Tag Archives: Rate Restructuring

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.

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

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 Energy Dreaming Costs Consumers Billions

By Dan McSwain, The San Diego Union-Tribune

I have a friend who periodically gets into trouble. Whenever we review the history of an episode, his explanation is always the same: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Such hindsight leaps to mind as California lawmakers once again overhaul the state’s electricity industry. History suggests that consumers will pay dearly to see how this movie ends, regardless of whether the result justifies the price of admission.

Federal data indicates Californians paid $171 billion in higher costs for power over the last 20 years, compared to the national average. For perspective, this works out to roughly $12,300 per household, but bear in mind the total includes residential, industrial, commercial and government usage.

Those two decades included the 1996 partial deregulation, resulting power crisis and partial re-regulation in 2001, followed by a historic plunge into green energy that began in 2006.

Read full op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Renewable Energy’s Potential May Be Understated

By Gabriel Kahn, The Wall Street Journal

In February 2013, California energy officials sat down with power-industry executives to figure out how to avert an approaching calamity: The rapid rollout of wind and solar electricity was stressing the state’s grid. The more renewable energy California added, the more its power supply could be whipsawed by a cloudy day or a windy storm. Some at the meeting warned that problems, such as rolling brownouts, could start to show up later that year.

Those same worries were being echoed across the county as state authorities struggled to load aging electricity grids with ever-greater amounts of renewable power. At the time, renewable energy accounted for about 14% of California’s electricity output. Today, California often gets as much as 30% of its power from renewables; there are periods of the day when production can soar to 40%. California legislators just approved a plan that would require half of all power to come from renewables by 2030. Still, the tipping point the power industry feared hasn’t materialized.

The experience of California and other states with high concentrations of solar and wind is challenging long-held assumptions about the limits of renewable energy. As the boundary of what is considered possible expands, so does the momentum around investment in new technology and resources. Plenty of risks still remain. But the fact that the grid has been able to handle more renewables than previously thought is driving massive changes through the industry. One of the places it is being felt most acutely is among utilities.

Read full article in the Wall Street Journal

8 Facts That Explain SDG&E’s Complicated Relationship With Rooftop Solar

By Lisa Halverstadt, Voice of San Diego

Despite San Diego’s reputation as a solar mecca, San Diego Gas & Electric and the rooftop solar industry are consistently at odds.

In some ways, the game is rigged for these two to be foes: Rooftop solar has grown rapidly with the help of incentives and mandates, forcing SDG&E to integrate it. State requirements have ensured disagreements between the two play out publicly at the statehouse and at the Public Utilities Commission.

SDG&E has long argued, for example, that solar customers aren’t paying their fair share for use of the power grid, an argument being pushed by utilities across the nation. The solar industry and its supporters say SDG&E’s missing the big picture and discounting the value of rooftop solar, which allows everyday San Diegans to help the region reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. That’s far from the only dispute, though.

Here’s a breakdown of the realities contributing to SDG&E’s strained relationship with the solar industry…

Read full article from Voice of San Diego

California’s Solar Industry Fights Back on Net Metering 2.0

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

California’s biggest utilities want future net-metered rooftop solar systems to earn less for the energy they feed to the grid and solar customers to pay extra charges to cover the costs of serving them grid power.  California’s solar industry has a different idea: keep things the way they are — and don’t believe utilities when they say they and their non-solar customers can’t afford it.

In filings this week, key solar groups The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to retain key features of the state’s net metering regime, including full retail payments for the power that rooftop solar systems feed back to the grid. That’s in stark contrast to proposals from the state’s three large investor-owned utilities, which ask the CPUC to lower payments, impose new charges, and make other changes that would reduce the economic payback of future net-metered solar systems. Utilities say that today’s net-metering regime unfairly slants compensation toward rooftop solar and will impose billions of dollars of cost shifts to non-solar customers if not changed.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Timing is Everything: How California is Getting Electricity Pricing Right and Bringing Clean Power to the People

By Jamie Fine (Senior Economist, Environmental Defense Fund), EDF’s Energy Exchange blog

Anybody managing a household budget knows it pays to plan ahead. With advanced thinking we can buy favorite items with coupons, when they’re on sale, in bulk, or at the cheapest store in the area. Using the same smart shopper skills, new changes to the way utilities charge for electricity are going to give Californians another way to save money on energy bills.

In the current system, most California households’ electricity prices don’t change throughout the day. There is no option for lower prices when system demands are lower and electricity is cheap in wholesale markets. But that’s about to change, thanks to a recent 5-0 decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).  Starting January 1, 2019, after a period of study, public outreach, and education, California’s large investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison) will switch households to time-of-use (TOU) electricity pricing. This simplified rate structure rewards customers who shift some of their electricity use to times of the day when clean energy is plentiful. This shift to a TOU pricing regime – one of the first in the nation – is a huge win for Californians and the environment.

Read full blog post from EDF’s Energy Exchange