Categories: "Solar Policy"

05/30/18

  02:52:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 321 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Energy Efficiency, Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy

Solar Policy: A Victory and a Challenge

As a reader of this blog, you care about solar policy making, and are no doubt aware that the utilities are constantly trying to erode the value of solar.  Recently we notched a big win, but at the same time the need for vigilance is ever greater.  Here’s our take…

An Historic Win

First the win - as you have no doubt heard, starting in 2020, California will require that all new single-family homes include a solar power system.  (At present, about one in five new homes has solar added when built.)  This will help California meet its ambitious goals regarding greenhouse gas emissions, and will continue California’s leadership in home energy efficiency.

An Ongoing Challenge

As exciting as that news was, it makes it far to easy to overlook the constant, ongoing efforts of utilities, particularly the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), like SCE, to erode the value of solar.  Case in point, SCE has a rate case before the California Public Utilities Commission that attempts to create rate structures that are blatantly hostile to solar power systems.  That means that SCE customers who installed solar in good faith, could see the value of their investment diminished thanks to a concerted effort by SCE to do just that!

Solar Rights Alliance

Fortunately you don’t have to take this lying down.  The Solar Rights Alliance (formerly known as Solar Citisuns) is working to organize solar system owners into a potent political force to push back against the army of lobbyists employed by the IOUs.  There are over 700,000 solar system owners in California - that is an interest group that needs to be heard.  By joining the Solar Rights Alliance you will help to make sure that your interests are being heard by legislators and regulators alike.

It is easy to join: just follow this link to become an active member of the Solar Rights Alliance.  The IOUs have the lobbyists, but we have the people!  Be heard - join today!

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02/27/18

  03:14:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 347 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Residential Solar, Net Metering

Beware SCE's Attempt to Switch Solar Customers to TOU Rates!

 

Attention SCE customers who installed solar before the NEM 2.0 deadline (that is, you installed solar before July 1, 2017) - we just learned that SCE is sending around notices suggesting that you switch over to a Time-of-Use rate. You do not need to make that switch, and you most likely don’t want to!
Here are the facts…

SCE customers who installed solar systems prior to the transition to Net Energy Metering 2.0 rules ("NEM 1.0 Customers") are grandfathered into their existing tiered rate structures for 20 years following their go-live date.  While the costs under that rate structure may change, the basic design - a tiered rate where you pay more the more you use, versus a time-of-use rate where what you pay is tied to when you use it - is locked in.  For most solar system owners, that is a better deal.

But we just learned that SCE is trying to convince NEM 1.0 Customers to switch to TOU rates.  (You can find their oh-so encouraging web page for the transition here.)  For the vast majority of solar system owners, such a transition is NOT IN YOUR BEST INTEREST!  The TOU rates have their highest charges either from 4-9 or 5-8, and their lowest charges between 8 a.m. and 4 or 5 p.m.  That means that any energy exported back to the grid will be compensated at the lowest rate (unless your system happens to be exporting after 4 or 5 in the evening, not very likely), whereas energy you need to use in the evening will cost you the most!  

Check out these numbers:

SCE's 4-9 p.m. TOU rate      SCE's 5-8 p.m. TOU rate
SCE’s 4-9 p.m. Time-of-Use Summer Rates   SCE’s 5-8 p.m. Time-of-Use Summer Rates

Yikes!  That’s a whopping 49¢/kWh if you select the 5-8 p.m. rate - but you will only earn 23¢/kWh for energy that you export from your solar system!  Not a good deal at all!

The good news is you don’t have to make this switch!  And if you mistakenly were convinced to switch, you have the right to switch back.  (Similar scams are underway in PG&E and SDG&E territory as well.)  If you have questions, give us a call and we will help you to sort this out.

11/02/17

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

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…

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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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