Tag: "pg_e"

02/12/13

  02:05:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 678 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Solar News, Utilities, Ranting

It's On - PG&E Declares War on Solar! - UPDATE

UPDATE - Interestingly, the article cited below has been removed from the PG&E website.  Ms. Burt, however, appears to still be employed by the company and presumably still holds the same, combative views—even if her employer no longer wants to see them quite so public. 

Google, however, has the story cached and you can read her original post here.


PGE's chief customer officer

Who is this woman and
why is she attacking solar?

In case you had any doubts, the attack on the underpinnings of the solar industry - net metering - has begun in earnest as evidenced by this Declaration of War from PG&E’s “Chief Customer Officer,” Helen Burt. The only question now is, how will the industry respond?

In a recent post on the PG&E website, Ms. Burt continues the populist attack on solar, claiming that solar customers who use net metering (essentially every residential solar customer and all but the very largest commercial customers) are not paying “their fair share.”

Here’s her take:

When customers install solar and use Net Energy Metering, they avoid paying their fair share of the electricity grid they use at night and of various programs that further California’s environmental and social policies. Remaining utility customers pay for the fixed costs of the electricity grid and other programs, driving their rates higher.

Frankly, this is simply nonsense.  All customers, including those who install solar and use net metering, are billed the same way to cover the costs mentioned by Ms. Burt.  But here’s the thing, the amount of that payment is tied to energy usage - the more kilowatt-hours you consume in a billing period, the more you pay for grid maintenance. Is that the proper way to cover the cost of fixed assets?  Perhaps not, but one thing is for sure, it wasn’t the solar customers who designed PG&E’s rate structure.

So guess what?  If you invest in LED bulbs for your home or a more efficient HVAC system on your commercial building, you will lower the amount of energy you consume - and hence you will lower the amount you contribute to covering these same costs.  Is that also unfair?

As we reported at the time, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is performing a study now to try and assess the true cost-benefit equation from solar net metering and recently the folks at Vote Solar commissioned their own study which found a net benefit to all ratepayers - including those who do not install solar.  Ms. Burt dismisses those results as “predictable” - that is biased - without ever bothering to point out that the state’s public utilities, including PG&E, had previously released their own study, with just as “predictable” results.

Regardless of how the CPUC’s study turns out, Ms. Burt makes clear that PG&E is going to continue their assault on solar: “PG&E is working with the CPUC and Legislature to find solutions for customer solar installations that mitigate or eliminate these cross-subsidies from nonsolar customers to others."  Translation? “We intend to do everything in our power - using ratepayers’ money - to eliminate net metering!”

In PG&E’s view, they should receive any excess energy production from solar customers - which they immediately sell to the solar customer’s neighbors at full retail rates - for free.  Nice deal if you can get it - but is that fair?

Of course at bottom is the simple truth that solar installations are increasing throughout California and utilities like PG&E know that as solar costs come down, they are going to start losing more and more revenue.  Since distributed generation reduces their peak load, they have less and less justification to build more generation capacity, which is the basis for their guaranteed returns.  In a world where many more utility customers can afford to install solar, this is simply not a sustainable business model.  So PG&E is doing what every dying industry does - attacking the “fairness” of the competitor that is eroding their bottom line.

It will be up to the CPUC, the Legislature - and ultimately the solar industry - to see that the faux populism of utilities like PG&E is unmasked for what it is - naked self-interest.

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12/12/12

  11:46:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1768 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding, Feed-in Tariff, Westridge PAC Project, 2012

Top 10 Posts of 2012

MistletoeYear-end is often a time for retrospection, and few things are more popular this time of year then Top 10 Lists (unless it is kissing under the Mistletoe - to which we say, feel free to combine both!).  We decided to look back over our dozens of posts this year and highlight the 10 most popular based on our viewership data.

Each of these posts was viewed more than fifteen hundred times - which leaves us both humbled and very thankful indeed.

So here they are, our Top 10 Posts for 2012 (click on a title to read the post in full)…

#10 - SolarCity Files for IPO

One of the big stories of the year has been the on-again, off-again, on-again story of SolarCity’s proposed Initial Public Offering.  While cleantech IPOs have not been a very pretty site, there was much buzz about the SolarCity IPO as being a potential bellwether for a change in “green” fortunes.  SolarCity’s original confidential filing with the SEC coincided with a remarkable repricing of their systems as recorded in the CSI data:

Oddity - SolarCity's dramatic price reduction

By the time the IPO was publicly revealed in October, it was clear that one of the major risk factors facing potential investors was how the U.S. Treasury would treat the question of how SolarCity had valued its systems for purpose of claiming federal tax dollars.  A question, which we would note, still remains to be fully answered but the preliminary indications are not good for SolarCity and its existing investors.  For example, SolarCity revealed that for a limited number of systems, Treasury had reduced the allowable price per Watt from $6.87 to $6.00 for California systems and from $6.20 to $5.00 for Arizona - reductions of 12.6% and 19.3% respectively.  When applied to the $341 million SolarCity says it has claimed so far, that could be a $43 million haircut.

As of this writing, SolarCity is now saying it will go forward with a revised offering at $8/share - down nearly 43% from the midpoint of its earlier proposed range of $13-15.  Stay tuned, this story is far from over.

#9 - Q: What is more popular than Solar? A: Nothing!

In an election year it was not surprising that some echoes of that contest found their way into the posts for this blog.  One interesting point was the survey data about the popularity of solar among voters.  Didn’t really matter what your party affiliation, solar beat out all other forms of energy - heck, solar was more popular than chocolate!

Chart of favorable-unfavorable ratings for different energy types

Not that you could guess that based on some of the press coverage of the industry which seemed to have only ever heard of one solar company - Solyndra!

But voters’ belief in solar included putting taxpayer money behind it.  A full 64% of all voters - and an even more impressive 67% of the much courted “swing voters” - supported tax subsidies and other financial incentives for solar.  (By contrast, only 8% of all voters supported continuing subsidies for the coal industry.)

#8 - Non-Residential PACE Rebounds - at Least in LA County

One of the most written about topics on this blog has been the struggle to bring PACE financing to reality.  PACE - an acronym for Property Assessed Clean Energy - is a program that allows a property owner to finance a solar project by annual property tax payments.  PACE was all set to go in the residential market when Fanny and Freddy balked in the aftermath of the 2008 mortgage bubble crash.

But there is good news as the program has been revived for commercial property owners in LA County (and some surrounding counties as well).  The county launched a website and interested potential clients can learn more about the program there.  We are looking forward to doing our first PACE project in 2013.

#7 - CPUC Provides Progress on Net Metering

Most residential and commercial solar systems make use of net metering - that is, the method by which a solar customer gets credit for excess energy produced by their system during peak output versus the amount of energy actually purchased off the grid.  Those numbers are “netted out” and the customer pays if they are a net consumer and is given a payment (tiny though it may be) if they are a net producer.  Good deal all around, yes?

Well, not so much, apparently, if you are a utility.  Utilities in the state, particularly PG&E, have been trying to severely limit the number of solar power systems subject to net metering.  But in an important victory for the solar industry, last June the California Public Utilities Commission ruled that PG&E’s proposed way of measuring that cap was incorrect and in so doing, substantially increased the number of systems that California residents and businesses will be able to install.

The utilities did get something in return, however, a study to be performed this coming year to assess the costs and benefits of “various levels of [net metering] implementation."  This will be a very important study and it may well have far reaching impacts on the growth of solar in California.  Needless to say, the solar industry will need to be heavily involved in monitoring this process as it is certain that the utilities and their lobbyists will be pushing hard to get a result in their favor.

#6 - Power to the People - Support SB 843!

Community solar

One of the frustrations of running a solar company is that there are potential clients out there for whom their own solar power system simply cannot work.  Their roof might be all wrong, or the shading from surrounding trees simply cannot be overcome.  Or they might be renters, or a commercial business with a relatively small, weak, roof that doesn’t match their load.  Whatever the case, but way more often than we like, we simply have to say no.

Community Solar - the goal of SB 843 - could go a long way toward solving that problem.  Under a Community Solar program, a system developer could sell shares in the output of the system to any customer of the utility where the project is located.  Those customers could purchase just the amount that they needed, unconstrained by the happenstance of roofs, or landlords, or loads.  The system provides its power directly to the grid, and the utility bills the customers based on their share of the energy produced (much like the “green energy” that some utilities now allow their customers to purchase).

Up against the end of the legislative session and facing still opposition from the utilities and their allies in the legislature, SB 843 died in September.

The good news is that the bill is slated to be reintroduced next year.

#5 - Westridge Project Grabs Pasadena Weekly’s Green Issue Front Page!

Jim Jenal, Run on Sun Founder, poses beside the 52.3kW solar power installation at Westridge School for GirlsWe’d be lying if we didn’t admit that our favorite project this year - at least in terms of coverage on this blog - was our install at the Westridge School for Girls here in Pasadena.  Seven different articles chronicled that project from our initial selection, to a series of step-by-step construction stories, to reporting on the accolades that the project garnered for both Westridge and Run on Sun.

Micro-inverter manufacturer Enphase Energy featured the project as one of their Projects of the Week, the City of Pasadena cited the project in selecting Westridge for a Green City award, and Pasadena Weekly put the project on the cover of their annual “Green Issue."  Some great PR for a great project with a great client.  We look forward to doing it again with the folks at Westridge real soon.

#4 - LADWP Updates FiT Status

FiT price decline over timeLADWP continues its slow march to rolling out a FiT and our #4 post detailed the latest status update from DWP.  Alas, we still haven’t seen data from the demonstration project released and as near as we can tell, the “standard” contracts for those approved projects are still being finalized long past the October-November timeline that was announced with this update.

Will this program roll-out in January as scheduled?  Seems unlikely, but stay tuned!

#3 - Vote Yes on 39

Voters in California put their votes where the polls said they would be - supporting Proposition 39 that would greatly increase funding for energy efficiency and green energy projects with 60% of the vote.

Amidst rumors of possible legal challenges, the fight over, and potential implementation of, Prop 39 will be one of the big solar stories in 2013.

#2 - Centex Clouds Solar Tile Repairs

Mega-home builder Centex of the Pulte Group has a problem with some of its highly-touted “solar homes” - the homeowners cannot use their solar power systems because of faulty roofing tiles that threaten to catch on fire.  The manufacturer has gone out of business and while Centex has said that they will pay for repairs, they are asking homeowners to sign a pernicious release that could leave them exposed if there are problems with the repair down the road.

Centex logo

After we originally wrote about the problem, we were contacted by one of the homeowners asking for our help.  We got Centex to admit that they might conceivably waive the release requirement but apparently only if the homeowner is willing/able to push back - hard.  Frankly, we think that Centex should just step up and do the right thing - but if they are unwilling to do so, we sure would like to see the authorities provide whatever extra encouragement is needed.

Despite only being published a short time, this story jumped to be our second most popular post of the year and it would make our year to be able to report that this ultimately has a happy ending.  We’re still waiting.

And Our #1 Post of the Year:
Outliers & Oddities: State of SoCal Solar 2012 - Part 3

Once again, our most popular post for the year was our annual examination of the Outliers and Oddities as determined by analyzing the CSI data for the first half of the year.  Since it was published on September 6th, it has racked up more than 4,000 views!

Of all that we reported on in this very lengthy (2795 words - yikes!) post, perhaps the most troubling was what we documented with this graph:

Years of delay

This graph shows how the extraordinary delays in installing systems by industry-giant SolarCity is retarding the progress of the industry in meeting consumer needs and in protecting the environment.   Word to the wise, bigger isn’t necessarily better and “free” may not be all that it is cracked up to be!

Looking Ahead…

That’s our recap on the year - our best year ever.  We are really excited for 2013 as the economy continues to improve and we finally have the uncertainty of the past twelve months behind us, we are expecting great things from the year ahead.  And, of course, you can continue to expect our mostly informed, somewhat irreverent take on all things solar.  Thanks for your support and encouragement - especially you, Vick!

Happy Holidays!

09/01/12

  10:39:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 656 words  
Categories: SCE, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting

Community Solar Bill Defeated - Wait 'til Next Year

SB 843, the proposed law that would have allowed for Community Solar installations, has been defeated.  Faced with unyielding opposition from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE), the bill was killed in the Utilities and Commerce committee of the Assembly.

Community Solar allows renters, home owners with undesirable roofs, or businesses that don’t own their own buildings to “go solar” by owning a piece of the output of a community solar installation.  Since a large percentage of potential solar clients fall into those circumstances, the concept of community solar is extremely appealing.  (Over the years, we have had numerous potential clients that we have had to turn away because their site would simply not support a viable solar installation.  These people would be natural participants in a community solar project.)

Indeed, the list of organizations supporting the bill contrasts sharply with those opposing:

Support for SB 843 (Wolk)

Education
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson (Co-sponsor)
California School Board Association
County School Facilities Consortium (CASH)
Davis Joint Unified School District
Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District
Fowler Unified School District
Los Angeles Unified School District
Oakland Unified School District
Petaluma City Schools
School Energy Coalition
Yolo County Board of Education

Military
Department of Defense

State and Local Government
City of Davis (Co-sponsor)
City of Chula Vista
City of San Diego
City of San Jose
City of Ventura
County of Sonoma
Jean Quan, Mayor, City of Oakland
Keith Carson, Supervisor 5th District Alameda County

Community & Environmental Justice Groups
Advancement Project
Affordable Housing Alliance
Asia Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)
Black Women For Wellness
Californians for Clean Energy & Jobs Network
CleanTECH San Diego
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
Community Coalition
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice
Ella Baker Center
Korean Resource Center
Kyoto USA
Leadership Management Institute
Los Angeles Community Action Network
Oakland Rising
Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles
Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SLVG)
Vote Solar
William C. Velásquez Institute

Environmental Advocates
California League of Conservation Voters
California Native Plant Society
Community Environmental Council
Environment California
Environmental Defense Fund
Natural Resources Defense Council
Planning and Conservation League
Sierra Club California
Union of Concerned Scientists

Faith Community
California Interfaith Power & Light
Chapel of Peace Lutheran Church, Inglewood

Utility
San Diego Gas & Electric

Business
Blueray Curtiss
Botanical Labs
Cauac Inc.
Christiansen Consulting
Cynthia Washburn Catering
Environmental Entrepreneurs (213 members)
Green Build Energy
Los Angeles Business Council (LABC)
LMI of San Diego
LTS Energy
PaulinNeal
Poetic Kinetics
Rabobank North America
Ritual Coffee Roasters
Small Business California
Swinerton Builders

Solar/Renewable Energy
AmSolar
Androit Solar Energy Design
Black Rock Solar
CleanPath Ventures
Clean Tech Energy
El Pico Energy LLC
Lincoln Renewable Energy
Octus Energy
Recurrent Energy
Renewable Funding
Run on Sun
San Diego County Solar
Solar City
Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
Solar Mosaic
Solar Pathways
Solar West Design
Sologico
Sungevity
Sun Run
SunTech
Tioga Energy
Yingli Green Energy Americas, Inc.

Labor
California Building Trades Council
California State Association of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
California Teamsters
Coalition of California Utility Employee
Homeboy Enterprises
LA/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council
Oakland Tech Green Academy
Solar Training Institute
Winston Burton, Exec. Director of the Workforce Collaborative

Health
American Lung Association of California
Breathe California


Opposition for SB 843 (Wolk)

California Farm Bureau Federation
Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Southern California Edison

Unfortunately, an appealing concept with broad support can still be extremely difficult to turn into practical legislation, and with the end of the session looming, there simply was not enough time to get this bill across the finish line - despite heroic efforts by many dedicated solar advocates.

But I’m a Dodgers fan, and we are accustomed to the refrain, “wait ’til next year."  Accustomed, but not resigned, that is.  So next year, when this measure is re-worked and re-introduced, we intend to be on it from Day 1 and we will be encouraging all of you to make your voices heard early and often so that we can finally get this done.

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08/02/12

  10:43:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 320 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, SCE

Green is Now: California's IOUs Hit RPS Target

While a meaningful national energy policy is nowhere to be found, California continues to lead the way, announcing that its three Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) have reached their intermediate target of 20% energy from renewables in 2011.  According to a Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Status Report just released by the California Public Utilities Commission, Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Pacific Gas & Electric each exceeded the 20% target for renewables in 2011.  Specifically, SCE lead the way with 21.1% of its energy delivered coming from eligible renewable sources, followed by 20.8% for SDG&G and 20.1% for PG&E.  Collectively, the three IOUs account for roughly 68% of the state’s electric retail sales.  Unfortunately, the report does not provide a breakdown of those numbers by type of renewable energy source.

Most of the gains are the result of utility-scale renewable energy products, but customer-side renewable energy generation - such as that created through the California Solar Initiative (CSI) - has also played an important role in two ways:

  • First, while the system owner of a customer-side facility generally retains ownership of the renewable energy credits (RECs), in some instances they can be sold to an IOU which can then count it toward the RPS goals.
  • Second, since customer-side generation reduces electrical demand that must be served by the IOU, it decreases the denominator in the percentage calculation thereby improving the reported RPS score.

Under the RPS, the IOUs must average 20% from 2011-2013, 25% from 2014-2016 and 33% by 2020.

Growth of renewables in California has been dramatic: between 2003 and 2011, 2,871 MW of renewable capacity came online, with over 300 MW coming online in the first half of 2012 alone.  But future growth stands to be even more dramatic with more than 2,500 MW scheduled to come online before the end of the year!  According to a report in Forbes, that is the equivalent at peak output to the electricity generated by five nuclear power plants - which is good news given the problems at San Onofre.

06/19/12

  05:41:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 645 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, SCE, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, SDG&E, Community Solar

Power to the People - Support SB 843! UPDATED x3!

UPDATE - 3 - The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 12-0 to send the Community Solar bill, SB843, to the Assembly floor for a vote.  Curiously, while all twelve Democrats on the Committee supported the bill, all five Republicans failed to even vote on the measure!  (Not exactly a profile in political courage.)  We will continue to keep you informed of the bill’s progress - since it was amended in the Assembly, it presumably must still be approved by the Senate even after the Assembly (hopefully) passes it on Monday - and the legislative session ends this month so this is in no way a done deal.


UPDATE - 2- SB843 is headed for a showdown hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Chaired by none other than Run on Sun favorite, Assemblymember Mike Gatto.  The folks over at Vote Solar have a webpage up where you can easily create a letter to your Assemblymember urging a Yes vote on the bill.  Please check it out!


UPDATE - SB843 has passed the State Senate and is now working its way through the Assembly where it was recently amended.  (The amendments appear benign.)  However, we have learned that SCE has come out in opposition to the bill for reasons that are not immediately clear (apart from the cynically obvious ones).  This means that your support is more critical than ever - please contact your State Assembly Member and urge their support for Community Solar!


Solar installations are sprouting up almost everywhere - and California leads the Nation with the most installed solar capacity. That’s the good news.  The bad news is that not everyone who would like to add solar, can.  Eco-minded renters, for example, are excluded - but so are homeowners who would love to put solar on their homes but have sites that are too shaded to be viable.  (Believe me, here in shady Pasadena we know all about that!)

Community solarSo what can be done?  How can we allow rooftop-challenged individuals - and businesses - to participate in the solar boom?  The answer is “virtual net metering” or “community solar."  Under such a program, a solar power system is built and individual utility customers - homeowners, renters, business owners - own a portion of the system’s output.  The solar system “sells” the power directly to the utility and the individual participants receive a credit on their bill in proportion to their share of the system’s output.

For example, let’s say a typical Pasadena homeowner needs a 7kW system to offset their usage whereas a renter needs 1.5kW and a local small business needs 20kW.  A solar developer builds a 200kW system (maybe on a warehouse roof) and could sell corresponding shares to 8 homeowners, 16 renters, and 6 small businesses.  Everyone gets what they need - with no concerns about local shading, or roof ownership, or even leaking roofs!

This fabulous innovation in how solar is deployed could really take the lid off solar installations and greatly expand the universe of people who could “go” solar - even if they couldn’t install solar.  Indeed, one study asserts that providing this innovation in California alone would create 12,000 jobs, generate $7.5 billion in economic activity and generate $235 million in sales tax revenue by 2019!  And it would do this without any additional public funding.

Talk about a win-win!

But we aren’t there yet.  There is a bill pending right now in Sacramento - SB 843 -  that would make this type of community solar legal amongst the State’s three investor owned utilities: PG&E, SCE and SDG&E.

And that’s where YOU come in.

You can show your support for this innovative program by contacting your legislator NOW and ask them to support the bill.  Our friends over at Vote Solar have made this very easy - just click on this link.  (If the link doesn’t work right away, please try again later - this is too important to miss out on adding your support.)

We will be tracking this legislation and will update you on its progress.

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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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