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

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

solar panels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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This is one of the sweetest tax breaks around

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

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

Solar energy credit basics

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

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

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

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

Qualified expenditures

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

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

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

Claiming the credit

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

Additional goodies may be available

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

Plus: Expanded credit opportunities for 2016 installations

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

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

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

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5 States With the Highest Solar Capacity per Capita

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

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

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

Nevada takes the top solar spot

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

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

Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix

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

Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously

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

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

California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential

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

Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy

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

Lots of surprising states are going solar 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Arizona regulators vote to stop net metering for solar

By Ryan Randazzo, (Dec. 20, 2016) www.azcentral.com

Arizona utility regulators voted Tuesday to end the system of net metering, where homeowners with solar panels get retail credits for power they send to the grid, and instead reduce the amount utilities pay homeowners for rooftop solar power.

The five Arizona Corporation Commission members approved a judge’s recommendation with some amendments after a full day of discourse and hours of public comments on Monday, mostly from solar advocates.

The Corporation Commission began the proceeding in 2014, and hundreds of comments were filed, including those submitted by solar companies, mines, consumer advocates, utilities, merchant power plants and other groups with a stake in the decision.

Commission Chairman Doug Little and Commissioners Bob Stump, Robert Burns, Tom Forese and Andy Tobin all seemed comfortable with changes to net metering, though they debated details of how to compensate homeowners for the power. The final vote was 4-1 with Burns opposed.

“I think we’ve accomplished something pretty historic today,” Little said during his vote. “While I will tell you that perhaps the decision we’ve come to today is not a perfect decision, it is definitely a step in the right direction.”

Through net metering, each kilowatt-hour from solar panels that goes to the grid is credited on monthly bills. The credits roll over month to month and offset the electricity that homeowners draw from the utility at night or when their panels are not making enough electricity to serve their needs. 

Because each kilowatt-hour of credit offsets a kilowatt-hour homeowners otherwise would purchase, it is worth the retail price of electricity, about 10 to 14 cents each, depending on a utility customer’s rate plan.

That will be substantially less than the retail price of electricity, officials agree. To prevent a shock to the industry, the regulators seemed to agree on a different calculation for rate cases that are pending, such as that for Arizona Public Service Co.

Representatives from Vote Solar and the Alliance for Solar Choice estimated the changes would mean a 30 percent reduction in what utilities pay solar customers for their electricity, though some parties to the case disagreed with that figure.

The pending rate cases will use a “resource comparison proxy” that will pay solar customers a rate based on what utilities are paying for solar energy from large solar power plants. Those wholesale rates are also below the retail rate solar customers get for their power today.

The commissioners agreed they didn’t want to reduce the payment more than 10 percent in a given year, though the initial drop-off from net metering to the new calculation could be more than that.

Solar customers still will be able to use power from their panels on site, and avoid buying that energy from their utility. The savings they get from “self-consumption” isn’t affected by the changes, only the compensation they get for sending excess power to the grid.

The new compensation rates for excess solar power won’t be used until those utilities go through a rate case.

The decision also will not affect customers who already have installed solar, but will apply only to those who install it once the order takes effect at utilities under the purview of the Corporation Commission. Commissioners agreed to the so-called “grandfathering” provision to preserve net metering for existing solar panels for 20 years from the date they were connected to the grid.

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

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

AZ-Solar 04

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.

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Solar, wind industries hope years courting Republicans pays off under Trump

by Nichole Groom (Nov 28, 2016) www.reuters.com

 wind-solar-05

U.S. wind and solar companies for the first time gave more money to Republicans than Democrats during the 2016 election cycle, according to federal campaign disclosures, part of a years-long effort to expand renewable energy’s appeal beyond liberal environmentalists.

The industry is now hoping its strategy of reaching across the political divide will pay off in the form of Congressional support as Republican Donald Trump, a climate change skeptic who has expressed doubts about the role of clean energy, takes the White House in January.

“We’re not starting from ground zero,” said Isaac Brown, a principal at 38 North Solutions, which lobbies on behalf of clean energy clients.

The U.S. wind and solar industries employ over 300,000 people, making clean energy an important political constituency that is about five times bigger than the coal sector for jobs, thanks to years of rapid growth fueled by government incentives and declines in the cost of their technologies.

They have also fought to win over a new breed of backer: conservatives skeptical of climate change but interested in supporting homegrown energy alternatives that increase national security, boost competition, and create well-paying blue collar jobs.

But Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election has cast doubt on the future of a federal tax break for renewable energy seen critical to the industry’s continued growth.

Trump has never specifically called for those credits to end, but has expressed skepticism about the role of solar and wind in the U.S. energy landscape, calling both “so expensive” and blaming wind turbines for killing birds and ruining picturesque landscapes.

During his campaign, Trump also called global warming a hoax and promised to quit a global accord to cut greenhouse gas emissions, though he has since softened his stance and said he is keeping an “open mind” about the deal.

The renewable energy industry got a boost last year when Congress approved a five-year extension of tax credits for new power projects fueled by solar panels and wind turbines, and the industry’s main concern in Washington is to ensure they are not withdrawn in Trump’s first term, or allowed to expire should he win a second.

A Trump official did not respond to a request for comment about how he will approach renewables as president. But one of Trump’s potential picks for Energy Secretary, Oklahoma oil and gas drilling mogul Harold Hamm, has been a vocal opponent of subsidies for renewable energy.

Renewable stocks took a beating immediately after Trump’s election but have since mostly recovered.

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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.

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Can Existing Homes Achieve Net Zero?

by Brent Sauser

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Is it possible to convert a 23 year old tract home, built in Orlando Florida, to achieve Net Zero?  Granted, not all 23 year old tract homes are created equal.  But in our specific case we can state without hesitation . . . OUR 23 YEAR OLD HOME HAS ACHIEVED NET ZERO!  How do we know this you ask?  We have proof.

After implementing a three-year plan to reduce our overall electrical consumption, we had a 7.5kW solar array installed on our roof.  The net-metered array was activated on September 9, 2015.  Since then we have tracked our daily solar production.  These are the results:

  •   Total time elapsed:  12 months
  •   Total solar production on-site:  9,375kWh
  •   Average monthly solar production:  780kWh
  •   Average monthly power consumption:  668kWh
  •   Daily average kWh (net) use from utility:  ZERO
  •   Extra solar kWh produced on site and “banked” with utility:  1,363kWh.  That means we are not only a Net Zero home, but we are Net Positive.  We produced more energy than we consumed on site.
  •   Total electrical utility costs for the year:  $126 (Minimum monthly charge to utility = $10.47.  This charge is for net meter hook-up to utility.)
  •   Total estimated yearly savings:  $2,500

Being net-metered means that we are still linked to the local power utility.  We produce electrical power while the sun shines and feed the excess power back to the utility.  At night and early morning hours we rely on the local power utility for our electrical needs.  So, we are NOT off the power grid, but rely on the grid for when the sun is down or on excessively cloudy days.

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We become Net Zero when the excess power we produce during the day exceeds the utility power we use at night and early morning.  In our case we were able to produce enough excess power to cover the difference and have 1,363kWh left over, to our credit.

Our goal was to lower our monthly expenses and in the process put $2,500 back in our pockets.  We are overjoyed with our decision to go Net Zero and will continue to monitor our daily production.   We are confident next year’s results will be similar.

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Sometimes the hardest part of any journey is taking the first step.  We have proof it IS possible to retrofit existing homes to achieve Net Zero.   Isn’t it time you find out for yourself what it will take to achieve Net Zero for your home?

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

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

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

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Why Utilities Hate & Fight Rooftop Solar

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

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

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

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

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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Arizona regulators table net metering request, add rooftop solar surcharge

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nevada Supreme Court Blocks Rooftop Solar Referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Confused About Solar Policy In Your State? Follow The Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Going Solar? Take Care of These 5 Prerequisites First

by Solar Power Authority (www.solarpowerauthority.com)

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

1. Research Your City’s Rules

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

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

2. Review Your Past Energy Usage

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

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

3. Chat with Your Utility Company

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

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

4. Remove Any Barriers

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

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

5. Audit Your Roof

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Top 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Solar Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Nevada panel recommends rooftop solar ‘grandfathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

San Diego County Nears Solar Threshold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

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Will SRP ever see the light on solar energy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get rid of the rooftop solar tax

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

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

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

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

SRP decisions should include these ideas:

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

  • Solarize select areas of the canals

  • Build solar farms at Apache Lake and Canyon Lake

  • Couple demand reduction with solar energy

  • Develop a microgrid project

  • Develop thermal energy systems in commercial centers

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

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Poll: Solar Energy Issue Could Swing US Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Net Metering: Who Pays for Energy Subsidies?

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

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

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

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

The issue

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

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

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

The California example

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

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

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

The bigger picture

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

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

How much should the subsidy be?

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

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

Who pays?

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

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Duke Energy in Florida Supports Customer Owned Solar

by Brent Sauser

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Duke Energy in Florida boasts a 500% increase in customer owned solar in the past five years.  My humble 7.5 kW roof top solar array is included in that remarkable growth.  In fact, with only 29 days in the month of February, we still managed to generate 760kWh of power.  Considering our average monthly consumption is around 580kWh, we should be banking quite a few kWh’s for the future. 

The unfortunate recent anti-solar legislation in Nevada has crippled renewable energy for next foreseeable future.  Nevada is the EXCEPTION to the growing renewable market, NOT the rule.  Few states share that backward, 19th Century, non-renewable energy resource mindset.  Nevada has decided to sit on the sidelines of 21st Century progress by watching other states like Florida, Hawaii, South Carolina, etc. take a giant step into the environmental benefits of renewable, sustainable energy.  I can get used to paying $7.44 per month on my energy bill.  How about you?

It is encouraging to see Duke Energy and other utilities embrace the move toward renewable energy, as well as inviting the general public to participate in the sustainable energy process.  This tax season we have taken full advantage of the 30% Federal Tax Credit ($7,800), which lowered the overall installation costs considerably and substantially reduced our tax burden. 

Aside from those living in Nevada, I invite you to check into installing your own roof top solar array.  Oh, and be sure to check the current and pending state legislation regarding solar.  Chances are you will find your power utility willing to work with you with your solar installation.  It is a money saving benefit to you and an energy resource for them . . . win-win.  

This is how Net-Metering works for Duke Energy:

Duke Energy supports renewable energy and has a program that allows customers that own renewable generation, such as solar or wind that is installed at your residence or business, to use the energy output at your site to offset your electric consumption from Duke Energy.  At any time your system produces more energy than required to power your home or building, the excess energy may be applied as a credit to any current and future bills. This process is known as net-metering.

Tessla Gigafactory Progress

by Brent Sauser

 With the recent power struggle (pun intended) between Elon Musk and the solar industry versus Warren Buffet and the Nevada power utility going in favor of the power utility monopoly, the question is what happens next?  Since the decision came down a few months ago for folks with roof top solar to pay their “fair share” to support the power grid infrastructure, as well as getting slapped with a substantial reduction in the power sold back to the utility through net-metering, it appears for the recent future any progress in solar applications in Nevada have been placed on an indefinite hold.   In fact, thousands employed in the Nevada solar industry are being laid off or transferred to other more solar friendly states to work. Will others states follow the example of Nevada?

With over 340 clear, sunny days a year in Nevada, leave it to those with a  20th century mentality to demand what, for them, is the mother’s milk of life . . . . more MONEY!  It’s money above and beyond common sense; money at the expense of those who bought into the solar option based on rules that changed because of a threat to profits.  I guess if that’s all that matters, you can never have enough, even when that means screwing with the good faith of those who spent their retirement money to help the environment and feel a bit of freedom from producing their own power.  Instead of embracing the future, Nevada turned it’s back to the environment and renewable energy in favor of a monopoly that is whining because solar is cutting into the bottom line.   And, leave it to them to cry foul when the solar industry packs up and leaves.  They claim the solar industry backed the decision, but did so with a gun to their heads (figuratively speaking, of course).  Leaving came as a total surprise to them.   REALLY!  When given the sorry option of supporting the changes or a moratorium on future solar installations would occur . . . what would you do?

This caused me to wonder about the progress of the Tessla Gigafactory in Nevada.  It is progressing well as can be seen in the attached videos.  I’d have to think that because of this new anti-solar legislation that Elon Musk will have to work extra hard to assure that the gigafactory is operable 100% off the grid.  That way it will be exempt from the pushing and pulling of the public power utility.  For that matter, the homes in Nevada with roof top solar can add storage batteries to capture the power that would otherwise be net-metered back to the utility.  If their system is large enough to be a Net Zero installation there should be enough production capability to go off-grid without too much creature comfort sacrifice.

Politicians and greedy billionaires can slow down the renewable energy revolution, but they will never kill it.  Common sense will prevail.  As a roof-top solar owner, I am deeply interested in this phase in which we find ourselves.  Will we return to the 19th and 20th centuries to preserve old, archaic business models, or look to a future that embraces sustainable and renewable energy resources.  Considering the growing turmoil in the world, that decision may be made for us whether we like it or not!

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.

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.

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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Power Utilities Pushing to Raise Rates Because of Surge in Solar Installations!

By Brent Sauser

good news bad newsYet another story regarding the GOOD and BAD news from installing sustainable, renewable systems to your home.  KSL.com reports that Rocky Mountain Power has announced a “rate increase request of $76.3 million, or 4 percent, from the Utah Public Service Commission.  If approved, the typical customer would pay an additional $3.73 per month for electricity.  The request also included a $4.25 monthly fee for “net-metering” customers.” 

CLICK HERE to read the KSL.com article, written by Jasen Lee, dated January 19, 2014.

UGE Hybrid Inverter 01Net-metering is a term used to describe customer-generated power, usually from solar panels or wind turbines.  Utah’s largest state electric utility is crying foul due to the 2,200 (and growing) customers who are producing over 14.6 megawatts of power.  They are losing a considerable amount of revenue and are raising overall electricity rates to offset the loss.  Those who have converted to self-generated, renewable energy are also being hit with an additional $4.25 per month to “help offset some of the fixed costs to supply electric service to net-metering customers and receive the extra power they produce.”

Sustainable Design 5What is happening in Utah is occurring in many other parts of the United States.  Utility companies are working fast to raise rates to help offset the loss of revenue from net-metering customers.  The good news is that the movement to renewable energy must be happening at a significant enough pace to instill fear in the local electrical utility.  People are taking advantage of the financial incentives to build Net Zero.  However, the dark side of any significant transition is the nagging pressure to appease old, outdated, and subsidized technology.  Their control as the ONLY source of electrical power no longer is universal.  Thousands of upstart customers are turning to the freedom that comes from installing their very own sustainable Money clip art 4personal power plant on site.  The power utilities can see the threat to their government supported monopoly and are working fast to justify higher rates . . . even for those who assist in providing power to the utility . . . the net-metering customer.  Why are net-metering customers having to pay an additional fee for providing electrical energy back into the utility grid?

These issues, of course, will need to be sorted out over time.  But, I am confident that as the typewriter did not prevail over the word processor and computer . . . renewable energy and sources that provide it will win the day.   However, the typewriter industry was not backed as a government supported monopolies.  This will take time!

green building 5Consider this part of the growing pains as we leave behind the 20th Century answers and replace them with sustainable, renewable solutions fitting for the 21st Century. 

Financial incentives end in 2016.  Start planning now for your renewable system installation. 

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