Vote Solar Bringing Solar to the Mainstream 2014-10-14T22:14:52Z WordPress Kevin Armstrong <![CDATA[Solar Shines Bright in the Windy City]]> 2014-10-09T23:26:22Z 2014-10-09T23:15:04Z Last week we wrapped up registration for our fourth group purchase program, Solar Chicago. When we helped launch the program back in July, we were especially excited to see first hand what kind of local demand and savings we could uncover in this untried solar market by pooling the purchasing power of Chicagoans. The answer? Lots. Of both.

All told, more than 2,100 residents around Chicagoland signed up to learn whether solar energy would be a good fit for their home. That’s nearly three times more than the City’s original 750 person registration goal. There is clearly a ton of pent-up demand for solar in the Windy City!

Participants have until October 31st to sign contracts, but even with a few weeks to go, it’s clear that this program will have a meaningful impact on local solar deployment. To date, Chicago homeowners have signed contracts totaling more than 450 kilowatts of new residential solar capacity in just 3 months. We’re hopeful Solar Chicago will meet the half-megawatt mark, enough to more than DOUBLE the total amount of solar previously installed in the region. Amazing progress!

The program also helped tackle soft costs like customer acquisition head on to deliver real savings to participants. By enabling the local solar industry to instead serve customers in bulk, Solar Chicago was able to deliver pricing that is competitive with California, our nation’s most mature solar market.

Solar Chicago has shown that there’s strong interest in clean energy throughout the region. The program has also brought to light some gaps in the local market that local governments and industry can address to improve efficiency, lower costs and clear the way for the solar growth that Illinoisans want. Zoning requirements in dense urban environments, structural upgrades on older buildings, and local permitting rise to the top as issues to be addressed. Once the deadline to sign contracts has passed, Vote Solar will have more details to share on the program outcomes and lessons learned.

We’d like to thank all of our program partners for helping to make Solar Chicago a rousing success: the Environmental Law & Policy Center (local outreach), Juhl Energy and Microgrid Solar (installation team partners), the City of Chicago (lead sponsor), the Villages of Wilmette, Hanover Park, Oak Park, and Franklin Park (additional outreach support), and the World Wildlife Fund (for underwriting the administration cost through an Earth Hour Challenge grant).

Rosalind Jackson <![CDATA[Equinox East: Tons o’ fun at our first east coast fundraiser]]> 2014-10-09T20:10:54Z 2014-10-07T16:14:47Z Our spring Equinox fundraiser in San Francisco is known for being a solar party of epic proportions – so expectations were high as we set out to throw our first ever New York version. Well, let us tell you, the east coast did not disappoint. Check out photos for yourself here.

Hundreds of solar compadres converged in Brooklyn to celebrate sunny progress and support continued success. We were thrilled to be surrounded by the shiny faces of so many of our long-time partners from the region’s industry, environmental and policy community.  We were especially honored to be joined by our solar champion honoree Chairman of Energy & Finance for New York State Richard Kauffman, NY State Senator Kevin Parker and actor Mark Ruffalo – all of whom inspired with their words on the solar revolution that is currently underway.

The fall Equinox is a time to reap the harvest of the year’s hard work, and this party really was an awesome celebration of just that for solar on the east coast. The sun rises in the east, and these days it’s also where some of the most interesting U.S. solar progress is being made.  The Empire State made an historic commitment to develop ten times more solar and is now fundamentally re-imagining its grid to empower customer participation. Massachusetts met its 250 MW solar goal four years early, and promptly upped the ante more than SIX TIMES to 1,600 MW. Connecticut and New York are both looking to expand solar access to renters and others through shared solar. New Jersey is a perennial top contender. And even Georgia is defying the coal-state narrative by embracing 900 MW of solar by 2016, all below the cost of buying new fossil generation. We’ve come a long way and the good cheer from Equinox East will power us on . . .

Now that we’ve finally swept up all the confetti, we wanted to be sure to thank all who helped make our first Equinox East such a success, especially our host committee and generous sponsors: SolarCity, AllEarth Renewables, Clean Energy Collective, Sungevity, SunPower and the Solutions Project. Our beverage sponsors: Brewery Ommegang, Four Roses Bourbon, Greenhook Ginsmiths, and Constellation Wines. And to our band Roosevelt Dime, Oct28 Productions and the Pixie & The Scout for all their help making it such a great evening. With their help, the bar for NYC solar fun has been set high. It’s going to be hard to outdo it next year, but that’s just the kind of challenge Vote Solar’s dedicated team is willing to tackle. Onwards!


Jessica Scott <![CDATA[Colorado PUC Deliberates the Benefits of Net Metering]]> 2014-10-03T14:13:22Z 2014-10-02T22:48:15Z Solar supporters once again packed the house at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission yesterday as Xcel Energy and solar advocates debated the benefits of net metering.  A diverse range of supporters showed up to the panel, including the President of the NAACP Colorado State Conference.  Bryan Hannegan from the National Renewable Energy Lab first framed the conversation by referencing “Methods for Analyzing the Benefits and Costs of  Distributed Photovoltaic Generation to the U.S. Electric Utility System“.

The remaining three hours of the panel centered around deliberation on the calculation methods and economic values of the benefits of net metering in Colorado. On one side, the utility cited assumptions from their last Electric Resource Plan (including a zero value for the cost of carbon), coming up with a value of 8 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Representing the solar industry, Vote Solar’s own Rick Gilliam along with Tom Beach of Crossborder Energy calculated a benefit of 18 cents a kilowatt-hour, more than double that of Xcel.  The solar industry analysis included environmental and societal benefits, such as reducing pollution and creating jobs.

The Commission was able to narrow points of disagreement to a few key areas:

  • The value of pollution emission reductions
  • The value of generation
  • Savings for distribution and transmission systems
  • Societal value

This was the second of three workshops that the PUC is holding to take a close look at this successful crediting arrangement for rooftop solar. The 3rd panel, which is expected to take place before the end of the year, will review net metering policies in other states.  Chairman Epel indicated that a 4th panel may be necessary to address any outstanding issues from the first three panels. This is important stuff for the future of rooftop solar in the Centennial State!

Ashley Malyszka <![CDATA[The sun on our backs: Vote Solar bikes from NYC to DC]]> 2014-10-09T20:10:41Z 2014-10-01T23:13:43Z We love a good adventure, especially for a good cause – so Vote Solar was excited to use our pedal power for solar power! 8 Vote Solar riders joined Climate Ride, a 300 mile bike adventure from NYC to DC, to raise support and awareness for our solar cause. Keep scrolling to see what a great time we had out on the road and hopefully you’ll be inspired to join us next year!

Rosalind Jackson <![CDATA[Study: Net metering would help keep rates low in Mississippi]]> 2014-10-02T20:30:51Z 2014-10-01T17:03:38Z With utilities pushing back against successful net metering programs nationwide, we find ourselves making the case again and again that – contrary to the dominant utility line - rooftop solar delivers real grid benefits to solar customers and non-solar customers alike. Private investment in reliable, local generation reduces the need for expensive and polluting conventional power. It reduces the need for investments in transmission infrastructure. It reduces electricity lost during transportation over power lines, as surplus net metered solar energy flows to the grid and is consumed locally. It saves on the cost of meeting carbon reduction and renewable energy goals. Net metering, which credits families, schools and businesses that go solar, is a simple and fair way to account for those many benefits.

Today we have yet another quantified account of those benefits from the State of Mississippi, one of the few states in the country that doesn’t currently have a net metering program. A report on expected net metering costs and benefits prepared by Synapse for the Mississippi Public Service Commission found that from a Total Resource Cost perspective . . .

solar net metered projects have the potential to provide a net benefit to Mississippi in nearly every scenario and sensitivity analyzed


You can read the study for yourself here. Beyond the cost savings, the study also notes that rooftop solar would displace generation from the state’s peaking resources – namely polluting oil and natural gas combustion turbines. This pollution reduction is especially important for Mississippi’s low-income families and communities of color, who disproportionately bear the public health burden of our fossil energy dependence. The NAACP has an excellent report, called Just Energy, that emphasizes this civil rights shortfalling of our current energy landscape and calls for a more equitable approach through net metering and other clean energy policies. The report ranked Mississippi among the worst states for fair clean energy policies.

This all serves as a good reminder of why net metering programs exist in the first place – to empower consumers to generate their own clean power and to advance the healthier, more resilient energy landscape that the vast majority of Americans want to see. For all these reasons, we urge lawmakers and regulators to stand strong for our successful net metering programs and fair rate design for rooftop solar.

Jessica Scott <![CDATA[Nevada Net Metering Fight Heads to the Legislature]]> 2014-09-29T21:51:31Z 2014-09-29T21:51:31Z The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) recently finalized its recommendation to the Nevada Legislature with respect to the state’s successful net metering program. On September 26, the PUCN voted 2-1 (with Commissioner Wagner dissenting) to recommend that the Legislature modify the state’s net metering statute that currently ensures that Nevada solar customers aren’t subject to discriminatory rates or fees. The PUCN recommendation called the growth of net metered systems “a policy success for Nevada,” but argued that the Legislature should modify the net metering statute to allow the Commission full control in developing “timely and accurate price signals.”

While Vote Solar appreciates the PUCN’s attention to such an important area of energy innovation in the state, there is no fact-based reason that Nevadans who go solar should be singled out and treated differently than other NV Energy customers. If the Legislature does remove the current statutory protections for net metered customers, we believe that will open the door for opponents to make rooftop solar a bad deal for Nevada homes, schools and businesses.

Commissioner Noble also stated that he plans to address the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) petition for a separate rate class for net metering customers with a separate recommendation later this year. Again, we see no reason for policymakers to create that kind of regulatory uncertainty for rooftop solar. The PUCN’s own study found that private investment in solar is a cost-saver for all of Nevada’s energy customers – and that’s before accounting for the many economic, security, and public health benefits of more rooftop solar.

The fate of rooftop solar in Nevada is still to be determined, but one thing is certain: Nevadans overwhelmingly want to harness more of their homegrown sunshine for reliable, affordable electricity. We call on the Legislature to stand up for the Nevadans they serve by protecting net metering, protecting fair rate design, and allowing families, schools and businesses to continue to choose clean energy.

Hannah Masterjohn <![CDATA[Rooftop Solar Financing: Wins, Trends & What Comes Next]]> 2014-09-29T16:11:00Z 2014-09-29T16:03:26Z We hosted a webinar on rooftop solar financing trends. For those of you who missed it, here’s a quick summary.

Brad Klein of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center gave an overview of the recent Iowa Supreme Court case Eagle Point Solar vs. Iowa Utilities Board. This landmark case resulted in a ruling that sets important precedent for solar power purchase agreements (PPAs) in Iowa and elsewhere. The court found that the solar company providing the PPA did not constitute a public utility, thereby clearing the way for PPA financing to be utilized across Iowa. See Brad’s presentation notes here.

Travis Lowder of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory gave an overview of rooftop solar financing trends nationwide. Our takeaways:

  1. Loans = the hot new thing in residential solar, with Mosaic, RGS Solar, Sungage Financial, SunPower, and SolarCity announcing new offerings.
  2. Third party financing is hitting a plateau and can be expected to decrease in market share as loans and other new financing options gain traction. That said, third party financing will remain the preferred option for some customers.
  3. PACE is Not Dead. $300 million CaliforniaFIRST program is operating in 17 counties, and Renovate America and the HERO program have funded over 10,000 residential projects.
  4. SolarCity held 30% of residential market share in 2013, greater than the next 9 competitors combined.

See Travis’ PowerPoint here.

Our attendees asked some great questions. You can read Brad and Travis’ responses here.

Rosalind Jackson <![CDATA[National Lab Shows Another Year of Double Digit Solar Price Reduction]]> 2014-09-17T18:42:43Z 2014-09-17T18:32:27Z We work to make solar more affordable and more accessible to more Americans, and today we’re celebrating another marker on the path to success. According to a new study released today by the research gurus at Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the cost of going solar in the United States continued its rapid decline in 2013 and the first half of this year. We teamed up with our partners at SEIA to celebrate this progress.

“In just a few years, American ingenuity and smart policy have made solar a true success story. These price declines mean that solar power is now an affordable option for families, schools, businesses and utilities alike,” said our executive director Adam Browning. “The result is that solar and its many grid, economic and environmental benefits are shining in communities across the country.”

“This report highlights yet another reason why solar energy has become such a remarkable American success story. Today, solar provides 143,000 good-paying jobs nationwide, pumps nearly $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy and is helping to significantly reduce pollution,” said SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch.  “There are now more than half a million American homes, businesses and schools with installed solar, and this is good news for freedom of energy choice as well as for our environment.”

This is the seventh edition of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s “Tracking the Sun,” an annual report on solar photovoltaic (PV) costs in the U.S. This year’s report examined more than 300,000 PV systems installed between 1998 and 2013 and preliminary data from the first half of 2014. Key findings include:

  • Installed prices continued their significant decline in 2013, falling year-over-year by 12-15% depending on system size.
  • Partial data for the first six months of 2014 indicate that installed prices have continued to fall, with the median installed price of projects tracked in the nation’s largest solar market, California, declining by an additional 6-11% depending on system size.
  • Solar installed costs declined even as PV modules pricing remained relatively steady, indicating success in efforts targeting non-module soft costs – which include marketing and customer acquisition, system design, installation labor, and the various costs associated with permitting and inspections.
  • Cash incentives provided through state and utility PV incentive programs (i.e., rebates and performance based incentives) have fallen by 85% to 95% since their peak a decade ago.

Galen Barbose, one of the report’s authors at LBNL, notes that these findings mark the fourth consecutive year of significant cost reductions for the U.S. solar industry. And WE note that, it’s truly inspiring to see how far solar has come in the years since his team released the first Tracking the Sun report just seven years ago. Low costs have driven adoption, which in turn brought costs down further in a virtuous cycle of tremendous solar growth. Today, solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, employing 143,000 Americans, pumping $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy and helping to reduce pollution. Solar is helping drive a quiet energy revolution that puts customers in charge of their power supply and energy bills like never before. It’s awesome, and the real transformation is yet to come. Let’s do this!

This is just one of three excellent reports that the national lab released today:

  • Tracking the Sun - Our go-to resource on the installed costs of solar PV in the U.S.
  • How Much Do Local Regulations Matter? - which confirms that permitting and other local regulations have a real impact on the cost of residential solar across the U.S. We are proud that our own Project Permit resource helped provide data for this analysis.
  • Utility Scale Solar report – which found that larger utility-scale solar projects in the United States have made great strides in delivering competitively priced renewable electricity in recent years.




Adam Browning <![CDATA[The sun has been working hard and so have we]]> 2014-09-06T00:42:51Z 2014-09-05T19:44:42Z

No summer doldrums here.  According to today’s market report from SEIA and GTM Research, the U.S. is now on track to install three times more solar installed this year than just three years ago. There is already enough solar on American rooftops and lands to power more than 3.2 million homes - and that number is rising daily. In other words, the sun has been working hard . . . and so have we. Here’s a quick update of recent developments.

East Coast rising

California may think it’s all-that-and-a-bag-of-sunchips, but frankly, some of the most interesting things in the solar world are happening on the East Coast.

New York is fundamentally re-imagining its grid with distributed generation at the center.  After a 5 year campaign, NY Sun, a $1 billion / 3 gigawatt solar program, was finally approved.  The NY Public Service Commission is now leading an effort, called ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ (REV) to restructure the utility business model to harness the benefits of DG.

Georgia is defying the coal-state narrative by launching 900 MW of solar by 2016, all below avoided cost.

Massachusetts came close to a long-term policy compromise that would have completely removed net metering caps, but instead passed a bill that provided short-term relief and set up multiple study/workshop processes.

Vermont raised the state’s net metering cap from 4% of utility peak load to a whopping 15% … and did so with the support of the state’s utilities.  Awesome.

It’s exciting to be a part of so much change.  What a great time to be alive, eh?

EquinoxEastEquinox East

What’s all this mean?  Means it’s time for a party.  If you can make your way to Brooklyn on September 18th, we invite you to join us at Equinox East –  a celebration of thesuccesses and a fundraiser to support efforts for more. Mark Ruffalo, everyone’s favorite green superhero, will join us as we honor Richard Kauffman for his visionarly leadership in New York. Brewery Ommegang and Four Roses Bourbon have come through with kind donations — it promises to be a good time.

Rates and Net Energy Metering

The revolution will not be monopolized.  Across the country, monopoly utilities have been trying to make it harder for energy users to generate their own power with solar by adding fees and reducing the value of solar generation. Or trying to, anyway.  Over the past several months, we’ve jumped into net metering and rate proceedings to protect rooftop solar rights in Colorado (+1), LouisianaArizona, and Wisconsin among others.

Some breaking news: in Utah, we partnered with the good folks at Utah Clean Energy and team solar just scored a huge win, as regulators knocked down Rocky Mountain Power’s proposed ‘solar tax’.

We often say that one person’s decision to go solar reduces costs and provides benefits for everyone.  Know who else is making that case?  The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, which released a study showing that net metered solar results in net benefits for all ratepayers – to the tune of $174 million for systems installed between 2014 and 2016.  It’s a blockbuster study, and deserves to be read widely. We helped Las Vegas solar supporters deliver thousands of petition signatures urging the Commission to keep those benefits shining.

It is customers that are driving solar growth, and we’re going to continue to fight for their right to go solar and get fair value from their investments.

Grid integration

Running a grid with high levels of renewables will require some changes. In the Spring, we hosted a webinar with Jim Lazar of RAP that outlines the basic paradigm of how to achieve this goal while maximizing environmental benefits and minimizing costs.  We are working on multiple fronts, from expanding balancing areas, to enabling grid-edge tools like storage.  In California, the Public Utilities Commission issued a decision that will make it significantly easier for energy customers to pair their solar system with an energy storage device. And we’ve also intervened a regulatory docket with the hopes of harnessing the latent capacity of electric vehicles to help with the grid integration problem.

In Southern California, we’re still working on bringing SDG&E around to the clean energy solution.

Group Energy

GroupEnergy is a new effort of ours to lower costs and build scale by helping homeowners pool their group buying power.  We have several projects underway — but one that we are really excited about is with the City of Chicago.  Seems the Windy City is really into solar — participation to date is DOUBLE the initial program goals, and it’s been getting a lot of local press!

Shared solar

Our Shared Solar work scored some base hits in helping solar work for those who don’t have a suitable rooftop of their own.  Aggregate net metering (which allows a single customer to see bill saving benefits across multiple electric meters) is now a reality for all three investor owned utilities in California — a helpful advance while we are still working on implementing last year’s shared solar bill, SB 43, at the California Public Utilities Commission.

We pushed for new shared solar programs in Connecticut and New York – and the progress and support garnered over the course of our 2014 campaigns will help get us across the finish line in the years ahead.

Florida has a lot of solar potential — it even says so right on the license plates.  So when Florida Power and Light proposed a half-baked shared solar program, we made the case to the regulators that the Sunshine State deserves better.  Watch the video and see if you agree.

We are playing a similar role in Colorado — we’ve intervened on the proposed SolarConnect program to make sure the Centennial State gets a worthy program.

Rebirth of residential PACE

Once given up for dead, residential PACE clean energy financing programs are making a comeback in California.  With the establishment of a state loss reserve program, on August 5 CaliforniaFIRST launched in 17 counties and 142 cities in California.  They join Renovate America, Sonoma County, and mPower in Placer County (who’ve done over $300 million in clean energy upgrades so far!) to just about blanket the state in coverage.

On August 12, Los Angeles County voted to go forward with residential PACE clean energy finance program and San Francisco is planning its own shortly.

Financing is a key piece of the puzzle for reducing costs and growing scale in solar markets —  over the years we’ve worked hard on PACE, enabling 3rd party PPAs, and other solutions.  We’ll continue to work on providing effective programs.

Solar cheaper than alternatives

Over the past year, we’ve seen an explosion of states where solar is cheaper . . . yes, cheaper . . . than building new fossil or nuclear plants –  GeorgiaIdahoUtahMinnesotaTexasCaliforniaColorado, to name a few. A recent solar contract with the city of Palo Alto’s municipal utility for 25 MW of PV came in at $68.72/MWh over a 27-year term. See if you can find someone who will offer the same building new fossil generation.

So if you see policymakers, reporters, or in-laws (not you, Maddie and Jim) repeating that zombie lie about solar being too expensive, feel free to share some of those links to reality.

America!  We can do this!

New teammates

Welcome Jessica Scott, our new Regional Manager for the Interior West; Justin Hoysradt, Regional Manager for Florida; and Elizabeth Brooks, our new Director of Operations.  They have rockstar resumes, and we’re excited about the horsepower they add to the team.

Rosalind Jackson <![CDATA[Big win in the Beehive State!]]> 2014-09-03T00:32:34Z 2014-09-03T00:30:33Z On the last working day of the summer, the Utah PSC released its decision in the recent rate case of Rocky Mountain Power (RMP), a subsidiary of Pacificorp (itself owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy). RMP had proposed a net metering facilities charge, a flat fee to be imposed on all residential customers that have rooftop solar and participate in Utah’s net metering program. Now the good news: the solar fee was soundly rejected.

This was a real win for customer choice and energy self-determination. RMP’s proposed solar fee was yet another example of a utility working to undermine a successful net metering program without justifying its proposal with actual costs and benefits.

The Commission rightly found the evidence, such as it was, to be “inconclusive, insufficient and inadequate to make a determination under a recently passed statute that requires an evaluation of costs and benefits.

“We conclude under these circumstances the better course is for [RMP] and interested parties to gather and analyze the necessary data, including the load profile data that is foundational to this analysis, and present to us their results and recommendations in a future proceeding.”

There were many concerns with the RMP proposal starting with some shady math. RMP’s proposed solar charge was derived based on the reduction in revenue resulting from using one’s own investment in solar generation. In other words if you consume less, we will charge you more!

The proposal took the average residential customer electricity purchase (698 kWh per month) and the average residential solar customer purchase (518 kWh per month), calculated the difference in distribution cost recovery between these two average consumption numbers, and called it a subsidy. The problem of course is that there are many more thousands of residential customers without solar who use even less than that each month, who were not being asked to pay a charge for the shortfall. Nor was the utility suggesting that a customer who uses more than the average electricity be given a credit for the excess payment. Nope – not even a thank you.

Another problem with RMP’s proposal was the narrow view it used to justify its sweeping solar fee proposal. It singled out one aspect of the entire spectrum of costs and benefits provided by distributed solar, and only for one class. This approach, known in regulatory parlance as single issue rate making, is dangerous for regulators because the regulated Company selectively seeks more revenue for a narrow part of a large issue when there may be other related factors that swing in the opposite direction. The good folks at the Commission did not take the bait however.

In a state whose motto is “Industry,” it’s troubling to find a major institution like RMP trying to discourage private investment in new technology that saves customers money, supports local business innovation, and adds value to the utility grid. RMP’s frontal attack on a customer’s right to self-determination fortunately did not go unnoticed. A huge congratulations is due to the many Utah stakeholders – local advocates, businesses, members of the faith community and others – who voiced their support for rooftop solar choice in the state. And thanks to the Utah PSC for their leadership in requiring a fact-based discussion of net metering impacts.

As requested by a number of parties in this case, the PSC is opening a new docket to look at the costs and benefits of net metered solar generation that will kick of on November 5. We may not be out of the woods, but thanks to the PSC, we are on the right path.