We’ve seen and written about the backlash against solar from utilities, fossil fuel interests and their allies for sometime now, but the brilliant Chris Hayes had a great segment about this on his show the other night (H/T ClimateCrocks.com). In case you missed it, here’s his piece:
There’s lots to like in this story, but one thing we really like is his guest, Nikki Silvestri from Green for All, who explains how adding solar to a neighborhood church or school really allows the technology to come home to people and educate them about the benefits of renewable energy in general, and solar in particular.
But it is precisely that educated familiarlity that has the reactionary forces so upset. While Solar Power Syndrome might be tongue-in-cheek ("ever since that solar installation went up, everything around here has been dimmer - those dang solar panels are sucking up all of the sunlight!"), the concerted attacks from ALEC and the other Conservative heavyweights [that] have [the] solar industry in their sights is painfully, and dangerously real.
In the “How cool is this?” department we have learned that the White House is seeking nominations for their Champions of Change program, but this time specifically related to Solar Deployment! Here are the details…
According to the White House website:
The White House Champions of Change program regularly highlights ordinary Americans from across the country who are doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. To celebrate the breadth of individuals who are taking action on solar deployment, we will honor “Champions of Change” to lift up entrepreneurs, innovators, legislators, affordable housing owners, community leaders, and others who are accelerating deployment.
We are asking you to help us identify standout local leaders and businesses by nominating a Champion of Change for Deployment of Solar in the Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Sectors by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 4. These champions can include:
- Community leaders working to bolster solar adoption; including participants in DOE’s “Rooftop Solar Challenge,” through which 22 teams are working to advance deployment;
- Business leaders promoting solar procurement (building supply chains and smaller organizations that provide information about the benefits of solar);
- Companies and non-profits training veterans for solar jobs;
- Multifamily housing owners, home builders/associations and organizers promoting onsite solar generation on our rooftops, and organizations providing innovative financing mechanisms to developers and homeowners;
- Utility leaders seizing solar energy’s potential by supporting and facilitating solar deployment, including through community solar; and
- Organizations working to help consumers navigate the regulations and paperwork necessary to install solar in their communities.
Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose ‘Solar Deployment’ in the “Theme of Service” field of the nomination form).
This is a great opportunity to help give some well deserved recognition to your favorite hero in the effort to build a clean, sustainable future. You can submit more than one nomination, but the deadline is this Friday at 5 p.m. (and that’s Eastern time, so 2 p.m. here on the left coast). So don’t hesitate, get those nominations in now!
When Governor Brown signed AB327 last October, one thing was clear: net metering as we presently know it was going to go away, we just didn’t know how soon. Now, thanks to a ruling yesterday by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), we know: 20 years. Here’s the scoop.
Around the country, utilities have been pushing hard against net metering—the tariff under which solar customers receive credit for surplus energy production (say during the day when no one is home or on a weekend when a commercial facility is dormant) that offsets energy consumed from the grid (for example, at night). The solar customer’s bill reflects the “netting out” of those two quantities (total energy exported versus total energy imported from the grid) and the customer only pays for the difference. If the solar customer is a net energy producer (quite rare), the utility has to cut the customer a check for the surplus. (Unless you are an LADWP customer, sorry.) Last year’s bill sought to end the squabbling and provide certainty to solar customers.
Under the law, the CPUC is required to devise a replacement for the current net metering arrangement, but yesterday’s ruling does not disclose what that will be. Instead, the ruling establishes a sundown provision for customers who are either currently, or will become net metering customers under the current rules before July 1, 2017 (at which time the present net metering rules will be closed to new participants).
Solar system owners will be entitled to operate their systems under the net metering rules for a full 20 years from the year in which they interconnect their system. That, decided the CPUC, will provide sufficient time for solar customers to recoup their investment. However, solar customers can transition to the new rules, whatever those may turn out to be, sooner at the customer’s election. The year of interconnection is determined by the date on the Permission to Operate letter received from the utility, and the twenty-year term ends on the last day of the twentieth year.
What happens to systems that are modified after July 1, 2017? Does the new portion of the system get its own 20-year net metering extension or is it simply subsumed into the term for the original system? The CPUC split this into two possible scenarios: repairs or modifications that did not increase system capacity by more than 10% of the original design will operate under the original 20-year term, neither resetting or ending it. But system changes beyond the 10% limit will either have to be metered separately, or the entire system will have to be transitioned to the new tariff structure.
The next question to be resolved was what happens if the system is sold or relocated? After all, many solar customers purchase systems expecting it to increase the value of their home—but if the sale eliminates the net metering agreement, that added value could be lost. The utilities, of course, disdained any such concerns, arguing that the net metering term should be tied to the original owner only.
Fortunately, the CPUC sided again with solar system owners. Thus, systems will remain under net metering for the full twenty-year term, regardless of changes in ownership, as long as the system remains at the original location. However, if the system is physically moved to a new location, the CPUC deems that to be a new interconnection and the old net metering agreement would no longer apply.
The decision yesterday also took an important step in addressing the impact of adding energy storage systems to an existing solar system operating under the twenty-year net metering rule. The CPUC ruled that “to the extent that energy storage systems are considered an addition or enhancement to a renewable electrical generation facility utilizing a NEM tariff, we find that they should be treated in the same way, and subject to the same transition period, as the underlying renewable generation system to which they are connected.”
The July 1, 2017 deadline is an absolute cutoff, but the actual end of new net metering agreements can actually be reached sooner if the utility in question has reached its “net metering cap.” The CPUC previously set the cap at 5% of the utility’s “non-coincident aggregate peak load.” To allow perspective solar customers to know if their utility is going to hit that peak before the July 1, 2017 deadline, the CPUC ordered the three IOUs to report to the Commission (and on the utility’s website), on a monthly basis, their progress toward that cap.
Finally, the ruling addressed whether solar installers should be required to provide prospective clients with disclosures about the ruling, specifically as to the duration and limitations on existing net metering agreements. According to the decision, IREC and SEIA opposed such a requirement on the grounds that it exceeds the authority of the CPUC. As a legal matter, that may well be true, but SEIA’s position strikes a sour note. Frankly, the solar industry is in serious need of mandated, standardized disclosures on everything from system components, warranties, energy yield, true costs, etc., to say nothing of issues surrounding the changes to net metering. SEIA should be producing model documents for its member installer companies to use and drafting model legislation to mandate their use.
In any event, the CPUC punted the requirement issue for installers, saying:
Solar installers have a legal [citing Business & Professions Code § 17500] and ethical responsibility to disclose to their customers the terms that will apply to renewable distributed generation systems for the foreseeable future, including the applicable tariffs as well as the timing and terms for transition to a successor tariff. Such disclosures provide customers with the information that they need to make educated decisions about their future electric service. Because of this, we expect solar installers to provide honest and complete disclosures on the NEM transition, and we encourage customers to report to the appropriate authorities any misleading or fraudulent information that may be provided to them. At the same time, we require the large IOUs to post information on the NEM transition clearly on their Web sites along with other information about NEM terms, eligibility, and progress towards the statutorily mandated transition trigger level.
Of course B&P section 17500 is entirely generic and provides no guidance as to what disclosures solar companies should provide to their potential clients. Clearly this is an area that requires legislation and California, as the most mature solar market in the country, should be leading the way here.
As for Run on Sun, we will revise our Return on Investment materials to reflect a 20-year window instead of the 25-year model we have used previously. Hopefully that will provide clients with a more accurate estimate of their true ROI.
The folks running the CSI rebate program over at SCE (alas, dear Bruce, we barely knew ye) announced yesterday the imposition of a wait list for all residential solar rebates. In an email received at 1:53 p.m. on March 17th with the subject line, “CSI Waitlist Notification", we were informed as follows:
Dear CSI Solar Community:
Update on CSI Program Status
The remaining funds in SCE’s California Solar Initiative (CSI) Residential Incentive Program continue to be reserved at a higher than usual pace. Although California Solar Statistics shows just over a million dollars in Remaining Funds, the presence of “Remaining Funds” for a given Program does not mean that all those funds are available as incentives for available projects. Consequently, SCE will be establishing a wait list sooner than anticipated in an effort to ensure there is no oversubscription of the remaining funds. The Waitlist will become effective end of day on Monday March 17, 2014.
All new residential applications received after 7:00pm PST on Monday, March 17, 2014 will be placed onto the Wait List. SCE will continuously monitor the remaining incentive funds and review the highest waitlisted application as funding becomes available. Applications that do not have all required and correct documentation will be suspended and given 14 days to submit the requested information. If the documentation is not submitted correctly within the suspension period, the application will be cancelled and removed from the waitlist. All suspension timelines will be strictly enforced. Additionally, wait list projects may still have an opportunity to receive an incentive if previously reserved projects are cancelled out of the CSI Program. Please note waitlist projects will be reserved in the order received and are not guaranteed an incentive.
SCE has recently requested permission from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to shift some nonresidential incentive funds into the residential incentive budget. If approved by the CPUC, SCE will be able to allocate more megawatts and therefore more incentive dollars for CSI residential projects.
If you have any questions please call the CSI Helpline at (866)584-7436.
CSI Program Administrator
Southern California Edison
Who waits until mere hours before a deadline to announce the deadline? Why not simply announce it after the fact and be done with the drama?
So what does this mean? It means that as of now, residential CSI rebates in SCE territory are no longer guaranteed. Of course, at 20¢/Watt they were nearly gone for a while now, but this makes it official. Presumably non-residential rebates are still available, but it sounds like SCE will ask the CPUC for permission to tap that piggy bank and shift some or all of those funds to the residential program.
If you are a commercial, or more significantly, non-profit entity considering going solar, you better act quickly before those moneys disappear as well.
“Still don’t know what I was waiting for…”
Well, actually I do.
You see, it is a very daunting undertaking to redo a website that you have grown oh, so, comfortable with over the years (yes, years). When some of our strongest supporters started making veiled hints like, “Good grief, when are you going to revise your ugly old website,” well, you might start to think that maybe there was a problem. But change is hard. And the old website, it was like family.
But a few months ago we reconciled ourselves to a harsh reality—it was time to make a change, and not a minor facelift but a total redesign, starting from a clean sheet of paper.
Then something fascinating happened. As we started planning for the new website, we really got excited about the possibilities. A cleaner look and cleaner code. A modern look and modern functionality. This was not going to be just a “lipstick and rouge” job; this was about taking it down to the foundation, redoing the plumbing and electrical, and re-building to LEED Platinum.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at some before and after images, shall we? (Or you can cut to the chase and do your own exploring as the new website is now live.)
Here is the venerable old home page, RIP.
The dominant thing on the page is our logo, which is good for telling you who we are, but you probably knew that since you chose to come here.
There are three columns, a very popular design choice when made years ago, but by contemporary standards, it divides your attention and makes the page look cluttered, constrained and busy.
There are also two different locations for navigation, “important” at the top and less so on the left column.
Now here is the new home page.
The first thing you notice is that we are using the space quite differently. Gone are the three columns, replaced with a more open, single-column layout.
The logo has been trimmed down and the navigation is streamlined. There are five main pages to access from the nav bar (the home page can be returned to by clicking on the logo) and below that are in-page links to help visitors find what is of greatest interest to them on any given page.
Beyond that, however, are the much bigger main images that are found on all six of the major pages. Unlike many sites that have images cycling in a never-ending carousel, we eschewed that after reading research that such devices were conversion killers. Instead, we settled for a single image on all pages except the home page, which is treated differently. It gets four different openings, served at random. That gives me the ability to see what strikes the fancy of our visitors and tweak things accordingly. The font is larger and in a new, embedded typeface with the dominant color a rich green.
The code is HTML5/CSS3 and all of it validates against W3C. We have pulled out lots of clutter and used jQuery throughout, hopefully to good effect. We have also introduced D3 to the site which has allowed us to do some fun things which you will discover as you explore the site.
This is the old sign-up form—every web-based lead that we ever got required someone to fill out this form. There were lots of fields, divided into two sections (required and optional) and while it would have been nice to have all of that data, no one ever filled it all out—and the research suggests that the more fields you have, the fewer people will bother to fill out the form at all.
The form also has a somewhat inelegant “click to send” button and limited intelligence in preventing spammers from submitting the form with garbage data. (Odd thing that; it isn’t as if it did them any good to submit a form full of junk as no one ever saw it but me. Still, dealing with spammers is a pain…)
Here’s the new form.
Actually, this form is part of the Residential solar page—there is another one on the Commercial page and a generic one accessible from every other page.
If you enter your zip code at the top of the page, it takes you directly to this form and it looks up your zip, figures out if your zip is in our service area, and if so, populates the form with your city and puts the name of the utility in the heading.
Over on the left is a widget that lets you adjust a slider up and down to select you monthly electric bill (and get a topical message in return).
Finally, at the bottom we’ve added links to secondary pages on the site, along with a variety of social media related links and our copyright notice.
I could go on, but I would much rather you “turn to face the strain,” go exploring and see what you think. And of course, I would love to hear your reactions in the comments. But be kind… this is family now!