New Mexico’s largest electricity provider, PNM, filed a rate case with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission) in December. Complicated rate cases result in lots of questions from intervenors, especially when it involves a brand new, never before used cost allocation method; decoupling; large increases in monthly customer charges; large increases in monthly demand charges; a surcharge on customers with on-site solar facilities; a future test year; and changes from a monthly net metering rollover kWh to a cash payout at the Company’s view on avoided costs. As a result of this massive filing, many intervenors in this proceeding (including Vote Solar) filed requests for information (discovery). Shockingly, PNM asked the judge to limit discovery to no more than 25 questions at a time or 100 questions max. This audacious move was universally opposed by all intervenors and was ultimately denied by the judge.
While there are many important issues in this proceeding, our primary concern is the solar surcharge the utility seeks to impose. The charge would result in additional costs to the solar homeowner of over $350 per year for a typical 5 kW PV system. We believe this would be a job killer and hurt the State’s economic development. Ironically, PNM is also proposing a discounted “Economic Development” rate, designed to attract new customers to the service territory to add jobs and increase economic activity. Apparently in PNM’s eyes, all jobs are not created equal!
There has been a great deal of interesting pre-trial activity in this case. The Albuquerque-Bernalillo Water Authority and New Energy Economy asked for the entire case to be dismissed based on lack of support, particularly with respect to some of the more complicated bases for setting rates PNM employed. Not long after, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC)–along with five other parties–moved to dismiss the solar surcharge element based on lack of evidence and support consistent with legal requirements. Vote Solar supported TASC’s motion and added another section of statute with which the surcharge was inconsistent. Virtually all other parties, including Commission staff, agreed and filed supporting responses. Parties are now awaiting PNM’s response.
Hearing Examiner Carolyn Glick was assigned by the Commission to oversee the litigation and to act upon motions and requests of parties. Glick recommended rejection of the utility’s proposal for being incomplete. Glick agreed with parties that the utility did not fully explain and support why it needed a 12% rate increase. The full Commission will have to adopt her recommendation for the case to be thrown out, which will take some time.
The ruling, if it stands, leaves the option open for PNM to refile its application in the future. The current schedule is for testimony to be filed by June 5 and hearings will be held at the end of July/beginning of August.
PNM serves more than 500,000 residential and business customers in New Mexico. Only 4,400 of those participate in the utility’s rooftop solar program, contributing a very small amount to PNM’s measly 1% solar. In a state with abundant solar resources, this is just unacceptable. Only through Vote Solar’s work with the public to engage in arcane regulatory proceedings, such as the PNM rate case, can we expect utilities to tell the truth–or–face the consequences. The days of utility “black box accounting” need to end and make way for public participation in an energy democracy.
Read our 6 principles of good solar rate design here to learn how it’s done right.
SB 350 (DeLéon/Leno) would raise the state renewable standard to 50% (amongst other good things), and on April 7, it passed out of Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications committee, with a lot of support.
The bar is getting set higher, folks. This is a really big deal!]]>
As the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) considers establishing a program, called Community Net Metering, to allow expanded access to clean energy, a diverse coalition representing community, social justice, business, and environmental interests has formed to show their support. The coalition is calling for an innovative program that would empower low-income families, renters and millions of other New Yorkers to choose solar, wind or other renewable energy sources for the first time. With the cost of solar dropping by the day and a boom in state solar employment, such an expansion could represent significant economic growth. Today Vote Solar was one of 57 organizations submitting joint recommendations to the PSC for expanding clean energy access in the state.
“Solar is shining in New York and bringing new jobs, a more reliable electric system and a stronger economy along with it. Still, the traditional panels-on-your-roof approach simply doesn’t work for a majority of New Yorkers. Families who rent, who have low credit scores or who lack significant savings face real barriers, yet those same families have the most to gain from the utility bill savings of affordable solar power. It’s exciting to see New York make bold strides toward connecting these consumers with clean energy options for the first time,” said Sean Garren, Northeast Regional Manager for Vote Solar, a national solar advocacy organization.
New York ranks among the nation’s solar leaders, yet a majority of the state’s energy consumers – including renters, families and businesses in multi-unit buildings, and homeowners with shaded roofs – are unable to invest in their own rooftop solar energy systems. Low-income consumers who lack access to financing face additional barriers to solar participation. Following through on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to expand access to renewable energy, the PSC is working to establish an innovative Shared Renewables program – also called Community Net Metering – that would overcome these traditional barriers by allowing energy customers to subscribe to a local renewable energy project and receive a utility bill credit for their portion of the energy produced. A well-designed Shared Renewables program would empower more New Yorkers to participate directly in the state’s clean energy economy and speed the transition to a sustainable and reliable energy system.
“New York can be a critical leader in the fight against climate change by creating opportunities for all to participate in renewable energy. But the State must do more. The fact is, too many communities, particularly low-income and communities of color, bear the brunt of our dirty energy system and are being locked out of renewable energy investments. This makes it harder for all of us to have the tools to fight climate change and build our local economy. This is why the Public Service Commission should take our recommendations, which would enable these communities to participate directly in our growing solar economy and speed our much-needed transition to a more just energy system,” said Anthony Giancatarino, Director of Policy and Strategy with The Center for Social Inclusion.
“Community net metering is a concept whose time has come, and Solar One is ready to help deliver on its promise. In anticipation of the Public Service Commission approving a strong program, our Here Comes Solar initiative is already working with community partners in Brooklyn and Harlem to develop pilot shared solar projects that will provide lower-cost electricity to low-income local renters. We see shared solar as one of the most promising strategies for simultaneously creating economic opportunities and reducing environmental burdens on low-income communities of color across the city,” said Elana Bulman, Program Manager, Here Comes Solar, a project of Solar One.
“With over 90 projects built or under development across 8 states and 18 utilities, we have seen firsthand the positive impacts community solar brings to local communities,” said Tom Hunt, Vice President of Corporate Development at Clean Energy Collective, the nation’s largest community solar developer. “We commend Governor Cuomo for his leadership and encourage the Public Service Commission to finalize the program, so we can begin to give more New Yorkers the chance to choose affordable clean energy.”
The coalition strongly supports the PSC’s goal of expanding access to clean energy, including solar and wind power, to all New Yorkers. In order for the program to fully deliver on this promise, the coalition recommends that low-income households should represent at least 20% of residential participants in the program. The groups recommended that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) be tasked with establishing policies and programs to meet this standard for low-income participation, including:
New York Shared Renewables has support from a diverse and growing group of organizations, businesses and individuals, including Vote Solar, Center for Social Inclusion, Solar One, Clean Energy Collective, Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition, PUSH Buffalo, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Community Energy, among others.]]>
In 2014, the Vote Solar team joined hundreds of other Climate Riders to pedal from New York City to Washington, D.C. While all of the cyclists were climate champs, we were especially proud to win the top fundraising spot with an impressive $37,000 raised – all while having tons of fun in the process.
This September, we’re excited to be bringing the action up north for Climate Ride Northeast. The supported 320 mile ride will start in Bar Harbor, Maine and wind along the North Atlantic’s picturesque coastline before bringing us to Boston.
Live in the Boston area and want to learn more? Join us next week for happy hour, and we’ll answer your questions about Climate Ride and regale you with tales from last year’s adventure:
Vote Solar Happy Hour: Join our Northeast Climate Ride team
When: Tuesday, April 14th, 5:30 – 7:00pm
Where: New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC), 250 Summer St., 5th Floor, Boston, MA
Why: Meet fellow solar riders and learn how you can use your pedal power for clean power
If you can’t make the happy hour, but already know you want to join our team, you can sign up here.
First and foremost, thanks to all our friends and colleagues who attended. Yes, there is photo documentation: party pics here, and the always infamous photo booth here. Those pics really quack us up.
Big thanks to the many local luminary policymakers who attended, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild, and Senator Mark Leno, co-author of the effort to expand California’s renewable standard to a mind-blowing 50%. Not only are they all tremendous clean energy leaders, but they also had the career-lengthening sense not to duck in the photo booth.
We’d also like to thank this year’s Solar Champions: Jacqui Patterson of the NAACP, Dr Ernest Moniz, and NRG/David Crane in the Utility category. Read our celebration of their accomplishments here. Thanks for your leadership, Champions.
Finally, a special thank you to our Equinox 2015 sponsors for their generous support: NRG Home Solar, Sungevity, Enphase Energy, Recurrent Energy, SolarCity, SunEdison, The Village, Wells Fargo, Borrego Solar, Clean Power Finance, Enact Systems, Keyes Fox & Wiedman LLP, NexTracker, Renewable Funding, Renovate America, SunPower, DBL Investors, Mosaic, Radian Generation and Sol Systems. You are all awesome — waddle we do without you?
Equinox is more than just a great party, or even a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride a 7-foot duck. Proceeds go directly towards Vote Solar’s continued dedication to making solar an affordable and accessible mainstream energy solution. We had a lot to celebrate this year – including 10x more solar in New York, developing Shared Solar programs to increase access, and fighting to defend fair solar rate design around the country. Here’s our 2014 Annual Report with more details. While solar energy falls free from the sky, solar policy doesn’t — so if you weren’t able to join us for the event in person, please consider making a contribution today.]]>
None of this is a big surprise. Still, it’s a good reminder that as we fight the good fight in states all across the country to increase access to solar and keep lowering costs, we’ve got the power of the people behind us.
Communities of color have disproportionately borne the impacts of fossil-fuel pollution. Solar provides a solution.
As a respected leader in the social justice community, Jacqueline Patterson has drawn the critical connection between solar energy and civil rights progress across the country. She has worked to raise awareness for the harm that our existing system inflicts on communities of color and for policies that speed our transition to clean energy. She was the lead author of the NAACP’s Just Energy Policies report, which assesses all 50 states on net metering and other critical clean energy policies. She also was instrumental in the NAACP National Board of Directors’ recent resolution entitled “Promoting Equitable Access to Clean Energy Alternatives,” which supports customers’ ability to generate their own electricity through solar panels.
Vote Solar celebrates her leadership and looks forward to continued partnership in helping all Americans – but especially our most vulnerable communities – participate in and benefit from our growing solar economy.
As United States Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz is tasked with implementing critical Department of Energy (DOE) missions to grow the economy, enhance security and protect the environment. During Secretary Moniz’s tenure, the DOE has pursued a portfolio of R&D efforts, including the ambitious SunShot Initiative, focused on lowering costs and increasing efficiencies for solar power. The DOE’s Loan Program Office also helped finance the first five utility-scale PV projects larger than 100 MW in the U.S. With Desert Sunlight becoming fully operational this year, all five projects are now online, generating clean electricity and repaying loans. From basic research at our national labs to scenario planning for a grid that can run on high levels of renewable energy, there’s hardly an aspect of solar that the DOE does not make better.
Dr. Moniz was called away to attend to pressing duties, and Deputy Secretary Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall accepted on his behalf. Dr. Moniz delivered his own gracious remarks via video . . .
Our 2015 Utility Solar Champion award goes to NRG. We typically give this award to a vertically integrated regulated utility, and NRG is more properly categorized as a power generation company. And not just any power company: with about 52 GW of generating assets — 47 of which are fossil fueled — NRG is the second largest in the country, and one of the largest carbon emitters (estimated to be the 4th largest in the country).
So why the honor? Because NRG has made a voluntary commitment to do something about it — specifically, to reduce their carbon emissions by 90%, from 2014 levels, by 2050 (including an interim goal of 50% by 2030). As Dr. Sterman of MIT points out, this commitment is roughly concurrent with what all emitters need to do in order to keep global temperatures from rising above 2℃.
In the United States, electricity generation is the single largest contributor to climate change. The sad fact of the matter is that most utilities — and power generation companies — do not have business plans commensurate with a liveable planet. When one of the largest emitters in the country — one based in Texas, no less — takes the leadership to make such a commitment, it not only makes a big difference, but it helps set the bar for what should be expected of corporate citizenry. We call on all their colleagues to match or exceed their example.
Frankly, that NRG has made solar so much a part of their business is just icing on the cake.
Read our press release about the 2015 Solar Champion Awards here.]]>
When you think of the energy challenges facing the world, what gives you hope? For me, it’s this . . .
In 2014, a third of the new power generation built in the US was solar.
The solar-cheaper-than-coal club has a lot of new members. Georgia, Minnesota, Idaho, Utah, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California are all building massive amounts of solar at prices cheaper than dirty fossil.
There’s a rooftop revolution underway in New York. We put 5 years into a campaign, and it paid off with a commitment to ten times more solar in the state and a process to reform the electricity landscape with customer-driven renewables at the center. And we’re not stopping there. The state’s now making moves to give renters and millions of other New Yorkers the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the solar economy.
In 2014, nearly $1 billion flowed into PACE financing programs that are helping families and businesses make clean energy upgrades and save on their bills. That’s billion with a ‘b.’ And 2015 is looking even better. This also after years of hard work — passing enabling legislation in states around the country, writing best-practice policy guides, battling with the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Some utilities and the Edison Electric Institute took their best shot at squashing rooftop solar by rolling back net metering and changing rates to make solar a bad deal for customers. But those big-money attacks fell flat against the massive outcry from the people like you who support solar. Discriminatory solar fees were defeated in Idaho, Louisiana and Utah. Vermont, New York and Massachusetts all raised their net metering caps to allow more solar participation. And South Carolina just joined the 43 other states that offer residents the ability to get fair credit for rooftop solar through net metering. This is the existential battleground for the future of energy in this country, and so far solar is winning.
Bottom line, it’s not just promise that gives us hope — it’s progress. It’s real steel in the ground, silicon on the roof, and sunshine powering our lives.
How does progress happen?
Solar falls free from the sky, but policy doesn’t. Vote Solar now has 16 staff around the country, dedicated and working day (and too many nights) to bring solar into the mainstream. In 2014 we led solar campaigns in 21 states, sweated interventions in 31 regulatory dockets, worked on 10 legislative campaigns, and fought discriminatory solar fees in 11 rate cases and utility proceedings. Members like you delivered 108,677 messages to policymakers in support of pro-solar policies. 2,575 homeowners participated in our GroupEnergy bulk solar programs, which made it easier and 20% cheaper for communities to go solar. We hired new staff in four states: California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Florida. We biked 300 miles from NY to DC to raise money for our work, and threw two Equinox parties that put smiles on the faces of 1,100 revelers.
Vote Solar was founded on a simple strategy: we build scale by making solar cheaper and more accessible. And it’s working. We thank the many donors, partners and supporters who are helping us succeed.
The letter, submitted by San Francisco’s Brightline Defense Project, rightly noted that for generations, communities of color have disproportionately borne the effects of an energy system dominated by fossil fuels. It concludes, “A cleaner, more equitable approach to energy will be achieved by continuing to find ways to expand clean energy access, not by weakening effective and successful programs like net metering simply because they are opposed by the utilities. We urge the Commission to continue making net metering available to customers who go solar after the current cap is reached and to explore innovative additional approaches — including virtual net metering, community shared renewables, new tariffs and workforce development programs — to help more low-income families and communities of color participate in and benefit from California’s growing clean energy economy.”
Powerful words from some powerful leaders of the social justice community, including: Presente.org, Dr. Luis Pacheco, California Environmental Justice Alliance, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Environmental Health Coalition, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Green for All, People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights, The Greenlining Institute, Voces Verdes, Todos Unidos, California Lulac Institute, William C. Velasquez Institute, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Mexican American Political Association.
We are excited and inspired to have these important community voices join the campaign urging the CPUC to extend net metering and build on its success. Their leadership in the Golden State combines with the work of groups like the Climate Justice Alliance that are helping give disadvantaged communities a voice in the important net metering and clean energy discussions happening all around the country.
Traditional utilities like PG&E, SCE & SDG&E see customers producing their own energy from affordable solar as a threat to their old way of doing business. California is just one state out of more than a dozen where utilities are taking aim at net metering as a way to stall customer solar adoption.
The California PUC must determine the rules for the future of the state’s net metering program by the end of 2015. Utilities are using the process to try to undermine net metering and make solar a bad deal for Californians.
Solar community benefits: Individual solar investment reduces the need for expensive, polluting utility power plants and infrastructure – and that means real savings and public health benefits for all California energy customers. This pollution reduction is especially important for communities of color, who have disproportionately borne the public health burden of fossil power for far too long. As was highlighted in the NAACP’s Just Energy Policies Report, net metering is a critical tool for driving the transition to a more just energy system.
Solar savings: Affordable solar energy is putting Californians in charge of their electricity bills like never before, and those solar customers are increasingly representing low- and middle-income neighborhoods. Programs like the statewide MASH and SASH and local options like GoSolarSF further focus on ensuring that low-income families are able to go solar and save on their electricity bills thanks to net metering. As these community leaders said in today’s letter, we should be working to expand solar access – not further limiting it by doing away with programs like net metering.
Solar jobs: Solar keeps energy dollars invested in our communities, creating good local jobs across a spectrum of education levels. The Solar Foundation Solar Job Census found that the solar industry employed 54,690 people in California in 2014, a number that grew ten times faster than the general economy. Workforce development initiatives like the industry-led GRID Alternatives partnership with SunEdison and San Francisco’s municipal GoSolarSF help ensure that those jobs are accessible to disadvantaged San Franciscans. Data shows that workers of color represent the largest populations served by the GoSolarSF Workforce Development program with 40% African American and 22% Latino job placements.
We are proud to stand with these leaders of the social and environmental justice community in urging the PUC to build on our solar success by defending net metering and continuing to explore new ways to help connect more Californians with the safer, healthier, affordable solar power they want.
SRP’s proposal threatened new solar customers and its 15,000 existing solar customers with rate hikes of $50 per month (for the “average” solar customer). As proposed, these new rooftop solar rates included a hugely increased monthly customer charge calculated based on a demand charge, which typically only applies to industrial energy users.
SRP is an unregulated monopoly meaning Vote Solar and our partners could only appeal directly to the board and management rather than state regulators as is usually the case. Thanks to impressive public engagement and the diligent work of our advocacy community, the board ultimately voted to protect existing solar customers from the rate increase in the near term. All solar customers that signed up before Dec. 8, 2014 will remain under the previous rate structure for up to 20 years. Customers that signed a contract must have the solar system installed by Feb. 26, 2016 in order to qualify. The board also allowed for unlimited transfers of the grandfathered solar systems to new owners under the old rate design.
That’s where the good news ends: the board approved the rate hike for all SRP customers who go solar after this year’s deadline. The board also voted to increase rates for all SRP customers by 3.9 percent. Stephen Williams and Keith Woods were the only board members to vote against the proposal.
In four hearings over the past month it has become increasingly clear that SRP views competition from the solar leasing industry as a thorn in its side – and this rate hike is its highly flawed solution. Well, the industry is not sittling idly by. Last week’s vote was followed in short order by legal action from one major solar company – SolarCity – which filed an antitrust suit accusing SRP of “anticompetitive and tortious conduct designed to eliminate solar competition.”
Time will tell whether energy choice ultimately wins the day in SRP territory, but it’s wreaking havoc on local solar investment in the meantime. If there is any question as to the damage done by this SRP rate discussion, it’s the numbers. Already in January and February combined, SRP received only 20 applications for solar installations. Compare this to the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of applications in prior months.
SRP serves as a cautionary tale. A monopoly enterprise will eliminate competition if it has the means – at the expense of customer choice, energy innovation and healthier, more resilient communities. Solar has a bright future, but it requires steadfast and deliberate stewardship from all of us to bring that future to light.