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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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Utah’s Decision On Solar Rates Leaves People In Limbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which you have,” a reporter says.

“Which we have,” Murphy says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Utah lawmakers: Time to take ‘training wheels’ off booming solar industry, retire state tax credit

by Emma Penrod (Nov. 17, 2016) www.sltrib.com

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A proposal to extend tax credits for electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles garnered a favorable recommendation this week, but by only a narrow margin. And another committee recommended phasing out a state tax credit for residential solar installations, which is projected to take a toll on the state budget in 2016 — $20 million, up from less than $1 million annually, as Utah experiences a solar-installation boom.

If the trend continues, the impact could be as high as $60 million by the end of 2017, according to bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden.

That money, he said, could be used to hire as many as 400 teachers with a salary of $50,000.

Improved technology and cheaper installations are behind solar’s exponential growth, Peterson said, so it’s time to retire the state tax credit, which provides Utah residents with a refund of up to $2,000.

“We want to promote the independence of the industry,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee. “The industry was given some training wheels, so to speak, with the tax credit, to kind of prop it up. And it seems to have immediately taken off, suddenly and unexpectedly. So it seems time to pull those training wheels off and let the industry run under its own strength.”

Peterson’s proposal would place a temporary moratorium on the tax credits beginning when a bill is signed into law next spring. He estimated that by that time, the state would have already issued $20 million to $30 million in solar tax credits.

From that point on, he said, the bill would create a cap for solar tax credits issued each year, starting with a budget of $4 million in 2018. The cap would be reduced by $1 million each year, until the credit’s full phase-out in 2021.

To increase the number of residents able to take advantage of the tax credit, the bill would also gradually reduce the amount of each individual refund by about $500 each year.

But the bill does not have the support of the solar industry, representatives said, which fears that the loss of tax credits, coupled with possible electrical rate changes for residential solar customers, could reverse the industry’s growth in Utah.

“We’ve actually already seen a slowdown in the solar industry, and people are actually considering layoffs,” said Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association. “These are discussions that are much bigger than today … in my opinion, if we added this on top of that [rate change], we would seen an incredible loss of jobs in the state.”

Evans said he believes prosperity in the solar industry creates tax revenues that negate the impact of the $2,000 credit. Each installation, he said, immediately generates $800 to $1,000 in sales tax, and an additional $350 returns to the state in the form of income tax from the employees installing the array, he said.

The bill also raised eyebrows among members of the interim committee, who questioned whether the solar tax credit was being unfairly singled out among other tax credits impacting the state budget.

“Here’s my struggle — I think this is worthy of looking at, but I think we’re looking at it in isolation and narrowing the scope,” said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. “I’m thinking of the subsidies we provide for oil and gas … over time, for every dollar that we’ve given to renewables, the federal government has provided $74 in subsidies to oil and gas.”

After a lengthy discussion, Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, questioned whether the committee ought to fast-track a bill that appeared to be generating substantial controversy.

But others argued that it was time to begin phasing out the tax credit to channel more money to education.

“At what point do we tell the school kids, thanks for the help, we’re good?” asked Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. “The car’s moving again. We appreciate the jump start — the battery was dead — but we’re driving down the highway now, and we’re still asking the kids to help push the car down the highway, even though the car’s started, it’s running, it’s very, very profitable.”

In a separate Wednesday hearing, the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee voted narrowly in favor of endorsing a bill that would incentivize the sale of electric vehicles in Utah.

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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.

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

By KSL Local (October 9, 2014)

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

Utah’s residential electricity is expensive

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

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

Solar energy rates are fixed

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

Solar system guarantee

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

Technology has improved

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

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

Solar system costs have come down in Utah

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

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