Tag Archives: Solar Tariffs

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

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

Big Energy’s Solar Grab Protested in California

Despite California Gov. Jerry Brown’s ceaseless tour of publicizing climate change and renewable-energy reforms, regulators are mulling expansive changes to the state’s solar-energy policy that critics claim could decimate a booming solar industry.

Ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline, the California Public Utilities Commission is considering proposals from the state’s largest utilities that would drastically alter how solar users pay for access to electricity grids. The utilities’ proposals could eliminate or weaken a popular state program that reimburses homeowners for their extra solar energy while increasing fees for accessing the grid.

At a rally Thursday at the state capital, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association Bernadette Del Chiaro told a crowd that the utilities are attempting to stifle residential solar systems in California and their proposals are aimed at increasing profits.

“The utilities are threatened by consumers generating their own electricity; it threatens their bottom lines,” Del Chiaro said, with dozens of solar-industry representatives clad in teal blue shirts behind her. “They make money off building big expensive infrastructure projects.”

At stake is a tariff program known as net metering, which allows homeowners with solar panels to send back excess energy to the electricity grid in exchange for compensation from the utility. Advocates credit net metering with making California the largest solar power producer in the nation and contributing more than 54,000 solar industry jobs statewide.

Read full article from Courthouse News Service

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

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.

Is California’s Net Metering 2.0 a Solar Tax Risk?

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

Everyone agrees that net-metered rooftop solar doesn’t pay income tax. But nobody really knows how Uncle Sam will treat feed-in tariffs, wholesale export compensation, and other arrangements that California’s utilities are suggesting to replace the state’s net metering regime — and that’s a risk exposure the industry shouldn’t have to bear.

Solar groups have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to consider this argument as it mulls the biggest changes to state solar policy in over a decade. Under AB 327, the CPUC has until the end of 2015 to create a successor “NEM 2.0” tariff that balances solar, utility and non-solar customers’ needs, and will apply to all new customers starting as early as next year.

The NEM 2.0 proceeding has pitted utilities, whose proposals would roughly halve the per-kilowatt-hour rates that customers are paid for their net-exported solar, against solar and environmental advocates, who have argued in favor of keeping net metering the way it is. Utility proposals would also impose fixed or per-kilowatt-hour charges, and impose other restrictions that chafe solar advocates.

Read full article from Greentech Media

California’s Distributed Energy Grid Plans: The Next Steps

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

Last week, after a year of behind-the-scenes work and much public debate, California’s big three investor-owned utilities turned in their long-awaited distribution resource plans (DRPs). These DRPs are essentially blueprints for how Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric are going to merge rooftop solar, behind-the-meter energy storage, plug-in electric vehicles and other distributed energy resources (DERs) into their day-to-day grid operations and long-range distribution grid planning and investment regimes.

Each California utility has created mapping tools that show how much capacity is available on each distribution circuit for new DER interconnection, for instance — something that could be very useful for distributed energy developers. All three utilities have also agreed on a common set of measures for how DERs could help shore up grid capacity, increase reliability, serve system-wide needs, and otherwise stand in for costly utility upgrades. And each has laid out how it plans to fold these DRP methodologies into their general rate cases (GRCs), the once-every-three-years process that determines how much each can charge its customers for its capital and operating costs for the coming years.

Many questions remain about how to determine which combination of DERs will meet the least-cost models that utilities use to rank their distribution grid upgrades, and what kinds of new capabilities grid-supporting DERs will need to have to serve as replacements for utility investments. There’s also much uncertainty about how DERs serving as stand-ins for grid infrastructure should be paid for, and how their costs and benefits should be shared. These issues are of major interest for solar-storage combinations from SolarCity and Tesla, SunEdison and Green Charge Networks, Sungevity and Sonnenbatterie, and SunPower and partners Stem and Sunverge, which see an opportunity for earning grid services revenues as stand-ins for distribution grid investments. They’re also important for the commercial building and residential energy management platform providers looking for ways to tap California’s emerging opportunities for distributed demand response.

These costs and values wouldn’t just flow from utilities and their customers to DER providers—each utility’s DRP asks the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for permission to spend lots of money on beefing up their own systems to enable their visions. Southern California Edison alone is estimating its DRP-related capital expenditures could add up to $347 million to $560 million over the next three years, for example, and PG&E and SDG&E will also be seeking new funding, though they haven’t yet specified how much.

All three DRPs add up to nearly 1,000 pages, which makes it hard to summarize all the next steps they contain, but here are a few highlights of the challenges to come.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Related articles: How California’s biggest utilities plan to integrate distributed resources (Utility Dive)