NetZeroMax.com

Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

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.

Duke Energy-Backed Bill Takes Aim at Solar in North Carolina

by Jan Lee (May 31, 2017) www.triplepundit.com

Duke Energy, America’s largest utility company, made a surprising announcement earlier this year. In its February filing to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, the company declared the cost of solar unaffordable in the state.

The argument went like this: Federal law requires electric utility companies to buy back the power generated by renewable energy at a price set by the local utilities commission (called the “avoided” costs). In North Carolina, that rate is set every two years.

But with natural gas prices dropping, Duke claimed the cost of solar became too high to justify. The company estimated the cost discrepancy amounted to as much as $80 million a year or $1 billion over the course of completed contracts.

For the residential customer, that equates to about $20 more a year in utility bills, Duke further claimed.

Not surprisingly, local solar developers, such as Strata Solar, disagreed and challenged Duke’s computations.

Now, a handful of North Carolina state representatives have come up with an answer, and it has the enthusiastic support of Duke Energy.

North Carolina House Bill 909, otherwise known as the Sound Energy and Renewables Policy Act, would force independent clean-energy startups into a cumbersome bidding process controlled by the state’s utility company. The bill would set an artificial ceiling of 400 megawatts for each of the next five years.

The renewables sector in North Carolina estimates it would have access to more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy projects each year without the legislation.

The North Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance is opposing the bill. Chris Carmody, executive director of the trade association, said the bill would make it unaffordable for small solar providers to compete with Duke, which does offer solar energy to its customers.

“[It] would allow Duke to eliminate all competition,” Carmody told Southeastern Energy News.

Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) said he sponsored the bill because of what he calls “stagnation” in communications between stakeholders in the state’s clean-energy industry, big and small.

But a number of critics see Duke Energy as the winner – and the instigator of the bill.

Although Duke Energy doesn’t agree, it has a history of objecting to the large number of solar farms in North Carolina, which it reportedly attributes to North Carolina’s adherence to the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA). Carmody says the concept of a privately-established bidding process was supported (and some say proposed) by Duke until last February when the company suddenly backed out.

Duke Energy isn’t the only large utility company to take issue with PURPA, which requires companies to “pay back” homeowners that can generate electricity on their own property, such as with a wind or solar installation. In Montana, Colorado and even California, utility companies, solar installers and often consumers are locked in debates over a federal law that makes small solar installations possible. To the large-scale utility company, that “avoided” cost is lost revenue. To the solar installer, it means a foot in the door in a utility industry once only operated by large companies like PG&E and Duke Energy.

Solar installers call Duke’s efforts to limit new projects under PURPA illegal. Last year the company got into hot water with state regulators when it stopped hooking up small solar projects to its grid. Installers accused the company of preventing the construction of new projects and blocking consumers from having solar energy.

Duke denied the charges, saying that it would “do what we need to maintain the reliability and resiliency and the quality of the power on our grid.”

Bill 909 would not only reduce the number of solar installation companies in North Carolina, but it would also shrink avoided costs for utility companies. Current revisions of the House bill also cut the size of projects that could qualify under PURPA in North Carolina, a step that some clean-energy advocates like John Wilson of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy say would “reconstruct [PURPA} as a barrier to participation in energy generation by independent companies.”

And this may not be the end of arguments over PURPA, a law that was created in the 1970s in recognition of a budding renewables industry.

Oregon, Utah, Montana and other state utility commissions face pressure from utility companies that want new rates, contract lengths and other considerations when it comes to utility markets that they don’t necessarily control.

As consumers have become more educated about PURPA, what is often called an obscure federal law with big clout, utility companies like Duke Energy are looking for ways to protect profits in an industry that once had few regional competitors.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Arizona regulators vote to stop net metering for solar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original 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

AZ-Solar 04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHILLING EFFECT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The uncertainty isn’t limited to TEP.

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

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

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

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

Rood may have avoided the new rates after all.

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

As rooftop solar costs drop, utility attempts to raise barriers may not work

by Mary Ellen Klas (Nov. 12, 2016) www.miamiherald.com

rooftop-solar-05

Florida’s utility industry steered more than $20 million of their profits into a failed constitutional amendment to impose new barriers to the expansion of rooftop solar energy generation, but developers say that as the cost of installing solar panels drops, the state could quickly become a leader in private solar energy expansion no matter what the energy giants do.

The Florida Solar Energy Industry Association estimates that over the next five years, Florida homeowners, businesses and utilities are projected to take advantage of the falling prices and install 2,315 megawatts of solar electric capacity — 19 times more than the amount of solar installed in the last five years.

“Solar prices are in free-fall, and no one knows where the bottom is,” said Chris Delp, an attorney with the Tampa law office of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.

Large companies, such as Elon Musk’s Solar City, are offering zero down, low-interest loans, and people can also cut their expenses by deducting 30 percent of their costs under a federal Investment Tax Credit program that was extended last year, he said. “The economics are just going to make these regulatory barriers irrelevant. Florida’s utilities could work with customers to roll out solar or they could work to rule it out.”

What approach will Florida’s investor-owned utilities take?

Will they encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar systems — as utilities in Georgia, California, New York and dozens of others states have done — or will they ask regulators to stifle rooftop solar expansion, as they attempted to do with Amendment 1, so that they can control the development of solar themselves and limit the hit to their bottom line?

According to the Florida Public Service Commission’s 10-year site plan, utilities plan to increase their solar generation, but solar will make up only a tiny fraction of all energy generation supplied by the regulated utilities in the next 10 years. Gulf Power has announced it will add up to 500 megawatts of solar power to its fleet by 2024 and Florida Power & Light has asked the PSC for permission to add 1,200 megawatts over the next four years as part of a settlement agreement to raise its electric rates.

Florida ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, according to SEIA, but is only 14th for cumulative solar capacity that is installed. That could change, Delp said, if the emerging interest in solar installation in Florida, fueled by the drops in prices, results in more people installing their own electricity generation, circumventing utilities.

“I don’t think this was their intent, but what the utilities did with Amendment 1 was bring the discussion of solar energy development in Florida to the forefront,” said Delp, who is working with a company building a 30-megawatt private solar farm in Leesburg. “It’s now a kitchen table issue. There is awareness that there is a lack of solar in Florida and that we lag behind so many other states.”

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this article.

VOTE NO ON FLORIDA AMENDMENT 1!

by Brent Sauser

The November election is quickly approaching and NetZeroMax is working hard to defeat Florida’s Amendment 1 . . . . the “so-called” Solar Rights amendment.  Please take the time to view the attached videos that go into detail regarding the level of deception involved with the wording of this misleading amendment.  It gives the noble impression of assuring that non-solar consumers will not end up subsidizing roof-top solar owners.  That sounds reasonable to most who have not researched this issue. 

Florida does not rank in the top 10 states for solar production.  Of those top 10 solar producing states NOT ONE has demonstrated any evidence that roof-top solar results in a negative financial burden on non-solar consumers . . . NOT ONE!  On the contrary, roof-top solar is a BENEFIT, not a burden to all power consumers.  We don’t need deceptive and false language in the Florida constitution.  Having this clause in the amendment gives the powerful power monopolies the green light to assess additional fees on roof-top solar owners in response to assuring the non-solar consumers are not financially burden (which is not true anywhere in the USA).  In reality, those additional fees go right to their bottom line profits as they laugh all the way to the bank, knowing that they pulled one over on the Florida voter.  

Amendment 1 will stifle solar progress to the point where Florida will have to change their motto to “The anti-Sunshine State”.   Amendment 1 BLOCKS the sun in Florida.  VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 1!

Can Existing Homes Achieve Net Zero?

by Brent Sauser

img_2329

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

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

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

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

DSCN4988

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

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

DSCN4989

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

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

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

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

solar power

Why Utilities Hate & Fight Rooftop Solar

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

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

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

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

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Regardless of Fierce Opposition, Rooftop Solar Is Unstoppable

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

Arizona Solar 05

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.

Arizona Solar 04

“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.

Arizona Solar 02

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.”

Arizona Solar 01

“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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Confused About Solar Policy In Your State? Follow The Money

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

net meter 01net meter 03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Florida Utilities Determined To Mislead Voters

YES ON 1?  UH . . . NO!

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

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

Florida solar ballot intitiative

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Big Data Center Company Sues Nevada Regulators, Utility Over Solar Deal

by Katie Fehrenbacher (July 14, 2016) FORTUNE.COM

AZ-Solar 04

It’s the latest dispute in Nevada over solar.

The owner of some of the world’s largest data centers has sued Nevada regulators and that state’s utility over a solar energy deal that it says led to it being overcharged.

Las Vegas-based data center operator Switch filed a lawsuit this week that alleges that its agreement to buy solar power, partly brokered by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and utility NV Energy, was unfair, overpriced, and that employees of the state regulator acted inappropriately. The suit, which asks for $30 million in damages, claims fraud, negligence, and conspiracy.

The lawsuit is the latest dispute that has emerged involving solar energy in Nevada, a state with ample sunshine that was an early clean energy supporter.

As companies and residents in Nevada increasingly install solar panels, and sometimes unplug from the power grid, the state regulator and NV Energy are trying to figure out how to manage. The utility and the regulator have repeatedly clashed with both companies selling solar panels and customers buying solar panels.

NV Energy is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Switch, along with some of the world’s largest Internet companies like Google GOOG -0.15% and Apple AAPL -0.01% , have increasingly sought to buy solar and wind power to operate data centers as a way to manage energy costs and be more environmentally friendly.

Switch, which has two massive data centers in Nevada, says it started trying to buy solar power from NV Energy in 2011. Its data centers, which sell services to eBay, Zappos and Cisco, are power-hungry facilities that are filled with computers.

Switch says NV Energy ignored its requests to buy solar power, prompting it to file an application in 2014 to disconnect from the grid so that it could seek solar power from other sources like First Solar FLSR 0.00% .

In the summer of 2015, Switch says the Nevada Public Utilities Commission denied its application to leave the grid. The regulator found that because Switch was such a large power customer, leaving the grid would financially hurt NV Energy and force it to raise rates and thus harm other power customers.

Instead, regulators said that Switch could buy solar power for a higher price through a deal with First Solar, but with NV Energy as the middleman. Switch says it agreed to the deal because it felt like it had no other options, and because an important federal solar subsidy was set to expire by the end of the year that would have driven up solar prices even more (the federal subsidy ended up getting extended).

First Solar is now installing 180 megawatts of solar panels as part of a deal to sell the power to Switch. That’s enough energy to run close to 30,000 average American homes.

Following Switch’s solar deal, the regulator later allowed several large Las Vegas casinos to disconnect from the power grid, with the agreement that the casinos would have to pay hefty fees to NV Energy to leave.

Switch says the solar deal it agreed to was an unlawful attempt to “retain Switch as a customer of the monopoly NV Energy.” Switch also says that the NPUC’s attorney, Carolyn Tanner, acted inappropriately by discussing the case on social media using a pseudonym.

The NPUC said it has yet to receive service of the complaint and therefore has no comment at this time.

NV Energy said in a statement:

“Switch is a very important customer to NV Energy, and given how far we thought we had come over the past two and a half years of working with their team on a variety of issues and opportunities, we are surprised and disappointed with this turn of events. If we are eventually served with the complaint, we will vigorously defend our company and our employees from baseless claims.”

This isn’t the first time a company has accused the NPUC and NV Energy of colluding.

Late last year, regulators approved a plan to increase the fees and lower the rates that solar customers earn for generating electricity. The new rate structure makes roof-installed solar panels uneconomical in the state, according to solar companies, some of which stopped doing business in Nevada.

Following the solar roof rate change, solar companies like SolarCity SCTY 1.58% and SunRun RUN -1.17% accused the NPUC of being in the pocket of NV Energy. NPUC Chairman Paul Thomsen denied the accusation in an interview with Fortune.

Solar companies and solar customers are turning to other venues to fight the regulator’s decisions.

A ballot measure, dubbed the Energy Choice Initiative, if approved would enable companies to buy power on the open market rather than only through the utility. That measure will be voted on in November.

Another ballot measure would ask voters if they want to restore the more favorable solar rates. That measure is being contested in the state Supreme Court, but also made it onto the ballot in November.

Lawsuits have been pointed at all parties over the solar roof rate change. In March a solar group filed a lawsuit against the NPUC seeking to overturn the new solar rates. Earlier this year solar customers filed a class action lawsuit against NV Energy, alleging the utility provided false information to the state’s regulator. And another solar customer sued SolarCity accusing it of failing to disclose information about the potential rate change.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Going Solar? Take Care of These 5 Prerequisites First

by Solar Power Authority (www.solarpowerauthority.com)

Rental Solar 01

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

1. Research Your City’s Rules

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

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

2. Review Your Past Energy Usage

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

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

3. Chat with Your Utility Company

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

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

4. Remove Any Barriers

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

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

5. Audit Your Roof

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

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

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

There has been a surge in the number of companies

willing to provide loans to homeowners

solar photo 25

The tide has turned for solar financing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to access the original article.

Consumers Can Profit from Leaving the Grid

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

High voltage post against dreamy background

Secret is Out

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

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

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

Utility Responses

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

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

Long Term Thinking

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

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

2016-06-01-1464742393-5321497-Griddefect.jpg

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

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

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

What do you think they are going to do?

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Voters like green energy, conservative group says

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

solar farm 06

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

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

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

Voters who support lawmakers in favor of:

New energy efficiency financing 88%

Renewable energy 87%

Offshore drilling for gas and oil 48%

New nuclear energy 42%

Fracking for natural gas 30%

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

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

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

DSCN4986

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Letter: Can we move the solar debate forward?

by Sally Rings (May 6, 2016) www.azcentral.com

IMG_1267net meter 03

For years I have read the articles about the ongoing battles about solar energy in Arizona, and they are almost entirely about the bottom lines of the utility companies and the solar industry.

Virtually nothing is said about the kind of energy each is promoting, and yet the difference is huge. Fossil fuels, which are the primary sources of energy sold by utility companies, are life-destroying on many levels: the obliteration of ecosystems in the mining, the pollution and illness caused in the burning, and the global warming increases at all stages.

On the other hand, solar energy is clean and renewable, contributing to the sustainability and balanced flourishing of life. My hunch is that, because people understand this, if offered energy from both sources at the same price, they would choose solar over fossil fuels (unless they have a vested interested in fossil fuels).

My hope is that, as negotiations begin among those connected to both sources of energy, the long-term effects of both would enlarge the conversation beyond short-term bottom lines.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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

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

SolarCity SCTY

Strong foundation for future reforms

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

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

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

Citizens’ initiative from SolarCity: the hero

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar Energy War: Utilities Set Their Sights on Rooftop Solar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Renewable energy is smart investment for utilities

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

DSCN4987

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Arizona solar ballot initiative launched by super PAC

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

AZ-Solar 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utilities adding fees for solar customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting voters weigh in on solar debate 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

arizona-solar-solutions-logo

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

San Diego County Nears Solar Threshold

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

Rental Solar 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

solar panels 02

Florida Supreme Court allows utility-backed solar amendment on ballot

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

DSCN4987

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

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

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

solar farm 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to access the original article. 

Technicians working on solar panels

Technicians working on solar panels

Will SRP ever see the light on solar energy?

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

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

solar panels 02

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

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

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

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

Get rid of the rooftop solar tax

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

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

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

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

SRP decisions should include these ideas:

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

  • Solarize select areas of the canals

  • Build solar farms at Apache Lake and Canyon Lake

  • Couple demand reduction with solar energy

  • Develop a microgrid project

  • Develop thermal energy systems in commercial centers

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

solar panels 01

Poll: Solar Energy Issue Could Swing US Election

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

Ted Cruz 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

net metering 100

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

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Nevada Solar Power Business Struggles To Keep The Lights On

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

Solar Photo 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

net meter 03Solar Photo 04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Net Metering: Who Pays for Energy Subsidies?

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

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

net meter 03net meter 01

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

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

The issue

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

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

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

The California example

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

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

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

The bigger picture

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

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

How much should the subsidy be?

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

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

Who pays?

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

net meter 02

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

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

Utah 01

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. 

Duke Energy in Florida Supports Customer Owned Solar

by Brent Sauser

Duke 01

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

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

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

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

This is how Net-Metering works for Duke Energy:

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

Tessla Gigafactory Progress

by Brent Sauser

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

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

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

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

Nevada Solar-Law Author Concerned as Solar Companies Flee

NEVADA TAKES A GIANT STEP BACK INTO THE DARK AGES and is shocked with the outcome!

by Chris Martin (BloombergBusiness) January 11, 2016

Nevada 01

Patricia Farley, lead author of a bill authorizing Nevada regulators to revise state solar policies, didn’t expect the new rules to prompt two major solar companies to cut jobs and leave the state.

“I’m absolutely concerned,” Farley, a Republican state senator from Nevada’s 8th District, said in a phone interview Monday.

The legislation was passed in March, and had the blessing of the solar industry and the state’s utilities, she said. It gave the Nevada Public Utilities Commission authority to create a new class of utility customers that use solar panels to generate power. It also granted the PUC the right to increase fees for these customers’ usage of the power grid.

The commissioners in late December voted to increase a fixed monthly fee for solar customers by about 40 percent and reduced the amount customers get paid for excess power they sell to the grid. It also made these changes retroactive.

Job Cuts

The solar industry balked at the changes. SolarCity Corp. announced last week plans to fire 550 field and support staff in Nevada and Sunrun Inc. followed a day later with “hundreds” more job cuts.

“I’ll have to take a look at the numbers,” Farley said. “I have to assume that the PUC would do the right thing. People who already had solar relied on the old rate structure. They should have a remedy.”

The industry last week sought to halt the new fees and to force regulators to reconsider their decision. The PUC plans to hear the first request at a hearing in Carson City Wednesday, and solar industry supporters and workers plan to protest the new rates at a rally there and in Las Vegas.

The issue is playing out across the U.S. as surging demand for rooftop solar panels eats into utilities’ revenue. Regulators are grappling with how to balance desires for cleaner energy and customer choice with utilities that say customers who go solar aren’t paying for their use of the electric grid.

“There is significant cost-shifting with solar that needs to be addressed,” Farley said. “SolarCity and Sunrun were at the table and agreed that the best place for that is at the PUC. That’s still the case.”

SolarCity Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said his company agreed to support the law because utilities were about to reach the state’s self-imposed limit on rooftop solar installations and sales would have stopped without a compromise to lift it. He expects the PUC to reconsider the ruling as the ramifications became more clear.

“We literally had a gun against our head to support it,” Rive said in an interview Monday.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Enphase plug-and-play solar energy storage system to begin pilot program

by Lynda Delacey (October 29, 2015) GizMag.com

Enphase Battery 01

An interesting new player is set to enter the emerging home energy storage arena in the shape of the Enphase Home Energy Solution. Enphase is billed as the world’s first integrated system that allows home users to store, monitor and manage their rooftop-generated solar electricity, while controlling their overall electricity consumption. The new product will be piloted in Australia from December 2015.

The system, (which was clearly named by engineers) provides a modular AC battery array and a networking hub that connects to a cloud-based monitoring app.

“Every other solution on the market that we know of is essentially just a battery,” Enphase Energy’s Asia-Pacific managing director, Nathan Dunn, told Gizmag. “This means you’d have to add additional components to convert the power supply to AC, and additional software to monitor the battery usage. All of that requires a lot of complex engineering. We’re offering a complete solution that can be essentially a plug and play exercise.”

The wall-mountable Enphase AC Battery measures just 390 x 325 x 220 mm (16 x 13 x 9 in) and weighs 25 kg (55 lbs). Each battery incorporates a bidirectional microinverter and provides 1.2 kW hours of energy and 275W/500W power output. It has an ambient temperature range of -20°C to 45°C (-4° to 113° F) and a limited warranty (> 80% capacity) for up to 10 years or 7300 cycles.

“We’ve partnered with ELIIY Power, a Japanese battery provider to develop a battery based on Lithium Iron Phosphate chemistry,” said Dunn. “This is an incredibly safe technology with a prismatic cell format that is very resilient to high temperatures and trauma events.”

According to Enphase, a hypothetical home user with a PV array may choose to install the system in three stages.

Stage one: Install Enphase Envoy-S Metered, the networking hub of the system. This device – around the size of an iPad – will send you information via the company’s MyEnlighten app. You can then start obsessing over how much energy your PV system is generating (and when), and how much energy your household is drawing from both your PV system and the grid throughout the day. This shows you how many storage batteries you may need.

Enphase Battery 03

Stage two: Start with two or three Enphase AC Batteries and have them installed in series to start building towards the battery capacity you need.

Enphase Battery 01

Stage three: The system will automatically start optimising your PV energy usage – shifting it to batteries when you’re generating more power than you use, and drawing electricity back from the batteries during peak usage periods. You can then start mixing things up – change your habits, or add more batteries and solar panels – to find ways to further reduce your electricity bill.

Enphase Battery 02

Enphase has announced pricing for the battery at AUD$1,150 (US$817) per kilowatt hour for volume purchases by direct customers in the Australian market, with a margin to be applied by partners.

There’s no denying that solar energy isn’t a cheap prospect yet, but with storage and efficiency still the industry’s biggest stumbling blocks, it will be interesting to see how the system goes on the market.

CLICK HERE to access the original article.

What Will the Year 2016 Bring?

by Brent Sauser

2016 01

2015 is quickly coming to an end and we are left with more questions than answers.

  1.  Will the debate over human influenced global climate change continue to divide a world?
  2.  Will politics over human influenced climate change continue to dominate the conversation instead of common sense?
  3.   Will we waste more time pointing fingers and name calling those on both sides of the issue?
  4.  Will the growing movement toward renewable systems slow down, speed up, or stay the same due to recent legislation by Congress to extend the 30% solar tax rebate program beyond 2016?
  5.  Will more people come to the realization that it makes good common sense to lower our overall power consumption and decide to go solar to offset what power we do consume?

These and more questions face us as we transition from 2015 to 2016.  It is anticipated that because of the recent solar tax rebate extension by Congress, the total number of solar installations will increase over 2015, but not to the levels projected when 2016 ended the tax rebate program.  Now that the solar rebate program extends through 2020, the forecast is indicating a moderate increase of solar installations each year.

It is a fact that in many parts of the USA power parity has already occurred.  Just check out costs per kWh in San Diego and Hawaii.  Going solar already makes good common sense . . . . . dollars and cents!   We installed a 7.5 kW roof top solar array in early September.  Last month we paid $10.44 for our power bill.   That is the minimum amount we pay and reflects the fee for net meter hook up as well as taxes.  Our bill also indicated a 97kWh surplus that the utility has “banked” in our favor.  What did you pay on your power bill last month?

Do the math . . . .  we paid $24,000 for our 7.5kW solar array.  The 30% federal tax rebate brings that total amount down to $16,800.   Our Enphase microinverters and Axitec solar panels are warranted for 25 years.   Assuming our system achieves Net Zero . . . . our total investment remains $16,800 over the 25 years.  Those who decide to stay on grid power will, in contrast, pay over $26,000 over the same period of time, and that is without taking into consideration rate increases.  So, you decide which makes more sense, staying on grid power or going solar.  Putting close to $200 back in my pocket each month is no small thing.  And here’s the good news; we managed to do all this in a 20 year old home with an eastern orientation.  I promise, it can be done.  It takes a lot of planning, research, along with a bit of lifestyle adaptation to make it work, but it works.

Let the politicians and intellectuals point fingers all they want.  All I know is I’m saving close to $200 every month on money I’m not spending on power bills.  That really adds up over time.  If you can’t afford to pay for a solar array outright, there are low interest loans increasingly available throughout the USA.  Check it out.

If this is the time of year to make resolutions I hope you will consider moving to a more Net Zero life style.  I wish you not only a happy new year, but a sustainable new year too.

be the change

How Much Was Your Power Bill?

by Brent Sauser

IMG_1275

I know this will sound like bragging, but we paid $11.08 for our electric bill last month.   That’s right . . . . $11.08!  Our total billable power consumption was only 5kWh.  The cost for that power was only 55 cents, but then you add the mandatory taxes and net meter hook-up fees and you get to $11.08.  Can’t get much lower than that per month while still being connected to the power grid.  Hey . . . I’ll take it. 

As we are moving into the fall and winter seasons the sun is at a lower angle in the sky and the days are shorter, which means less time for direct sunlight on the solar panels.  My daily records show fewer kWhs per day than in the summer months, which is understandable.  However, in like manner our overall power consumption is reduced by cooler temperatures.  Less A/C time means lower power consumption.  So, even though the sun is at a lower angle  and there is less of it,  power consumption has decreased as well. 

We are using Enphase micro-inverters that enable us to monitor each solar panel individually.  We are only into month #4 in the Net Zero process and look forward to see how our energy consumption balances with our energy consumption during the cooler months of the year. 

DSCN4989

PV Solar Is a Bargain

by Brent Sauser

Solar Photo 15

Biting the bullet to go solar can be a big decision.  Not too many people have that kind of money to invest all at once.  Yet, today there are numerous ways to finance a PV solar system if you are lacking the total funds up front. 

Once that investment has been paid you can enjoy the benefit of your own private power plant for the next 25 to 30 years  . . . . without any additional costs.  Meanwhile, your power utility continues to raise your electrical rates on a regular basis.  Over the course of 20 years it is conceivable that you will pay up to twice as much for utility power versus having your own PV solar array.  

DSCN4516

The Sauser household is in the process of having a 7.5kW roof top solar array installed.  We have managed to reduce our monthly kWh consumption to be covered by a 7.5kW PV system.  We should be able to generate enough power to satisfy our monthly electrical needs.  On paper, we believe we can achieve Net Zero in our humble 3-bedroom home.  The future of Net Zero is in the ability to retrofit existing homes to come as close to Net Zero as possible.  The transition of our home to Net Zero will serve as the primary case study for my next book:  Retrofit to Net Zero. 

Wind and Solar Will Soon Become the ‘Least-Cost Option Almost Universally’

There’s no end in sight for cost reductions.

Solar Photo 15

by Stephan Lacey (June 23, 2015) Greentechsolar:

The first phase of growth for renewable electricity was driven by policy. The next phase will be driven by straight economics.

Two new reports on global demand for renewables forecast dramatic growth in nearly every region of the world over the coming decades. While promotion policies are still important for supporting the industry in some countries in the short term, conventional technologies like wind and solar are becoming cheap enough to compete without direct subsidies.

solar clipart 10

According to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the average cost of developing wind projects will fall by 32 percent and the cost of solar PV projects will fall by 48 percent by 2040. Within a decade, wind will become “the least-cost option almost universally.” And by 2030, solar will become the cheapest resource.

“Economics — rather than policy — will increasingly drive the uptake of renewable technologies,” wrote Seb Henbest, an analyst with BNEF.

By 2020, solar will dominate new capacity additions, accounting for $3.7 trillion in investment over the following two decades, according to the BNEF report. By 2040, small-scale rooftop solar will make up 13 percent of global generation capacity.

GTM Research is also out with a global demand report for solar. It projects an even greater expansion of the technology, also driven primarily by economics rather than policy. According to the report, the world could see 135 gigawatts of installations annually by 2020 — double projections from the PV Market Alliance.

wind turbine 06

We think that by 2018 solar is going to be the resource of choice,” said GTM Research’s Adam James. 

That year will be the “tipping point for grid parity,” said James. “We expect unsubsidized PV development across multiple markets.”

China, America and Japan will be the top three countries for solar PV development in 2020. But the market will be very diverse, with Africa, Latin America and the Middle East jumping from 1 percent of solar demand today to 17 percent within five years.

Maturing business models — both solar services in developed countries and off-grid solutions in developing ones — will allow solar to compete in a growing number of countries based solely on cost.

“We are already seeing a solar evolution as companies align themselves with a future where solar demand is more market-based. We expect solar will hit grid parity demand in mature markets, open the tap to capital markets, and benefit from regulatory changes that facilitate accelerated long-term solar growth,” said James.

Hawaii 05

The global PV industry has fluctuated dramatically over the years as changing policies created cycles of growth and retraction. As solar becomes more market-based, GTM Research foresees much more level yearly growth.

BNEF and GTM Research both predict that solar will make up most of the new generating capacity installed after 2020.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Residential solar installs post largest quarterly growth ever!

By Lucas Mearian – Computerworld (June 9, 2015)

 Analysts expect a 24% increase in solar power this year!

rooftop-solar-installation 01

Residential installations of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels in the U.S. led the solar power market in the first quarter of this year, posting a record sequential 11% growth rate. That’s the largest such uptick in history.

Residential systems were up 76%, compared with the first quarter of 2014, according to a U.S. Solar Market Insight report released today.

In all, the U.S. solar market saw just over 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of capacity installed in the first quarter, according to the report. It was the sixth consecutive quarter that solar power capacity in the U.S. grew by more than 1GW.

“We forecast that PV installations will reach 7.9GW in 2015, up 27% over 2014,” the report stated.

Residential solar installation costs dropped to $3.46 per watt of installed capacity this quarter, which represents a 2.2% reduction over last quarter and a 10% reduction over the first quarter of 2014.

Residential Solar Graph

The U.S. Solar Market Insight report is a quarterly publication from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA); it’s based on data collected from almost 200 utilities, state agencies, installers and manufacturers.

Collectively, more than 51% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. came from solar in Q1, 2015. In the first quarter, the residential and utility PV market segments each added more capacity than the natural gas industry brought on line, the report said.

New installations of solar power capacity surpassed those of wind and coal for the second year in a row, accounting for 32% of all new electrical capacity, according to a a report released earlier this year by GTM and the SEIA.

One of the factors spurring growth in solar power is the expiration of the federal government’s solar investment tax credit (ITC). That measure, passed in 2008, offered a 30% tax credit for residential and business installations. When it expires in 2016, the tax credit will drop to a more permanent 10%.

Even so, the first quarter of any year tends to be slow for solar installations due to inclement weather in the north as well as for business accounting and tax reasons. That seasonal slowdown was seen in both the commercial and utility solar markets this year, both of which were down quarter-over-quarter from the last quarter of 2014.

Non-residential solar installations saw a 24% sequential downturn and a 3% downturn compared with the first quarter of 2014.

“The non-residential market continues to struggle from longstanding barriers to customer origination and project finance, and it remains more sensitive to state incentive reductions than residential solar,” the report said.

The double-digit growth in residential solar systems was particularly notable because nearly one-fourth of the residential solar installations have now come on line without any state incentives. That compares with 2012, when only 2% of residential solar power growth came on line without state incentives.

The uptick in residential solar — sans state incentives — is due to a trend with solar power reaching price parity with other forms of energy due to net energy metering and the leasing of third-party-owned systems. Net metering allows PV users to sell back any unused power to utilities.

“The residential juggernaut will continue to roll on, while the non-residential market will pick up, particularly in California and New York. And the utility-scale pipeline has reached unprecedented levels ahead of the looming federal Investment Tax Credit expiration,” the report stated. “We anticipate another record year for solar in the U.S. in every market segment.”

Residential Solar Graph 02

Deutsche Bank analysts believes the cost to finance solar installations will also drop from 7.9% last year to about 5.4% this year. Financing for installations is expected to stabilize at around 6.5% by 2019.

Amit Ronen, director of George Washington University’s Solar Institute, was a key Congressional staffer behind the 2008 ITC legislation. Along with the ITC law, one of the driving forces behind adoption of solar power and the ensuing reduction of costs, he said, has been the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative. That effort helps fund research, manufacturing and market creation. SunShot has a goal for solar energy to reach price parity with conventional power sources by 2020.

“They say they’re about 60% of the way there because [of solar] panel prices…. They’ve come down 80% over the past five years,” Ronen said in an interview late last year.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

WHY GO SOLAR?

By Brent Sauser

    Solar Photo 15

Not only is solar power totally sustainable and environmentally friendly . . . . it puts money back in your pocket! In fact, going solar provides a greater rate of return on investment (on average) than the stock market. It’s time we understand the simple truth:

                     SAVING ENERGY SAVES YOU MONEY!

 We only have 20 more months to take advantage of the 30% Federal rebate program for solar installations. The time to decide to go solar is NOW! The following video helps to explain the benefits of going solar in greater detail.

Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes

By Diane Cardwell (April 18, 2015) The New York Times – Energy & Environment

 Hawaii Solar 01

HONOLULU — Allan Akamine has looked all around the winding, palm tree-lined cul-de-sacs of his suburban neighborhood in Mililani here on Oahu and, with an equal mix of frustration and bemusement, seen roof after roof bearing solar panels.

Mr. Akamine, 61, a manager for a cable company, has wanted nothing more than to lower his $600 to $700 monthly electric bill with a solar system of his own. But for 18 months or so, the state’s biggest utility barred him and thousands of other customers from getting one, citing concerns that power generated by rooftop systems was overwhelming its ability to handle it.

Only under strict orders from state energy officials did the utility, the Hawaiian Electric Company, recently rush to approve the lengthy backlog of solar applications, including Mr. Akamine’s.

Hawaii Solar 04

It is the latest chapter in a closely watched battle that has put this state at the forefront of a global upheaval in the power business. Rooftop systems now sit atop roughly 12 percent of Hawaii’s homes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, by far the highest proportion in the nation.

“Hawaii is a postcard from the future,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, a policy and advocacy group based in California.

Hawaii Solar 07

Other states and countries, including California, Arizona, Japan and Germany, are struggling to adapt to the growing popularity of making electricity at home, which puts new pressures on old infrastructure like circuits and power lines and cuts into electric company revenue.

As a result, many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts.

The shift in the electric business is no less profound than those that upended the telecommunications and cable industries in recent decades. It is already remaking the relationship between power companies and the public while raising questions about how to pay for maintaining and operating the nation’s grid.

Hawaii Solar 05

The issue is not merely academic, electrical engineers say.

In solar-rich areas of California and Arizona, as well as in Hawaii, all that solar-generated electricity flowing out of houses and into a power grid designed to carry it in the other direction has caused unanticipated voltage fluctuations that can overload circuits, burn lines and lead to brownouts or blackouts.

“Hawaii’s case is not isolated,” said Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and chairman of the smart grid program at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical association. “When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly — every two years or so — there’s going to be problems.”

Hawaii 04

The economic threat also has electric companies on edge. Over all, demand for electricity is softening while home solar is rapidly spreading across the country. There are now about 600,000 installed systems, and the number is expected to reach 3.3 million by 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group, has been warning its members of the economic perils of high levels of rooftop solar since at least 2012, and the companies are responding. In February, the Salt River Project, a large utility in Arizona, approved charges that could add about $50 to a typical monthly bill for new solar customers, while last year in Wisconsin, where rooftop solar is still relatively rare, regulators approved fees that would add $182 a year for the average solar customer.

In Hawaii, the current battle began in 2013, when Hawaiian Electric started barring installations of residential solar systems in certain areas. It was an abrupt move — a panicked one, critics say — made after the utility became alarmed by the technical and financial challenges of all those homes suddenly making their own electricity.

Hawaii 05

The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not.

It was but one sign of the agency’s growing impatience with what it considers the utility’s failure to adapt its business model to the changing market.

NREL 03

Hawaiian Electric is scrambling to accede to that demand, approving thousands of applications in recent weeks. But it is under pressure on other fronts as well. NextEra Energy, based in Florida, is awaiting approval to buy it, while other islands it serves are exploring defecting to form their own cooperative power companies.

It is also upgrading its circuits and meters to better regulate the flow of electricity. Rooftop solar makes far more power than any other single source, said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, but the utility can neither control nor predict the output.

Hawaii Solar 02

“At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don’t keep that balance things go unstable,” he said, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility’s main control room. But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.”

For customers, such explanations offer little comfort as they continue to pay among the highest electric rates in the country and still face an uncertain solar future.

Hawaii Solar 06

“I went through all this trouble to get my electric bill down, and I am still waiting,” said Joyce Villegas, 88, who signed her contract for a system in August 2013 but was only recently approved and is waiting for the installation to be completed.

Mr. Akamine expressed resignation over the roughly $12,000 he could have saved, but wondered about the delay. “Why did it take forceful urging from the local public utility commission to open up more permits?” he asked.

Installers — who saw their fast-growing businesses slow to a trickle — are also frustrated with the pace. For those who can afford it, said James Whitcomb, chief executive of Haleakala Solar, which he started in 1977, the answer may lie in a more radical solution: Avoid the utility and its grid altogether.

Hawaii Solar 03

Customers are increasingly asking about the batteries that he often puts in along with the solar panels, allowing them to store the power they generate during the day for use at night. It is more expensive, but it breaks consumer reliance on the utility’s network of power lines.

“I’ve actually taken people right off the grid,” he said, including a couple who got tired of waiting for Hawaiian Electric to approve their solar system and expressed no interest in returning to utility service. “The lumbering big utilities that are so used to taking three months to study this and then six months to do that — what they don’t understand is that things are moving at the speed of business. Like with digital photography — this is inevitable.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Photo credits: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times

What Is Net-Zero?

By www.invisionzerohome.com

solar house 02

The U.S. Department of Energy defines a net-zero energy home as one that uses about 60 to 70 percent less energy than a conventional home, with the balance of its energy needs supplied by renewable technologies.

Essentially, it is a home that sustains itself – energy wise. That doesn’t mean that it is “off the grid.” Actually, it may use some energy from the local utility. But a net-zero energy home generates the bulk of its own energy and makes enough extra energy to sell it back to the utility through “net metering,” offsetting the amount purchased.

Because of the energy-efficient products used in a net-zero energy home and because it requires so little energy from the utility companies, net-zero energy homes also have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Many net-zero energy homes also use building materials made from renewable resources – for even greater sustainability.

DSCN4086

Every 2.5 minutes, a new solar system is installed in the United States!

By Michael Graham – January 23,2015 (Treehugger.com)

solar-panels-installation

Last year, a new solar system was installed every 2.5 minutes on average in the US, with over 200,000 systems being connected to the grid. This compares favorably to 2013, when a solar system was installed every 3.7 minutes on average, and that’s 4x more than in 2011 when only around 50,000 systems were installed (which was a record at the time). If we go back a bit further in time to 2001, new solar systems were only installed every 9-and-a-half hours on average. Talk about progress!

The trend is clear:

SolarSystemEvery2Minutes graph

So it’s not surprising that the solar industry is also creating jobs about 20x faster than U.S. businesses. Australia is also impressive on the solar front. Despite having a much smaller population than the U.S. (23 million vs. 316 million), the country still installed a solar system every 2.8 minutes, or 185,890 solar systems in 2014.

Australia photo 02

In fact, Australians like solar so much that there’s already a solar system on 1-in-5 households (1.2 million solar systems installed across Australia since 2001) and 9 out of 10 Australian households are considering switching to solar power!

Australia photo 01

Kudos, Australians!

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Salt Lake City Studies Net Metering for Solar Energy

By Amy Jol O’Donoghue (KSL.com – January 19, 2015)

 solar house 02 

The Public Service Commission is going to launch a study to determine a full range of costs and benefits if Rocky Mountain Power were to charge a net metering fee for residents who are also plugged into rooftop solar systems.

Before it embarks on that study, the utility company, solar power advocates and a host of others get to weigh in on what types of costs and benefits are examined as part of that analysis.

In a meeting Monday at the Public Service Commission offices, groups such as Utah Clean Energy, Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy, the utility company and Utah Office of Consumer Services mapped out of tentative schedule for the process that will unfold before the commission in the coming months.

“We really want to have a robust and transparent analysis that fully evaluates all the benefits that solar brings to Utah, as well as the costs,” said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy.

At issue is an order issued in late August by the commission that rejected an initial attempt by PacifiCorp to charge an extra monthly fee of $4.65 a month to solar customers for what the utility company said was to help cover its fixed costs of delivering energy to households.

Critics of the controversial proposal called it a “sun tax” and asserted it would discourage the transition to clean energy.

In its ruling rejecting the fee, the commission said it could not justify the fee without further analysis, directing instead that a “better course” would be for the utility company and other parties to gather and analyze information on the fee and present those results and recommendations in future hearings.

Net metering allows electricity customers who wish to supply their own electricity from the grid from on-site generation to pay for only the “net” energy they obtain from the utility.

Alternatively, if the customer’s system generates excess electricity, it is exported to the grid. The customer then gets a credit for those kilowatt hours of generated electricity — much like rollover minutes accumulate on a cellphone bill that can be used to cushion averages in the future.

The fee would have impacted 2,500 households in Utah.

Solar advocates want any decision on an imposition of a net metering fee to take into account the “offsets” that come when residential households are plugged into renewable energy that is absent of carbon emissions and the corresponding health impacts, as well as other considerations.

Conversely, the utility company wants to make sure its costs of still having to have infrastructure in place such as substations and lines are appropriately part of the analysis, as well as what shifted costs might be to non-solar customers.

PacifiCorp is already engaged in a “load study” in which energy consumption and output is being examined for 62 solar sites.

DSCN2714

Initiative could dramatically increase solar power production in Florida

by Mike Salinero – The Tampa Tribune (Updated – January 18, 2015)

solar roof top system 01

Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but you wouldn’t know it from the state’s ranking at No. 13 for solar energy production.

Proponents of the so-called Solar Choice ballot initiative say they can reverse this by challenging the control major utility companies hold over electricity sales in Florida. The initiative, if passed as an amendment to the state Constitution, would supersede a state law allowing only investor-owned utilities to sell electricity.

“It’s the first glimmer of hope for the widespread use of solar power and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime,” said Scott McIntyre, chief executive officer of Solar Energy Management, based in Tampa and St. Petersburg, and president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy. “It’s going to kick off the solar industry in the state of Florida.”

An unlikely coalition of conservatives, liberals, environmentalists and business people are pushing the initiative, which needs 680,000 petition signatures to get on the November 2016 ballot.

McIntyre, a Republican, said the initiative will promote free markets, a conservative principle. Once anyone can sell electricity, he said, it will spur the sale of solar-powered systems, eventually lowering the cost of solar- and utility-produced electricity.

Here’s how it would work: A homeowner who wants to install solar, but can’t afford the up-front costs, can instead “buy” the electricity produced by the solar arrays from the company that installed them. Proponents say the electricity will be cheaper than power from the utility company. Once the solar panels are paid off, the resident owns the power source, ensuring low utility bills for a decade or more.

“You’re actually paying less at the end of the month and you’re getting solar service over the longer term,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “That solar system is providing you clean power, and your bill is going to be stable from then on.”

For environmental groups, the initiative is another way to incrementally reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. Electric power plants powered by these fossil fuels are the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director for the Sierra Club, said the environmental group hasn’t taken an official position on the ballot initiative and won’t until the club’s executives can review the ballot language. But Jackalone, who is based in St. Petersburg, said he supports Solar Choice in principle because the initiative will benefit consumers and the environment.

“This is going to make a lot of people and businesses energy-independent,” Jackalone said. “And it’s going to move us away from those dirty fossil fuel plants.”

Members of Floridians for Solar Choice say they’re ready for an expensive fight against well-funded utility companies with political clout. The group is buoyed by internal polls showing that more than 70 percent of Floridians support the concept of third-party solar energy sales.

“It’s a David and Goliath battle, but (the initiative) is enormously popular,” Smith said. “The utilities are going to have to spend a bunch of money to convince people that they don’t want it.”

But getting the required 60 percent of the vote necessary to amend the state Constitution is a high bar, particularly on an issue that doesn’t yet motivate voters.

That bar was too high in the November General Election for the medical marijuana initiative, which failed with more than 57 percent of the vote. Solar Choice proponents are hoping for an outcome closer to the 75 percent who approved the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, providing a dedicated source of revenue for land and water conservation.

Spokesmen for the three major utilities that serve the Tampa Bay area would not say where they stand on the solar measure.

“We continue to review the language and have not made a decision how we may support the proposed language,” Duke Energy spokesman Sterling Ivey said in an email. “But key components for us are that any state energy policy is fair and beneficial for all customers.”

TECO Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs, also via email, said the initiative is “likely the first of many energy proposals that will emerge over the next few months.”

“TECO Energy will evaluate the proposals and support the ones that are fair and beneficial to all customers,” Jacobs said.

A spokeswoman for Florida Power & Light Co. declined comment.

If the utilities oppose the initiative, proponents are likely to point to the industry’s missteps and public concern over their influence.

The concern dates to 2006, when the Legislature passed a law allowing utilities to collect money up-front for nuclear power projects. Progress Energy used the law to start collecting the costs of a repair job on the Crystal River nuclear plant and for the startup costs on a new plant in Levy County.

The repair job was botched, Duke Energy bought Progress Energy in July 2012, and the following February the Crystal River Plant was closed.

Later in 2013, Duke Energy announced it was abandoning the Levy County plant due to changes in the energy market.

Fallout from the two failed nuclear plants became an issue in the 2014 governor and cabinet races. The Public Service Commission made Duke Energy return $54 million collected for the Levy County plant.

But soon after, the commission cut energy-efficiency targets for the utilities by 90 percent and scrapped the state’s solar rebate program. Both actions were at the request of the power companies.

“It’s just one thing after another,” said Smith, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “The utility monopolies are not accountable, and they only have their shareholders in mind.”

Floridians for Solar Choice, on the Web at fl solarchoice.org, has to collect petition signatures in two phases.

First, it needs 68,000 signatures to have the initiative language reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

If the court approves, the group has to collect another 612,000 signatures by Feb. 1, 2016, to put the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that year.

CLICK HERE to read the actual article.

Power Utilities Scramble to Reinvent Themselves amid Trend to Energy Independence

By Brent Sauser

Blockbuster


I grew up learning how to type on a typewriter in 8th grade and later proudly Typewriterwearing the newest pocket (simple function) calculator from Sears for my college calculus class.  I recall being so excited about upgrading my 386 computer to a 40 megabyte internal hard drive with my very own floppy disk drive.  On weekends I would take my children to Hollywood Video or Blockbuster to pick out some VHS tape movies.  Those were the days! 

The relentless forward momentum from Technology has made a tremendous impact on our lives that is undeniable. Atari 1200 Many companies have embraced this technological transition and continue to thrive.  Others, like the antiquated typewriter and Blockbuster business model, didn’t or couldn’t evolve.  They, along with too many others who didn’t recognize the winds of change, remain a dusty footnote to the 20th Century. 

Some have come “on board” early and have embraced the movement with new, creative, and innovative products, services, and ways to do business in the 21st Century.  However, the major utilities, and in particular power utilities, remain Power Grid 03steadfast to the obsolete business practices that made them the protected monopoly that they are, but could risk losing significant revenues and market share if they don’t adapt to the energy conserving trends of its customers.  The majority of major reports recently conducted indicate that the movement toward energy reduction and independence is growing, which has a direct impact on utility grid power consumption.  The trend is DOWN, not up.  Less power demand, less revenues!  Gone are the days of simply serving as the local power supply of raw energy from the grid, and the single source for electrical power. 

All across the USA many of the power utility’s customers are turning to alternative, renewable energy sources for their power.  They are taking solar clipart 12advantage of the 30% Federal Tax Credit as well as other State credits to install energy generating or energy saving products.  Reports detail the potential revenue losses the power utilities can suffer . . . IF they do not adapt to the trend and reinvent themselves to remain viable in the 21st Century.  Two excellent examples of technology adaptation are 3M and IBM.  Take a minute to review their origins and how they have adapted to the trends of the times.  IBM has gone from a manufacturer of business machines to a worldwide company selling services. Power utility companies are now faced with that same challenge. Will they go the way of Blockbuster and WANG, or adapt like IBM?  These next few years will be very telling. 

 Please CLICK HERE to access an excellent summary report from Accenture IKEA 03regarding the future of the power utility companies and what they must do to adapt to the energy conservation trend.  This is a very exciting time to be alive and witness this revolutionary transition to renewable energy resources and energy independence.  You know it’s real when “Goliath” is forced to recognize the need to change.  We are winning this battle one Net Zero building at a time.  Onward and upward!

Solar Power Prices to be on Par with Coal & Oil Within Two Years!

Lucas Mearian (Computerworld-Nov. 18, 2014)

NREL 03

The cost of roof-top solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices for common coal or oil-powered generation in just two years, and the technology to produce it will only get cheaper.

The prediction, made by Deutsche Bank’s leading solar industry analyst, Vishal Shah, is part of a report on Vivint Solar, the nation’s second-biggest solar panel installer.  Shah believes Vivint Solar is doing so well that it will double its sales each year for the next two years. 

graph 02

The sharp decline in solar energy costs is the result of increased economies of scale leading to cheaper photovoltaic panels, new leasing models and declining installation costs.  Today, only 10 states boast solar energy costs that are on par with those of conventional electricity generation methods, such as coal-fired power plants.  Those states include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, new Mexico, and Vermont. 

Last year, those states using solar power accounted for about 90% of U.S. installations.  But, by 2016, Deutsche expects solar energy to reach price parity in all 50 states. 

Graph 01

Currently, the U.S. has 16GW of installed solar capacity, with nearly 5GW of solar capacity added last year alone, according to Deutsche.  One of the factors spurring growth is the expiration of the federal government’s solar investment tax credit (ITC).  That measure, passed in 2008, offered a 30% tax credit for residential  and business installations.  When it expires in 2016, the tax credit will drop to a more permanent 10%. 

“Consequently, we expect to see a big rush of new installations ahead of the 2016 ITC expiration,” Shah stated in his research document.  Deutsche said solar system prices in the U.S. are expected to decline from just under $3 per watt today, to under $2.50 per watt over the next 18 months, leading to a further decline in the price per kilowatt-hour of solar to 9-14 cents, “driving further acceleration in solar shipments.”

CLICK HERE to read the entire article by Lucas Mearian.

DOES GOING SOLAR MAKE CENTS?

by Brent Sauser

cost of solar 01

LET’S DO THE MATH

1.    Average home uses 1,000 kWh of energy a month, or 33.33 kWh per day.

2.    Local Utility energy costs $0.11 per kWh.

Local utility energy costs over 20 years: 

$0.11 per/kWh X 1,000 kWh per/mo X 12 mo X 20 years = $26,400

6 kW solar panel installation cost over 20 years:

24 panel installation at $12,000 (after tax credit) = $12,000

VARIABLES:solar house 02

1.    Utility Power:  Rising Utility Costs

2     Solar Installation:  25 Year Warranty

Seems to me going solar not only makes sense . . . . it makes dollars and cents!  Time to take advantage of the 30% tax credit before that “carrot” becomes the “stick”.  I much rather put money back in my pocket than pay a monthly consumption tax and higher energy costs.  How about you?ROI Photo 1

WordPress SEO