We wrote back in May about the number of solar permits that were pulled in March of this year statewide for solar (PV) installs and were surprised to see San Bernardino county leading the field and in a big way. Well we just got a peak at the data for July—what surprises might it bring?
Compared to the March data, things have really heated up, with the statewide total of 6,521 permits representing a 67% increase over the previously reported 3,901 permits! Our leader board has changed dramatically as well, with San Diego County grabbing the top spot with 10.5% of the statewide total. San Bernardino drops from first to seventh, while Los Angeles County—far and away the state’s population leader—was just barely able to beat out tiny Placer county (home to a twenty-seventh of LA’s population).
Unfortunately the data does not report the size of these projects, merely their valuation, which can be an unreliable data point since it is not verified in the permitting process. In any event, total valuation for the month was in excess of $105 million, with Riverside county taking the lead ($13.9 million), followed by Orange ($7.9), Fresno ($7.5), Kern ($7.4) and then San Diego ($6.8). PV valuation in LA County was just $4.8 million. Of course, give the nightmare of doing business in LA County’s largest city—a topic we have discussed previously, and one to which we will return in future posts—LA County’s laggard numbers should come as no surprise.
UPDATE - We heard back from BWP - details at the end of the post…
The wizards at Burbank Water and Power have announced their solar rebate program will resume, but only for the lucky few who happen to be facing West. Here’s our take.
Having a stable, predictable solar rebate program is the key to making a solar program successful. Municipal utilities like Pasadena Water & Power, and investor-owned utilities (like SCE) participating in the California Solar Initiative, have had great success with their programs.
Then there are other munis, like Burbank Water & Power (BWP), that just can’t seem to get it right. BWP, like its similarly misguided neighbor, Glendale Water & Power, has had an on-again, off-again rebate program that baffles all who attempt to make use of it. Now, for a brief moment, BWP’s solar rebate program is on-again, sort of. During the month of August, potential Burbank solar customers are allowed to submit rebate applications (submission deadline is August 29 at 5:00 p.m.) for a lottery to be held on September 8th. The lucky 60 residential and 15 small commercial (<30 kW) customers who make the grade (no details on how the auction will actually be conducted have been released) will be advised of their good fortune by September 12th. Rebate amounts are $0.96/CEC AC Watt for residential and $0.73 for small commercial.
But wait, there’s more.
For the first time in our experience, a utility is limiting rebates for solar systems to only those which face in a generally westerly direction. In fact, systems facing true south are completely ineligible for rebates (as shown in the image to the left), even though such systems are the most productive!
BWP is essentially precluding the overwhelming majority of building owners from even having a chance at a rebate in their lottery system.
This continues a trend we have seen with other muni utilities (GWP we are talking about you) where solar programs are designed to be unsuccessful. It will be interesting to see if we can extract any data from BWP about the results of their lottery.
BWP’s Stated Rationale for Restricting System Azimuth
But why the restriction in the first place?
According to BWP, it is to insure that the power produced comes closest to overlapping with BWP’s peak afternoon demand from 4-7 p.m. Thus to qualify, systems have to be oriented between 200 and 270 degrees and have a minimum tilt of 5 degrees.
That seemed pretty arbitrary to us.
While we could understand a utility wanting to limit providing rate payer money to systems that yield the maximum benefit to those rate payers, there is certainly nothing magical about a limit of 200-270 degrees. In fact, somewhere around 270 should be the sweet spot for afternoon production, with a fall-off on either side. So why cutoff systems beyond 270 degrees?
We decided to run some models using NREL’s PVWATTS tool. We assumed a 10 kW system at a 10 degree pitch (a common residential roof pitch) and accepted the other defaults for the model. We then calculated the hour-by-hour output for systems with azimuths ranging from 200 to 330 degrees. Here are the results for the critical hours from 4 to 7 p.m.
All of the azimuth angles in the green box are acceptable to BWP, whereas all of the azimuth values in the red box are deemed unacceptable for a rebate from BWP.
But here’s the thing… see that green horizontal line? That represents the 4-7 p.m. output for our hypothetical array with an approved azimuth of 200 degrees. Yet five out of six azimuth values modeled here that are rejected by BWP, actually produce more power during the critical period than does our approved system at 200 degrees!
So what exactly is going on here? BWP’s asserted rationale does not hold up to scrutiny. Which begs the question, why, really, is BWP so seriously limiting who can participate in their lottery? It certainly is not justified by their desire to maximize 4-7 p.m. production. If that were truly the case, they should include azimuth angles all the way to 320 degrees. They would get more timely power production while opening their rebate lottery to many more potential customers.
How about it, BWP, what is going on here?
If you are a potential BWP customer who falls outside of the “accepted” azimuth band, you might want to contact the Solar Support program managers:
John Joyce: firstname.lastname@example.org or
Alfred Antoun: email@example.com
If you get a response, please add it to the comments.
UPDATE - We heard back from John Joyce, Solar Support Program Manager at BWP, about the outcome of the lottery process. According to Mr. Joyce:
105 lottery entries have been submitted and the budget is sufficient to allow each of these applicants to participate, therefore no lottery will be held.
We have a further inquiry in to Mr. Joyce to see if there is still budget left over to allow more applications going forward. We will update this again if we hear back.
Just in time for the 4th of July, we are offering a special Commercial Solar sale, as in a sale on our book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step. Starting at midnight on the 4th of July, the Kindle eBook price will be just 99¢, a savings of 81% off the normal retail price. But a price that good can’t last forever, in fact, it will just last for 24 hours so don’t miss out!
What’s that you say, you don’t own a Kindle? Well, there’s a Kindle app for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone), for Android devices, and a downloadable app for both PCs (get it here) & Macs (ditto)! This is a great way to read a book, super convenient for folks who travel, and you can even take it with you to show to prospective clients!
So don’t miss this chance to own the most popular book on Commercial Solar ever written! See for yourself why reviewers have said:
“There’s so much information that you need to know when thinking about installing commercial solar. As a solar pro, Jenal provides all of it to you, clearly and transparently. Through a combination of a fictional company going solar and Jenal’s added in-depth insights to each step, businesses and facilities will learn how to find quality commercial installers and what to expect during the installation process. He also covers financing, solar incentives, and key points to analyze in a solar bid.”
“Whether you’re a potential solar customer interested in how to go solar or a commercial solar sales professional, this is a must read.”
“This book is written for the commercial building owner or facilities manager thinking about Solar Photovoltaic installation. It is very informative and covers all the aspects involved in a commercial solar project. [An] engaging and humorous read.”
“Jim Jenal’s guide to commercial solar is a thorough, quick, and easy read. The text is manage-ably dense with information, but chatty and easy to understand. Jim knows what he’s talking about, which is nice for those of us who do not.”
So get ready to celebrate Independence Day and download your copy on the 4th!
Yesterday we wrote about how SCE’s residential customers who take service under the Domestic rate structure could see their bills rise by 12% or more starting with their June bills, and we warned commercial customers not to get complacent about their own bills. Today we drop the other shoe: GS-1 and GS-2 customers, the bad news starts now.
SCE’s commercial customers (what it refers to as general service, hence the “GS") are largely divided into two groups: those that pay only for monthly energy usage (GS-1) and those that pay for both usage and peak power demand charges (GS-2). You can use all the energy you want in a month, but as long as your peak power demand never exceeds 20 kW you will stay in GS-1. Once your demand sneaks past 20 kW however, you will be assigned to paying higher bills under GS-2.
Solar for GS-1 users is a no brainer, just as it now is for SCE’s residential customers. For GS-2 customers, however, the question is a tougher call since it can be very hard to know how well solar will coincide with a potential client’s peak power demands, and it is those demand charges that so drive the pain of GS-2 bills. Neither GS-1 nor GS-2 are tiered, meaning that every kWh of energy is charged the same. Under GS-2, however, demand charges are significantly higher during the summer than they are the rest of the year.
We said that you could use all of the energy you like and remain in GS-1 but that’s not strictly true—if your peak power demand stays below 20 kW you can only pull so much energy into your site. Let’s imagine a commercial entity that is right under that limit: say 19 kW peak demand and they sustain that demand for 10 hours a day, every day. The remaining 14 hours their demand drops to just 5 kW. Their daily usage averages:
Usage = 10*19 + 14*5 = 190 + 70 = 260 kWh/day.
Under the old rate, this maxed-out GS-1 customer would have seen a bill of $15,355 or roughly 16.2¢/kWh. (A bargain, by the way, compared to what a residential customer using that much energy would have paid.)
Under the new rate, their bill jumps to $16,777 an increase of 9.26%, and now they are paying 17.7¢/kWh.
We recently provided a proposal to a potential GS-2 client, so we will model their usage to demonstrate what the new rates will do to a GS-2 customer’s bill. Their usage has peak demands that average 119 kW per year, but spike as high as 167 kW during the summer. Their daily energy usage is substantial as well, ranging between 600 and nearly 1,000 kWh per day from winter to summer.
Under the old rates, they were paying some $56,873 or 21.73¢/kWh. The new rates will see their bill climb to $59,598, and increase of 4.79%, averaging 22.77¢/kWh.
But here’s the interesting thing about the new GS-2 rate: it is actually more beneficial to solar customers, since the increase is mostly in the per kWh charge. Indeed, when we model our potential client’s savings in Year 1 under the new rate as compared to the old, it increases by over $1,000—going from $14,808 to $15,818, a 6.8% savings increase for no additional out-of-pocket expense! Their payback now occurs in Year 6 instead of Year 7, their IRR increases from 12.2% to 12.9% and they will have saved an additional $12,000 in Year 10 than they would have under the old rates. (Combine the solar power system with intelligent storage and you are really on to something.)
SCE’s rates are going up for all classes of customers that we see: residential (12%+), small commercial (9%), and large commercial (4.8%). Solar can help all of these customer classes, and GS-2 customers can see an even greater savings from solar under the new rates than they could before. Oh, and SCE still has some rebate money for commercial projects, but that won’t last for long.
Stop suffering, start saving—make this the summer you go solar.
One of our astute readers contacted us to ask if we had noticed that SCE had just increased their rates—and dramatically. That got our attention so we decided to spend some quality time amidst SCE’s tariffs. The news is mixed: terrible news for people who are going to have to pay these crazy rates, but great news for everyone who can install solar. In fact, SCE’s new domestic rate is about all anyone would need to be convinced to finally make the switch to solar.
In case you did not know it, every SCE tariff—that is, the rate structures under which they bill their customers such as the Domestic tariff for most residential customers or GS-1 and GS-2 for most commercial customers—can be found on their website. If you know where to look. (Hint: look here!) Of course, when you do find what you are looking for, you are rewarded with something that looks like this:
This is one half of SCE’s Domestic rate (the delivery portion)—and this is about the simplest rate structure that they use! So it is not surprising that most normal people don’t really examine these things to see what is going on—they just groan and pay the bill.
But we suspect people will do more than groan when they look at their bills this summer.
We had been working on a solar proposal for a prospective client in SCE territory when we learned about the rate change. The client’s usage was relatively high, averaging 55 kWh/day over the course of the year; high, but still far lower than some of our clients. Under the rate structure in effect prior to June 1, this client’s annual bill worked out to $5,100 but after applying the new rates her annual total jumped to $5,750—an increase of a whopping 12.7%!
We will pause a moment to let that sink in.
What about that other potential client we wrote about, the one whose SCE bill already contained an incredibly misleading chart purporting to help her understand her bill. What impact will these new rates have for her? Under the rates in place before June 1, her total bill for the year was an already eye-popping $8,435—ouch! But under the new rates? Her new bill becomes $9,560—an increase of 13.4%!
So what is actually going on here? Turns out that the rates on the high end, Tiers 3 and 4, are the culprits, increasing by 16.4% and 14.8% respectively. Live in Tier 4 this summer and you will be paying 34.8¢/kWh for the privilege!
There is a silver lining here and that is that adding solar pays off better than ever. If your solar power system gets you out of Tier 4 alone, you will save thousands of dollars a year. For our prospective client who averaged 55 kWh per day, her savings come to $4,171 in Year 1. Even without a rebate from SCE (which for now at least has gone the way of the Dodo), her payback is in Year 5! After 10 years, thanks to these new rates, she will have saved an additional $25,000! And by avoiding a lease (this client is planning on using HERO financing), those benefits all go to her!
We have said it before and we will say it again: utility rates are only going up. While this example pertains to just SCE’s residential customers, guess what? You commercial customers are about to see your rates go up as well (more on that soon). And muni customers, now is not really the time to feel smug as your rates are going up too (and yes, PWP folks, we mean you!).
Give us a call and let’s see if we can’t help—contrary to the song, we’ve got a cure for these summertime blues!