Tag Archives: Electricity Rates

Boosting battery storage can lower utility bills — study

By Daniel Cusick, Environment & Energy Publishing

Adding energy storage to an already robust solar market in California’s multifamily housing sector could lead to significant utility bill savings for building owners and tenants, new findings from the Clean Energy Group and partner organizations show.

In a new 50-page analysis released last week, CEG, along with the California Housing Partnership Corp. and Center for Sustainable Energy, found that lower-income apartments provide a ripe opportunity for developers to improve the economics of solar by adding battery storage to such apartment buildings. “It essentially creates a new pool of savings, so if you were only doing efficiency and only doing solar, you’d get some savings. But if you add storage, you get significantly more,” said Lewis Milford, CEG’s president and a co-author of the report, “Closing the California Clean Energy Divide.”

The authors say the findings are especially relevant in light of California’s recent passage into law of the Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program, a $1 billion investment program to deploy solar technologies in affordable multifamily rental housing that is expected to extend the benefits of solar power to hundreds of thousands of lower-income Californians.

But solar access by itself isn’t enough, the report says. In fact, shifting policies around rooftop solar in some states, including California, could place owners and tenants of low-income housing at greater risk because the benefits of solar are highly dependent on strong net-metering programs. A number of states have reformed net metering in ways that sharply curtail the benefits of solar, resulting in higher, not lower, electricity bills.

Battery storage effectively reduces that risk, the authors say, by eliminating most of the demand-related charges that utilities pass along to owners of distributed energy systems like rooftop solar.

“Because batteries empower owners of solar PV systems to take control of the energy they produce and when they consume it, storage can deliver deeper cost reductions that can be shared among affordable housing owners, developers, and tenants,” the report states. And unlike stand-alone solar projects, which do little to offset demand-related charges, a properly sized solar system with storage can eliminate nearly all electricity expenses, resulting in an annual electric utility bill of less than a few hundred dollars in some cases.

Read full article from E&E

Related Article: Energy Storage Could Break Low Income Rooftop Solar Bottleneck (CleanTechnica)

Utilities look to reverse net metering decision

By Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego Gas and Electric and two other major California utilities Monday filed applications urging the California Public Utilities Commission to hold a rehearing to vacate or make “modifications” to its decision keeping retail rate net metering in place until 2019.

“We feel it’s in the best interest of our customers to re-look at this issue and consumer advocates actually agree, as they have taken similar action,” said SDG&E representative Amber Albrecht.

In January, in a tense 3-2 vote, the CPUC sided with solar backers over utilities that insist they are not trying to blunt the growth of solar power in California. Instead, utilities say the net metering system that pays rooftop solar customers for the excess electricity their systems send back to the grid is unfair to consumers who don’t have solar energy systems. Solar companies and their customers say the power their systems generate helps lower strain on the electrical grid and reduces the need to buy power during times of high demand.

The commission — in a ruling that ran more than 150 pages — agreed to keep tying credits to retail rates, rather than near wholesale rates that other states use. The CPUC said it will continue to re-evaluate the rules but the decision was widely viewed as a big win for solar, as other states such as Nevada have rolled back some solar incentives.

SDG&E filed its application for rehearing jointly with Southern California Edison, calling on the CPUC to make changes to its decision. Pacific Gas and Electric also filed paperwork Monday, the deadline for applications for a rehearing, looking to get the commission to vacate its ruling. The CPUC has 120 days to respond to the requests for a rehearing.

Read full article in the San Diego Union-Tribune

PG&E wants Marin Clean Energy customers to pay more for exit ticket

By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal

The California Public Utilities Commission will rule this month on requests from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. that some say if granted could hinder the effort to boost renewable energy use in the state. PG&E is seeking permission to nearly double the monthly fee it levies on customers of Marin Clean Energy and other community choice electricity suppliers. The investor-owned utility is also proposing a change in net metering policy that would substantially reduce the financial incentive for installing residential solar power systems.

When a PG&E customer opts to buy electricity from another energy supplier, such as Marin Clean Energy or Sonoma Clean Power, the company is permitted to charge that customer an exit fee to compensate it for the power contracts it previously entered into to supply that customer’s electricity. The average Marin Clean Energy customer pays an exit fee of $6.70 per month. PG&E is requesting permission to nearly double the exit fee to about $13 for an average Marin Clean Energy customer. The increase would mean that, for the first time in several years, Marin Clean Energy customers would be paying more for their electricity than PG&E customers.

When PG&E loses a customer to another energy supplier, it sells the excess electricity that it purchased for that customer. The company might earn or lose money, depending on market conditions. So far, PG&E has stockpiled more than $1 billion from transactions in which it earned money. In conjunction with its request for a hike in the exit fee, PG&E initially asked the CPUC’s permission to absorb this money. Marin Clean Energy objected. The CPUC rejected Marin Clean Energy’s request that the money be used to offset the need for additional exit fee revenue and directed PG&E to submit an alternative proposal outlining its plans for the $1 billion next year.

Read full article in the Marin Independent Journal

Not just California: Solar Battles Raging Across U.S.

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

California has more rooftop solar installations than any other state, and it isn’t particularly close. But the Golden State is far from the only place where the solar industry and utility companies are clashing over how much money solar customers should be allowed to save.

Officials in 24 states have recently changed or are debating changes to rate structures for solar customers, according to a report released by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center earlier this month. Many of those battles mirror the one taking place in California, where utilities like Southern California Edison say homes and businesses with solar panels need to pay more.

There’s a reason all these battles are happening now: As rooftop solar prices fall, the industry is growing more quickly than ever. That growth has reduced planet-warming carbon emissions, but it’s also thrown the utility industry into a panic about its long-term ability to make money, clean energy advocates say.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

How Solar, Batteries and Time-of-Use Pricing Can Add Up to Value

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

There’s definitely a value to storing solar energy in batteries, and then discharging that energy to meet grid and customer needs. Measuring that value — and finding a way to share it between battery-equipped solar customers and their utilities — is a trickier matter.

Out in Sacramento, Calif., a long-running solar-storage pilot project has been testing out this interplay. The city’s utility, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), has been working with startup Sunverge to align the operation of 34 battery-backed, PV-equipped homes with its needs to shave peak demand in late summer afternoons, when air-conditioning loads put stress on the grid.

SMUD is using critical peak pricing as its lever. Since 2012, the utility has been running an experiment with residential rate plans that charge extra-high prices during “critical peak period” days, in exchange for extra-low prices at other times. Some customers were offered the option of signing up for the plan — and others were automatically enrolled.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Should homeowners with solar panels pay to help maintain the electrical grid?

By Aaron Orlowski, The Orange County Register

Homeowners face a simple calculus when deciding whether to install solar panels on their roof: Will the panels pay for themselves with savings on their electric bill?

But buried in that bill are complex variables defined by what’s known as the state’s net metering rules – the very essence of which are under debate at the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco. Those rules must be changed or renewed by the end of the year. As the deadline nears, the clash over whether solar panel users should be forced to pay to support a grid from which they seek to disconnect is getting fiercer. Utilities want to slap fees on solar users, while the solar industry wants them left largely untouched.

Since 1996, California’s net metering rules have allowed homeowners with solar panels to effectively spin their electric meters backwards when their panels are generating more power than their homes are using. That helped pave the way for the state to lead the nation by installing 11,500 megawatts of solar capacity and building an industry that employs 54,700 people. Whether the new rules will bolster that industry even more or prick its balloon will likely be decided in the next two months.

Read full article in the O.C. Register

Clean energy joint venture gains support: San Mateo County joint powers authority formed to buy renewable energy in bulk

By Bill Silverfarb, The San Mateo Daily Journal

About 297,000 PG&E customers in San Mateo County could get their energy from renewable sources in less than a year under a joint powers authority being formed called Peninsula Clean Energy.

The Office of Sustainability has been granted $1.5 million to form the joint venture known as Community Choice Aggregation that is already in place in Marin and Sonoma counties. The county will need at least three of 20 cities to join the JPA to get it off the ground. The hope, however, is that all cities will partner with the county to buy clean energy.

The JPA would allow its customers to buy renewable energy at competitive rates. In fact, customers who purchase 100 percent renewable energy from sources such as wind or solar will see their monthly electric bills rise by a modest $2, according to a technical study the Board of Supervisors heard Tuesday. A JPA agreement is expected to be in place by the end of winter 2016 and the tentative plan is to start purchasing renewable energy next summer.

Supervisor Dave Pine brought the proposal to the board in December and the newly-formed Office of Sustainability, directed by Jim Eggemeyer, has been working on the first phase of the proposal since. The second phase includes forming the JPA, which would be a nonprofit with a board made up of either elected city officials or appointees. The goal is to have it formed by March or April.

Read full article in the San Mateo Daily Journal

Related Article: Op-ed: Greener, cheaper electricity with community choice (The San Francisco Chronicle)

California Leads a Quiet Revolution

By Beth Gardiner, The New York Times

California is cruising toward its 2020 goal for increasing renewable energy and is setting far more ambitious targets for the future. Its large-scale solar arrays produced more energy in 2014 than those in all other states combined. Half the nation’s solar home rooftops are in the state, and thousands more are added each week.

With its progressive politics, high-tech bent and abundant sunshine, California is fast ramping up its production of clean electricity, setting an example its leaders hope the rest of the country, and other nations, will follow as they seek to cut emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of California in terms of renewables,” said William Nelson, head of North American analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “It’s like an experiment in terms of how quickly we can add solar to the grid.”

Fifteen years after an energy crisis, caused partly by deregulation and market manipulation, brought blackouts and price spikes, the shift has been remarkably smooth, many analysts say. Even without counting the big contribution from home solar generation, 26 percent of the state’s power this year will come from clean sources like the sun and wind, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates. The national average is about 10 percent. “It’s kind of a quiet revolution,” said Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “Nothing weird or strange has happened, electricity prices haven’t shot up or down.”

Read full article in the New York Times

Solar Power International: Moving into Second Gear?

It’s a challenge to summarize what transpired over four days at an event with 600 exhibits, 70 concurrent sessions (forcing choice between 6 at a time), 15 manufacturer-sponsored hands-on training sessions, 10 workshops, plenary sessions, parties and, oh, did I mention solar-supportive keynote remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to an enthusiastic audience.  With participants from over 75 countries, it’s easy to see why Solar Power International (SPI) claims to be the largest and fastest growing solar conference in North America.  But let me try to extract a few themes from this mid-September event sprawled across all four Exhibit Halls at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Clearly the industry is growing.  In advance of the conference, the Solar Energy Industry Association and GTM Research released their quarterly update.  With 1,393 Megawatts of PV capacity installed in the second quarter, the US Solar industry remains on track for an annual forecast total of 7,700 MW.   Of this, 840 MW (60%) was installed in California.  (A brief reminder that the capacity of a typical nuclear powerplant is 1,000 MW.)  The fact that the California Senate and Assembly passed SB350 increasing the state’s current Renewable Energy target of 30% by 2020 to 50% by 2030 days before SPI added to the conference’s buoyancy.  Repeatedly cited was the statistic that California has over 55,000 employees working in the industry (more employees than the state’s top 5 utilities combined).

Clearly the industry faces challenges.  The major one is the currently scheduled expiration of the 30% residential tax credit and reduction of the commercial investment tax credit (ITC) from 30% to 10% fifteen months from now, the Administration’s request for a permanent extension of the ITC not withstanding. A Bloomberg forecast released at the conference anticipates that without an extension, 2017 will see installation activity dropping to its 2012 level.  The loss of the tax credit would hit California’s businesses as hard as elsewhere.  In addition, the fact that California’s Public Utility Commission (CPUC) is in the process of redesigning the utility rate structure, including deciding on an appropriate level of compensation for customers who generate their own solar energy, has the industry on edge.  Utilities have requested the compensation (or credits) allowed solar customers be reduced by 40%, and that fixed fees be added to solar users’ bills.  (If this sounds completely contrary to the legislative action on SB350 cited above, welcome to the world of Government.)

But beneath these Good News / Bad News headlines, several themes emerged that cut across the gazillion specific new product and service announcements.

Energy Storage developments are booming with a variety of technologies and products. Over 50 firms provided products or services related to Storage.  Those in California are as diverse as 90-year old Trojan Battery Company of Santa Fe Springs and Milpitas-based JuiceBox Energy, a start-up barely out of the garage.  Many clustered together on the exhibit floor in a zone known as the “Energy Storage Pavilion.” The CPUC mandate to the state’s three largest Utilities and other energy service providers to procure 1.3 GW of energy storage by 2020 creates an immediate market in California.  And the recognition that commercial electric customers can utilize storage to reduce their bills through reductions in their peak demand charges creates a market rationale for growing storage demand beyond the utility mandate.

Finance is another area experiencing dramatic change.   While the discussion only a couple years ago focused on lease or buy, a plethora of new financial instruments and capital sources have emerged.  Sessions and exhibits provided information on new approaches to debt financing for non-residential projects (which appears to focus on financial support for Commercial and Industrial (C&I) customers, a growing solar niche), Tax equity markets, and the pooling of solar project cash flows (in what’s become known as a YieldCo).  The good news is that investors (not just system owners) are seeing value (!) in PV installations.

And of course there were new panel developments, racking system improvements, Inverter advances and the like.

So what’s the take-away?  The Solar industry is growing through its increased cost-competitiveness as a result of new product and service innovation. This dynamic was well captured by Vice President Biden’s comment, “Anyone who thinks it (Solar) is not happening just take a look at the market.  It’s a competitive choice for consumers. …  Look, this isn’t a government mandate, this is the market working.”  Yes, but the uncertain future of tax credits and utility pushback (in California and elsewhere) continue the uphill slog.

California’s huge solar projects causing energy poverty

By Thomas D. Elias, The Los Angeles Daily News

When ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made their way onto a hot, dry alkali flat just west of the Interstate 15 freeway between Barstow and Las Vegas in late 2010, all anyone knew for sure was that they were opening an era of giantism in solar electricity in California. What no one could predict was that they were also putting a stamp of approval on the spread of energy poverty in many parts of this state.

The Ivanpah dry lake on which the two former officials proudly strode that day now hosts a huge solar farm easily visible as a glassy sea of deep blue to travelers just southwest of the California-Nevada state line. Ivanpah, built largely with federal loans, is the second-largest of half a dozen desert-region solar thermal developments that produce many thousands of megawatts for privately-owned utilities like Southern California Edison Co., Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

Besides paying for the energy produced by those plants, including construction costs, the big utilities have erected hundreds of miles of power transmission lines to bring the sun’s energy to big cities in all parts of California. When they do that, they receive about 14 percent profit on their constructions costs each year for 20 years.

The solar farms are part of a plan first adopted by executive order by Schwarzenegger and later expanded on by current Gov. Jerry Brown. By 2020, California is to produce one-third of its electricity from renewable sources. By 2030, that’s supposed to rise to one-half. Of course, the current four-year drought has tossed a wrench into some of the calculations behind those mandates, causing enormous cuts in the power produced by hydroelectric dams for more than a century.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Daily News