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5 States With the Highest Solar Capacity per Capita

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

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

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

Nevada takes the top solar spot

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

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

Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix

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

Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously

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

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

California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential

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

Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy

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

Lots of surprising states are going solar 

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

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

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Salt Lake City ramping up solar power use

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the entire article. 

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. 

Utah Commission Rejects Proposed fee for Solar Homes

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

August 29, 2014

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

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

Renewable energy advocates hailed the ruling as a major victory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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