Tag Archives: Incentives

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

A Trifecta for Solar Energy and Distributed Generation

We all have good weeks and bad weeks. For proponents of Solar Energy (and all other inhabitants of our planet) this has been an historic week, with major achievements at the International, National and California-state levels. Setbacks will be inevitable, but the events of this week will have memorable and lasting impact.

The first and International achievement was the December 12 Agreement of 188 countries at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris to take measureable actions with the eventual goal of keeping global temperature rise to less than 2ᵒ Celsius (3.6ᵒ Fahrenheit) by 2050 compared with pre-industrial levels. As we have repeatedly been informed, this is the level estimated by numerous scientists to avoid the worst affects of atmospheric warming and ocean rise.

Though yet to be ratified (a process that starts in April 2016), the agreement commits those countries that do ratify the agreement to establish national emission targets and report on progress every 5 years. While the agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century, lowering the target would (according to some scientists) move this goal forward to the 2030 – 2050 timeframe. Either way, implementation of this agreement puts pressure on countries to support low- and non-carbon energy sources, solar very much included, accelerating their deployment and continued improvements.

The second and national achievement has not been enacted as this is written, but is the tentative agreement by Republican and Democratic House party leaders incorporated into the Appropriations bill that would extend tax credits for solar and wind projects from the current end-2016 expiration date through 2021. The agreement was the result of a compromise where-in Democratic Representatives would support eliminating the ban on US oil exports in exchange for Republican support for the Tax Credit extension.

While the vote can still go awry, a senior analyst at GTM Research (who closely follows the Solar market and industry) commented “the extension to the federal ITC is without question a game-changer for U.S. solar’s growth trajectory. Between now and 2020, the U.S. solar market is poised to see a number of new geographies open up with a 30% ITC, within both distributed and utility-scale solar.”

Finally, the third and California state achievement was the December 15 proposed ruling by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to leave in place most of the charges and fees now in place between the state’s major investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric) and customers who have installed residential and commercial PV systems. Though yet to be finalized (in January 2016), the proposed ruling leaves in place most of the terms that allow customers with PV systems to recoup their investments in a timely manner thereby increasing the desirability of these systems.

Challenges to PV-favorable net metering terms and (lack of) other fees have been raised in many states, and regulator decisions have been mixed. The proposed CPUC ruling is perhaps the strongest pushback by any state regulator to utility claims of the high costs distributed PV systems impose on other (non-PV owning) rate payers. While new costs are proposed, and some uncertainty is introduced by requiring PV-system owners to be placed on Time-of-Use rates (with unknown impact on their bills), the proposed ruling is seen as leaving the business environment favorable for continued expansion of distributed generation.

For now the sun shines on distributed generation and the growth of solar-sourced clean energy. Let us hope that all three events help realize solar’s potential contribution to our future energy mix for the sake of maintaining our habitable planet.

U.S. solar industry battles ‘white privilege’ image problem

By Nichola Groom, Reuters

Solar power companies have an image problem—and they are beginning to do something about it.

Despite a sharp drop in the price of solar panels and innovative financing plans that have brought the technology to many middle income households over the past decade, it is still seen as a luxury only rich, mostly white, consumers can afford. That perception both hampers solar expansion in less affluent communities and drives political opposition to initiatives promoting greater use of solar power as a renewable alternative to gas, oil and coal.

Though it has grown dramatically in recent years, solar power still makes up less than 1 percent of U.S. energy supplies and relies heavily on government incentives to compete with traditional energy sources. Those incentives help companies such as SolarCity, Sunrun and others market solar power contracts that offer customers 20 percent savings on their energy bills. However, the schemes come with certain credit requirements and are ill-suited for apartment dwellers, homes with low monthly bills or low-income households that qualify for reduced power rates.

Since minorities make up a disproportionate number of low-income households, some advocacy groups have opposed certain solar power initiatives arguing that they deepen social and racial inequality. Solar companies are now trying to tackle both the perceptions and the economics by pushing to diversify their workforce, forging alliances with minority groups, and making solar power more suitable for multi-family housing.

The stakes are particularly high in California, by far the top U.S. solar market where solar power is expected to make up more than 10 percent of the state’s power generation in 2015, according to IHS. Communities with median household incomes below $40,000 account for just 5 percent of installations in the state even though a third of California households fall into that category. That share has not changed over the past seven years even as solar installations in communities in the $55,000-$70,000 income bracket have risen to more than half of the total market.

Read full article from Reuters

New Report: Greatest Growth in Consumer Adoption of Solar Energy Among Middle Class

A new report on residential rooftop solar installations indicates the growth in California’s rooftop solar market is trending toward greater adoption by middle class households. The trend, seen over the course of eight years, aligns with a steady decline in the cost of solar power and in the increase of financing options.

The new study by Kevala Analytics analyzed California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) solar interconnection data for 386,000 net metered solar systems installed from 2008-2015. The main takeaway conclusion from the study is that as solar deployment has expanded statewide, an increasing percentage of installations within that time frame are benefiting low- and middle-income median zip codes, with a decreasing fraction of installations in upper-income zip codes.

During these same eight years, there has been a steep decline in the adoption of solar among upper-income households contrasted with a recent increase in the market among the lowest-bracket incomes. In 2015, the statewide number of households in the highest income brackets matched the number in the lowest income brackets.

Read full press release from CALSEIA

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

California Solar Costs & Value

By Jake Richardson, CleanTechnica (originally published on Solar Love)

There seems to be a lot of confusion about how much a home solar power system costs in the year 2015. Solar Power Now says the cost is about $3 per watt, or $15,000 for a 5,000 watt system, which seems to be about the average size for a single-family home. Actually, the size of the system will depend upon how much electricity that home uses, so you might need less than 5,000 watts. Obviously, the benefit is that then you would pay even less.

Did you know that solar power had dropped so much in price and become this cheap? Maybe not, because it does not seem that the public has caught up to the reality of what solar power currently costs. Even an official website managed by the state of California is using information from 2011. It says that the cost is $8.70 per watt and that a 4,000 watt system would cost about $34,000. A lot has changed in 4–5 years, but this website doesn’t reflect that.

If you could purchase a home solar system in California for somewhere between $15,000–25,000, you still get to subtract some of that cost due to incentives like the solar tax credit, which is still 30%. Then, there might also be some local incentives, so the overall cost could be even less.

Read full article at CleanTechnica

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

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

As the push for solar increases, so do the scams, sketchy sales tactics

By Lily Leung, The Orange County Register

Solar scams are on the rise, as some companies hit homeowners with increasingly aggressive sales and marketing tactics, and under-deliver on promises of low installation cost and big electricity savings. Recent stories from around the state include a solar installer climbing atop a home without permission to take roof measurements and contractors pulling city building permits even before customers sign contracts, state officials say.

This year, state officials have logged roughly 200 complaints arising from solar projects throughout California, a fourfold increase from the same period five years ago, according to the Contractors State License Board, which regulates contractors and the construction industry in California. Close to 800 such complaints have been filed with the agency since 2010. The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utility companies, also has noticed a recent uptick in complaints about solar scams and telemarketing misrepresentations, and it is looking at ways to address the problem.

Why the recent increase? “Because of the money available for rebates and the push to go green,” said David Fogt, enforcement chief at the licensing board. “It’s bringing into the marketplace unscrupulous individuals.” Such government incentive programs have provided fertile ground for novice solar equipment and installation companies. As the industry has grown, so have consumer complaints.

Read full article in the Orange County Register

Required Reading on San Diego’s Solar Surge

By Lisa Halverstadt, Voice of San Diego

San Diego is considered a national solar hotspot. This spring, the nonprofit Environment California Research & Policy Center dubbed San Diego the No. 2 solar city in the U.S. in a national survey. That same report noted San Diego’s solar growth outpaced Los Angeles, the nation’s top solar mecca.

Yet the region and the rest of the nation are approaching a crossroads. Some solar policies and incentives are nearing near expiration, and utilities such San Diego Gas & Electric are looking to up charges for solar customers as the technology becomes more widespread.

San Diego’s Solar Status

  • Power grid: SDG&E believes that solar could create challenges for San Diego’s grid when it reaches 15 percent penetration and are working on potential solutions. As of last month, about 4 percent of SDG&E customers were solar customers.
  • Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS): SDG&E forecasts that it will meet the state’s RPS mandate of 33 percent renewable electricity well ahead of the 2020 deadline and derived 30 percent of annual retail sales from renewables in 2014. The utility says the amount of renewable energy in its resource portfolio has since risen to 32 percent, and it could meet the 33% RPS target sometime this year (figures do not include rooftop solar).
  • Rate restructuring: SDG&E wants to change its current rate structure and its proposed tweaks have frustrated some big solar customers. Five San Diego County school districts filed protests to SDG&E’s suggested peak pricing period, which the utility wants to shift from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. They argue the change would mean their solar investments don’t pencil out as planned, leaving less money to spend on students.
  • Local investment in solar: Local governments are ramping up their solar commitments as well. In March, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved updates to the county’s building code that require new homes in unincorporated areas of the county to be built solar panel-ready. The city of San Diego is also working on a Climate Action Plan that encourages more solar investment, namely with its goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

Read full article from Voice of San Diego