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02/05/14

  10:48:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 751 words  
Categories: LADWP, Feed-in Tariff

LADWP FiT 3rd Tranche Delayed - UPDATE

UPDATE - 2/10 - LADWP has now revealed the reasoning behind their delay in moving forward on the program “tweaks":

The FiT Set Pricing Program was deferred from the February 4th Board of Water and Power Commissioners (Board) meeting so the Rate Payer Advocate may review the proposed changes. The program modifications and enhancements are still expected to go before the Board for review and approval at the February 18th Board meeting.

Given that no change—that is, reduction—to the set-pricing offered under the FiT was made in the proposed changes, it is pretty clear how the RPA will come out in all this.  It looks like we may be seeing a threat to the FiT’s viability come the meeting on the 18th.  Interested parties should plan to attend.


On Monday we reported on an email that we had received announcing minor changes to LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff program and the anticipated launch of the third tranche of 20 MW on February 14. Now we have learned that the Resolution adopting these changes and authorizing the third tranche, which was to be considered at yesterday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, was pulled from the agenda and “deferred until further notice!”

Bottom line: the third tranche will not be offered as of February 14.  Not sure what is going on with this, but here are our thoughts.

In reading the resolution that was to be adopted by the Board, we noted that there had been a presentation made regarding the status of the FiT by staff on December 3rd, but that the presentation was not online.  (Thanks to the kind assistance of the staff, we now have the December 3rd presentation here.)  As we suspected it must, the presentation reflected the slow progress in moving projects past the adoption of standardized contracts—a prerequisite for construction to begin. 

.FiT program status

As this chart from the presentation shows, the only projects “in service” actually date from the demonstration program, not the actual FiT.  In fact, only a bare handful of projects are even under construction, with the bulk of the first tranche still pending execution of the standardized contract and some still in the interconnection study phase.  Keep in mind the standardized contracts (SOPPA on the chart) are just that, standardized take-it-or-leave-it contracts, the form of which was available to participants before they ever submitted their initial applications!  So what could be causing this delay?  Surely the Board had some pointed questions for staff on this point

We decided to watch the video from that meeting to see if we could gain any insights into how the Board viewed this issue and to see if we could discern why consideration of this resolution was pulled without notice or explanation.

The video—you can watch it here jumping to agenda item 27A—really doesn’t go into much in the way of relevant discussion. (There is a long detour into problems that a SolarCity customer was having with a bill—post solar—that was higher than ever before, and the clear confusion on the part of Board member Barad regarding how net metering works. But that is a topic for another day.) 

There was a question as to adequate staffing, but that was not cited as a reason for the delay.

Instead, staff responds by saying that some of the developers (actually, it would appear to be nearly all of the developers) had problems filling out the standard contract. However, the proposed tweaks did not include streamlining the contract so maybe that is why there is a concern about the proposed resolution?

We also hear in the video that the CleanLA/UCLA Luskin Center coalition, which was one of the driving agents behind the FiT, was supposed to be producing a report on the FiT so far—perhaps that report raised issues that caused the postponement?  Alas, the report does not appear at the LADWP website, nor can we find it on the CleanLA website.

However, the last person to speak about the FiT is longtime FiT opponent, the Ratepayer Advocate, who once again complained about the cost of the FiT. Indeed he asked that the program switch from a set-price program to a competitive bid program.  His complaints are no better grounded now than they were a year ago, but perhaps he has caught the ear of one of the new Board members who pulled the resolution because a change in pricing was not proposed?

For now, all we can do is speculate.  But one thing is sadly certain—LADWP is playing Scrooge this Valentine’s Day as the third tranche remains on hold.

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02/04/14

  07:06:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 304 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Here's a Shock: Fair Piece on Solar at Fox!

We have written about the occasional PR problems that the solar industry faces, so it was a pleasant surprise to come across a “fair & balanced” story about solar power over at Fox.

Before you get too excited, this was not Fox & Friends or The Kelly File where we found this article.  Instead it was on the Fox Business website.  The article, titled Buy vs. Lease: Solar Panels on Your Home, by Donna Fuscaldo, did indeed offer its readers a fair view into the world of residential solar.  For example, the article discusses the pros and cons of leasing versus owning your solar power system and notes:

Homeowners who chose to own the solar panels not only get the best price but they can also benefit from city and state tax breaks depending on where they live. According to Kimbis, homeowners may be able to get city, county, state, utility district and federal incentives that bring significant cost savings.

“Just like other tax rates or incentives, these programs vary significantly by geography,” says Kimbis, noting that any good installer will be able to walk homeowners through available tax incentives in their state.

That is fair advice, and they go on to explain that:

Whether home owners decide to lease or buy, they shouldn’t go with the first offer they come across.

“All homeowners should get multiple bids for solar panel installation, as they would with any other home improvement project,” says Kimbis. 

After years of hit pieces, it was remarkably refreshing to see something from Fox (even if it was Fox Business) that presented the value of solar to homeowners in an honest and unbiased manner. 

This article deserves to have its hit counter driven up so take a moment and check it out—who knows, maybe it will inspire more stories like it.

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02/03/14

  09:00:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 520 words  
Categories: LADWP, Feed-in Tariff

LADWP FiT 3rd Tranche Launching - UPDATED 2X

UPDATE: The postponement is “until further notice.” We have a more detailed report on the delay of the third tranche of LA’s FiT here.


UPDATE: LADWP has informed us that the meeting scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed.  As soon as we learn more, we will update this post.


LADWP has announced that the third 20 MW tranche of its Feed-in Tariff program will launch on Friday, February 14, pending Commission approval.

Outgoing GM Ron Nichols signed off on the Board Packet, and the tweaks to the program suggested therein are set to be reviewed and approved on Tuesday, February 4 at 11:00 a.m.—that is, tomorrow morning—according to the email DWP sent out Friday afternoon.  (Can you say, “Friday news dump,” anyone?)

Apparently DWP made an update presentation to the Board on December 3.  We say apparently since it is referenced in the new materials, but we cannot find a copy of the report anywhere online.  We wonder, for example, if the Board was informed about the surprisingly low number of contracts that have been executed under the FiT so far?  As we reported back in early January (going just on published data and without access to the report to the Board), out of 109 projects that originally “won” in the First Tranche lottery, only 3—a 2.7% success rate—have signed contracts.

Crazy process that is LA's FiT

Alas, this was not “tweaked”

Hard to say whether any of the “tweaks” being proposed will do much to address that problem. 

We observe with some dismay DWP’s observation that “numerous developers have been confused or inexperienced with designing solar for the California market, ” since that could have been avoided (or at least reduced) if the program had given preference to local developers.  After all, one of the stated purposes of the FiT was to develop local jobs.

Seems like a missed opportunity and one that has delayed successful project implementation while the out-of-towners get educated on the mysteries and joys of doing solar in the City of the Angels.

Other tweaks include:

  • A 10-business day deadline has been added for developers to cure application deficiencies.  Nothing said about how long City staff will have to cure theirs.
  • LADWP must approve any lease language to “ensure consistency with the LA City Charter.”
  • The Standard Contract was modified to “clarify the assignment provision.” Useful, no doubt, but streamlining the entire 51-page contract would be even better.
  • A “re-application” form has been created to simplify the process for unsuccessful lottery participants to re-enter the next tranche.

Beyond those changes, “staff will post updated sample forms and contracts, answers to frequently asked questions, and checklists on the FiT Website to provide guidance and transparency."  A noble goal, to be sure, but it would be a start if they could post their own Board presentations in a consistent manner.

Assuming the Board approves these modifications, the window will open on the Third Tranche on February 14, with a base price for energy of 15¢/kWh.  The window will stay open for five business days and all completed applications will enter a lottery to see who will be part of the 20 MW allocation.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone - may your solar dreams come true.

01/29/14

  07:55:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 320 words  
Categories: Climate Change, Ranting

SOTU Shout-out to Solar

Solar got a shout-out by President Obama in last night’s State of the Union speech and a well deserved one at that.  Here’s what the President had to say:

…we’re becoming a global leader in solar too. Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it so we can invest more in fuels of the future that do. (Cheers, applause.)

We were applauding, too, as we listened to the President’s speech. Of course, we are a long way removed from legislation that would actually redirect those subsidies from dirty fossil fuels to the clean energy we need for the future.  And the President also touted his “all of the above” energy policy in noting that we have greatly expanded oil and natural gas production under his watch—a fact that prompted one wag to remark that he was fine with an all of the above policy, it was the stuff underground that causes all of the problems.

And let’s be clear, we are facing a major problem in climate change.  Nearly two-thirds of California has been downgraded to extreme drought status and our snow pack today is 20% of what it should be at this time of year.  While deniers point to freakishly cold temperatures in the nation’s heartland, they ignore the temperatures in Alaska where it rained in January for the first time in recorded history.

Check out this great summary video from our friends over at Climate Denial Crock of the Week:

So the President was right to give a shout-out to solar, as it is an important part of the solution.  But a lot more needs to be done and we need a greater sense of urgency about the task ahead.

01/28/14

  10:52:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 437 words  
Categories: LADWP, Safety, Ranting

LA: Where Good News goes to Die

Enphase M215 with integrated groundingOur friends over at Enphase Energy had a significant announcement a week or so ago, touting how their tried-and-true M215 microinverter had just been improved by redesigning it to feature integrated grounding, just like its bigger sibling, the new M250’s.  We wrote about the value of integrated grounding last year when the M250’s were introduced, and it is a really great development, cutting install time, reducing hazards on the roof, and making the installed system safer for everyone.  Enphase has even created a dedicated webpage to explain the benefits of integrated grounding.  What’s not to love?

Unless, that is, you are the City of Los Angeles.  You see, the Building and Safety department of Los Angeles is a universe unto itself, a universe where good news goes to die.  To LA, it doesn’t matter that the M250 and the new M215 have been independently tested and found compliant with all of the relevant standards for inverters.  No, LA doesn’t care—they insist that these products be submitted to LA for its own testing.

Now just who does this help? Well, presumably the folks who work in LA’s lab get to stay employed but somehow the permitting process shouldn’t be a jobs program.  No, all this does is add cost (directly to Enphase who has to jump through these hoops, indirectly to everyone else) and delay into the process.  We have sold projects that are delayed in LA while we wait for this nonsense to get resolved.  Indeed, it is just this sort of abuse of the process that causes us to have a 7 kW threshold for projects in LA—anything smaller is just not worth the agitation.

To be clear, it doesn’t have to be this way.  We have already installed projects in Pasadena and surrounding cities without difficulty using integrated grounding. No one else has had a problem—the units are appropriately listed so you are good to go.  But not so in LA.

Everyone talks about how reducing “soft costs” is the key to making solar viable in a post-subsidy world.  If so, here’s a prime example of a soft cost that offers zero value to the process and needs to be eliminated—but it is far from an isolated example. 

We suspect that the Garcetti Administration could make this go away tomorrow—so why don’t they?  Given the Mayor’s claim to green cred, why not call a meeting with appropriate stakeholders: installers (including small installers), manufacturers, and department heads and lets cut through this unnecessary nonsense and make it easier to install rooftop solar in the biggest city in the biggest solar market in the country.  It’s about time.

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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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