Going solar isn’t the only thing you can do to reduce your electric bills and your environmental footprint. In fact, the first thing you should consider is how you could make your home more efficient BEFORE investing in solar. Investing in a solar system that is bigger than you really need is just a bad investment strategy since efficiency upgrades are often much more affordable than the solar system required to offset the ineficient loads.
One option is to hire a professional to give you a thorough energy audit which will help to pinpoint where your electrical hogs are and what you can do to improve efficiencies. Alternatively, there are a lot of relatively simple steps you can take if you know what to look for. Changing out your old light bulbs to LEDs is an obvious and easy fix for example. But one of the biggest and often under the radar culprits that I’m here to tell you all about are pool pumps.
Pool pumps can have such a big effect on your electric bill that we always discuss it when doing a solar site evaluation at any home fortunate enough to have a pool. Of course we don’t recommend eliminating your pump altogether as they are necessary to keep your water filtered and clean. So what is the solution? There are all sorts of newer “efficient” pool pumps out there and likely your pool guy/girl will happily install if you say you’d like an upgrade. However, what you really need if you want to make a dent in your electrical load is something called a “variable speed” pool pump.
A variable speed pool pump is exactly what it sounds like… Rather than pumping water with a consistently high speed you really only need max power at the outset to get the water moving. Once its moving the variable speed pump then downgrades the output power to keep the water moving since less energy is required to keep something moving than to get something going from a standstill. This reduced speed equals reduced energy loads!
We have heard clients who installed variable speed pumps have seen reductions on their bill on the order of over $500 per year!
The downside for these pumps is often the price is much higher than regular pumps. But I come bearing good news! Many utilities offer rebates and incentives for Energy Star qualified pool pumps. In our home turf of Pasadena, California we are fortunate to have a very proactive utility, Pasadena Water and Power, striving to help residents lower their footprint. They normally offer a rebate of $400-$450 off the sticker price for a variable speed pump. However, I was just notified that PWP is running a promotion on all of their energy efficient appliance rebates through October 31st, 2016:
“PWP is offering a $900 (bought outside Pasadena) to $950 (bought locally) rebate to all PWP residential electric customers who replace their old pool pump with a new energy efficient variable speed or variable flow pool pump and motor. Replacing older inefficient pool pumps with new efficient models will not only help you reduce energy use but save you money. With the summer heat and the possibility of rolling blackouts, PWP wants to make sure you do your part to conserve energy."
We couldn’t agree more! Check PWP’s rebates listing for a list of other rebates to take advantage of. The listed prices on the website include the current promotion.
If you’re not in PWP’s service area, never fear! You can check if your utility has rebates on the Energy Star website.
After you’ve addressed all the drafty windows, switched out your lightbulbs and upgraded all your appliances, then it is time to give Run on Sun a call (626-793-6025) and we’ll help you offset the rest of your energy needs!
UPDATE - 5/28/16 - Despite our best efforts, AB 2339 was HELD in the Appropriations Committee, effectively killing the bill this session. Thank you to everyone who took the time to call and voice their support for the bill. Special thanks to Frank Andorka who created a podcast in support of the bill, all the way from Cleveland! We lost this battle, but the fight continues.
UPDATE - 5/26/16 - We passed the Assembly Utilities Committee on a 10-2 vote, but right now we are stuck in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez. The decision of whether to allow AB 2339 to advance to the Assembly Floor rests in the hands of two people: Chair Gonzalez and Speaker Rendon. Please take a moment to give them a call and urge them to support the bill. Here are their numbers:
Back in February we wrote about the new Net Metering 2.0 rules that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved over the objections of the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E.
We noted at the time that the CPUC rulemaking did not directly affect the Municipal Utilities (munis, like Pasadena Water and Power). Boy was that right as muni after muni is looking to shut down Net Metering altogether! Here’s our take, and more importantly, an action item that you can take to preserve Net Metering with the munis.
The munis are generally free, within the limits of state law, to set their own policies as confirmed by the local city council. So here in Pasadena, PWP sets its policy but has to have that policy ratified by the city council’s vote. When it comes to Net Metering, state law requires that the munis, like the IOUs, offer Net Metering agreements until the amount of solar deployed exceeds “5% of the electric utility’s aggregate customer peak demand.” (CA Public Utilities Code § 2827) Now if that quote seems like less than a model of clarity, you are quite right. Before the CPUC, the IOUs argued that it meant that you look at a utility’s highest peak demand as of a certain point in time, and that would be the cap. Such an interpretation, however, reads the words “aggregate customer” out of the statute. The CPUC agreed, and the proper interpretation requires the utility to sum the aggregate demand from each customer and that becomes the cap.
The results are dramatic - the proper interpretation effectively doubles the total amount of solar allowed under the cap. That decision by the CPUC back in 2012 redefined Net Metering, but only for the IOUs. At the time there was little concern regarding the munis since none was close to reaching their cap.
Fast forward to today and five munis have already reached their caps, as calculated under the old, pre-CPUC ruling, methodology. That leaves them free to replace Net Metering with whatever they choose, and at least one, Turlock, has adopted new rules that have resulted in an 85% decline in the solar market there! (In contrast, LADWP has already agreed to the new methodology thanks to leadership from Mayor Garcetti.)
Fortunately there is a fix in the works. AB 2339 (Irwin - D-44) will require that the munis calculate their caps in effectively the same way as the IOUs. The bill is presently in the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce, chaired by Mike Gatto (D-43) - a former student and colleague of mine, and a champion of clean energy.
We need the strongest bill possible coming out of the committee, and you can help make that happen. How? Our friends at CALSEIA have compiled a target list of key assembly members who need to here from their constituents on this bill. From the CALSEIA newsflash:
- Jim Patterson (R-Fresno/Clovis) 916-319-2023
- Susan Eggman (D-Stockton/Mountain House/Thornton/Tracy) 916-319-2013
- Mike Gatto (D-Burbank/Glendale/La Canada/La Crescenta) 916-319-2043
- Bill Quirk (D-Hayward/Ashland/Castro Valley/Cherryland/Fairview/ Fremont/ Pleasanton/San Lorenzo/Sunol/Union City) 916- 319-2020
- Miguel Santiago (D-Huntington Park/Vernon) 916- 319-2053
- Eduardo Garcia (D-Imperial/Blythe/Brawley/Calexico/Cathedral City/Coachella/Desert H.Springs/El Centro/Indio) 916- 319-2056
- Christina Garcia (D-LA/Bell Gardens/Bellflower/Cerritos/Commerce/ Downey/Montebello/Pico Rivera) 916- 319-2058
- David Hadley (R-Torrance/Gardena/Lomita/Manhattan Beach/Palos Verdes Estates/Redondo Beach/West Carson) 916- 319-2066
- Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) (916) 319-2019
- Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside/Calsbad/Encinitas/Vista) (916) 319-2076
If you live in one of those districts, or if you run a business in one, or have customers there, please contact that member.
More generally, there is a website where anyone can go to express their support for expanding the benefits of Net Metering to muni customers throughout the State. Just click on the button to make this happen:
Sadly, the list of entities opposing this bill includes Pasadena Water and Power - looks like we need some political leadership here in our own backyard to get PWP on board.
We will update this post as the bill progresses through the legislature - watch this space!
On January 28 the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted 3-2 to adopt new rules governing what is known as Net Energy Metering, thereby creating the framework for Net Energy Metering 2.0 (NEM 2.0). Here is our take on what the CPUC did, and didn’t do.
The first and most important thing to know is that for many people, the new rules adopted by the CPUC will not affect you at all! These new rules only directly apply to customers of the three investor owned utilities (IOUs): SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E. If your electrical service is provided by one of the municipal utilities - like PWP or LADWP - nothing that the CPUC did last month will directly affect you since the CPUC does not have jurisdiction over the munis. (That said, the munis often follow the lead of the CPUC, so it is entirely possible that they will individually adopt their own version of NEM 2.0, but that will be a discussion for another day.)
Even for solar clients in the service territory of one of the IOUs, if you have already signed a net metering agreement, you will be grandfathered in and allowed to continue to operate under the old rules for 20 years. Once the 20 years have elapsed, you will be transitioned to the net metering rules (NEM 5.0?) then in effect.
Beyond all of that, even for new solar clients in IOU territory, these new rules do not go into effect right away. Rather, the old rules will still apply until your utility reaches their 5% of customer aggregate demand cap, or July 1, 2017 - whichever comes first. In SCE territory it is an open bet as to which will occur first (see more below).
Bottom line: this is not happening right away, so you still have time to benefit from the existing rules.
Net metering is changing!
Lots of people weighed in on NEM 2.0 including all three IOUs, CALSEIA, NRDC, and various advocates for rate reform and consumer protection. While some of the proposals, and their proponents, were entirely predictable, others were not, and at least one such position was seriously disappointing.
For example, the three IOUs all advanced proposals that would have significantly reduced the value of going solar. SCE wanted to reduce the rate for energy exported from full retail to just 7¢/kWh (with a 1¢ adder if you give SCE your renewable energy credits), plus a $3/kW/month “grid access charge", and a one-time $75 interconnection charge. (SDG&E’s proposal was even worse, seeking a $9/kW/month charge!) On top of that SCE wanted to eliminate virtual net metering altogether.
At the other extreme, the “solar parties” (such as CALSEIA and The Solar Alliance) advocated for keeping net metering at full retail value. However, in a nod to changing realities, they did support paying on nonbypassable charges (more on that mouthful in a minute) but not until after 2019.
Still, there was one proposal that strikes us as entirely reasonable which CALSEIA opposed - mandatory warranty periods. Back when the California Solar Initiative was in place (i.e., when SCE was paying rebates), solar contractors were required to provide a ten-year warranty on their work in order to participate in the program. With the demise of the CSI program, technically that warranty requirement also went away. As part of the NEM 2.0 rulemaking, ratepayer advocates advanced the notion of restoring the warranty requirement - a common sense request that no one should oppose.
But the “solar parties” did oppose it, asserting that such a requirement could “discourage innovation in product offerings." Seriously? What “product” might we reasonably want to offer that having to stand behind it would be discouraging? When pressed about this position during CALSEIA’s NEM 2.0 webinar, Brad Heavner, CALSEIA’s policy director, said that the view was that the market could decide this: presumably if a company didn’t offer a warranty and that was important to the customer, they would go with a different company. This was not, however, a position that CALSEIA pushed hard to win, and in the end, they lost on this point.
In our view, opposing a mandatory warranty paints solar in a bad light. It puts the industry on the side of those who do the least reliable work, and penalizes those companies who go the extra mile to install systems that will stand the test of time. From what we have seen it is tough enough to get a company to honor its warranty commitments, let alone relying on the “invisible hand” of the market to protect consumers. CALSEIA did a lot of great work on NEM 2.0, but this position was a mistake.
The ultimate decision is a major defeat for the IOUs, and a partial victory for the solar industry. For the IOUs, they clearly overplayed their hand, advancing proposals that were so clearly anti-solar that the Commissioners couldn’t really take them seriously. According to a CALSEIA webinar, toward the end of the proceedings the IOUs suggested an energy export feed-in-tariff which, if they had proposed it at the start, might have gained traction. Something to think about as we look toward subsequent iterations on NEM rules.
The solar industry retained full retail value for energy exports, but they also saw three changes that undercut somewhat the value of that victory: nonbypassable charges (NBC) for all energy taken from the grid, one-time interconnection fees, and mandatory time-of-use (TOU) rates. Let’s look at each in turn.
As part of their rate schedules, the IOUs have certain rate components that are known as nonbypassable charges or NBCs. For example, if you were to look at SCE’s Domestic Rate schedule tariff page (check out page 3), you would see a whole host of factors that go into making up the rate that the customer ultimately pays. The decision affects three of those NBCs: the Nuclear Decommissioning Charge, the Public Purpose Programs Charge, and the Department of Water Resources Bond Charge. The sum of those three charges for an SCE residential rate payer comes to 2.224¢/kWh. (The lion’s share of which is the charge for public purpose programs, such as bill assistance to people on limited incomes.)
Under the old rules, solar customers would only pay for these charges on the net energy that they consumed in a month. So, if your consumption was 1000 kWh per month, and your solar system produced 800 kWh, you would only pay these charges on 200 kWh, about $4.45. Under the new rules, however, every kWh that you pull from the grid, whether it is ultimately netted out by energy you exported, is subject to NBCs. Sticking with the same example, of the 800 kWh that you produce, imagine that 500 kWh of that are consumed at your home and the remaining 300 kWh are exported. Meaning that you imported a total of 500 kWh from the grid. As a result, under NEM 2.0 you will pay NBC on 500 kWh — raising the charge from $4.45 to $11.12, and increase of $6.67/month on the solar customer’s bill.
The relatively small impact of the NBCs is due in part to solar industry lobbying that held the line at around 2¢/kWh versus a proposal, apparently favored by the two dissenting Commissioners, to include more charges that would have brought the total above 4¢/kWh. (Indeed, we are told that keeping the NBCs at 2¢/kWh is what caused those two Commissioners to vote against the final package.)
Frankly, we think the NBC costs are fair. The programs supported by the NBCs are a public benefit and all other customers pay for those based on every kWh they pull from the grid. Under the new rules, so will solar customers. Of course, if you are in a lease and only saving $20/month from your old bill, this is a much bigger hit. Yet another reason to avoid leasing!
Also reasonable was the imposition of one-time interconnection fees to be set based on the IOUs actual cost of handling the interconnection. The CPUC estimates that the fee will be somewhere between $75-150. (Recall that SCE advanced a $75 fee as part of its proposal, so it will be fascinating to see if they try to come back for a higher fee now!)
The biggest hit to solar mandated by the NEM 2.0 rules was the requirement that solar customers get switched over to TOU rates. (SCE is moving all customers to TOU rates eventually, but that target date is 2019.) Under TOU rates, you pay more for your energy depending upon the time of day when you use it, as opposed to being on a tiered rate schedule where you pay more when you use more during a billing cycle. For residential customers, SCE sets its peak charge time as the hours between 2 and 8 p.m., and Noon to 6 p.m. for commercial customers. This means that, for residential customers, solar exported to the grid before 2 p.m. will be valued less than energy that needs to be pulled from the grid after the sun goes down, but before 8 p.m.
It is this change to the rate structure, and to a lesser extent the imposition of the full NBCs, that makes intelligent energy storage that much more valuable. With smart storage, you won’t export energy during the day, you will store it for later use. That reduces the total amount of energy pulled from the grid (lowering the NBCs) and allows you to shift the availability of the energy to the evening so as to avoid peak TOU rates altogether. There can be no doubt that this is the future for how solar installations under NEM 2.0 (and likely beyond) will be the most cost-effective. We are optimistic that by the time NEM 2.0 goes into effect for SCE clients in our service area, we will have an intelligent storage solution to offer.
So when does all of this go into effect? As we noted above, at the very latest, the new rules go into effect on July 1, 2017. Most likely, however, they will go into effect sooner than that since the actual start date is tied to when the IOU reaches its 5% cap. In SCE territory, the following NEM report is informative:
SCE’s total customer aggregate demand, the basis for the 5% cap, is 44,807 kW. 5% of that is 2,240 MW of solar installed. As of the end of December, 2015, SCE had 1,388 MW of solar either installed or with net metering agreements in place, leaving 852 MW remaining under the cap.
The report also shows that applications for 48.1 MW of new solar were received during the month of December. If we take that number as a fair monthly average, we can expect SCE to reach its cap in 17 to 18 months. So to lock-in your system under the existing rules, you will need to have your net metering application complete and on file with SCE before then (May-June 2017). We will continue to update on the status of SCE’s progress toward its cap.
On the whole, the solar industry dodged a bullet, especially when you look at the latest battles over NEM in other states, like Nevada. This success is a tribute to the thousands of people who took the time to advocate for solar, whether they be our trade association, CALSEIA; individual solar companies, like Run on Sun; or solar customers who reached out to inform the Commission of the true value of solar. Not lost in the debate was the importance of solar as a job creation engine in California.
Moreover, the political climate in California, from the Governor on down, has been strongly supportive of solar and they deserve our thanks as well.
We would love to hear your thoughts and if you have questions that haven’t been answered here, please leave them in the comments and we will do our best to address them.
The new year is well underway (Happy New Year!), and so it is timely to revisit the question of financial incentives to Go Solar in the Run on Sun service area. (You can read more detail about all of these incentives on our Solar Financing page.)
Beyond a doubt, the most significant incentive for going solar is the 30% federal tax credit. Previously set to expire at the end of this year, the federal solar tax credit was extended late last year, continuing at the present 30% through 2019.
The credit applies to solar installations in every utility’s territory, so no matter where you live in the U.S., this credit applies to you. (NB: this is a tax credit, not an income deduction, so you need the tax “appetite” to take full advantage of this incentive - check with your tax advisor.) For residential clients, the basis for the credit is the full cost of your solar project, less any rebate that you might receive from the utility. Commercial clients, who must declare any rebate as income, do not need to deduct their rebate from the system cost when calculating the basis.
Once common everywhere, utility rebates are going the way of the dodo—with one or two notable exceptions. We have rank ordered the local utilities below, based on the reliability of their rebate program.
The big winner, again and by far, is the solar rebate program operated by our own Pasadena Water and Power. Year in and year out, PWP offers rebates to its customers in a transparent and consistent manner - something that cannot be said of any of its neighboring utilities.
As of this writing, PWP is offering a rebate of $0.45/Watt for both residential and commercial customers, and a rebate of $0.90/Watt to non-profit customers (who cannot take advantage of the federal tax credit). Alternatively, PWP also offers a performance-based incentive that is paid out over two years based on the actual production of the system. Residential and commercial customers are paid 14.4¢/kWh, whereas non-profit customers are paid 28.8¢/kWh.
LADWP offers a rebate, if you have the stamina to receive it. Vexed with the most bureaucratic process to be found this side of Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, applying for and receiving a rebate from DWP often feels like a reward for a life well spent.
That said, LADWP is currently offering rebates of $0.30/Watt to residential customers, $0.40/Watt to commercial, and $1.15/Watt to non-profits. Just don’t hold your breath.
These two municipal utilities often feel like one and the same given their similar approach to rebates - which is to say, now you see ‘em, no you don’t.
Unlike their neighbor to the east, neither BWP nor GWP is able to maintain a rebate program throughout the year. Instead, both open their rebate windows on or about July 1st (i.e., the start of their fiscal year) and then hand out money until it is gone, at which time the window slams shut until the following July 1.
Burbank’s program operates under a lottery, which last year opened on July 1 and was exhausted by August 15. In addition, BWP imposes restrictions on the azimuth and pitch of rebated systems, despite their being no technical justification for doing so.
Glendale’s program is even less transparent, and the installation/rebate process is outlined in a 23-step ode to inefficiency.
We will revisit both of these program in mid-June to provide what guidance we can to the residents of these two cities.
The “Solar Partnership Program” in Azusa is fully subscribed. There is a wait list that solar-hopeful customers can get on in the hope that at some point there will be rebate funds available - with no guarantees that there ever will be.
The Anaheim Solar Incentive Program was fully subscribed as of October 1, 2015 and is now closed, with no published plans to revise the program in the future.
SCE’s rebates, which were part of the larger, California Solar Initiative, have expired and no new funds are anticipated. Of course, SCE customers still have the highest electricity rates around, which provides its own—albeit perverse—incentive to Go Solar!
You may have heard that there are forces afoot - brought to you by the investor-owned utilities - that would lead to a “catastrophic” diminution of savings from solar power systems. Stories from the LA Times, to CNBC, to even the Motley Fool all are proclaiming that change is coming to solar and the end is in site for any real solar savings. To which we say - not so fast. Take a deep breath and read on to see our take.
For example, just today the LA Times ran a story in the Business section quoting solar customers who were “just so angry” over not having access to renewable energy credits (RECs) under the state’s new renewable energy targets law. Yet, that isn’t a change to past practices – no residential client has been able to sell RECs on the open market.
Similarly with the upcoming changes in the state’s net metering rules - while the investor owned utilities, including our own Southern California Edison, are lobbying like mad to make solar less economically appealing, no decision has yet been reached. Moreover, the California Public Utilities Commission (which is charged with resolving this issue) has consistently sided with the solar industry, and most likely will do so now. If they don’t, there will still be the option of seeking a legislative fix before the new rules can go into effect.
And that raises yet another point that counsels for a less breathless approach to all of this: the new rules won’t take effect for at least a year, and clients who install solar before then are locked into the present, solar-friendly net metering rules for the next twenty years!
So let’s recap:
But there is one catch here - the second half of 2016 is poised to be crazy with lots of consumers trying to get their projects completed in time to take the tax credit. This will invariably lead to a real crunch and folks who wait too long will miss out. If solar is in your plans for 2016, the time to get started is now!
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