Los Angeles doesn’t have a great reputation for being green. Sadly we are better known as a car-centric city frequently afflicted with smoggy skies. In fact, Los Angeles has been ranked the worst air pollution in the nation. Recently our fair city took one step closer to changing that! Last April the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve a motion asking the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to develop a plan for how the city can move toward 100% renewable sources of electricity. LADWP - the largest municipal utility in the country - currently gets about 20-25% of its energy from renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and waste). The biggest challenge to going 100% green will be to convert from a grid which relies on coal and natural gas, which can adjust supply to meet demand, to one which can handle the fluxuations of solar and wind. The largest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - nearly 9 million metric tons - will be through DWP’s existing plan to eliminate coal-fired power plants from their energy mix by 2025. (Side note: Shockingly, Pasadena’s energy mix coming from Pasadena Water and Power, has an extraordinarily high percentage of power coming from coal at 34% compared to CA average of 6% with no plans as of yet to move toward renewables! Hopefully they’ll follow in LA’s footsteps!)
Another 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions result from the remaining energy sources in LADWP’s mix, largely natural gas. As we move away from coal we need to be careful to not be lured to just switch to cheap natural gas. Last year the Aliso Canyon gas leak disaster - the worst in US history - proved this fossil fuel is a very dangerous source of energy for our communities. 11,000 residents were evacuated and hundreds reported methane-related illnesses from the leak. Aliso released 100,000 tons of methane, which has a warming effect 80 times higher than CO2 over the short-term. Currently there are also natural gas storage facilities in Playa del Rey and Playa Vista. Obviously natural gas is a serious threat to our public health and the environment. If we are going to get to a fully clean power supply a commitment similar to the departure from coal needs to happen with natural gas… and the faster the better.
With a 100-year old grid supplying 4 million Angelinos with power, LADWP is poised to make significant infrastructure investments. This is the perfect opportunity for the city to upgrade the system to accommodate the potential for a fossil-free future. Councilman - and co-author of the City Council motion - Paul Krekorian, emphasized the urgency for Los Angeles to move to clean energy:
“This is an enormous step forward that will help restore our environment and lead us to a sustainable, fossil-free future. For the third year running, Los Angeles was ranked as having the worst air pollution in the country, which is unacceptable and unhealthy for our families and neighborhoods. To reverse this trend we need big thinking and bold, smart action."
While Mayor Eric Garcetti has already set a goal of reaching 50% renewable energy by 2030, this recent legislation is only a starting point to research how to get to 100% but has no set timeline. This is a crucial first step, however, we are really looking forward to hearing the results of DWP’s research. A realistic but ambitious time-bound roadmap to ending our reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to improving our chances of preventing climate change’s most damaging effects.
San Francisco and San Diego are also among eighteen other cities who have committed to 100% clean energy goals recently. Four cities are already proving it is possible with fully renewably powered systems! Los Angeles, as the 2nd most populous city in the country and most polluted, can serve as a particularly powerful role model for cities and jurisdictions across the country. These plans have the potential to both help stop devastating climate change impacts but also to boost economies in the process. Some opponents of a renewable transition worry that it will hurt the economy but the growth of renewable jobs in recent years and a growing local economy has proven that is a false threat. Last year’s solar census reported that 10% of solar jobs - over 21,000 well paid jobs - are in Los Angeles! Going green saves money in the long-term. A report from the New Climate Economy found cities could save $17 trillion by 2050 by pursuing low-carbon solutions such as public transport, building efficiency, waste management and ‘aggressive’ solar implementation.
Now is the time to kick our transition to clean energy into high gear at local and state levels! We look forward to being part of the solution!
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!
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!
We all know that solar is booming throughout the U.S. and especially here in California, but where in California exactly? What county leads the state in permitting new solar projects? Take a guess—the winner may surprise you!
We recently came across a publication that attempts to compile information regarding building permits throughout the State of California. The data reports the total number of permits issued by county and gives a valuation for those permits. However, since the value assigned to a project at the permit office is generally not verified against the actual price of the project, we aren’t looking at that data. Instead, we simply focused on the total number of permits issued in March of 2014 for new, solar PV installations.
Go on, take a guess…
Did you see that coming? We certainly didn’t!
Wow, San Bernardino you are kicking it, and in a big way, accounting for nearly 12% of the 3,901 new PV permits pulled statewide in March. The top ten counties listed here combined for 65% of all permits for the month. Solar hotspots indeed.
Still, I suspect it tells you something about the continuing horrors of doing business in the City of the Angels, when Los Angeles county, with five times the population of San Bernardino county, has roughly half as many permits in the month.
It will be interesting to follow this data going forward to see whether this month was a fluke or a continuing trend.
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.
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.
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.
Which brings us to the status of all project applications in the queue. Here’s DWP’s chart (click for larger):
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.
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.
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