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Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

Miami makes solar mandatory for new houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Nevada reinstates solar industry, prodigal sons return

by Danielle Ola (Jun 9, 2017) www.pvtech.org

Nevada solar moved up in a big way earlier this week, with the state legislature passing several bills to ensure the industry will return to its former heights.

AB 405, if enacted by governor Brian Sandoval, would restore the state’s net metering scheme that was effectively destroyed in a 2015 Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision that caused many residential installers to cease operations in the Silver State.

The bill also includes solar consumer protection measures and a ‘Bill of Rights’ for solar customers, as a stopgap mechanism to prevent a similar situation repeating itself when the residential market stalled and around 2,600 jobs were lost.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) issued a statement recently urging Sandoval to approve the legislation.

“We applaud Assemblymen Watkins, Brooks, Yeager, and Fugo and Senators Ford, Atkinson, Manendo, and Spearman for their leadership, and we urge Governor Sandoval to sign this bill into law and restore Nevada to its rightful spot as a top solar state,” Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for SEIA, said.

“Nevada is one step closer to a policy that will allow it to get back thousands of solar jobs that were lost,” Gallagher added. “This bill is a compromise that doesn’t fully value the benefits of distributed solar. It will, however, allow Nevada consumers and small businesses who may have wanted to go solar, but found it uneconomic under the existing solar policies, to now proceed.”

Back in business

The passage of these bills that boost clean energy, in particular the bill that would allow solar customers to be paid for their excess solar power, has resulted in companies who previously exited Nevada after the PUC scrapped the popular net metering programme, to return.

PV Tech previously reported on Utah-headquartered Vivint Solar returning to the state. In addition, San Francisco’s Sunrun left Nevada in January 2015 after the PUC decision with the loss of hundreds of jobs, but has announced its return on the prospect of solar picking up again.

“The near unanimous bipartisan support for legislation to reinstate net metering and establish a bill of rights for solar customers is a reflection of overwhelming public demand for affordable, clean energy options,” said Lynn Jurich, CEO and co-founder of Sunrun, in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of Governor Sandoval and Nevada State Legislators, we can now say with confidence that Sunrun is coming back to Nevada.”

SolarCity exited at the same time as Sunrun. But now, Tesla, which owns SolarCity, also applauded the decision of the legislature to reinstate the state’s residential solar segment.

“Tesla will begin selling rooftop solar and residential storage products in Nevada, and we look forward to bringing even more jobs to the state in the years ahead to help provide residents with affordable rooftop solar and energy storage choices,” Tesla said in a statement.

Under the new law, rooftop solar customers will be reimbursed for excess generation at 95% of the retail electricity rate. As more solar is installed, the rate will fall, but it stops at 75%.

“This legislation, which is supported by businesses and consumers alike, will not only bring back solar energy to Nevada and enable the industry to innovate and grow sustainably, it will create thousands of jobs and bring millions of dollars in economic benefits to the state,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Things are looking up for the Silver State, with governor Sandoval stating that he intends to sign AB 405 into law.

“I will soon be signing a bill with regard to net metering” he said. “Nevada has always been a place, and will continue to be a place, that leads the county with regard to our renewable resources,” he said on Monday.

Other bills

The good news for solar in Nevada does not stop there, as the legislature also passed AB 206 which expands the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) to 40% renewable energy by 2030, up from its former 25% by 2025. A coalition of clean energy advocates, including the SEIA and the American Wind Association (AWEA) wrote a letter to the governor, also urging him to sign this bill into law also.

Increasing the target is expected to attract over US$3 billion in additional investment to Nevada, as well as fostering greater energy diversity to result in more consumer savings.

A third bill to make it through the legislature with potential to bolster Nevada’s renewable energy prowess is SB 292 that will establish a state-wide community solar program if enacted.

 CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHILLING EFFECT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The uncertainty isn’t limited to TEP.

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

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

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

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

Rood may have avoided the new rates after all.

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Common Rooftop Solar Panel Installation Problems To Avoid

by Pacific West Roofing (August 2016)  www.pacificwestroofing.com

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A well-installed rooftop solar array doesn’t just generate clean energy. It also needs to have a solid, long-lasting foundation, which in most cases is a rooftop. In fact, about 80 percent of today’s solar panel installations are done on flat and sloped roofs.  This is because roofs are the ideal setting; they get the most unobstructed sun of any other place on most properties, they’re close to power lines, and on a sloped roof you don’t need any racks to mount the panels on.

But, what is a rooftop solar array truly worth if the roof is leaky or damaged? These installations have been growing in popularity for decades, but we still see situations where the installer did not understand or take the conditions of the roof into account.

Here are some common problems to avoid:

1. Installing New Panels On An Old Roof

Ideally, the array’s life and the roof life should be about the same. Your solar panels may generate power for 20 years, and your financing or Power Purchase Agreement could last just as long. Having such a system installed on a roof that only has about 10 good years left is asking for trouble. Many roof systems, such as a metal roof or cool roofing membrane, can last 20 years or more and are well suited to support a solar array.

2. Installing An Array On A Roof That is Unsuitable for Solar

A roof has to provide just the right conditions for your solar panels to perform well. For example, panels should be oriented toward the South or the West to get the most sun. They generally work best in cooler environments, making a cool membrane ideal. Most roofs are not designed to support the weight of a solar array or the foot traffic introduced by installation and maintenance. And in most cases, numerous penetrations will be made into the roof to mount the panels, which may be against the recommendations for many roofing systems. Unless you’re lucky, making sure your roof is 100 percent compatible with solar often requires planning years in advance.

3. Interrupting The Flow Of Water

Your roofing system is designed to shed water from the rooftop and away from the building. But, when solar panels are installed without regard for this, racks and wiring often interrupt the flow of water and keep if from draining properly. Water could even be forced upward, which usually results in a leak. Ballast material can also escape and clog drains. Repairing a roof can be much more difficult when there are solar panels installed, so it’s best to make sure these issues are addressed right away.

4. Treating The Rooftop Like A Construction Site

A good roof system is durable, but they all have their limits. A solar installer might drag racks and panels across the roof or drop tools without respect to the shingles or membrane, which can easily cause penetrations. Debris that doesn’t get cleaned up can clog drains and cause all kinds of problems. To avoid this, make sure to hire an installer who understands the needs and nuances of your roofing system.

5. Not Having a Maintenance Plan

Even without solar panels, a roof will need maintenance and regular inspections. But with solar installed, that need is heightened. You won’t get the return on your investment if your panels are covered in layers of dust or sitting in a pool of standing water. Regular roof and solar panel maintenance is always recommended to keep small problems from becoming big ones.

Many other roofing problems can arise with solar panel installations, and as installers develop new mounting methods the roofing system must always be a serious consideration.

Together, roofing and solar power make perfect sense, and we expect to see many more solar installations and clean energy integration in the future.  But, we hope that you will do your part to protect your roof by choosing the right solar installer, planning ahead, and committing to regular maintenance.

Arizona regulators table net metering request, add rooftop solar surcharge

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Regardless of Fierce Opposition, Rooftop Solar Is Unstoppable

by Javier Sierra (Aug 4, 2016) www.huffingtonpost.com

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As the Spanish saying goes, the sun is the poor man’s blanket. And thanks to technology, it’s also our heating system, air conditioner, refrigerator and a shinning spot that lights up our clean energy future.

The solar industry is the fastest growing sector of the US economy. It currently employs more than 200,000 workers, thousands of them Latinos, and double that of the coal mining industry. And for us Latinos, solar energy is a three-fold blessing.

“Since I had my rooftop solar panels installed last year, I spend less than half of what I used to pay for dirty energy,” says Oscar Medina, a client of Solar City in Tucson, AZ. “It not only keeps my home cool in the Arizona desert, it also allows me to avoid using power from dirty coal.”

And one of those thousands of Latino solar workers is Roberto “Bobby” Rosthenhousler, another Tucson resident, whose mother is from Los Mochis, Mexico. He enthusiastically supports solar.

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“If you are Latino, this is a good choice,” says Bobby, who installs panels for Net Zero Solar. “As long as the sun is there, we are going to have a job. I want to be a pioneer because there is only room to improve in this industry.”

But dark clouds loom over solar —the backlash of public utilities. In the last four years, the explosive growth of rooftop solar has turned it into a severe threat to an archaic system based on a monopolistic model that heavily depends on dirty energy.

Take Arizona utility Tucson Electric Power (TEP), which owns, at least partly, four coal-burning plants, including the San Juan Generating Station in Northern New Mexico.

TEP is due to review its energy plan for the next few years, which presents it with the opportunity to drop at least a large part of its coal fleet and expand its clean, renewable energy portfolio. Alas, TEP plans to stick with the dirty coal plant, hike rates for its customers and damage Arizona’s growing rooftop solar industry with new fees on solar customers such as Oscar.

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Utilities across the country justify these rate hikes by arguing that rooftop solar clients continue relying on the electric grid without contributing their fair share to its maintenance. Study after study, however, indicates that rooftop solar reduces the stress and wear of the grid by using it less often. Furthermore, it limits the construction of expensive, dirty plants, thus substantially reducing coal pollution and the climate change it triggers.

These abusive practices may paint a bleak future for the rooftop solar industry. The clean energy progress, however, is unstoppable. A Cambridge University study indicates that photovoltaic solar panels will soon be more competitive than any fossil fuel energy. And this scares the living lights out of the energy dinosaurs.

“They need to let other environmentally friendly companies come in and provide a service that would especially benefit working-class families,” says Oscar. “It’s clear that utilities need to stop the pollution that makes people sick, especially us Latinos.”

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“My four-year-old is autistic,” says Bobby. “And that’s one other reason I went into clean energy. I worry about all those chemicals in the air affect my child. This is something I can give back to him.”

No matter how hard the utilities try, you can’t block the sun with an umbrella.

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

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

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

Solar panel on a red roof reflecting the sun and the cloudless blue sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nevada panel recommends rooftop solar ‘grandfathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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