomed:

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With 50 million US homes now having one, about 43% of the total number of households, the expected changes in behavior and energy savings haven’t quite yet blown anyone away. That’s probably in good part because having a smart meter on the side of your house and getting a slightly more detailed bill isn’t enough to make people change their habits.

The random person on the street probably only have a vague idea of what a kWh is, and most people seem to think that they don’t have too much impact on their energy consumption; you just get a bill periodically, pay it, and that’s the extent of your thinking about electricity.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Smart meters are a foundational block to get us to the next level, but they are not sufficient in themselves. What we need is a system that speaks a language that the average person can understand, and convey the information in such a way that energy isn’t just an afterthought.

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The first thing to do is to translate less intuitive figures like kWh into how much money the electricity use is actually costing you. Above you can see some examples of readouts from the Rainforest Automation energy monitoring unit (pictured at the top of this post).

The second thing is to make the feedback real-time. If you clearly see on a monitor in your living room that you’re spending X number of dollars per hour right now, and then turn off a few lights and lower the A/C and see that number drop, you get powerful feedback that immediately rewards you and encourages you to pick up good habits. This doesn’t happen when you only get a bill weeks later.

It’s a phenomenon that was quite common with early hybrid cars. Drivers for the first time had a big screen showing them their real-time MPG, historical data in easy-to-understand graphs, etc. This feature alone probably saved a lot of gas just by teaching drivers how to be more fuel efficient. The hybrid drivetrain was just an added bonus, which led me to believe that prominent fuel economy feedback should be in all cars.

Part of the reason why it works is that it’s fun. Call if “gamification” if you want, but to many people it’s satisfying to try to do better than you’ve done in the past and optimize your fuel economy or energy use, as long as there’s an easy way to see how you’re doing (doing it blind isn’t nearly as fun).

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A way to push this even further is to have people prepay for their energy (just like they pay for their fuel before driving off, rather than being invoice later). You then see the amount of money in your account drop as you use energy, until you get an automated reminder that you need to top up your account. This approach has been tried in the Phoenix region and in parts of Texas, and results are very promising: “A 2010 study on M-Power found not only that consumers loved it, but that it saved them 12 percent on energy bills, on average.”

So our meters aren’t quite smart yet, but we know how to get there.

Let’s get moving.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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Salt Lake City Studies Net Metering for Solar Energy

By Amy Jol O’Donoghue (KSL.com – January 19, 2015)

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The Public Service Commission is going to launch a study to determine a full range of costs and benefits if Rocky Mountain Power were to charge a net metering fee for residents who are also plugged into rooftop solar systems.

Before it embarks on that study, the utility company, solar power advocates and a host of others get to weigh in on what types of costs and benefits are examined as part of that analysis.

In a meeting Monday at the Public Service Commission offices, groups such as Utah Clean Energy, Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy, the utility company and Utah Office of Consumer Services mapped out of tentative schedule for the process that will unfold before the commission in the coming months.

“We really want to have a robust and transparent analysis that fully evaluates all the benefits that solar brings to Utah, as well as the costs,” said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy.

At issue is an order issued in late August by the commission that rejected an initial attempt by PacifiCorp to charge an extra monthly fee of $4.65 a month to solar customers for what the utility company said was to help cover its fixed costs of delivering energy to households.

Critics of the controversial proposal called it a “sun tax” and asserted it would discourage the transition to clean energy.

In its ruling rejecting the fee, the commission said it could not justify the fee without further analysis, directing instead that a “better course” would be for the utility company and other parties to gather and analyze information on the fee and present those results and recommendations in future hearings.

Net metering allows electricity customers who wish to supply their own electricity from the grid from on-site generation to pay for only the “net” energy they obtain from the utility.

Alternatively, if the customer’s system generates excess electricity, it is exported to the grid. The customer then gets a credit for those kilowatt hours of generated electricity — much like rollover minutes accumulate on a cellphone bill that can be used to cushion averages in the future.

The fee would have impacted 2,500 households in Utah.

Solar advocates want any decision on an imposition of a net metering fee to take into account the “offsets” that come when residential households are plugged into renewable energy that is absent of carbon emissions and the corresponding health impacts, as well as other considerations.

Conversely, the utility company wants to make sure its costs of still having to have infrastructure in place such as substations and lines are appropriately part of the analysis, as well as what shifted costs might be to non-solar customers.

PacifiCorp is already engaged in a “load study” in which energy consumption and output is being examined for 62 solar sites.

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Initiative could dramatically increase solar power production in Florida

by Mike Salinero – The Tampa Tribune (Updated – January 18, 2015)

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Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but you wouldn’t know it from the state’s ranking at No. 13 for solar energy production.

Proponents of the so-called Solar Choice ballot initiative say they can reverse this by challenging the control major utility companies hold over electricity sales in Florida. The initiative, if passed as an amendment to the state Constitution, would supersede a state law allowing only investor-owned utilities to sell electricity.

“It’s the first glimmer of hope for the widespread use of solar power and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime,” said Scott McIntyre, chief executive officer of Solar Energy Management, based in Tampa and St. Petersburg, and president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy. “It’s going to kick off the solar industry in the state of Florida.”

An unlikely coalition of conservatives, liberals, environmentalists and business people are pushing the initiative, which needs 680,000 petition signatures to get on the November 2016 ballot.

McIntyre, a Republican, said the initiative will promote free markets, a conservative principle. Once anyone can sell electricity, he said, it will spur the sale of solar-powered systems, eventually lowering the cost of solar- and utility-produced electricity.

Here’s how it would work: A homeowner who wants to install solar, but can’t afford the up-front costs, can instead “buy” the electricity produced by the solar arrays from the company that installed them. Proponents say the electricity will be cheaper than power from the utility company. Once the solar panels are paid off, the resident owns the power source, ensuring low utility bills for a decade or more.

“You’re actually paying less at the end of the month and you’re getting solar service over the longer term,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “That solar system is providing you clean power, and your bill is going to be stable from then on.”

For environmental groups, the initiative is another way to incrementally reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. Electric power plants powered by these fossil fuels are the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director for the Sierra Club, said the environmental group hasn’t taken an official position on the ballot initiative and won’t until the club’s executives can review the ballot language. But Jackalone, who is based in St. Petersburg, said he supports Solar Choice in principle because the initiative will benefit consumers and the environment.

“This is going to make a lot of people and businesses energy-independent,” Jackalone said. “And it’s going to move us away from those dirty fossil fuel plants.”

Members of Floridians for Solar Choice say they’re ready for an expensive fight against well-funded utility companies with political clout. The group is buoyed by internal polls showing that more than 70 percent of Floridians support the concept of third-party solar energy sales.

“It’s a David and Goliath battle, but (the initiative) is enormously popular,” Smith said. “The utilities are going to have to spend a bunch of money to convince people that they don’t want it.”

But getting the required 60 percent of the vote necessary to amend the state Constitution is a high bar, particularly on an issue that doesn’t yet motivate voters.

That bar was too high in the November General Election for the medical marijuana initiative, which failed with more than 57 percent of the vote. Solar Choice proponents are hoping for an outcome closer to the 75 percent who approved the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, providing a dedicated source of revenue for land and water conservation.

Spokesmen for the three major utilities that serve the Tampa Bay area would not say where they stand on the solar measure.

“We continue to review the language and have not made a decision how we may support the proposed language,” Duke Energy spokesman Sterling Ivey said in an email. “But key components for us are that any state energy policy is fair and beneficial for all customers.”

TECO Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs, also via email, said the initiative is “likely the first of many energy proposals that will emerge over the next few months.”

“TECO Energy will evaluate the proposals and support the ones that are fair and beneficial to all customers,” Jacobs said.

A spokeswoman for Florida Power & Light Co. declined comment.

If the utilities oppose the initiative, proponents are likely to point to the industry’s missteps and public concern over their influence.

The concern dates to 2006, when the Legislature passed a law allowing utilities to collect money up-front for nuclear power projects. Progress Energy used the law to start collecting the costs of a repair job on the Crystal River nuclear plant and for the startup costs on a new plant in Levy County.

The repair job was botched, Duke Energy bought Progress Energy in July 2012, and the following February the Crystal River Plant was closed.

Later in 2013, Duke Energy announced it was abandoning the Levy County plant due to changes in the energy market.

Fallout from the two failed nuclear plants became an issue in the 2014 governor and cabinet races. The Public Service Commission made Duke Energy return $54 million collected for the Levy County plant.

But soon after, the commission cut energy-efficiency targets for the utilities by 90 percent and scrapped the state’s solar rebate program. Both actions were at the request of the power companies.

“It’s just one thing after another,” said Smith, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “The utility monopolies are not accountable, and they only have their shareholders in mind.”

Floridians for Solar Choice, on the Web at fl solarchoice.org, has to collect petition signatures in two phases.

First, it needs 68,000 signatures to have the initiative language reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

If the court approves, the group has to collect another 612,000 signatures by Feb. 1, 2016, to put the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that year.

CLICK HERE to read the actual article.

Price of Electricity Hit Record High in U.S. in 2014

by Terence P. Jeffrey (CNSNEWS.COM) January 16, 2015

Even as gasoline prices plummeted and the overall energy price index calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics declined, electricity prices bucked the trend in the United States in 2014.

Data released today by the BLS indicates that the electricity price indexes hit all-time highs for the month of December and for the year. 2014 was the most-expensive year ever for electricity in the United States.

The annual price index for electricity, published by BLS today, was 208.020. That was up from 200.750 in 2013.

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The seasonally adjusted electricity price index for the month of December was 210.151, according to the BLS. That sets an all-time record for the seasonally adjusted monthly electricity price index. The previous high was 209.341 in March of this year. In December 2013, the seasonally adjusted electricity price index was 203.740.

The average price for a kilowatt hour of electricity in the United States was 13.5 cents in December. That is the highest average price for KWH of electricity in the month of December since the BLS started recording the December monthly price for a KWH in 1978. In December 2013, the average price for a KWH was 13.1 cents.

The average price for a KWH of electricity tends to hit its annual peak in the summer months, decline in the fall, hit its nadir in the winter and rise in the spring. In 2014, the average price for a KWH hit a record high for that particular month in each month of the year. In June, July and August of this year the average price of a KWH hit 14.3 cents—its all-time high for any months on record.

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By contrast, the overall Consumer Price Index declined by 0.4 percent in December with particular help from the decline in the price of gasoline.

“The gasoline index continued to fall sharply, declining 9.4 percent and leading to the decrease in the seasonally adjusted all items index,” said the BLS in its press release on the CPI. “The fuel oil index also fell sharply, and the energy index posted its largest one-month decline since December 2008, although the indexes for natural gas and for electricity both increased.”

The BLS’s price indexes measure relative change in prices against a baseline of 100. The annual electricity price index exceeded 100 between 1983 and 1984, when it rose from 98.9 to 105.3. In the past two decades, the price of electricity in the United States has roughly doubled.

Rising electricity prices have not always been the norm in the United States. In 1913, the BLS annual electricity price index was 45.5. By 1946, it had dropped to 26.6. In 1974, it was still only 44.1—less than it had been six decades before in 1913.

The net production of electricity in the United States peaked in 2007, according to data published by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. That year, the United States generated 4,156,745 million KWH of electricity.

In 2013, that latest full year on record, the United States generated 4,058,209 million KWH of electricity—or about 2.4 percent less electricity than in 2007

The latest data from the Energy Information Administration, published in December, includes electricity generation numbers through the first nine months (January through September) of 2014. In those nine months of 2014, more electricity was generated (3,117,501 million KWH) than in the first nine months of 2013 (3,077,418 million KWH) or 2012 (3,095,504 million KWH), but less than in the first nine months of 2007 (3,166,614 million KWH).

The composition of the sources of electricity generation also changed between 2007–when the nation produced its peak volume of electricity–and 2014.

In the first nine months of 2007, the U.S. produced more electricity with coal (1,523,714 million KWH) than in the first nine months of 2014 (1,231,795 million KWH).

The U.S. also produced more electricity in the first nine months of 2007 with nuclear power (607,846 million KWH) and petroleum (53,802 million KWH) than it did in the first nine months of 2014, when it produced 596,174 million KWH and 24,953 million KWH from those source respectively.

By contrast the U.S. produced more electricity in the first nine months of 2014 than it did in the first nine months of 2007 by means of natural gas (844,743 million KWH to 688,035 million KWH), conventional hydroelectric (200,614 million KWH to 199,261 million KWH), wood (31,668 million KWH to 28,729 million KWH), waste (14,499 million KWH to 12,723 million KWH), geothermal power (12,170 million KWH to 10,967 million KWH), solar (14,271 million  KWH to 532 million KWH), and wind (133,495 million KWH to 23,522 million KWH).

In the first nine months of 2014, solar power equaled about 0.46 percent of total electricity generation. Wind power equaled about 4.3 percent of total electricity production.

CLICK HERE to read the actual article. 

Another Year of More of the Same!

by Brent Sauser

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As 2014 comes to a close and with 2015 waiting in the wings, I find myself asking the question . . . is the transition to Net Zero making measurable progress?  I’d like to think so.  I am aware of several new developments all over the country that feature renewable energy systems.  I am aware of retail’s recent venture into Net Zero design (refer to Walgreen’s Evanston, Illinois store) as well as many more examples of Net Zero office and institutional construction.

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However, as enthusiastic as I am about the movement to Net Zero I am occasionally reminded of the relentless reluctance of developers to make this inevitable transition. Such has been my experience while visiting my daughter’s family in Utah for the holidays.  I love visiting Utah for many reasons.  Being with family for the holidays ranks high in the why I enjoy a visit to the greater Salt Lake Valley.  It’s been 18 months since our last visit and it’s amazing how much new construction has sprung up.  My daughter lives in a bedroom community where all construction is under 10 years old and where new sub-divisions of single family homes, condos, and townhomes are springing up everywhere.  NONE OF THE NEW CONSTRUCTION IS NET ZERO!  NOT ONE!

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Utah families like square footage and a lot of it.  Many homes feature full basements with two stories above. 3,000 to 4,000sf homes are more the rule than the exception requiring additional heating and cooling for the excessive volume of space.  Prospective buyers purchase these energy hogs thinking they are buying the most current construction  . . . because it is new.  Instead, what they end up getting is construction that meets the minimum standards under the current building codes.  They are buying more of the same that adds to the utility grid burden and forces the buyer into considering energy saving renovations in the near future that SHOULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED IN THE ORIGINAL CONSTRUCTION.  Now the owner is faced with the challenge of how to retrofit Net Zero features into construction that was never intended to be Net Zero.  The developer walks away with the money and the owner is left with the burden of fixing what the developer should have provided.

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Whether done because of defiance, ignorance, or indifference there is no longer ANY reasonable reason to NOT build Net Zero.  Costs have come down substantially to result in a net impact of an additional 10% on traditional construction methods.  Architects may need to be more attentive to passive design features and minimizing square footage and volume as much as possible, but the age of Net Zero construction is dawning just as 2014 makes way for 2015.  When it comes to Net Zero . . . size matters!  Net Zero is not a trend or a fad.  It is Here and Now!  We need to demand Net Zero construction and not settle for convenient, outdated 20th century solutions.  Denial is not a construction method and will not get us closer to cost saving, renewable energy solutions! Hopefully, Utah will make the transition to Net Zero soon.  Because, whether voluntarily or kicking and screaming,  Net Zero is the new mainstream . . . the direction construction is going as sure as the dawning of a new year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Solar Power Prices to be on Par with Coal & Oil Within Two Years!

Lucas Mearian (Computerworld-Nov. 18, 2014)

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The cost of roof-top solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices for common coal or oil-powered generation in just two years, and the technology to produce it will only get cheaper.

The prediction, made by Deutsche Bank’s leading solar industry analyst, Vishal Shah, is part of a report on Vivint Solar, the nation’s second-biggest solar panel installer.  Shah believes Vivint Solar is doing so well that it will double its sales each year for the next two years. 

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The sharp decline in solar energy costs is the result of increased economies of scale leading to cheaper photovoltaic panels, new leasing models and declining installation costs.  Today, only 10 states boast solar energy costs that are on par with those of conventional electricity generation methods, such as coal-fired power plants.  Those states include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, new Mexico, and Vermont. 

Last year, those states using solar power accounted for about 90% of U.S. installations.  But, by 2016, Deutsche expects solar energy to reach price parity in all 50 states. 

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Currently, the U.S. has 16GW of installed solar capacity, with nearly 5GW of solar capacity added last year alone, according to Deutsche.  One of the factors spurring growth is the expiration of the federal government’s solar investment tax credit (ITC).  That measure, passed in 2008, offered a 30% tax credit for residential  and business installations.  When it expires in 2016, the tax credit will drop to a more permanent 10%. 

“Consequently, we expect to see a big rush of new installations ahead of the 2016 ITC expiration,” Shah stated in his research document.  Deutsche said solar system prices in the U.S. are expected to decline from just under $3 per watt today, to under $2.50 per watt over the next 18 months, leading to a further decline in the price per kilowatt-hour of solar to 9-14 cents, “driving further acceleration in solar shipments.”

CLICK HERE to read the entire article by Lucas Mearian.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Solar Energy In Utah

By KSL Local (October 9, 2014)

clipart 16Solar energy is a resource with many benefits. It’s sustainable for energy consumption and continuously renewable. Not only can solar power be used to generate electricity, it can also be used to heat water. You may have already known these tidbits of information, but here are five additional facts that may surprise you about electricity and solar energy in Utah.

Utah’s residential electricity is expensive

If you were to research energy costs by state, Utah would appear to be one of the cheapest states. While this may be true in general, there is a big variance Money clip art 4between commercial and residential cost per kilowatt hour. Residential rates average between 9 – 12 cents per kilowatt hour for the average home, and even more for larger homes. Summer costs can get even more expensive, with even higher rates charged to those who use over 1,000 kilowatt hours per month. Kelly Curtis, Director of Operations at Solaroo Energy, a Utah based solar energy supplier, touched briefly on how the costs of residential electricity can add up quickly.

“When it comes to commercial energy, the general rates for an average business are at three to four cents per kilowatt hour. Although that may be cheap, compare it to residential electricity. A house that is 4,000 square feet or more can be charged as much as 14.5 cents per kilowatt hour.”

Solar energy rates are fixed

According to the State of Utah Public Service Commission, one Utah power company has averaged 4.44 percent increases since 2000. In the last seven solar clipart 14years alone, the rates have gone up 50 percent. The latest rate increase was levied just last month. “Utility rates have a history of going up, and they are projected to increase even more, whereas solar energy is fixed. You pay for it up front, but the cost of producing energy is fixed over the life of the system, and results in huge savings,” Curtis says. “Solar gives you the opportunity to control your rates, and control your power.” With solar energy, you are purchasing your own electricity generation at a fixed cost, allowing you to maintain the same energy rates for 25 years or longer. The best part is that the longer your solar panels produce energy, the cheaper your energy will be.

Solar system guarantee

upward trend 04You can now have a warranty on your solar system (not the one made up by planets orbiting the sun) that will guarantee how much energy you will produce over the next 25 years. While many companies offer leases for their solar panels, keep an eye out for a good warranty and production guarantee.

Technology has improved

Advancement in technology is the main reason why U.S.-based manufacturers are now willing to warranty entire systems and components for 25 years. Curtis also mentioned how using specially designed solar panels from SunEdison, a Fortune 1000 company and a global leader in solar technology, can make all the difference when switching to solar energy.

clipart 23“Many solar energy companies continue to purchase their solar panels from China because they are really inexpensive, but they are also poorly made. These solar panels lose their effectiveness only after a few short years,” say Curtis. “SunEdison guarantees that your panels will produce the energy we say they will over 25 years.”

Solar system costs have come down in Utah

goals 02The cost of installing efficient, reliable, and maintenance-free solar systems in Utah is much more affordable compared to other states, according to Solaroo Energy. For example, systems in California can cost up to $7 per kilowatt, whereas in Utah, systems will cost as little as $4 or less per kilowatt. The cost of solar energy has decreased over the last few years. With the ever-increasing electric rates, the time has never been better for installing solar systems in Utah.

DOES GOING SOLAR MAKE CENTS?

by Brent Sauser

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LET’S DO THE MATH

1.    Average home uses 1,000 kWh of energy a month, or 33.33 kWh per day.

2.    Local Utility energy costs $0.11 per kWh.

Local utility energy costs over 20 years: 

$0.11 per/kWh X 1,000 kWh per/mo X 12 mo X 20 years = $26,400

6 kW solar panel installation cost over 20 years:

24 panel installation at $12,000 (after tax credit) = $12,000

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1.    Utility Power:  Rising Utility Costs

2     Solar Installation:  25 Year Warranty

Seems to me going solar not only makes sense . . . . it makes dollars and cents!  Time to take advantage of the 30% tax credit before that “carrot” becomes the “stick”.  I much rather put money back in my pocket than pay a monthly consumption tax and higher energy costs.  How about you?ROI Photo 1

Utah Commission Rejects Proposed fee for Solar Homes

By Matt Canham and Brian Maffly (The Salt Lake Tribune)

August 29, 2014

Utahns with rooftop solar panels won’t face a new fee from Rocky Mountain Power after the Utah Public Service Commission ruled Friday that the utility company failed to prove such a charge is “just and reasonable.”

But this contentious debate pitting the state’s largest electric company against environmental groups isn’t going away. The Commission is open to revisiting the issue as long as Rocky Mountain Power can provide some hard data proving these customers should be treated differently than others who just use less energy than the average family.

Renewable energy advocates hailed the ruling as a major victory.

“What a bright day for Utah’s future,” said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy. “This order protects energy choice in Utah, and recognizes the potential solar has to benefit all Utahns.”

Rocky Mountain Power framed the ruling as a minor setback in on an issue that’s far from being settled.

“It is a little disappointing that the commission did not take at least an interim step,” said Dave Eskelsen, a spokesman for the power company. “We understand that emotions are running high. We look forward to participating in the accumulation of more information.”

This high-profile fight has far more to do with Utah’s energy future than the dollars and cents at stake today. Rocky Mountain Power wanted to levy a $4.65 per month fee for “net meter” customers, a group of early solar adopters who number about 2,700. If the fee was implemented, it would raise just $150,000 the first year.

At the same time, the commission did approve a small rate increase for all residential customers that is expected to net the company $35 million in the next year. That 1.9 percent rate increase, which goes into effect on Monday, means the average energy bill will go up $1.76 per month. The commission also approved another general rate increase for Sept. 2015 that would add another 73 cents per month to the average bill.

Nevertheless, the number of homes with solar panels is growing and Rocky Mountain Power argued in a contentious two-day hearing last month that these customers are not paying their fair share of the utility’s fixed costs to maintain the power system. Eskelsen said that fixed costs could be as high as $30 per month and that the proposed fee was only $4.65 because that was in line with what the Utah Division of Public Utilities and the Office of Consumer Services, both government entities, would support.

Groups including HEAL Utah and the Alliance for Social Choice questioned Rocky Mountain’s motives, suggesting the power company is trying to dissuade people from going solar to protect its business model and that utilities are using the state as a test case.

Morgan Stanley Blue Paper – Solar Power & Energy Storage

By Brent Sauser

 San Dimas

Morgan Stanley has conducted extensive research on the global solar market and has published a “Blue Paper” containing their conclusions.  CLICK HERE to access the entire Morgan Stanley Blue Paper.  This is just one more credible confirmation that the movement toward renewable energy is not only happening in the United States but even more so abroad (i.e. China, Japan, and Europe).  The following represents excerpts from the Morgan Stanley Executive Summary:

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We have developed a model that calculates solar economics around the world based on local regulatory dynamics and solar conditions.We believe investors can use this analytical framework to better understand solar economics in the context of local regulatory dynamics, solar installation costs, and solar operating conditions. We project combined solar growth for China, Japan, the US, Europe, India, and Brazil of 39 GW per year through 2020, or 47 GW including Rest of World. We expect growth to be heavily driven by China, which we forecast will account for 27% of new demand globally. We are bullish on US demand growth due to improving solar economics.

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Project Solar Growth in the United States: 8 GW per year solar growth through 2020, driven by highly supportive net metering rules in 43 states, strong solar conditions in many states, and further solar cost reductions. By 2020, solar will be economic in some US states even without a subsidy. In 43 US states, solar panel owners are allowed to net meter, effectively allowing panel owners to avoid the entire utility bill (both the portion associated with fixed grid costs and that associated with actual power generation). Given rapidly declining solar costs and rising utility bills, we believe solar growth potential is well above market expectations, even under our base case assumption in which the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) steps down to 10% and the net metering rules are changed so solar customers must pay 50% of the typical fixed grid costs that a utility customer pays.

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Rooftop solar should be a major driver of growth in solar demand. While large-scale solar projects will continue to be an important source of growth for the industry in certain parts of the world, we see a global trend towards greater “distributed generation” in the form of rooftop solar, both on residences and on commercial buildings. . . .

If John Can Go Low Energy. . . . SO CAN YOU!

From KSL.com – July 5, 2014, by Peter Rosen

Edited by Brent Sauser

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KAYSVILLE, Davis County:   When John Loveless peers up at the sun, he doesn’t see just another hot summer day. He sees dollar signs. Loveless, an electrical engineer, has monitored his energy bills for the last 14 years and hasMoney clip art 4 been interested in efficiency. So he installed a 26-panel, 6.2 kilowatt photovoltaic array, enough to cover about three-quarters of his family’s energy needs. He says in 2012 his annual bill for electricity came to $1.10. “That was a rough year,” he says. “I always jest that getting solar panels was kind of a gateway drug.”

Philips SlimStyle 03Loveless cut his electric bill even more by making his house more efficient — using compact florescent and LED light bulbs, unplugging some devices that draw phantom power day and night, adding insulation and installing a device that recovers heat from the hot water that goes down the drain.

John hired a company to install a ground loop heat pump. It circulates liquid geothernal clipart 3through pipes buried 300 feet under his yard, where the ground is a constant 56 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter, it draws the heat up to the house and during the summer it sends the heat down to the ground. The pump runs on electricity which is generated by the solar array on the roof. Loveless says he once spent $5,500 dollars a year on energy — $3,500 for gasoline, $800 for natural gas and $1,200 for electricity. Now, he spends about $500.

“(There is a) realization that renewable energy is here now and doable and actually more affordable than staying with what we do now,” he says.

CLICK HERE to view “John Saves Energy” website.

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NEWS ALERT! EPA Calls for 30% Cuts in Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Power Plants

by Brent Sauser

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WHAT’S GOING ON!?  As of today the EPA is announcing a 30% cut in the greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants by 2030.  In addition, the EPA will require states to cut their “carbon intensity” (tons of carbon per megawatt of electricity, not simply overall tons of carbon).  Other carbon reducing measures accompany this action that vary from state to state.

carrot-with-stickSo . . . we are witnessing the end of the incentive “Carrot” phase and the beginning of the punitive “Stick” phase of American life.  Our current administration is working overtime to fulfill their campaign promise to “put coal out of business”.  Not good news to those employed in the coal industry in Kentucky or West Virginia.  They will feel the worst of it.  But the administration’s “War on Coal” will have a ripple effect on us all.  We can expect to feel the impact by more unemployment, slowing of the economic recovery, and higher utility energy prices. 

It is the latter I am most concerned about.  We cannot ignore the imminent carrot-with-stick 02reality of increasing energy prices. Regardless of the reason, we need to plan now to reduce or eliminate our dependence on utility power.  Better to do so while the Carrot is still in front of us.  However, on January 1, 2017 . . . the 30% federal incentives for renewable energy expire, and then what?  Will another Carrot (incentive) take its place, or will we experience, like those in Kentucky and West Virginia, the sharp pain of the “Stick”.  Who knows? 

Save Energy 1What IS known is that we can still take full advantage of the 30% federal incentive for implementing renewable energy technology into existing and new construction.  As we do, the impact from today’s EPA decision (and other similar decisions) will have less effect on our lives and wallets.  Becoming energy independent is more possible today than you might think.  Even if you don’t achieve a total Net Zero result, the power you are generating on-site means less dependency on the utility energy grid.  You become more insulated from increasing energy costs, which means money back in your wallet. 

warningThe choice is pretty simple:  We can ignore these warnings and remain at the whim of the utility companies, or take more control of our lives by reducing our dependency on the power grid.  We need to begin our planning process to assure our on-site renewable energy installation is in place and functional prior to the end of 2016.  As for me . . . that’s my plan!  How about you?

CLICK HERE to read the news article from Politico.

ELECTRICITY PRICES RISING!

By Brent Sauser

warningPart of the mission of NetZeroMax.com is to provide useful information that might influence prospective builders to make the decision to go Net Zero. Included is sounding a warning voice to all those willing to hear. In that context permit me to share with you what may be already too obvious . . . ELECTRICITY PRICES ARE RISING while the price per KWH for solar energy is decreasing. But, don’t take my word for it. I invite you to read the following article by Terence P. Jeffrey of CNSNEWS.com (dated April 16, 2014):

(CNSNews.com) – The average price for a kilowatt hour (KWH) of electricity hit a March record of 13.5 cents, according data released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was up about 5.5 percent from 12.8 cents per KWH in March 2013.

The relative price of electricity in the United States tends to rise in spring, peak in summer, and decline in fall. Last year, after the price of a KWH averaged 12.8 cents in March, it rose to an all-time high of 13.7 cents in June, July, August and September.

If the prevailing trend holds, the average price of a KWH would hit a new record this summer.

The BLS’s seasonally adjusted electricity price index rose to 209.341 this March, the highest it has ever been, up 10.537 points—or 5.3 percent–from 198.804 in March 2013.

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In its press release on the Consumer Price Index, BLS noted that the overall energy index declined in March, driven by declining gasoline and fuel oil indexes, despite increases in natural gas and electricity.

”The energy index fell 0.1 percent in March after a 0.5 percent decline in February,” said BLS. “The gasoline index declined 1.7 percent in March, the same decline as in February. (Before seasonal adjustment, gasoline prices rose 5.1 percent in March).

“The fuel oil index also declined, falling 2.9 percent after rising 4.1 percent the previous month,” said BLS. “In contrast, the index for natural gas rose sharply, increasing 7.5 percent, its largest one-month increase since October 2005. It has increased 15.3 percent over the last three months.

“The electricity index also increased, rising 1.1 percent,” said BLS. ”Over the last 12 months, the energy index has increased 0.4 percent, with the natural gas index rising 16.4 percent, the electricity index increasing 5.3 percent, and the fuel oil index advancing 2.1 percent. These increases more than offset a 4.7 percent decline in the gasoline index.”

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Historically, rising electricity prices have not been inevitable in the United States. The BLS’s annual electricity price index—which goes back a century—shows that electricity prices generally declined in the United States between 1913 and the end of World War II.  They then held relatively steady for about two decades before beginning to escalate in the late 1960s.

CLICK HERE for the original article.

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