Categories: Solar Economics, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding, AB 920 Payments, Feed-in Tariff, Solar Rebates, BWP Rebates, GWP Rebates, LADWP Rebates, PWP Rebates, SCE/CSI Rebates, Solar Tax Incentives

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04/09/14

  10:09:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 834 words  
Categories: PWP, GWP, Feed-in Tariff, Ranting

Feed-in Tariff Wrap-up: Also Rans and a New Entry

In our first two posts this week recapping the state of solar feed-in tariffs in the Run on Sun service area, we focused on what is happening with the biggest FiT around, that run by LADWP.  But that isn’t, nominally at least, the only game in town so this post will summarize the progress, or lack of same, at the other FiT programs around: Glendale, Anaheim and Riverside.

Glendale

We have written at great length about the problems with the FiT program that Glendale Water & Power designed to meet their state mandate.  We noted that the prices being offerred—which were actually even 10% lower than what was presented to the Glendale City Council when they approved the program—were way too low to pencil out for a project, and that other uncertainties made it highly unlikely that anyone would participate.  In other words, as we told the Glendale City Council, they were approving a program that was designed to fail.

Nine months into the experiment, where do things stand today?  Let’s take a quick look at the FiT queue as of today:

 GWP FiT queue - Q214Ouch. 

All that empty space is just hard on the eyes.

In nine months, GWP has not received a single application for their FiT program—and contrary to how GWP officials refer to their defunct commercial solar incentive program as a “victim of its own success,” this program is a victim of GWP’s design.

Given the failure to attract a single project application, you might think that GWP would take steps to address their failure by increasing the offer price for energy, but you would be wrong.  This table summarizes the progression on GWP’s FiT offer price for energy:

GWP Offer Price for Energy FiT

The “City Council” price is what GWP suggested to the City Council the offer price might be when the program went live and that is the price the Council had before it when they approved the program.  The “Program Start” price is what was actually offered to potential project developers when the program went live last July. 

The “Q214″ price is what is being offered today—a reduction of 5.5% for Peak and 4.8% for Off-Peak deliveries.  That’s right, in response to offering a price that was already so low that no one was willing to put forward an application, GWP has responded by cutting its offer price by 5%.  Genius.

GWP will no doubt say that they have no choice, that the formula approved by the City Council for setting the offer price mandates this result, but that’s merely self-referential nonsense.  GWP designed the formula and the City Council confessed that they had no way to assess the technical merit of what was before them.  The formula is supposed to be based, in part, on avoided costs—but guess what?  So is the offer price for the LADWP FiT and yet it is twice what GWP is offering.  Are we to believe, therefore, that GWP’s costs are half of those incurred by LADWP?  If so, we suspect the customers of GWP would be surprised then that there rates are as high as they are.

It is high time that the Glendale City Council call GWP to task and insist that they re-create this FiT program so as to achieve what the state law intended—the actual installation of solar power in the City of Glendale.

Anaheim

The representative from Anaheim Water & Power had told us last year that their program to date, despite being started in 2010, had yet to attract a single application.  Checking in on Anaheim’s FiT website confirms that unbroken string of failure continues to this day with no projects in the queue.

Anaheim’s offer price tells us why: it ranges from 3.883¢/kWh for Off-Peak to 6.472¢/kWh for Mid-Peak to a summer On-Peak price of 9.708¢/kWh.

Riverside

Last year Riverside’s representative told us that they knew that their price was so low no one would bite and that was fine because they didn’t want solar installed in Riverside anyway.  Today, Riverside’s “we don’t want anybody to participate” price for energy is 6.2¢/kWh—exactly the same as GWP’s off-peak price.  Looks like GWP is playing follow the (non)leader.

Pasadena?

Which brings us to our friends at Pasadena Water & Power.  At a meeting yesterday we learned that PWP is considering a Feed-in Tariff program of its own.  Now we are fans of PWP, indeed, we think they are the easiest and best utility around to work with (and for, for that matter).  So that begs the question: What sort of FiT will PWP create?  They could base their program on what has been done at LADWP (with necessary tweaks to make small projects viable) and thereby insure a successful program that reduces pollution, creates local jobs and helps to green PWP’s energy mix.  Or they could follow the misguided path of GWP and its ilk, creating a program in name only, that guarantees that not a single kWh of clean energy will ever be generated.

Needless to say, we will follow FiT development at PWP closely.  Watch this space.

04/08/14

  11:26:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 866 words  
Categories: LADWP, Commercial Solar, Feed-in Tariff

2Q14 LADWP FiT Progress Report

Yesterday we provided a recap of the results from the third tranche of LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT).  Today we are going to look at the status of the program overall, based on the newly instituted FiT Dashboard found on DWP’s FiT website.

Credit where its Due

We are often critical of issues with utilities, whether its undue roadblocks to installing solar or outright hostility to the entire concept of net metering.  So it is equally important to give credit where it is due, and the introduction of the solar “Dashboards” that are now featured at the DWP website is a great step forward in transparency and one that deserves to be widely imitated by DWP’s peers.  Here is how DWP explains the purpose of their FiT Dashboard:

LADWP is implementing the largest FiT program of any municipal utility in the nation. As it goes through growing pains, we continually work to improve the experience of customers and businesses who participate in it. The goal is to achieve the target level of solar energy, catalyze the solar industry and create jobs, and streamline the process to increase efficiency. This Dashboard outlines the issues, actions taken, and plans for improvement. The graphs show the current and targeted FiT processing timelines, schedule, and status of projects from each allocation.

The data discussed below is from the Dashboard update as of April 7, 2014.

FiT Processing Durations

While the complete flow chart for LA’s FiT program is more than a shade Byzantine, the Dashboard highlights processing times associated with three key bottlenecks in that flow: the initial Technical Screening that takes place when a project application is first submitted, the interconnection study which determines the cost for the proposed project to tie into DWP’s grid, and contract execution for the PPA between the project developer and DWP.  For each of these milestones, DWP has a goal of completing the work in four weeks.  In each case, DWP is missing those targets by a lot.

As of this writing, DWP is taking, on average, 6 weeks to complete the initial technical screening, 12 weeks (3x the goal) to complete the interconnection study and 14 weeks (3.5x the goal) to execute the contract!  Unfortunately, the Dashboard does not reveal how much of that delay reflects internal DWP processing times versus delays caused by the developer—breaking these delays down to reveal how that works out would be an important modification to the Dashboard.

While we can understand how incomplete applications and general, technical complexity could add delays to the first two milestones, we are baffled by the 14 weeks of delay in executing the contracts.  These are standard form contracts which, at least according to the program guidelines, are not subject to negotiation.  What could possibly cause a three-and-a-half month delay in getting those contracts signed?  Alas, the Dashboard does not reveal an answer to that question.

FiT Active Project Status

Which brings us to the status of all project applications in the queue.  Here’s DWP’s chart (click for larger):

FiT Active Project Status

The chart shows all 22 applications from the third tranche in the initial technical review as would be expected.  Shockingly, there are still 13 projects from the first tranche, over a year ago, that are still hung-up in that initial review!

Missing from this chart is the number of projects that are designated as cancelled.  By our count, there are 47 projects that made it through the lottery but have been cancelled for whatever reason.  (The most likely reason would be due to learning that the cost to interconnect to DWP’s grid—the major wild card in the whole process—turned out to be too expensive.  However, according to the data, only 21 of those 47 projects ever had the interconnection study completed, which means the majority of the cancellations had to be due to other, unreported, reasons.)

Seven projects from the first tranche are still waiting for the interconnection study to complete along with 37 from the second tranche.  Thirty-four projects, 17 each from the first two tranches, are undergoing the mysterious contract review process.  Only 9 projects have managed to get contracts executed and just two, both from the first tranche, have been commissioned.  (The blue bars represent projects from the demonstration phase.)

That’s a lot of solar in the pipeline—hopefully DWP can get the cancellation rate down and the completion rate up in the coming months.

Issues and Actions

Again to its credit, the Dashboard acknowledges that the program’s overall status is: “Needs Improvement” and steps are underway to improve the process.  Perhaps the most significant development is that DWP has assigned seven additional engineers to help work through this backlog.  But the Dashboard makes clear that to get to target goals, DWP needs to climb a very steep hill: “To achieve target turn-around schedule, staff must complete 10 interconnection studies per week over the next 7 weeks and 10 contracts per week over the next 10 weeks.”

Bottom line - DWP is working on a big and complex program and the performance to date has been less than desired, but the institutional attitude seems better than expected. Hopefully DWP will be able to deliver on its targets in the next 10 weeks. 

Of course, DWP looks positively stellar compared to the FiT performance of its neighbors, a topic we will return to tomorrow.

04/07/14

  08:31:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 994 words  
Categories: LADWP, GWP, Feed-in Tariff

Feed-in Tariff Update: Tale of Many Cities, One Success

There are multiple Feed-in Tariff (FiT) programs in the Run on Sun service area, although only one is actually doing anything. We decided it was time to check back in on these programs and to see if any of them are living up to their mandate to actually get solar installed in the L.A. Basin.

As of this writing, there are FiT programs hosted by four cities: Anaheim, Glendale, Los Angeles and Riverside.  In this post we will check-in with Los Angeles and revisit the status of the other three later in the week.

LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff Program

Los Angeles brags that it has the largest FiT program in the country and that assertion is true, as far as it goes.  We have written extensively about the LA FiT in the past, documenting how it came about and how it has recently survived challenges from the Rate Payer Advocate who insisted upon comparing energy costs from utility-scale projects with the “in-city” projects called for by the legislation that mandated the program.

LA’s program has a 100 MW capacity goal and it divides that total into five, 20 MW allocations, or tranches, each to be offered roughly six months apart.  The first tranche was to be offered at a base price for energy (BPE) of 17¢/kWh, with each subsequent tranche offered for a penny less than its predecessor. So far, three tranches have been made available, the latest just last month.  As we have reported on both of the earlier two tranches (first tranche here and second tranche here), we will focus this post on the third tranche and overall program status.

Third Tranche Results

The third tranche, after some delays due to City Council concerns, opened on March 17.  The LADWP FiT website provides a PDF file of their spreadsheet showing the results of the tranche lottery, but unfortunately the underlying spreadsheet is not provided.  This means that the PDF has to be converted back to a spreadsheet before any real work can commence, an unnecessary waste of effort. 

Hey, LADWP listen up: if you are going to publish data, publish the spreadsheet, not just a PDF. (Thanks, I feel better now.)

Does Timing Matter?

Up until now the sense was that in order to have a shot you needed to submit your application as early in the five-day window as possible but these results belie that notion.  While the window went up on March 17, none of the 45 applications submitted came in on the first day!  The earliest application came in on the 18th at 11:53 (and, despite landing lottery number 21, missed the allocation cut-off) whereas the last application came in on the 21st at 3:46.  Interestingly, the last twelve applications received all got that same time stamp, which means that despite their best efforts to the contrary, one quarter of all applications received were received at the last possible minute—and four of those twelve made the cut.  More on this in a minute.

Does Size Matter?

The 20 MW of capacity in the tranche are not just one big pool.  Rather, 4 MW are set aside for “small” projects (i.e., capacity between 30 and 150 kW) and the remaining 16 MW to “large” projects (150 kW to 3 MW).  So does size matter in terms of the likelihood of success?  It certainly does—all four small projects made the cut, whereas only 19 out of 41 large projects did.  Of the small category projects, two were right up against the size limit (145 and 149 kW, respectively), while the other two were much smaller: 79 and 37 kW.  Frankly, in light of the relatively low payment in this tranche—a situation that will only get worse as the BPE declines in subsequent tranches—it will become harder and harder for small projects to pencil out.  Given how badly the small category underperformed in this tranche—barely reaching 10% of the 4 MW capacity set aside—LADWP should re-think its approach here.  If it is serious about maintaining a small projects category, it needs to increase the BPE for such projects.  Otherwise it needs to revise its rules so that the excess allocation in the small category can be used by large projects that otherwise would not make the cut.

Players

The large category is particularly interesting from the sense of who is playing.  The 41 projects in the large category came from only 19 different sources, and the biggest player of all is none other than the City of Los Angeles itself!  Here’s the list:

Players in LADWP's FiT 3rd tranche

Twelve of the nineteen large project applicants submitted only one project, three submitted two projects, one submitted three, two submitted four—and then there’s LA’s Harbor Department which submitted 12 with an average size over 1 MW each!

So how did these players fare in terms of making the cut? Well, the City only got four of its twelve projects in under the wire so one might think that their success was no more likely than anyone else.  But here’s an interesting thing—remember those twelve applications that all received the same timestamp of 3:46 p.m.on the last day to apply?  You guessed it, all twelve of them came from the City of LA’s Harbor Department!  How curious.

The other successful players were Pasha Stevedoring (2 out of 3), OM Solar LLC (2 for 2), PLH LLC (2 of 4) and SunRay Power LLC (2 of 2).

Coming to a Zip Near You?

Finally, we wanted to see where all of this solar is going and, given the success of the LA Harbor Department, not surprisingly the big winner is San Pedro, home to the Port of LA.  Five projects will be located in San Pedro’s 90731 zip code for a total capacity of 4.6 MW, and one more nearby in Wilmington.  The Port is about to become something of a solar center in Los Angeles—a welcome departure from its past reputation as a toxic hot spot.  Here’s the map:

 More to Come

There’s more to say about the state of LA’s FiT, so we will save that for tomorrow, including a look at their new dashboard that seeks to provide greater transparency into how the overall program is doing.

04/03/14

  07:40:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 499 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Study: Selling Solar to Women

What do women want? That’s a question that has confounded men for… ever.  But this is a solar blog, not advice for the love lorn, so we are really concerned about something more specific: What do women want when it comes to solar?  Since most of the folks in the solar industry are guys (sadly), we have tended to create marketing approaches that would appeal to… guys.  Which, when taken to frat boy extremes, can lead to disasters like the one perpetrated by the folks at RECOM.

So how to overcome this inherent, genetic limitation?

Well, perhaps listening to what some really smart women have to say on the topic would be a good start.

Shining a solar marketing light on womenWhich brings us to the work, released today, by two of the smartest women in solar that we know: Raina Russo and Glenna Wiseman.  Their study, titled “Shining a Solar Marketing Light on Women,” consists of 20 questions that track the “5 Stages of Buying” that women use, according to marketing researcher, Marti Barletta.  Compiling results from 34 different states, Russo and Wiseman have produced an analysis that should be a must read for any solar company trying to improve their kitchen table discussion with that all important “Chief Purchasing Officer."  After all, as they note, women actually initiate 80% of all home improvement projects and they are the driving force in deciding whether to go solar, and if so, with whom.

Yet much of the time, “women do not feel the solar industry is reaching out to them in techniques they will respond to or are speaking their language,” a trend that we continue at our economic peril. 

From today’s press release:

Solar industry marketers are encouraged to purchase the survey and then participate in the upcoming #SolarChat to get further insights from the experts.  The survey will be discussed on #SolarChat April 9, 2014, where a host of leading marketing to women experts will be featured including Marti Barletta of Trend Sight, Leah Segedie of Bookieboo LLC and Mamavation.com, Andrea Luecke of The Solar Foundation, Krystal Glass of The National Women’s Business Council and Glenna Wiseman of Identity3 and Women4Solar.  The panel will be moderated by Raina Russo, recently ascribed by The Energy Collective as a top 10 woman in solar.

A portion of the survey proceeds will go to Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund at Solar Energy International (SEI) to further its mission of women’s solar training. The SEI Women’s Program provides in-person, technical workshops in a supportive learning atmosphere to bring more women into the renewable energy field.

Count us in.  And we love the contribution to the Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund - I’m sure she’s smiling at the thought of helping to educate women in doing solar by educating men on how to speak to women about solar.

Oh, and if you are still casting about for a solar hero or two to nominate for the White House’s Champions of Change program, you’d be hard pressed to find two more worthy candidates than Raina Russo and Glenna Wiseman.

03/28/14

  11:33:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1129 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar, Energy Storage, Net Metering

Net Metering Gets 20-Year Reprieve

CPUC LogoWhen 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.

Background

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.

CPUC’s Ruling

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.

System Modifications

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.

Change of Ownership or Location

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.

Energy Storage Systems

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.”

IOU Reporting

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.

Required Disclosures

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.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
In addition, Run on Sun offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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