Categories: Solar Policy, Community Solar, Net Metering, Solar Storage

11/02/17

  11:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 947 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy, CALSEIA

Solar Policy Progress!

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento, August 2017.

We wrote the other day that securing sustainable solar policy is not a spectator sport, that it requires all of us to roll up our sleeves and do the work needed.  Leading that charge here in California are our friends over at CALSEIA, and I think it is helpful to motivate others to join in when they can see positive results. 

After all, winning begets winning (well, ok, maybe it didn’t in Game 7, but wait ’til next year!), and recently CALSEIA published a list of policy victories this year that I thought you would like to see. 

So check it out, so much winning!

AB 1070 - Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego)

Currently solar installers decide what information they will provide to potential clients, and it varies all over the lot, with many companies simply providing “generic” solar system quotes (i.e., this will be a 4.5 kW system for $4.50/Watt).  On the other end of the continuum are the quotes that we provide, calling out all of the equipment we propose to use, how much each line item will cost, a detailed analysis of your savings (using Energy Toolbase, the most sophisticated tool available) and payback over time.  We disclose all of our assumptions (such as energy costs increasing by 3%/year), and lay it all out in a clear and easy to follow format.

AB 1070 will drag some of those less forthcoming companies into the light.  From the legislative counsel’s digest:

This bill would require the [CSLB], in collaboration with the Public Utilities Commission, on or before July 1, 2018, to develop and make available on its Internet Web site a disclosure document that provides a consumer with accurate, clear, and concise information regarding the installation of a solar energy system, as specified. The bill would require this disclosure document to be provided by the solar energy systems company to the consumer prior to completion of a sale, financing, or lease of a solar energy system, as defined, and that it, and the contract, be written in the same language as was principally used in the sales presentation and marketing material. The bill would also require, for solar energy systems utilizing PACE financing, that the financing estimate and disclosure form satisfy these requirements with respect to the financing contract, as specified. The bill would also require the board to post the PACE Financing Estimate and Disclosure form on its Internet Web site.

The bill would require the Contractors’ State License Board to receive and review complaints and consumer questions, and complaints received from state agencies, regarding solar energy systems companies and solar contractors. The bill would, beginning on July 1, 2019, require the board annually to compile a report documenting complaints it received relating to solar contractors that it shall make available publicly on the board’s and the Public Utilities Commission’s Internet Web sites.

This is something we have been advocating for a long time.  Hopefully the CSLB and the CPUC will craft an easy-to-understand document that will help consumers make meaningful comparisons between competing quotes.  We are also pleased that this requires the contract language to track the language of the sales presentation and marketing materials - which in many cases they do not.  On top of that is the requirement for the CSLB and the CPUC to document complaints against solar contractors and to publicize those complaints on their website for all to see.

This bill won’t solve the problem of shady solar contractors, but it is a giant step in the right direction.

AB 1414 - Laura Friedman (D-Glendale)

It used to be that local jurisdictions could charge whatever they liked for solar permits, and getting those permits could take weeks, even for the smallest resi-install.  That was changed a few years ago and permit fees for small PV systems were capped at $500, although realistically, they are supposed to be limited to the actual cost of providing the service.  Some jurisdictions have done a lot to live up to the spirit of the requirement, and both the City of Los Angeles and LA County now have very reasonable permit fees.  Other jurisdictions, however, magically charge that $500 maximum no matter what.   Funny about that.

The cap on those fees was due to expire come January 1, 2018, but AB 1414 extends the cap for seven more years, and lowers the cap from $500 to $450, and extends the cap for both ground-mounted systems as well as solar thermal systems.  Big win.

Other Wins

Some other victories include:

  • AB 634 - Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) - prohibits HOAs from establishing a general policy that forbids the installation or use of a rooftop solar energy system for household purposes on the roof of the building in which the owner resides, or a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use.
  • AB 1284 - Matthew Dababneh (D-Calabasas) - Requires PACE lenders to make a “reasonable good faith effort” to ensure borrowers have the ability to repay their loans based on income, assets and current debt obligations.  Too often shady contractors prey on low-income and/or non-native English speakers to sign up for PACE loans that they really do not understand.  This law should help curb that practice, along with…
  • SB 242 - Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) - Mandates that PACE providers have calls with all homeowners before they take out the loan to ensure they understand the terms.

Collectively these measures strengthen the solar industry in California, while providing important consumer protections.  CALSEIA’s work - and that of its members - was key in achieving these results. 

But there’s lots left to do - CALSEIA’s legislative analysis list has many “Failed” entries on it where vital measures were either stalled or defeated outright.  So get involved - this is not a spectator sport!

10/28/17

  11:56:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 836 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy

Solar Litigation Primer - Lessons Learned as an Expert Witness

I was recently asked to serve as an expert witness in a lawsuit against a super-shady solar installer.  After some soul-searching I agreed to take the job, in part as a way to help the solar industry police itself.  It was an interesting experience, and so I wanted to share some of my “lessons learned.”

Why Me?

Picture of me from my lawyer days

Jim Jenal,
trial lawyer!

In addition to having degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, I also earned a law degree, and practiced as a trial lawyer for 13 years in the litigation department of O’Melveny & Myers.  Much of that time I spent working with expert witnesses: running teams of consulting experts, overseeing the production of expert reports, taking and defending expert witness depositions, as well as presenting and cross examining experts at trial.  So I understand how the whole “expert witness” gig works.

Of course, more recently, I have been in charge of Run on Sun, and I have been NABCEP certified since 2010.  I have also written at length about problems in the solar industry and the need for us to do a better job at self-policing, or we will face the inevitable backlash.  Lawsuits, of course, are part of that backlash, and as the industry continues to grow, and shady operators continue to proliferate, the number of lawsuits will grow accordingly.

Key Lessons Learned

The case in which I participated, Mandt v. American Solar Solutions, et al., involved a homeowner who was defrauded into purchasing an over-priced, under-performing solar system from a “contractor” who didn’t have a license (he was renting a license number from a retired plumber), and lied repeatedly about what the system would do.  The sleazy contractor is now facing criminal charges in Riverside County.  Clearly if we are going to assist in getting bad actors out of the industry, this was a good place to start.

It was interesting to be involved in litigation as an expert witness, and here are some key takeaways from that experience.

Engage your Expert Early

I was retained relatively late in the process, and I think that was a mistake.  If you are a trial lawyer dealing with your first solar case, it is highly likely that you lack the technical knowledge to know what the process of developing a proper quote and then following through on the install should look like.  For example, lawyers generally lack expertise in analyzing utility bills, or interpreting the results of a shade analysis.  If you lack that type of knowledge - and why would you possess it? - it will be hard for you to depose the shady contractor thoroughly.

Engaging the expert early - and setting out clear guidelines as to how much time should be spent (more on that below) - will allow you to approach discovery in a more focused manner, and ensure that you aren’t leaving important factual issues undeveloped.

Is it Fraud or just Mismanaged Expectations?

Not all apparent cases of fraud are; sometimes what we are actually dealing with is a case of mismanaged expectations.  (That emphatically wasn’t the case here!)

Not all solar installers are good at explaining the fine points of what living with a solar system will be like, and some solar clients hear what they want to hear!  (See, e.g., “I’ve got solar; why is my bill so high?“)  It is really key to press your client on these points, as it will surely be the point of attack from the defense. 

Don't buy solar from this guy

Caution: Fraudster!

One tip - fraudsters provide minimal and misleading disclosures, tend not to provide the system owner with any documentation about their system (things like data sheets for installed products, as-built site and electrical drawings, copies of warranties, etc.) because that takes time and they want to be on to the next sucker, and are prone to promising “generic” solar systems (i.e, one’s where the actual components to be used are never part of the contract).

In contrast, a legit solar installer makes comprehensive disclosures about the components to be used and what they will cost, line-item by line-item.  They will also provide complete documentation when the project is complete.

Be Realistic About the Cost of Litigation

Litigation is expensive.  (Back in the day, I routinely worked on cases where the burn rate to the client exceeded $1,000,000/month!)  Even small cases can end up producing expenses that are painful to the client footing the bill, and surely expert witnesses contribute to that cost.  It is important for the lawyer and the client to have a clear understanding of the time it will take an expert to become familiar with the essential facts, do whatever research they need (a site visit is almost certainly essential), and prepare to testify.  Just as a good solar installer has to properly manage their client’s expectations, so too must the lawyer keep the client apprised of what the expert will cost, and make sure that the expert knows what those limits are.

After all, the system owner has already gotten sticker shock once, we don’t want to compound that experience!

 

08/28/17

  11:53:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 575 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Solar Storage

Why I'm Going to Sacramento

These may be the dog days of summer, but it is the height of our busy season: multiple projects underway, lots of site evaluations and proposals to manage, and a growing backlog of repair requests on legacy systems that were built by installers who are no longer around. But instead of doing any of that, tomorrow I will be in Sacramento. Let me explain why…

Back in June we wrote about a bill that was then pending in the California legislature, SB 700.  Had it passed, that legislation would have created a predictable, comprehensive rebate program for energy storage throughout the state.  As last week’s eclipse made clear, solar power is having a large (and getting larger) effect on the grid, and the best way to smooth the path of that integration is to add energy storage.  But even on non-eclipse days, there is a substantial need for energy storage to time-shift the availability of solar - which peaks at noon - with the demands of the grid, which peak hours later.  Moreover, as more and more utilities force consumers onto evening-weighted Time-of-Use rates, it will become harder to make the economic case for solar without storage.

But the fly in the ointment is cost - storage today is just too expensive for most consumers. 

We are with storage today where we were with solar itself in 2007.  Back then, solar installations cost around $8.00/Watt - and next to no one had solar!  When the California Solar Initiative kicked off that year, it provided incentives starting at $4.00/Watt that would gradually step down as enough MWs were installed.  The theory then - and experience proved it to be sound - was that by incentivizing the installation of solar, the cost of solar would come down.  Today, the CSI incentives are gone, but the cost of solar is now below $4.00/Watt!  We cut the cost in half, and now solar is commonplace.  Success!

So why not repeat that process with storage?  Why not indeed?

One argument is that we already have a program in place for incentivizing storage, called SGIP.  But SGIP is massively bureaucratic, and operates as a lottery, meaning there is no guarantee that an applicant will get funded.  While neither of those conditions might be a deal-breaker for utility-scale projects (and utility-scale developers), they are a terrible fit for a program that is targeted at residential, commercial, and non-profit installations.  What is needed there is transparency, an easy application process, and a predictable - that is, marketable - rebate amount.

California state capitol

SB 700 died in Committee - I want to know why!

SB 700 would have done all of that.  Instead, it died in committee, without even getting a hearing, let alone a vote.  It died because the Chair of that committee - my very own Assemblymember, Chris Holden - decided to put it in his pocket.  Why did he do that?  I don’t know - he didn’t say.

I’m going to Sacramento to find out.

I should be staying here in Pasadena, helping folks get solar on their homes.  Instead, I will be getting on a plane first thing and flying to the Capital to meet up with other solar installers from around the state. Our mission - to try and impress upon the legislature how this bill would be good for the grid, good for their constituents, and good for local jobs.

We hope to do some educating, and at the same time, learn some important lessons ourselves.  I will let you know how it goes.  Watch this space…

07/18/17

  10:17:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 459 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Residential Solar, Net Metering

NEM 2.0 is Here - Now What?

Net Energy Metering 2.0, or NEM 2.0 for short, is now the law of the land, at least in SCE territory.  So what does that really mean for potential solar clients?  Here’s the scoop…

NEM 2.0 brings three changes to how new solar clients will be treated by SCE (customers of PWP, LADWP, or any other muni utility are unaffected).  Let’s take a quick run through each one:

  • A one-time application fee - new solar clients will be charged $75 as part of the interconnection application process.  (In the past there was no charge.)  Not a big deal, just another annoyance from SCE.
  • Switch to Time of Use rates - this is a much bigger deal.  Most residential customers are on a two-tiered rate structure with a “penalty” tier for users who exceed 4x baseline allocation.  Under that rate structure the maximum cost for energy is 31.224¢/kWh.
    Going forward, new solar customers will be charged based on when they use energy, not how much energy they use, with a Summer, on-peak energy cost of 44.665¢/kWh!  Ouch!  Peak hours are weekdays (holidays excepted) from 2-8 p.m.
  • Non-Bypassable Charges - Under the old rules, energy that was imported from the grid could be entirely offset by energy exported onto the grid.  Now, for every kilowatt hour imported, regardless of exports, the customer will pay a small (for now) non-bypassable charge of 2.25¢/kWh.  Again, the utilities were pressing for this to be a much higher number, but for now this is a relatively minor surcharge.

So what does this all mean?  The answer is, it varies.  For some clients, particularly those with west-facing roofs, they may actually do better under TOU rates than they would have staying on the old, tiered rate plan.  But to answer that question requires a proper analysis, and this is where potential solar clients need to do their homework and look closely at their solar bids. 

EnergyToolbase screenshot

Here’s what to look for.  Your potential installer should be requesting that you provide them with SCE’s “interval data” for your home.  This hour-by-hour data for the entire year allows for a proper analysis of your usage, and makes it possible to compare that historical usage with the modeled output of your proposed PV system.  If they aren’t asking for interval data, they are taking shortcuts with their savings analysis - likely in ways that inflate your potential savings on paper, only to result in disappointment down the road.

Run on Sun uses UtilityAPI to access SCE data securely, and we employ EnergyToolbase (pictured above) to do our analysis of your potential savings - two of the most highly respected and sophisticated tools in the solar industry.  We have the tools and the expertise to give you the most accurate projection of your future savings from solar - so let’s get started!

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06/28/17

  12:08:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 786 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Energy Storage, Solar Storage

From 'Glut' to Glory - Making Storage Work! ACTION NEEDED!

On Sunday we wrote about a growing problem in California: as we have increased the role of solar generation in our electric mix, we have found ourselves in the awkward position of having to occasionally curtail that production, or worse yet, pay neighboring states like Arizona to take our excess!  This is clearly not sustainable, but fortunately there is a fix in the works in the form of Senate Bill 700, and it just needs the support of the solar community to make it happen.  Here’s our take…

The Glut

Solar power output bell curveAs everyone knows, the production of a solar power system peaks at solar noon - on a cloudless day providing a nice “bell curve” for power output, like in this illustration from an actual, Run on Sun solar installation.  The problem is that the peak demand for electricity does not align with solar’s peak; rather, peak demand occurs much later in the day when folks come home from school and work and crank up the electrical devices that define modern living - giving rise to the dreaded “Duck Curve“.  If only - as our friend Carter Lavin ruminated the other day - there were a way to shift that energy in time from the solar peak to the demand peak!

Of course, there is such a way.  It is called energy storage.  Storage could provide that time-shift needed to make the most of our abundant solar energy.  So why aren’t we using it?

In a word - cost.  Today, energy storage systems are just too expensive, and the existing rebate system for storage systems, known as SGIP, is a joke.  The SGIP process, which is essentially a lottery, is no way to run a rebate program.  As we have argued in the past, for a rebate program to be meaningful, it has to be stable and predictable.  SGIP is neither.

The Glory

But this isn’t rocket science, and we have a relevant case study right before us - the California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebate program.  When CSI began, back in 2007, its 10-year mission was to dramatically grow the PV market in California and, in so doing, drive down the costs of solar.  Back when it began, Run on Sun was installing systems for $8.47/Watt.  By 2014, after CSI ran its course, our install price was down to $4.13/Watt - a reduction of 52% in just seven years!  CSI (along with the muni-rebate programs) helped to achieve that cost reduction by providing transparency and predictability that a lottery program cannot replicate.  Moreover, the CSI program was easy for even the smallest contractors to navigate, making the program available to all.  This is what is needed to bring storage prices down, drive exponential growth (and the local jobs that go with that growth), and stop the madness induced by our present power glut.

So how do we get there, if SGIP is not the way?

Glad you asked - enter SB 700 (Weiner, D-San Francisco), the Energy Storage Initiative (ESI) that would create a 10-year, $1.4 Billion rebate program along the lines of CSI, but for energy storage systems.  Here’s how CALSEIA describes the bill:

SB 700 would create a 10-year rebate program designed to grow the California local storage market and make storage more affordable for consumers. The rebates would step down as more storage systems are installed and economies of scale are achieved, thereby driving down the installed cost of the systems. Local energy storage enables the integration of large amounts of renewable energy, creates value for consumers by helping them save money on energy bills, and increases grid reliability.

“Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Scott Wiener, Californians are one step closer to taking control of their clean energy future,” said Laura Gray, energy storage policy advisor with the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “This bill would allow homes, businesses, schools and public buildings to use solar and renewable energy at all hours of the day and night. Using a combination of solar and storage, consumers will make the sun shine at night.”

The bill has already passed the California Senate (sadly, on a straight party-line vote), but it faces an important vote as early as July 5th in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee, Chaired by Pasadena’s own, Chris Holden.  This bill should have bi-partisan support given the urgent need to move to an all-renewables future, but for that to happen, Committee members (and the Assembly as a whole) need to hear from their constituents. 

If you are in Chairman Holden’s district (which includes all of Pasadena and Altadena) you can reach his office at: 916-319-2041 and urge him to support SB700

Otherwise, you can find out your member of the Assembly by doing a search here.

Together we can get this bill over the hump - watch this space!

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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.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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