Everyone in the solar industry is focused on soft costs—that is all the extra expenses that are rolled into the cost of installing a solar power system. Since prices for solar modules have dropped to below a dollar/Watt, the percentage of an overall system price consumed by soft costs continues to increase. But soft costs are really hard to reduce and we just had a painful example to help drive that point home.
One of the most pernicious of the soft costs are those associated with getting approvals from the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) over the project. That includes both the utility that must approve any rebate application and interconnection agreement, as well as the local building and safety department which must issue the permit and inspect the project. The requirements for approving a solar power system vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and that lack of standardization—combined with just plain arbitrariness that runs rampant in some places—means long, pointless delays in moving projects forward.
We are working on a medium-sized residential project in Los Angeles. If we were doing this in Pasadena, it would be installed by now, but as everyone knows, LA isn’t Pasadena. We submitted the requested materials for reserving the rebate on this project on December 3 of last year and then sat back while we waited to hear from them. Weeks went by without a peep—while we reassured our client that we would update them as soon as we heard something.
Then, finally, we did. On February 19th, seventy-eight days after we submitted the application, we got an email telling us that the application was “incomplete” and that:
If you fail to submit the requested documentation by the above date your incentive application will be subject to cancellation without further notice.
(It really was in red type.) How long did they give us to respond? Two weeks. In other words, we get less than one fifth of the time that LADWP took to, in its sole discretion, identify “deficiencies", to cure those deficiencies.
If that wasn’t bad enough, LADWP adds insult to injury by sending a copy of the “deficiency” email to the client! Pity the poor client—they have picked a contractor, signed a bunch of paperwork, and made a down payment, all months ago with nothing to show for it, and then they get an email that suggests for all the world that their contractor has botched things and their project is about to go south! How helpful.
So now the contractor has to spend time reassuring the client that despite the dire tone of the email, everything will be ok. Then you spend more time addressing the “deficiencies” that have caused all the ruckus in the first place.
I won’t bore you with the entire litany of nonsense that we were asked to cure, but my favorite one was this: when you submit information about the system online, you are supposed to show the cost of modules, the cost of the inverter(s) and the balance of system (BoS) costs. You are also required to submit a copy of your contract for the sale. This we did. But they complained that the contract price and the system price entered online did not agree. Now here’s the thing, once you submit the rebate application to LADWP you can no longer see those details, so the contractor has no way to know where this “error” came from. So, with no other options, you tell them that the contract is the controlling document as to the system cost so they should use that.
Instead, they send out yet another email, this time with the scary heading: “FINAL NOTICE” (yes, all in caps) with the following declaration:
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has received your Solar Incentive Program application, and it is still incomplete.
And yes, they send a copy of this email to your client as well.
Now if they had actually read the contract they would have understood that the discrepancy is due to the rebate amount itself. Online, the total cost reflects the price before rebate. But because we front the rebate for our client, the contract price is net of the rebate amount. (The contract itself spells that all out, of course, but then LADWP would have to actually read the contract.) We thought about explaining this before coming to our senses and realizing that was a lost cause. Instead, we created a letter requesting that they modify the online data to reduce the BoS amount by the rebate, and uploaded that to their system. Voila, just like that, they reserved the rebate.
By my count, it took eight emails to get this resolved.
Just about everything about this interaction is wrong. The delay in the initial contact is wrong. The tone of the email sent out is wrong. The absurd disparity between the timing LADWP allows itself versus that to the contractor is wrong. And the lack of understanding of what they are reviewing is infuriatingly wrong. It builds in delays and costs to deal with those delays. It is what makes soft costs so damn hard.
It needs to change.
At Run on Sun we love March, in fact, its our favorite month. Part of that is that March means Spring and how can anyone not love Spring? But March is also the birthday month for Run on Sun Founder & CEO, Jim Jenal, and for this March we decided to give the presents to you!
For the entire month of March, we are putting Jim’s book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step on sale for the special price of just $6.50, more than 33% of the regular list price of $9.95. Plus, if you purchase the paperback version of Commercial Solar you can download the Kindle eBook for free! (Heck, you could buy the paperback, keep the Kindle eBook and gift someone else with the paperback—how’s that for gifting it forward?)
Plus - if you show us your copy of Jim’s book when we come to do your site evaluation, you will qualify for a special discount on your proposal price!
So don’t wait. Help us celebrate March and all that it holds by taking advantage of these special offers.
Because come April, the accountants take over again and the prices go back up!
Unemployment is a continuing problem in California but for one group of our neighbors it is stubbornly higher still. That group is our recent veterans—folks who volunteered to fight in our wars but when they muster out are finding anything but a grateful and welcoming work environment. Now the folks at The Solar Foundation and Operation Free are trying to highlight a potential bright spot for veteran employment: the solar industry.
First some background. According to a Washington Post article, as of last October the unemployment rate for post 9/11 vets stood at 10 percent whereas the overall U.S. unemployment rate was 7.2%. The Post story cites numerous factors driving those numbers, including the depressingly high number of disabled vets, but one reason that could be addressed by nothing more than concerted action is this: lack of civilian work experience. Think of it, many young vets went directly from school to service with no stops in the civilian work world. They may be long on life experiences, but still very short on job experience.
According to the joint report issued by The Solar Foundation and Operation Free titled, Veterans in Solar, those numbers are even more stark when you focus on vets under the age of 24. For that group, as of last December, a whopping 16% were unemployed. Not much of a “thank you” for your service.
The solar industry, by comparison, has been a source of hope. Out of an estimated workforce of roughly 143,000 people, the solar industry employs 13,192 veterans or 9.2% (this contrasts with vets making up just 7.6% of U.S. workers overall). These jobs are distributed throughout the industry as illustrated by this chart:
Clearly, while veterans are able to work in a wide variety of positions throughout the entire solar industry, installation provides the easiest entre to the field.
The folks at The Solar Foundation and Operation Free are committed to not only documenting the role of veterans in the solar industry, but in facilitating their involvement in ever growing numbers. One such example of their plans to aid veterans is the “creation of a skills transfer tool designed to help employers easily match skills obtained by veterans with those that are sought by leading solar companies.”
Here at Run on Sun, we like to think of ourselves as a “leading solar company,” and we would like to take part in this worthwhile effort. So here is our commitment: On every commercial project that we install going forward, we will hire one or more veterans to work side-by-side with our NABCEP certified team, thereby giving those veterans the opportunity to learn the skills needed to participate in this industry from some of solar’s best.
Google don’t be Evil.
Isn’t that the refrain? That the Internet behemoth would refrain from using its incredible powers (to say nothing of wealth) to do harm, and instead focus its energies on making the world a better place. For the most part, we have felt that Google was on the right track, investing millions in clean energy companies—and in clean energy projects for its many locations around the globe.
But Google’s admitted membership in ALEC - the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council - undermines all of those efforts.
We have written before about the efforts by ALEC to roll back progress in the states on renewable portfolio standards and net metering, so it is a bit of a shock to discover that Google is a corporate member of ALEC. (Sadly, Bill Moyers has documented a number of other, extreme right-wing causes that Google is apparently supporting.)
Our concern, however, is specifically with Google being involved in an organization which, if it had its way, would severely cripple the solar energy industry in this country. Hard to understand how Google can find common cause with such an outfit.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that some won’t try. Over at Forbes, contributor Tim Worstall offered up this lame explanation:
So, why be a part of something like ALEC? For the same reason that they’re both part of any lobbying organisation at all. Sadly, the way that the modern economy works is that government, at all levels, has a great deal of influence over how business works. This is as true of my native UK as it is of the US. So, it is necessary for a large business to flash the cash around to both sides, to join lobby groups from all sides of the political compass. Simply because they have to be there to influence the politicians: no, not so much to get them to do what the corporation desires but to stop them doing something stupid which will screw over the corporation.
Respectfully, that is just nonsense. By that reasoning, every large company in America would belong to ALEC (newsflash: they don’t). And it isn’t as if Google cannot afford to have their own lobbyists to tailor their message in a way that reflects Google’s professed values.
So come on, Google, don’t be evil—renounce your membership in ALEC now.
Solar rebates are fleeting in many locations—now you see them, now you don’t. Case in point, Burbank Water and Power (as is the case with its cousin in Glendale) is notorious for offering, and then taking away solar rebates. We monitor BWP’s website for new developments, and we have now learned that they will be holding a lottery for possible rebate funds next July. No additional details were made available; presumably they will be posted sometime in June.
Given that development, we decided to update our overall rebate status. Here is how things stand generally in the Run on Sun service area as of this date:
|Utility||EPBB ($/Watt)||PBI (¢/kWh)|
|(Click to see website)||Residential||Commercial||Non-Profit||Residential||Commercial||Non-Profit|
|Anaheim||Unavailable until June, 2014||Unavailable until June, 2014|
|Azusa||Wait List||Wait List|
|Burbank (BWP)||Lottery in July, 2014||Lottery in July, 2014 (30 kW or less)|
|Glendale (GWP)||Unavailable until 7/1/2014||Unavailable until 7/1/2014|
|Los Angeles (LADWP)||$0.40||$0.70||$1.45||Not used|
|SoCal Edison (SCE)||$0.20||$0.25||$0.90||2.5¢||3.2¢||11.4¢|
Here are a couple of very important qualifications to what appears in that table:
This is a moving target; watch this space.