Tag: "calseia"

02/06/18

  10:51:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 474 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, CALSSA

A Rose by any other Name: CALSEIA becomes CALSSA!

CALSSA logo

Readers of this blog know that Run on Sun is a proud member of the California Solar Energy Industry Association or CALSEIA.  Headed by the incredible Bernadette Del Chiaro, and supported by a brilliant cast of characters (including Carter Lavin, Laura Gray, Kelly Knutsen, Brad Heavner, Meghan Vincent-Jones, and Josh Buswell-Charkow), CALSEIA is making a positive difference in California’s solar industry. 

But these days, just advocating for solar is not enough, as the future for solar, indeed the future for renewables, is to include energy storage into the mix.  Hence the need for the name change, as CALSEIA becomes CALSSA - the California Solar & Storage Association!

Of course, one doesn’t change the name of a forty-year old organization lightly.  Here’s how Bernadette explained the reasoning behind the name change:

Reflection of reality. The new name simply better captures the rising importance of energy storage in the marketplace and paves the way for the integration of a whole suite of new customer-facing energy products. Interestingly, over 70% of the storage systems installed in California in 2017 were installed (and in many cases manufactured) by existing members of the Association.
 
Big tent. Former Board President Rick Reed likes to remind me that this association has always taken a “big tent” approach. The solar hot water industry (the original solar energy storage device!) made room for the photovoltaic industry that, in turn, is making room for energy storage. The job of a business association is to create the environment within which all businesses can compete and thrive. And, to quote our current Board President Ed Murray, “We have been installing storage devices for decades. This new name is as much a nod to our past as it is a reflection of our bullish outlook on the future.”
 
Can’t get there from here without it. Without a rapid deployment of energy storage, along with other energy management tools, California will be unable to integrate high levels of renewable energy as well as electric vehicles onto the grid. We need to be able to deliver clean power whenever the consumer and/or the grid need it. We simply can’t let the sun set on solar.
 
The “internet of things” is revolutionizing energy. The question isn’t so much if this change happens but when and who benefits from it. Giving our consumers the tools they need to meet their energy needs while lowering costs is what we have always been about. As the most successful business people among us will point out, we don’t sell solar panels so much as we sell energy independence, savings, and clean air. Making the sun shine at night and giving our consumers that much more freedom, savings and clean energy is and has always been this Association’s purpose at its core.  

Here’s to another 40 years of success as the California Solar & Storage Association.

To which we say, Right On!

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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!

10/31/17

  09:42:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 425 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

This is Not a Spectator Sport

Run on Sun is a proud member of CALSEIA - the California Solar Energy Industry Association - and its Executive Director, Bernadette Del Chiaro, is a powerful voice for the solar industry in the state.  Recently Bernadette penned a Call to Action that I wanted to share with my readers.  Titled “This is Not a Spectator Sport,” Bernadette starts with this crucial observation:

For the casual observer, energy politics in California seems easy, especially for solar and storage. What’s there not to like? The voters – left, right and in between - love it. Clean energy is a priority for top politicians. The facts and engineering are on our side. We are significant job creators and marketplace momentum is making clean energy inevitable.  Easy, right?

Wrong. Energy politics in California is anything but easy.

We understand this quite clearly, and we have been involved in numerous efforts this year - from attending a meeting at Assemblymember Holden’s Pasadena office, to participating in the lobbying day in Sacramento, to making numerous phone calls to express our concerns about various policy issues that have come up over this past year.

Sadly, some people seem to think that the solar industry is elitist, and that our clients are only the affluent, but that is far from the reality of solar.  As Bernadette noted:

The local solar and storage industry is anything but monochromatic. We are union and non-union. We are rural and urban. We are big and small. We are established and entrepreneurial. We are Republican and Democrat. There is strength in our diversity, but only if we are known to our local lawmakers….

We have far more power that we leave on the table simply because we are not fully engaged. Politics is not a spectator sport and whether you like it or not, your business is dependent on politics and policy. So, let’s stay calm, be smart, and let’s get on the field and engage.

Bernadette is right - securing positive solar policy is not a spectator sport, it requires all of us to engage.  If you are in the industry, you should belong to CALSEIA (or your local SEIA if outside of CA) - here’s the link where you can join

If you have solar at your home or business, you could join the California Solar CitiSuns to stay informed about action items that will help preserve the value of your investment.  Collectively there are hundreds of thousands of us here in California, and we can be a powerful voice, but we need to step up and get involved!  Thanks, Bernadette, for the timely reminder!

08/31/17

  12:24:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1036 words  
Categories: Ranting

Mr. Jenal Goes to Sacramento

As promised a couple of days ago, I went to Sacramento to lobby our state legislators about the value of solar and storage. Here is my report…

Our state trade group, the California Solar Industries Association (CALSEIA), organized (thanks to the awesome - and very loud voiced - Carter Lavin, et al., for the heavy herding) more than 150 cats, er, solar professionals, to descend upon the state Capitol and provide legislators with not only a human face behind the solar industry, but some of the passion for solar that makes this industry special.

CALSEIA Solar & Storage Contractors at CA Capitol building

The mighty team assembled on the Capitol’s West steps.

We were divided into 20 teams that went to - in my case - five different legislative offices.  We had a number of agenda items, and our goal was to let legislators and their staffs know what we belive to be important going forward. 

Here are the folks from my team:

  • Mark Miles - Team Leader - head of MMCI, a startup looking to improve solar thermal technology;
  • Jason Johnson - Synthesis Construction in South LA - a solar thermal/PV guy bringing the power of the sun to less-advantaged communities;
  • Harry Cartwright - Synthesis Construction - doing the sales/advocacy in South LA;
  • Stella Isbell - WESCO Distribution - a solar equipment distributor;
  • Felicia Lee - TerraVerde Renewable Partners - an energy analysis consulting firm.

Our first stop was the office of Pasadena’s own Democratic Assemblymember Chris Holden, but he was nowhere to be seen.  Nor was the person scheduled in his place.  Instead, we met - in the hallway - with his Senior Assistant Elle Hoxworth, who despite the title, is very young.  She was polite, but her answers about the fate of SB 700 - which would have created a rational rebate program for storage, but was killed by her boss earlier this year - were not helpful.  While she insisted that Assemblymember Holden supported storage, he wanted to wait for a series of reports to be issued by the CPUC before acting - and those reports aren’t even scheduled to be completed until the end of next year!  It would be irresponsible to act now without the benefit of receiving those reports, she implied, and an unfair burden on ratepayers.  In other words, precisely the utility’s line.

Felicia pointed out that the ratepayers are going to pay either for incentivizing storage, or for more transmission lines to bring in the needed power from far away.  Moreover, Assemblymember Holden should be on the side of the future, not the past.  (Felicia was a passionate voice for the future all day!)

Bottom line here - our vision is not Holden’s, and he is not likely to be swayed by us. 

Oddly enough, we had more success at our next stop, at the office of Republican Assemblymember Harper from Huntington Beach.  When Mark Miles talked about extending the rebate program for solar thermal, Assemblymember Harper shot back that if the price of natural gas was going to continue to climb, then no other incentive would be needed and the market would solve the problem on its own.  (Ah yes, let’s hear it for the “Invisible Hand!")  I pointed out that the incentive is important because it empowers the consumer to take control over their economic future - they know what they will pay for their solar system (be it PV or thermal) and that insulates them from the whims of the marketplace.  He at least nodded at that thought, and told us that he had enjoyed the meeting, and that we had given him some “new perspectives” to consider.  Hard to know if that can morph into votes, but you have to start somewhere.

Next stop was Democratic Senator Portantino, who also represents Pasadena.  We met, again in the hallway, with his Legislative Aide, Tara McGee.  Tara assured us of the Senator’s support for pretty much all things solar and took all of our information about our legislative agenda and promised to share it with her boss.  This was the only meeting we had where we were assured of full support. (It was also the shortest.)

We then went to the office of Senator Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena.  We met with his Chief of Staff, Sue Kateley, who is the former head of CALSEIA!  Needless to say, that makes her very well informed about solar issues, but it also means that she has strong views and can be difficult to persuade.  One interesting exchange occurred when she observed that she didn’t like tankless water heaters.  That brought an illustrated response from Jason Johnson (he brought a binder of project images) who explained that the problem was with having the heater and solar thermal system properly sized - and that he has an engineer handle that for his company, not a plumber.  “You use an engineer on every job?", Sue questioned  “Every job,” was Jason response.  As we were leaving, I thanked her for her past service with CALSEIA, and she seemed taken aback before saying we were welcome.

Our final stop was at the office of Democratic Assemblymember Mike Gipson, and his Legislative Director, Jay Jefferson.  While we were waiting for the meeting - we had been allotted exactly 15 minutes starting at 4:15 - a group of suits walked out of his office.  The contrast between their corporate uniform and our colorful diversity was striking.  Assemblymember Gipson was cordial, but it was getting to the end of the day and he was nodding off a bit. Felicia brought him back to the room with some powerful comments about the future, I made a pitch for supporting SB 700 next year, and Jason and his colleague Harry were able to explain to him the benefits of extending the thermal rebate program, and how that would be a boon to the poorer constituents in his South Los Angeles district.  He was supportive, and Mr. Jefferson was taking notes about the points that we made.  It was a positive way to end our round of meetings.

The day ended with a reception and the award of CALSEIA’s Legislator of the Year to Democratic Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, for helping to lead the way on a number of important bills this year.

All-and-all, it was a long but productive day, and it was great to see old friends and make new ones from the solar tribe.

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09/16/16

  02:01:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1049 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting

Solving the Solar Sustainability Problem

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a three-part series asking the question: Is Solar Unsustainable?  You can find Part One: Shoddy Work here, and Part Two: Shady Business Practices here.


It is easy enough to cast aspersions, but it is far more valuable to offer suggestions for improvement.  Having devoted 3,000 words to the former, it is time offer some thoughts on the latter.

Too Big to Fulfill

Time to restore trust in the solar industry

I attended a solar workshop sponsored by our favorite distributor, BayWa r.e., and I heard the head of a solar company offer what might have been the saddest assessment of success I had ever heard.  This man had built his company to become the largest player in his region, but most of the time, he said, “I wish I could go back to being just two guys and a truck."  Growth is hard, and with it comes the risk of shoddy work creeping into your projects.  (Indeed, one of the jobs that we highlighted in our first post was done by a company that once had a great reputation, but grew too fast and lost control of quality.)

When a company becomes too big to fulfill its obligation to provide top-quality work, it is too big.

A greater emphasis on training is one way to grow while still keeping the quality high.  NABCEP is a good step in that direction, but companies need to support their employees to get the training that they need. (Of course, this says nothing about companies that are looking to rip people off - they represent an entirely different type of problem.  More about dealing with them later.)

From Customers to Clients

Right now the solar industry treats consumers like customers, and that’s a problem.  Customers represent a transactional relationship - gas stations and fast food restaurants have customers.  The customer hands over their money and gets a commodity in return - end of story.  But purchasers of solar power systems are entering into a long-term relationship with the product that we are selling - quite likely the longest lived product they will ever own, short of the house itself.  A relationship can only last that long when it is founded in trust, and that is the nature of a client relationship. 

Recognizing that we are entering into a client relationship changes the focus from the short term transaction to the long-term process of building confidence.  That means starting with absolute candor and at every step in the process enhancing the client’s trust.  The solar professional owes the client three duties: a duty of candor, a duty of communication, and a fiduciary duty.  The consequence of those duties is that you have to keep your client in the loop, and you must safeguard your client’s financial well-being.

How do you fulfill those duties?  By communicating clearly at every step in the process, identifying and disclosing problems as they arise, and by providing comprehensive contracts and then living by that contract (i.e., keeping change orders to a minimum).

Time to Come Clean

Solar companies need to provide comprehensive disclosures to their clients.  At a minimum, such disclosures should include:

  • All of the major components (specific solar panels, inverters, racking) to be used on the project, and the per item cost of each;
  • If financing is being proposed, the total cost of that financing;
  • Savings calculations that are actually tied to the client’s utility rate structure (or a structure to which the client is entitled to transition);
  • All assumptions (such as utility rate increase percentage, system output degradation, etc.), built into any lifetime savings computation.

Such comprehensive disclosures would eliminate the scourge of “generic solar systems,” and would allow consumers to make more accurate comparisons of competing bids.

Guiding the Market’s ‘Invisible Hand’

I spoke about many of these issues on a panel this week as SPI.  There was a great deal of agreement among the panelists, despite our disparate backgrounds ranging from a (refreshingly progressive muni utility) to Sunrun to me.  But the one comment that bothered me the most came from industry veteran and CALSEIA board member, Ed Murray.  In response to my stated concern that the bad business practices documented in my first two posts in this series constituted a serious threat to the industry, Mr. Murray’s response was that “the market will take care of it, bad companies will fail and the good ones will survive, hopefully without too much of a black eye to the industry.”

If only it were that easy.

We rejected such laissez faire notions with the rise of the modern regulatory state decades ago, and to suggest that the solar industry can or should survive without additional regulatory involvement is misguided.  The solar industry is far less regulated here in California than it is in many states.  For example, to participate in the solar incentive program in New York solar installers must be NABCEP certified.  Such a requirement here in the largest solar market in the country would go a long way toward cleaning up our act.

CALSEIA has a consumer complaint process - consumers who feel they’ve been badly treated by a solar company in California can start the process by clicking here to fill out their complaint form - but the process itself is secret, and the rest of the consuming public never learns about those complaints.

Similarly, utilities often have experience with bad solar contractors who do shoddy work, but they don’t publicize what they have learned so the public remains uneducated about the bad actors out there.  That should change.

Unfortunately, that leaves us, for now, in a position where the burden remains on the potential client to do the homework needed to find a reliable contractor.  NABCEP’s member list is a good resource (although made less so since you can no longer sort results by zip code), as is CALSEIA’s.  State contractor’s boards - responsible for licensing contractors - are a good source to verify that the contractor is properly licensed, and to determine whether there are any outstanding complaints against them.  (For California, here is a link to the “Check a License” page at the state contractors board.)  Yelp, Angie’s List, and the BBB can all be helpful.  But consumers must demand to be treated like the clients that they are, and reject solar companies that fail to honor that demand. 

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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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