Tag Archives: California State Legislature

Why Rooftop Solar Advocates Are Upset About California’s Clean-Energy Law

By Ivan Penn, The Los Angeles Times

California’s aggressive push to increase renewable energy production comes with a catch for people with solar panels on the roof: You don’t count.

If a home or business has a rooftop solar system, most of the wattage isn’t included in the ambitious requirement to generate half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030, part of legislation signed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown.

That means rooftop solar owners are missing out on a potentially lucrative subsidy that is paid to utilities and developers of big power projects. It also means that utility ratepayers could end up overpaying for clean electricity to meet the state’s benchmark because lawmakers, by excluding rooftop solar, left out the source of more than a third of the state’s solar power.

Owners of rooftop solar systems and their advocates aren’t happy about the policy…The rooftop solar industry and consumer advocates say opposition to including rooftop solar in California’s renewable energy mandate came from large developers that feared competition for subsidies as well as unions that were upset because rooftop solar installers typically aren’t members.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Times

Inside California’s energy politics, the FERC Order 745 case, and the coming storage cost shift

By Gavin Bade, Utility Dive

[Editor’s Note: The following is part of Utility Dive’s coverage of the 2015 Energy Storage North America conference.]

For many power sector observers, California utilities are the ideal partners for forward-thinking regulators looking to adapt the utility business model to the 21st century. California’s investor-owned utilities proclaim their commitment to clean energy technologies demonstrating how they’ve surpassed mandates, accepted more rooftop solar, or integrated large amounts of storage.

Utility executives from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), provided apt examples in their keynotes at the Energy Storage North America conference. All these announcements could logically lead observers to conclude that California utilities have been proactive partners in helping set California’s ambitious clean energy goals. Not exactly, two veteran state legislators told Utility Dive at the conference.

Politics of renewable energy policy:

State Sen. Ben Hueso, chair of the Senate energy and utilities committee, ushered SB 350, the bill that set the state’s 50% RPS, through committee earlier this year. He said that the utilities have always fought hard against any mandates behind closed doors, whether it was SB 350 or earlier efforts. Former Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, echoed Hueso’s observations, but said that the power industry doesn’t behave much differently than others in this respect. “No industry likes mandates,” she said, noting that it took three legislative sessions to usher through the state’s previous 33% RPS, which was met with utility pressure behind closed doors.

California’s new RPS, by contrast, was authored and passed in one legislative session, a feat that Skinner said cannot be overstated. Not only does the bill increase the renewables portfolio standard to 50% by 2030, it also specifically calls on utilities to deploy energy storage and combines the renewables goal with an aggressive efficiency standard. So what changed to get such an aggressive bill passed so quickly?

…Clifford Rechtschaffen, a senior advisor to Brown, said the most important thing was that, in the end, “all of the utilities with the tiny exception of some northern California power agencies that had some qualms, they all supported SB 350.” Rechtschaffen said that while the utilities may have shown some resistance as the bill was working its way through the legislature, most of their concerns were operational in nature. “They weren’t quarreling with the notion that we needed to get to 50%,” he said. “They had concerns about how best to do it — some of which we agree with and others which we aren’t completely in line with, but we’re working on those. Storage is a big part of the solution.”

The role of storage in California’s renewable energy economy:

In a keynote panel discussion the California policymakers highlighted energy storage as the technology that can make 50% renewables and beyond possible for California. Once you get to that level of renewables, Rechtschaffen said, “storage is absolutely critical for grid integration. There’s no arguing about that.”

But the situation for storage, especially in the eyes of utilities, wasn’t always so rosy, Rechtschaffen said. Back in 2014, the state’s IOUs were resistant to the PUC’s mandate to deploy over 1,300 MW of storage on the grid by 2020, worried that the technology wasn’t ready and that it would “put storage in a bad light.”

In reality, the opposite happened, and SCE started off the storage procurements by buying 264 MW, when it was only compelled to purchase 50 MW at the time. For the California policymakers, it was a validation of the power of mandates to drive innovation in the power sector.

Read full article from Utility Dive

Related article: Why energy storage is key to a future with ‘no more gas turbines’ (Utility Dive) – Oct. 15, 2015

Brown signs climate law mandating 50% renewable power by 2030

By David R. Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle

By the end of 2030, half of California’s electricity will come from the wind, the sun and other renewable sources under a new law that sets one of the country’s most ambitious clean-energy targets. The legislation, SB 350, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown, accelerates California’s shift away from fossil fuels as its dominant source of energy and marks another milestone in the state’s fight against climate change.

The law expands a transformation already well under way. For more than a decade, California has required its electrical utility companies to use more renewable power, with the Legislature repeatedly raising the goal. The requirement led to a construction boom for solar power plants and wind farms. But the activity slowed in recent years as developers waited to see whether the Legislature would once again set a higher target. The new law eases that uncertainty, ensuring that California remains a major market for companies that design and build renewable power facilities.

While some business groups have complained that California’s aggressive climate and energy policies could burden local companies with higher costs, the same policies have helped create a thriving clean-technology industry in the state. Supporters of the new law say it sends those companies a signal that the state won’t back off its goals.

Read full article in the San Francisco Chronicle

Will solar energy shine on poor communities?

By Morgan Lee, The San Diego Union-Tribune

A billion-dollar effort to bring more rooftop solar to multi-family housing projects in poor communities is among a raft of clean-energy remedies approved late last week by California lawmakers, and now awaiting the governor’s signature.

Tucked into several approved bills are provisions designed to address the relatively slow spread of rooftop solar within low-income communities and at multi-family housing complexes. For those solar projects, financial arrangements and risks are typically more complex than the single-family homeowner market, and the payoff from solar energy has not always trickled down to the electricity bills for individual tenants.

Assembly Bill 693 would devote up to $100 million a year to expanding rooftop solar at deed-restricted affordable housing complexes. Those dwellings are reserved for people living on less than 60 percent of the local area median income. Exact details of the AB 693 program still need to be written by the California Public Utilities Commission, and might not move forward until 2017. The new solar program eventually could reach an estimated 200,000 low-income households if successful, offsetting individual utility bills in the process by 30 percent to 50 percent.

Read full article in the San Diego Union-Tribune

California Passes a Bill Targeting 50% Renewables by 2030

By Julia Pyper, Greentech Media
September 12, 2015

In the final hours of the legislative session, California lawmakers passed a landmark climate bill that will promote greater deployment of clean energy technologies over the next 15 years, but which some supporters say still fell short of expectations.

SB 350 will increase building energy efficiency in the state by 50 percent by 2030. It will also boost the amount of renewable energy utilities need to buy to 50 percent by 2030. The third major component of the bill — a target to reduce oil use in cars and trucks by 50 percent over the next 15 years — was struck down earlier in the week. In addition, to the dismay of both solar companies and utilities, SB 350 does not specify that distributed solar arrays count toward the mandatory component of the renewable energy target.

SB 350 is one of 12 climate bills that have been working their way through the California state legislature.  A separate bill (SB 32) that would have required California to reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 failed to pass in the Assembly, despite strong support from the governor, as well as from U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

With the state’s legislative session now over, clean energy advocates are focusing their attention on the California Public Utilities Commission. California’s three investor-owned utilities have filed proposals to reduce compensation for net-metered solar customers, and add monthly charges for the electricity these customers consume. Under a 2013 law (AB 327), the CPUC has until the end of the year to create a successor “NEM 2.0” tariff. Solar advocates, including the state’s leading cleantech investors, are pushing for regulators to keep solar incentives the same through 2020.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Half Of California’s Electricity Will Come From Renewable Energy In 15 Years

By Ryan Koronowski, ThinkProgress.org

Late Friday night, the California State Assembly voted 51-26 to pass SB 350, a landmark bill that would boost renewable energy and make buildings twice as efficient as before. The legislature sent the bill to California Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature, and he is expected to sign it later this month, as the legislation makes real the goals Brown set down earlier this year in his inaugural address.

The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) currently requires utilities to provide 33 percent of their electricity generation from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal power, by 2020. SB 350, The Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015, increases that target to 50 percent by 2030. It also requires a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by that year.

Brown also issued an executive order in January that aims to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 — a big step to the larger 2050 goal of reducing GHGs by 80 percent under 1990 levels. This legislation accelerates the pace to that target.

Read full article from ThinkProgress.org

Renewable energy bill far from perfect, experts say

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

With one week until California’s Legislature closes shop for the year, lawmakers are scrambling to pass an ambitious climate and energy plan. At stake are several top priorities for Gov. Jerry Brown: a 50 percent cut in oil use, a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in existing buildings, and a 50 percent clean energy mandate.  Some version of the bill will almost certainly pass, despite opposition from the oil industry and centrist Democrats.

There has been little formidable opposition to the clean energy mandate, which is expected to jump-start solar and wind development in the desert and across the state. But for some clean energy experts, the bill leaves a lot to be desired. Critics say the bill doesn’t do enough to promote clean energy sources that can generate electricity around the clock, including geothermal, biomass and solar with storage. They say adding those kinds of power sources to the mix—rather than continuing to focus almost exclusively on traditional solar farms and wind turbines, which can’t provide power around the clock—is needed to keep electricity costs down for homes and businesses, while limiting the carbon pollution. Anything could change before next Friday. But for now, some critics see the bill as a missed opportunity to limit global warming while keeping electricity costs as low as possible.

Building more clean energy will almost certainly lead to higher electricity prices, but the exact costs of transitioning to clean energy are still up in the air. Under California’s current renewable energy mandate—which requires utility companies to buy the cheapest power on the market—utilities have largely opted for traditional solar and wind farms, because they have the lowest up-front costs. Clean energy sources that provide electricity around the clock—like geothermal and solar with storage—typically have higher up-front costs. SB 350 mostly leaves that system in place, but it would instruct utility regulators to consider the benefits of round-the-clock clean energy sources, such as rooftop solar with storage.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

The Solar Industry Stands Divided Over California’s 50% Renewable Energy Target

By Julia Pyper, Greentech Media

These days, it’s rare to see rooftop solar installers and investor-owned utilities aligned on state policy issues. But in California, the two industry groups are both lobbying for behind-the-meter solar to count toward the state’s expanded renewable portfolio standard.

SB 350, the “Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015,” seeks to increase the state’s renewable energy target from 33 percent by 2020, to 50 percent by 2030. It also calls for cutting petroleum use in the transportation sector by half, and doubling the energy efficiency of buildings over the next 15 years. The bill has already passed the California Senate, and is now making its way through the Assembly.

One of the issues both utilities and solar installers have raised is that distributed solar should not be treated any differently than utility-scale solar as the state crafts the rules around meeting the new 50 percent target. As the RPS stands today, California utilities are only required to buy energy and renewable energy credits (RECs) from utility-scale solar plants. California is the only state in the country that does not count distributed solar toward the state’s RPS goal, either through a distributed generation carve-out or by generating RECs.

In letters to the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce, Southern California Edison and PG&E argue that “state policy should not pick technology winners and losers, favoring only utility-scale renewables,” and call on the legislature to “expand the scope of eligible renewable resources to include distributed generation facilities such as rooftop solar that the state already acknowledges are renewable, yet do not count toward the RPS goal.” This change would give utilities more ways to meet the lofty 50 percent RPS goal. It would also give them a potentially more affordable way to meet the goal by leveraging existing and future private investment toward meeting the RPS, rather than necessarily having to contract for new large-scale projects using ratepayer dollars.

The issue has made strange bedfellows of power companies and rooftop solar installers, which have clashed in several states over the future of net energy metering. Meanwhile, it has pitted rooftop solar companies against large-scale solar installers, which are actively lobbying against the RPS change.

Read full article from Greentech Media

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A BRIGHT QUARTER FOR SOLAR CALIFORNIA

In June, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released their US Solar Market Insight report for the first quarter of 2015. Their report and others from a variety of state and federal sources indicate the solar industry in California continues its impressive growth. The state remains above the national average in the rate of growth in residential and commercial solar capacity, and continues to contribute well over half the national utility capacity added. The US Energy Information Agency reports that last year California became the first state to obtain more than 5% of its electricity production from utility-scale solar power. While the glass appears more than half full, we must not become complacent as there are a number of long-term issues — warning clouds on the horizon — that we must face and resolve.

First quarter residential additions reportedly totaled 231 MW; that is enough to power an additional 60,000 homes with solar energy. This added capacity is 78% larger than the capacity added during the same time last year — a year-over-year growth not even dreamed of in most industries. And for the naysayers who claim this is all subsidized, the California Solar Initiative program has pretty much run its course so that over 80% of these installations occurred without need of state support.

Commercial or non-residential on-site (commonly rooftop) systems have experienced marked growth also, though at more modest volumes. The GTM Research/SEIA study identifies 88 MW added in the first quarter—small compared to residential activity, but still a healthy 42% increase over the 62 MW added in the first quarter of 2014. As with residential systems, these too are increasingly being installed on their economic merits without state subsidies.

Taken together, these 3-month additions bring the total residential and commercial capacity to over 3000 MW of Photovoltaics. When operating in full sun, these systems generate more kilowatt hours of electricity than the 2200 MW capacity of the state’s remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon:  more than a nuclear power plant’s energy production on our rooftops with far less risk or controversy.

And speaking of power plants, utility scale PV is the third category of solar production. The 399 MW reportedly added was less than was added during the same quarter last year, but these numbers tend to be lumpy. Utility-scale additions often are tallied in chunks of various sizes, like the 550 MW Topaz and Desert Sun projects that were phased in during 2014. With 5400 MW installed at the end of 2014, and over 4500 MW planned for installation during the next few years, quarterly comparisons are less significant.

So in summary, past quarter growth has been strong and the market outlook is bright. Governor Brown announced in January (and the Assembly is considering) the goal to obtain half the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The 2016 goal of 25% has already been achieved; the 2020 goal of 33% appears achievable, maybe even sooner. These policies should serve to maintain efforts to expand renewable energy production.

Potential market expansion programs are imminent. The Green Tariff Shared Renewables program should expand the PV market to include renters and single family homeowners whose homes don’t lend themselves to on-site generation (due to structural, shading and other site-specific constraints). The state’s three large investor-owned utilities will be rolling out programs to provide renewably-sourced electricity to customers later this year. In parallel with this, cities and counties are assessing the benefits to residents of Community Choice Aggregation programs where-by they can source the electricity for resale to their residents. If priced and operated in a manner appealing to the untapped market, these programs could expand the potential number of households that source their electricity from solar sources by at least fourfold.

But there are competing perspectives to be balanced as the state moves forward, and not all focus on the same single issue of carbon reduction. The question of rate-payer equity and possible subsidization of PV owners by other utility customers needs to be addressed. This struggle to identify an equitable means of Net Energy Metering is not unique to California, but it is critical for its potential to up-end the economic attractiveness of residential and commercial scale PV systems. Its importance to the continued expansion of solar energy use in California is emphasized by Bernadette Del Chiaro’s guest commentary elsewhere on this website.

And at the federal level, the reduction (commercial) or expiration (residential) of the 30% investment tax credit has the potential to depress demand not just in California but nationwide. Falling prices of PV systems may soften this effect, but its loss could still be damaging to both the industry and our climate.

Industry reports this past quarter were widely favorable, and the solar industry in California appears to be under the influence of the Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you

May the wind always be at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

Though we are falling short of the soft rains! We need to deal quickly and effectively with the warning clouds on the horizon — lest the resulting rain be not as soft as either the traveler or we Californian’s desire.

Debate Over California’s Renewable Energy Expansion Goes Through The Roof

By Jeremy B. White, The Sacramento Bee

A political fight over California’s renewable energy industry is playing out in the corridors of power, but it deals with something closer to home: your rooftop.

Capitol policymakers are advancing an ambitious proposal to have renewable sources generate half of the state’s electricity by 2030, up from the 33 percent benchmark already in law.

The full force of California’s political establishment backs the goal: Gov. Jerry Brown pitched the idea, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, has promoted it aggressively, and bills enshrining the new standard passed both the Senate and the Assembly with strong Democratic support.

The question now seems less whether the new goal will be enacted than how utilities will get there. With the clean energy industry anticipating an opportunity for more business, California’s rooftop solar firms are fighting to be included – and meeting resistance from other industry players.

“The rooftop solar is going to be a big policy issue,” said Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, who chairs the committee overseeing utilities and energy. “It’s also going to be a big political issue.”

Read full article in the Sacramento Bee