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Renewable Energy Update – July 2017

July 2017 (www.jdsupra.com)

Renewable Energy Focus

DOE’s SunShot awards $46M for solar tech-to-market research

Greentech Media – Jul 13 The Department of Energy may be facing potentially massive budget cuts and interference in how it gives out green technology research grants, but it is still getting the money out there. The latest installment is $46.2 million from DOE’s SunShot Initiative, aimed at bringing a host of solar PV, solar thermal, energy storage, and inverter technologies closer to market. The grant awards, announced Wednesday, are split among 48 companies, universities, and research organizations. The largest grants fell under the Advanced Module Design and Fabrication category, including $1.2 million for SunPower to work on “newly conceived surface bonding procedures” for manufacturing interdigitated back contact solar cells, which are highly efficient yet hard to make. The new concepts, if they work, could cut the number of process steps by more than half and “significantly reduce the cost of module fabrication.”

Renewable sources of electricity outpace nuclear plants

PBS – Jul 7 For the first time in decades, the United States got more electricity from renewable sources than nuclear power in March and April. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said last Thursday that electricity production from utility-scale renewable sources exceeded nuclear generation in the most recent months for which data is available. That’s the first time renewable sources have outpaced nuclear since 1984. The growth in renewables was fueled by scores of new wind turbines and solar farms, as well as recent increases in hydroelectric power as a result of heavy snow and rain in Western states last winter. More than 60 percent of all utility-scale electricity generating capacity that came online last year was from wind and solar.

SolarWorld Americas initiates mass layoff, announces cash infusion

Solar Industry Magazine – Jul 13 SolarWorld Americas, which operates a large PV manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, is cutting its workforce in half but also announced it expects a double-digit-million-dollar infusion of cash to enable the company to stabilize and optimize operations through 2017 and beyond. Ever since its parent company, Germany-based SolarWorld AG, entered insolvency in local court, the U.S. subsidiary has consistently said it would work to maintain operations despite the parent’s financial woes. However, SolarWorld Americas issued a warning of an impending mass layoff to its approximately 800 employees in late May. In addition to the significant workforce reduction, SolarWorld Americas has announced its lenders have agreed immediately to forward $6 million in cash to the U.S. company.

PUC will consider changing energy exit fee

Marin Independent Journal – Jul 7 The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has decided to review the mechanism by which Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and other investor-owned utilities are compensated when customers switch to community choice aggregators, such as Marin Clean Energy. The utilities and the community choice aggregators agree that the current mechanism for compensation is flawed. They are at odds, however, over how it should be changed or what should replace it.

‘Community choice’ could provide cheaper, greener electricity for San Diego, report says

San Diego Union-Tribune – Jul 12 A government-run alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric could deliver more green energy while costing residents and businesses less money over time, according to a report released Wednesday by the city of San Diego. The study looked at the feasibility of launching a community choice aggregation (CCA) program in San Diego, which might eventually be adopted to satisfy the city’s pledge to tap only solar, wind, and other green energy sources by 2035. The new report found that a community choice program has the potential to deliver cheaper rates than SDG&E’s while providing 50 percent renewable energy by 2023 and 80 percent green power by 2027. SDG&E currently offers about 43 percent renewable energy to its customers, and under state law must get to 50 percent by 2030.

Advanced Microgrid Solutions raises $34M from utilities, investment firm in Series B funding

Utility Dive – Jul 11 California startup Advanced Microgrid Solutions (AMS) has raised $34 million in a Series B funding round, bringing on board a wide range of investors looking to dip a toe into the distributed energy resource space. The funding includes commitments from DBL Partners, Energy Impact Partners (which is backed by about a dozen utility companies), Southern Co., Macquarie Capital, and others. Macquarie last year agreed to commit $200 million to finance energy storage projects. Greentech Media points out that instead of project finance, AMS will use the $52 million it has raised so far to expand into new markets and grow its software.

8minutenergy, Capital Dynamics announce 328MW project in California

PV-Tech – Jul 12 8minutenergy Renewables and Capital Dynamics plan to develop the 328-megawatt Mount Signal 3 PV project. The plant, located near the city of Calexico in California’s Imperial Valley, is the third phase of the 800-megawatt Mount Signal Solar Farm, which will be one of the largest PV installations in the world. Capital Dynamics acquired the 328-megawatt project’s equity interests from 8minutenergy, which will continue to serve as the project developer. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but Capital Dynamics is currently arranging tax equity and debt financing for the project, with financial closing expected in late July 2017.

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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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

With Passage of SB 90, the Forecast for Solar in Florida Gets Sunnier

by Maria Robinson and Ted MacDonald (May 25, 2017)

The Sunshine State is finally living up to its nickname. In early May, both chambers of the Florida legislature passed SB 90, the implementing legislation for Amendment 4. With Florida state government currently tied up in budget deliberations, SB 90 has not yet been delivered to Gov. Rick Scott. Once it has been, he will have 15 days to sign the bill or let it become law without his signature. With the mechanics for implementation nailed down, the constitutional amendment will extend important property tax exemptions for renewable energy installations, including solar, on both commercial and residential properties. Florida has long been a sleeping giant for the solar industry. Although it ranks third nationally in solar potential, the state is currently 15th in installed capacity. With passage of SB 90, Amendment 4 will fulfill its promise – and open up the market for solar in Florida, which is poised for takeoff.

SB 90 provides the necessary statutory language to implement Amendment 4, a ballot initiative that went to the voters in 2016. Amendment 4 came out of the 2016 legislative session, where bills sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) sought to allow Florida voters to decide whether to eliminate the ad valorem tax – property tax based on assessed value, exclusive of fixed assessments like fire and rescue or trash collection – on all new commercial solar energy equipment for 20 years. Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) later signed on as a House co-sponsor. This measure passed with broad bipartisan support, including a unanimous vote in the House. It was signed by Gov. Rick Scott in March 2016.

The measure then went on the primary ballot, in part to avoid confusion with a separate solar measure, Amendment 1, which was on the November general election ballot. On August 31, Amendment 4 passed with 73% of the vote, well over the 60% threshold needed for a constitutional amendment to be approved.

As it will now be implemented, SB 90 exempts tangible personal property tax on solar or other renewable energy source devices installed on commercial and industrial property. Ultimately, 80% of the assessed value of a renewable energy source device, which is considered tangible personal property, and is installed on real property on or after January 1, 2018, will be exempt from ad valorem taxation. SB 90 reflects an extension to commercial property owners of the existing tax abatement for solar and other renewable energy devices on residential property. Once implemented by the legislature, the tax incentives would begin in 2018 and extend for 20 years.

This new tax exemption should give the solar market in the state a big boost. Florida has traditionally been a difficult market for renewable energy. This is due, in large part, to the prohibition of third-party ownership of solar installations, with Florida being one of only four states in the country explicitly forbidding this arrangement, which is used by homeowners and businesses to avoid the upfront capital cost. Numerous past attempts to expand solar power in Florida through the legislature failed, including an effort by Sen. Brandes in 2015. There was also a recent campaign to legalize third party sales of solar through the Florida Constitution that failed to make the ballot.

One reason Amendment 4 succeeded was because it was backed by a diverse coalition of groups from across the political spectrum. These included both statewide and national business associations (including the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce), environmental organizations (including The Nature Conservancy and Florida Wildlife Federation), faith-based organizations (including the Christian Coalition), and of course bipartisan support in the legislature. (Or, as Senator Brandes likes to say, the campaign put together “the Baptists and the bootleggers.”) Having a diverse group of supporters made solar issue a much easier sell to voters.

Another reason is that Amendment 4 was offered as a pro-business and pro-economic growth measure. The price of solar panels has dropped significantly in the past several years. Additionally, the market in Florida is ripe for commercial solar, as demonstrated by projects done for the military. AEE member First Solar supplied PV modules for use in three Gulf Power solar plants being constructed by AEE member Coronal Energy on military installations in the Florida Panhandle, with these plants having a total of 120 MW of capacity. Because solar was already exempt from the residential ad valorem tax, it made sense to extend the benefit to commercial property owners as well. By simply offering a tax break, Florida was able to incentivize job-creating investment, consistent with Gov. Rick Scott’s laser focus on jobs and economic growth.

Plus, the time was ripe, given solar power’s growing popularity in Florida. According to the Solar Foundation, Florida already ranks fifth nationally in solar jobs, despite the ban on third-party ownership. This number will only increase, given Florida’s growing population and almost year-round need for air conditioning. Solar growth in Florida is also good for the broader advanced energy market, which totaled $6.2 billion in revenue in 2014. In 2015, advanced energy jobs in Florida, including solar energy, reached 140,000 workers, more than twice as many as in agriculture and more than in real estate, with advanced energy jobs expected to grow 4% last year.

With the passage of SB 90, Amendment 4 is ready to be implemented, and the will of the voters fulfilled. There are now greater opportunities for both Florida businesses and consumers to expand energy choices and control costs. Florida is beginning to realize its potential as a powerhouse for advanced energy, with the future looking increasingly bright.

CLICK HERE to read the article.

NREL Scientists Outline Photovoltaic Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

5 States With the Highest Solar Capacity per Capita

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

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

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

Nevada takes the top solar spot

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

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

Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix

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

Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously

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

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

California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential

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

Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy

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

Lots of surprising states are going solar 

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Solar power growth leaps by 50% worldwide thanks to US and China

by Adam Vaughan (March 7, 2017) www.theguardian.com

 

The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by some 50% last year because of a sun rush in the US and China, new figures show.

New solar photovoltaic capacity installed in 2016 reached more than 76 gigawatts, a dramatic increase on the 50GW installed the year before. China and the US led the surge, with both countries almost doubling the amount of solar they added in 2015, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.

Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.

The industry called the growth “very significant” and said the technology was a crucial way for the world to meet its climate change commitments.

James Watson, the chief executive of SolarPower Europe, said: “In order to meet the Paris [climate agreement] targets, it would be important if solar could continue its rapid growth. The global solar industry is ready to do that, and can even speed up.”

In the UK the amount of solar power installed in 2016 fell by about half on the record level added the year before. The drop came after the government drastically cut incentives for householders to fit solar panels and ended subsidies for large-scale “solar farms”.

But despite the slowdown, the UK still led Europe for solar growth with 29% of new capacity, followed by Germany with 21% and France with 8.3%. Germany, which moved several years ago to subsidise and build a solar industry, still retains the crown for total solar capacity, with Italy second top.

Across Europe, the total amount of solar power passed the symbolic milestone of 100GW in early 2016 and now stands at 104GW. However, slowing growth in Europe prompted the solar industry to call for the EU to set more ambitious renewable energy targets.

“We need to build a major industrial project around solar and renewables. To start with, increasing the 2030 renewable energy target to at least 35% [up from 27%] will send a strong signal that Europe is back in the solar business,” said Alexandre Roesch, policy director at SolarPower Europe.

European solar companies have also been urging the European commission to rethink the anti-dumping tariffs it imposed on Chinese solar panels in 2013. The commission is looking to extend the tariffs by 18 months, shorter than previously planned, after opposition to them from member states.

Nearly half of the solar installed last year was in China, with Asia as a whole making up two-thirds of new capacity in 2016.

Solar is still a relative minnow in the electricity mix of most countries, the figures show. Even where the technology has been embraced most enthusiastically, such as in Europe, solar on average provides 4% of electricity demand.

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California city could become first Zero Net Energy city in the U.S.

by Katie Medlock (Feb. 20, 2017) www.inhabitat.com

The city of Lancaster, California is one step closer to becoming a Zero Net Energy city – the very first in the U.S. The proposed ordinance, recently moved forward by the city council, will require all new homes to be equipped with solar panels or to take other steps toward energy mitigation. The end goal is to create a city with a truly sustainable future.

“This is a great stride in Lancaster’s journey to become a Zero Net City,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris in a statement. “The Zero Net Energy Home Ordinance expands upon Lancaster’s residential solar ordinance so that new homes built in Lancaster now will not only be environmentally friendly, but have a zero net impact on our environment, while reducing energy costs for the homeowners.”

Related: Lancaster, California to require all new homes to have solar panels

The ZNE ordinance requires all new homes built in the year 2017 and beyond to choose one of three options for energy use: install photovoltaic panels to support two watts of energy for each square foot, pay mitigation fees that will result in a discount on the energy generation rate section of their bill, or select a combination of both options. The required feasibility study for the ordinance is already taking place, which is needed before receiving approval from the California Energy Commission. These processes are expected to be complete by the end of the year.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article. 

How US solar capacity could double year-over-year

by Danielle Ola (Feb. 13, 2017)  www. pv-tech.org

Despite a whopping 4,143MW of solar PV installed in the US in the third quarter of last year, Q4 2016 is expected to surpass that historic total, according to latest figures from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

2016 is set to be a record year for solar on all counts; shattering all previous quarterly installation results.

“Coming off our largest quarter ever and with an extremely impressive pipeline ahead, it’s safe to say the state of the solar industry here in America is strong,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president. “The solar market now enjoys an economically-winning hand that pays off both financially and environmentally, and American taxpayers have noticed. With a 90% favorability rating and 209,000 plus jobs, the US solar industry has proven that when you combine smart policies with smart 21st century technology, consumers and businesses both benefit.”

With more than 1 million residential solar installations nationwide and record-breaking growth in the utility sector, the industry is projected to nearly double year-over-year.

PV module manufacturers innovating

Whilst the numbers are encouraging, the industry still faces challenges pertaining to improving efficiency and cutting manufacturing costs. Industry experts are expecting that lower production costs will come from the innovations around PV modules.

To this end, many module manufacturers have been finding new ways to develop solar panels. For example, Tesla’s solar rooftop tiles are Elon Musk’s answer to harnessing more of the sun’s energy; especially when paired with the new Tesla Powerwall 2 which will feature twice the storage capacity of the first Powerwall battery.

Canadian Solar, for its part, has sold all of its operating assets in Canada in order to “monetise solar plants in other countries”, according to CEO Shawn Qu.

Thin-film expert First Solar recently announced that it has been awarded the module supply contract for the 140MW solar farm in North Queensland, Australia. The project marks the largest solar initiative by the country and, once constructed, is set to utilize more than 1.16 million First Solar advanced thin-film PV modules to produce approximately 270,000MWh of energy in its first year of operation.

“Large-scale solar is fast becoming one of the most cost-effective sources of energy generation in Australia. This project represents the viability of the commercial and industrial solar market in Australia, and the growing trend of major energy consumers owning and operating renewable energy assets,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s regional manager for Asia Pacific.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Are Rooftop Solar Tiles a Fire Hazard?

www.hometownroofingcontractors.com

solar-tiles-01

Yes, no, maybe so. One type of rooftop solar product has caused some havoc for residents in the community of Roseville, CA. Multiple reports of roof-mounted solar shingles literally going up in flames and damaging the surrounding shingles and roof deck have made residents uneasy, to say the least.

In this solar-conscious town, it’s rare to see a home that does NOT have solar panels or shingles on the roof – 1,300 homes are currently powered by the sun.

The problem: Overheating

The problem appears to stem from OE-34 solar tiles, which are a type of photovoltaic (PV) tile designed to integrate seamlessly with the existing roof shingles. The solar shingles were installed by Centex, a multi-state construction company focused on building energy-efficient homes.

solar-tiles-02

A design flaw in the OE-34 panels left them susceptible to overheating. As the panel overheats, it can damage the internal wiring, and worst case scenario, start on fire. These particular panels are no longer used in Roseville or anywhere else in California.

The OE-34 Open Energy SolarSave Roofing Tiles were placed on recall on March 25, 2014. Centex warned homeowners to stop using these solar systems several years before then due to the fire risk.

One man’s story

Edward Snyder told Fox40 of Sacramento he spent $17,000 for his solar setup. His investment wasn’t paying off; he was saving just $500 a year in energy costs. On top of that, his roof started on fire a few years after installation because of the overheating issue.

solar-tiles-03

He, like other area homeowners, was lucky no one was hurt, but the financial damage is significant. The maker of the solar shingles went out of business, so recovering the financial losses isn’t a guarantee.

Centex is trying to make good by installing safer raised-roof solar panels on affected homes for free. Insurance companies may also pay for damages caused by the fire.

Should you avoid rooftop solar systems altogether?

Absolutely not, but it’s critical to do your due diligence when purchasing a rooftop solar system. The problem in Northern California seems to be an isolated issue involving a flat-out horrible product.

Here are a few simple tips to ensure your solar installation is a safe and efficient one:

  • Choose a well-established solar installer or roofing contractor to do the install.
  • Go with a solar product that has a proven track record of good performance. A simple Google search can uncover problems you otherwise may not have known about.
  • Make sure you understand the warranty inside and out.
  • Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website for current recalls.
  • Go to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) website to find out which tax credits and incentives you’ll qualify for.

In conclusion

The solar roof tile problems in California appear to be isolated, and the solar tiles in question are off the market. Don’t let this incident turn you off from home solar energy systems. A high-quality solar setup can save you up to 60% on your monthly energy bills, so it’s definitely worth looking into.

As with any major investment, it’s important to do your own research and due diligence. Don’t always rely on what others tell you about a particular product – everyone’s a salesman!

Even though solar shingles were the culprit in this story, they are largely a safe and eco-friendly product. In fact, solar shingles are becoming popular as ever as prices continue to drop and the energy efficiency of these shingle-sized tiles begin to approach that of the larger solar panels.

The Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles are one example of how solar shingles are made right. These shingles are efficient and received safety certification from three different Underwriters Laboratories back when they were first announced in 2011. They are fire and weather resistant. 

It’s sad that in the early stages of residential rooftop solar shingle technology, good folks like those in Roseville had to in a way act as “sacrificial lambs” for everyone else to learn about the dangers of poorly made solar products. Let’s hope builders, solar installers, government entities and homeowners take notice and learn from these unfortunate circumstances.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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

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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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

GreenBuild 2016 – Los Angeles

by Brent Sauser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Solar Progress News

by Brent Sauser

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It’s that time again to dig deep into the internet of endless information to find recent pearls of solar energy progress that evidences the relentless march forward in renewable energy research.  The attached video shows promising boosts in overall solar PV efficiency and is worth a watch.  Enjoy!

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.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Confused About Solar Policy In Your State? Follow The Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Florida Utilities Determined To Mislead Voters

YES ON 1?  UH . . . NO!

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Renewable Energy Update – July 2016

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

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Renewable Energy Focus

Senator Heinrich to introduce energy storage tax credit bill

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

Big solar is leaving rooftop systems in the dust

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Company subsidiary acquires Henrietta solar power project from SunPower

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

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

NextEra Energy Partners completes $312M acquisition of renewable projects

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

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

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

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.

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

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

There has been a surge in the number of companies

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The tide has turned for solar financing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Consumers Can Profit from Leaving the Grid

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

High voltage post against dreamy background

Secret is Out

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

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

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

Utility Responses

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

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

Long Term Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think they are going to do?

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

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U.S. solar power demand intensifies

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

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

First Solar 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Voters like green energy, conservative group says

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

solar farm 06

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

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

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

Voters who support lawmakers in favor of:

New energy efficiency financing 88%

Renewable energy 87%

Offshore drilling for gas and oil 48%

New nuclear energy 42%

Fracking for natural gas 30%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i-am-thinking-about-solar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LETTER: DON’T PAINT SOLAR POWER THAT WAY

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

AZ-Solar 04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Salt Lake City ramping up solar power use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SolarCity SCTY

Strong foundation for future reforms

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

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

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

Citizens’ initiative from SolarCity: the hero

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

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

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

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

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

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These States Don’t Want You to Get Solar Power

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

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

solar panels 02

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

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

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

Stopping community solar

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

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

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

USA MAP 01

Avoiding solar mandates

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

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

USA MAP 02

Blocking third-party ownership

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

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

USA MAP 03

Obstructing public input

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar Energy War: Utilities Set Their Sights on Rooftop Solar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Renewable energy is smart investment for utilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arizona solar ballot initiative launched by super PAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utilities adding fees for solar customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting voters weigh in on solar debate 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here Are The Top 10 US Solar States

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

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

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

Here are the solar leaders of 2015:

1. California

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

2. Arizona

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

3. North Carolina

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

4. New Jersey

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

5. Nevada

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

6. Massachusetts

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

7. New York

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

8. Hawaii

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

9. Colorado

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

10. Texas

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

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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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Renewables still waiting for an industry leader

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

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

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

They rise and fall as technology advances and demand seesaws.

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

Yet there are still no companies that dominate the industry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Florida Supreme Court allows utility-backed solar amendment on ballot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Technicians working on solar panels

Technicians working on solar panels

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.

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Nevada Solar Power Business Struggles To Keep The Lights On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Solar Power Tax Exemption Will Be On Florida Ballot

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

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

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

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

Some supporters of the resolution are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demand to Create a Bigger Successor of MASH Program

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

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

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

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

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

Program Benefits Everyone Through Reduction in Low-Income Rate Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing Moving Beyond California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Duke Energy vs. Solar Energy: Battle Over Solar Heats Up in North Carolina

by Alex Kotch, DeSmogBlog (EcoWatch,com)  March 13, 2016

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Around the nation, big utility companies are successfully lobbying lawmakers and regulators to restrict individual and corporate access to solar power, denying people significant savings on electricity bills and the opportunity to take part in the growing green energy economy.

In third-party solar financing, a non-utility company installs solar panels on a customer’s property at little or no up-front cost, sometimes selling the solar energy back to the customer at rates typically lower than a utility would charge.

Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., has so far succeeded in keeping third-party solar illegal in North Carolina, but conservative and liberal factions alike are trying to change that, in different ways.

At least four states—Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma and North Carolina—currently ban third-party sales of solar energy. Twenty states have murky laws and in the remaining 26, companies are allowed to install solar panels on customers’ roofs and sell energy generated from these panels to the customer. But major electric utilities that burn coal or natural gas are ill-equipped to change their business models to accommodate renewables, which explains their frequent opposition to state initiatives that expand solar access.

“When you get fully disrupted, you’ve got to find a new model,” Zach Lyman of the energy consulting firm Reluminati told Rolling Stone. “But utilities are not designed to move to new models; they never were. So they play an obstructionist role.”

Utility monopolies are threatened by rooftop solar for three main reasons:

  • The more rooftop solar installations, the fewer new power plants are built by utilities, which are able to finance these building projects by raising rates on customers and in some states they have a guaranteed rate of return on their investments.
  • Customers with solar panels buy less energy from the grid, operated by the utilities.
  • Utilities often have to pay owners of home solar installations for the surplus energy their panels return to the grid.

While purchasing utility-scale solar farms to increase its profits, Duke Energy—the most powerful political entity in North Carolina—has actively campaigned against solar policies that benefit individuals.

Duke Energy has claimed that rooftop solar hurts the poor by causing rate increases and has even targeted black leaders with this misleading message.

The company opposed the Energy Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill to legalize third-party solar. Although that bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. John Szoka, died in committee last year, future legislative attempts could face similar opposition from Duke Energy.

Meanwhile, Duke Energy purchased a majority stake in California-based REC Solar, which operates solar projects and sells the energy to commercial customers in other states where third-party sales are legal.

A Conservative Push for Solar Freedom

Rep. Szoka hopes to pass something similar to the Energy Freedom Act next year. Seventy-nine percent of North Carolinians support third-party solar sales, but at least some in the legislature prefer to ignore the citizens’ preference. North Carolina lawmakers have also allowed the state’s solar tax credit to expire.

Rep. Szoka, a mortgage lender, was stationed at the largest military installation in the country, Fort Bragg, during his career as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. Now representing a district that surrounds the city of Fayetteville and includes Fort Bragg, Szoka first spoke of the military’s energy consumption when explaining why he proposed the bill.

Third-party solar sales to the military would save money while increasing energy security, Rep. Szoka argued, noting that on-site power generation would decrease the military’s dependence on the electric grid, which is vulnerable to attacks. Rep. Szoka also says his bill would help the military base to fulfill a Department of Defense mandate that facilities get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

The state representative says there’s a strong free-market argument for third-party solar. “What made America great is free enterprise,” he says. “We need to unleash entrepreneurs in our state to do what they do best.”

He also cites private property rights, ratepayer savings and job creation as compelling reasons to legalize third-party solar.

Rep. Szoka’s 2015 bill to legalize third-party contracts had wide support from major corporations with business in the state including Wal-Mart, Target, Volvo and Macy’s. These and other businesses wrote a letter to all state legislators, saying that power purchase agreements (third-party sales) would allow them to avoid major up-front expenditures, the risks of operating solar arrays and fluctuating energy rates.

Big-Energy Insider Stands in Solar’s Way

The legislature’s Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy had scheduled a March 1 press conference to announce the formation of a subcommittee that would study renewable energy issues such as third-party solar, net metering and the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). But on Feb. 29, they canceled the announcement because Rep. Mike Hager “reconsidered his position and withdrew his support for … the comprehensive study,” said Szoka.

Rep. Szoka had “a long conversation” with Hager this week but hasn’t yet succeeded in changing Hager’s mind.

Rep. Hager, who worked for 17 years at Duke Energy prior to his election as a Republican state representative, has been a staunch opponent of renewable energy, as Facing South’s Sue Sturgis has consistently reported.

Hager has tried to end renewables requirements for utilities, pushed for legalized hydraulic fracturing, downplayed the dangers of coal ash contamination and supported offshore drilling.

Duke Energy is the top corporate contributor to Hager’s political campaigns, with Piedmont Natural Gas in second, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Hager is also tied to the controversial corporate bill mill, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has played a key role in attacks on solar in North Carolina and other states.

With Hager a vice-chair of the House committee on public utilities and co-chair of the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy, renewables-friendly legislation will continue to face an uphill battle in the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Hager and I are on opposite sides of a few energy issues on solar, wind and REPS, but we’re in agreement [a study] is what’s good for the state,” Szoka told DeSmog earlier this month, before Hager cancelled the announcement. “I hope and pray we can negotiate.”

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WHY BIG RETAILERS ARE GOING SOLAR

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

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It’s about economics, not just environmentalism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

UTAH Senate Approves Bill Critics Say Hurts Solar Growth, Favors Power Utility

by Robert Gehrke – The Salt Lake Tribune (March 4, 2016)

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The Utah Senate approved legislation Friday, that would make significant changes to the way electricity rates are calculated — a move that opponents contend would devastate Utah’s rooftop solar industry and mean major increases in electricity bills.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said his intent was to have the Legislature set policy that would benefit Utahns and use money more effectively to clean up the air.

“We need to be able to move to solutions that are environmentally friendly,” Adams said. “If we’re going to spend those monies, we ought to be doing it to protect the air quality we need.”

Adams’ SB115, third substitute, would do the following:

•  Would allow Rocky Mountain Power to use $10 million from customers for the utility’s “Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan,” to fund charging stations for electric cars, research on clean-coal technology and alternative energy programs

•  Would eliminate a solar-power incentive program for residential and large-scale solar users

•  Would allow the utility to recoup 100 percent of the cost of buying power, as opposed to the current 70 percent level

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, called SB115 an attempt to “judge shop,” because Rocky Mountain Power recognizes it can’t get the rate increases it wants through the normal path of the Public Service Commission.

“This is a powerful utility saying, ‘You know what, we don’t think we’re going to like what’s coming down the track [with the PSC] … we want to short-circuit it because we want a different result,’ ” Dabakis said.

Adams said he thinks the bill would actually keep energy prices down because Rocky Mountain Power wouldn’t have to pay retail rates to buy solar power produced by rooftop arrays and can instead buy cheaper watts from other sources, and the money saved can go to other clean energy.

“We’re stopping that so rates should actually go down, and we’re redirecting that money … into clean fuel vehicles, at least part of it,” Adams said.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said there is a disparity now where most of the subsidies go toward renewable energy that provides minimal benefit, while the coal industry — a major business in his central Utah district — struggles.

“Think about the jobs that [have] been lost in the coal business as well,” Hinkins said. “The poor people, the ones who can afford it, don’t need tax credits — they have no benefits. … The only ones that can afford [solar] are the businesses and rich people.”

South Jordan resident Michael Acton invested $22,000 to put solar panels on his roof, in part because the ability to sell electricity back to Rocky Mountain Power allowed him to recoup part of the cost on his utility bills. Acton fears the bill would change how much he and others would be credited for any excess power they produce, leaving it up to the utility to decide how much they’ll be paid.

“It made financial sense to me. The other reason is I wanted to be more self-sufficient,” he said. “It’s going to affect my investment. It’s going to affect all these solar companies out there. There are going to be hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs lost.”

Tom Mills, who works for Alpenglow Solar, a Utah solar company, said a similar bill in Nevada has been devastating for the solar industry, and he fears Rocky Mountain Power will hike fees so high that “it won’t be cost effective and basically nobody can put in solar” until battery technology evolves.

“You’ll see the solar industry dry up here just like it did in Nevada,” said Mills. “Overall, what they’re doing is they’re circumventing the Utah Public Service Commission. Every item that is in that bill would normally be brought to the Public Service Commission for review,” Mills said.

Adams said those concerns were really based on “hearsay” and not based on the reality in the bill.

“The only effect on the solar industry that I know of is there’s a lottery that’s held [to receive a subsidy] that affects a very, very small number of users,” Adams said.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Minnesota on Track to Meet Renewable Energy Goals

by Associated Press (March 5, 2016) www.TwinCities.com

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A new report by the Minnesota Commerce Department says the state could beat its goals for electricity generated by renewable energy.

Minnesota generated 21 percent of its electricity from solar, wind, hydro and biomass power in 2015, up from 6 percent a decade ago, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce report.

State lawmakers in 2007 adopted aggressive renewable energy goals, calling for Minnesota to produce 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2025. The department’s report suggests the state will meet or beat that goal, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.

“Minnesota’s commitment to renewable energy is showing clear results,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a statement. “We have reduced our dependence on polluting coal that must be imported from outside the state while increasing our own clean energy made right here in Minnesota. It’s a tremendous benefit for our energy sector, our economy and jobs, and our environment.”

Minnesota Public Radio News says 17 percent of the state’s electricity was generated by wind energy compared to 3 percent in 2005, while coal-fired electricity dropped from 62 percent in 2005 to 44 percent in 2015.

Citing recent congressional action to extend federal wind and solar tax incentives for five years, Rothman said it makes sense for Minnesota to raising its goal and have at least 40 percent of its electricity generated by renewables by 2030. Solar-driven electricity, “is primed for dramatic growth,” he said.

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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!

Congress Passes Tax Credit Extension for Solar and Wind

by Stephen Lacey
December 18, 2015

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Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed a spending package today that includes multi-year extensions of solar and wind tax credits, plus one-year extensions for a range of other renewable energy technologies.

The pair of bills, which included tax extenders and $1.1 trillion in funding to keep the government running for the next year, passed hours before lawmakers adjourned for the holidays.

“May the force be with you,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, urging her fellow Senators to vote in favor of the package shortly after the House approved the bills.

The force was certainly with renewables.

Under the legislation, the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar will be extended for another three years. It will then ramp down incrementally through 2021, and remain at 10 percent permanently beginning in 2022.

The 2.3-cent Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind will also be extended through next year. Projects that begin construction in 2017 will see a 20 percent reduction in the incentive. The PTC will then drop 20 percent each year through 2020.

Also included were geothermal, landfill gas, marine energy and incremental hydro, which will each get a one-year PTC extension. Those technologies will also qualify for a 30 percent ITC, if developers choose. In addition, the bill expanded grants for energy and water efficiency.

Business groups and analysts say the extensions will support tens of billions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of thousands of new jobs throughout the U.S.

“There’s no way to overstate this — the extension of the solar ITC is the most important policy development for U.S. solar in almost a decade,” said MJ Shiao, GTM’s director of solar research.

According to GTM Research, the ITC extension will help spur nearly 100 cumulative gigawatts of solar installations by 2020, resulting in $130 billion in total investment. More than $40 billion of investment will be “directly attributable to the passage of the extension,” said Shiao.

The American Wind Energy Association expects similar growth. The group did not issue precise figures, but said the PTC extension would support tens of gigawatts of new wind projects through 2020.

The legislation also lifts a 40-year ban on exports of crude oil produced in the U.S. In exchange for lifting the ban, Democrats pushed for multi-year extensions of renewable energy tax credits and demanded that Republicans strip out any riders that would weaken environmental laws.

Both sides got what they wanted.

However, Pelosi publicly worried yesterday that she didn’t have enough votes to support the bill. Many Democrats expressed concern about the oil export ban tradeoff, saying it would increase subsidies to fossil fuels and boost carbon emissions.

Congressional leaders and the White House lobbied hard to convince the Democratic base that the bill would be a win for the environment.

“While lifting the oil ex­port ban re­mains atrocious policy, the wind and solar tax credits in the Om­ni­bus will eliminate around 10 times more car­bon pollution than the ex­ports of oil will add,” wrote Pelosi in a letter to lawmakers.

Katherine Hamilton, a partner with 38 North Solutions, called the bill “sausage-making at its most intense.”

“The product should be palatable for most parties in clean energy. Extensions for renewables and efficiency tax credits were key sweeteners. In addition, clean energy R&D funding, land and water conservation funds, and clean energy funds were included in the deal,” she said.

Other independent analysts found that the deal would be a net positive for the climate. Although emissions would increase slightly because of increased drilling activity, they would be easily offset by increasing renewable energy development and decreased coal consumption.

“Our bottom line: Extension of the tax credits will do far more to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next five years than lifting the export ban will do to increase them. While this post offers no judgment of the budget deal as a whole, the deal, if passed, looks like a win for climate,” wrote Council on Foreign Relations fellows Michael Levi and Varun Sivaram.

The tax credit extensions cap a big month for renewable energy policy.

In early December, world leaders agreed to a framework for lowering global greenhouse gas emissions — a deal that will leverage hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment for clean technologies.

And earlier this week, California regulators issued a new proposal on net metering that would preserve the retail rate paid to rooftop solar systems. The new rules — combined with the continued federal tax credit — will ensure strong activity in the top solar state.

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