Vote Solar Bringing Solar to the Mainstream 2014-09-03T00:32:34Z http://votesolar.org/feed/atom/ WordPress Rosalind Jackson <![CDATA[Big win in the Beehive State!]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13604 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.

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Susannah Churchill <![CDATA[CA Solar Permitting Bill Lands on Gov Brown’s Desk]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13585 2014-08-28T16:30:48Z 2014-08-28T16:30:48Z Time to toast an important legislative victory in Sacramento! Last week, the California Senate approved a bill to streamline solar permitting, clearing the final legislative hurdle for AB 2188 (Muratsuchi). Governor Brown is expected to sign the bill into law, which will require cities and counties across the state to conform to statewide best practices for solar permitting. That means lower costs and reduced wait times for many future solar customers. Big kudos to our friends at the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), and to the thousands of Vote Solar citizen members and others who pitched in to support AB 2188!

Here are some of the details on the bill:

  • Applies to permitting for PV systems 10kW or less, and solar thermal systems 30 kW or less
  • Requires local governments to adopt a solar ordinance by September 30, 2015 creating a streamlined permitting process that conforms to best practices for expeditious and efficient permitting of small residential rooftop solar systems
  • Requires that ordinance to create a permitting process for solar PV and solar thermal systems consistent with the goals and intent of the California Solar Rights Act and must “substantially conform” with the recommendations, standard plans, and checklists found in the most updated approved version of the Office of Planning and Research’s Solar Permitting Guidebook
  • Also seeks to streamline Homeowner Association (HOA) approval processes, reducing the ability for HOAs to increase the solar system’s cost or decrease the system’s efficiency

To learn more about the bill’s requirements, take a look at CALSEIA’s AB 2188 fact sheet.

 

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Peter Olmsted <![CDATA[NY’s historic solar commitment turns from promise to reality]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13574 2014-08-25T18:43:30Z 2014-08-25T18:43:30Z PV system in New York, NYFor over five years, New York has contemplated and debated a long-term program to drive the widespread adoption of solar from Buffalo to Brooklyn. Vote Solar has been there every step of the way. Our blood, sweat and tears finally paid off earlier this year when the State committed to support the development of a whopping ten times more solar by 2023!!

Just last week this promise turned reality with the launch of a revamped NY-Sun Initiative, which will fundamentally transform the statewide market. At the heart of a redesigned NY-Sun, multiple state solar programs will be merged with the goal of driving more than 3,000 megawatts (MW) statewide while tackling market barriers and creating solar opportunities for thousands of more New Yorkers.

Having advocated for many years for exactly this type of long-term solar program in New York, this is truly music to our ears and we’re ready to celebrate!

Most notably, this new NY-Sun will adopt “best in show” program design that will bring the market to scale and provide a clear path to sustain it for many years to come. Specifically, NY-Sun will use a proven MW block system approach that is responsive to changing market conditions and allows solar in each region of the state to grow at its own pace.

Tip of the hat to our friends at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for their diligence, thoughtfulness and transparency in working with stakeholders to establish this strong program design. The MW block approach will utilize a publicly facing dashboard that shows real-time progression through the different incentive blocks and progress towards the goal of deploying more than 3,000 MW. Dashboard, here. More details about the MW blocks, here.

Governor Cuomo said it best, “Merging these programs into the NY-Sun Incentive Program will stimulate development of solar projects across this state, and sends a clear message that New York is a leader in solar energy innovation. This approach will help the industry plan for the future, spur new development and aid in New York’s transition to a cleaner, cheaper and more efficient energy grid.”

Bravo New York, bravo!

 

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Rosalind Jackson <![CDATA[Thousands of Nevadans Urge Utilities Commission to Stand Strong for Rooftop Solar]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13547 2014-08-22T22:19:21Z 2014-08-20T14:45:37Z PetitionYesterday dozens of concerned Nevadans gathered at the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) to show support for one of the state’s most important rooftop solar programs. The energetic crowd delivered more than 4,300 petition signatures urging state leaders to stand strong for rooftop solar and the many economic, environmental and grid benefits it delivers throughout the state. It was awesome.

This demonstration of public solar support coincides with a PUCN workshop being held today to evaluate the state’s successful net metering program. Net metering gives Nevada solar customers full credit on their energy bills for valuable clean electricity they deliver to the utility grid. This simple crediting arrangement is one of the most effective state policies for enabling Nevadans to go solar. In filings before the PUCN, NV Energy has stated its interest in eliminating Nevada’s net metering program altogether.

Sound too egregious to be true, right? Well unfortunately it’s not. NV Energy’s comments in the net metering study docket says it all: “Ideally, NEM as we know it would be eliminated.” Meanwhile, NV Energy customers feel very differently . . .

Nevada solar supporters pack the PUCN public session

Nevada solar supporters pack the PUCN

“Any Nevadan knows that our state has a tremendous solar resource. I’m proud that my solar investment is lowering my own bills as well as those of my neighbors by producing clean, reliable local electricity. It just makes sense to put that free sunshine to work with good state policy that clears the way for more Nevadans to go solar,” said retired Colonel Michael Horsley, a Las Vegas resident who went solar in 2013.

“Every week, Gymcats touches the lives of 1,500 kids, helping them grow stronger and shine. It’s important to me that we lead our students by example when it comes to transitioning away from the fossil fuels of the past and building our new energy economy,” added Cassie Rice, owner of Gymcats, one of the largest gymnastics facilities in the Las Vegas area. “Today we are proud to meet about 40 percent of our own electricity needs with plentiful Nevada sunshine. This investment in solar has helped my business take control of our utility bills, choose clean energy and further benefit the community we serve.”

By reducing the need for expensive traditional power plants and utility infrastructure, this local clean energy investment is a cost-saver for solar and non-solar customers alike. We are working to encourage the state’s policymakers to recognize these benefits and ensure that Nevada’s solar customers continue to be fairly compensated for them with a strong net metering program.

A recent study from the PUCN confirmed that the grid benefits from net metered clean energy systems installed from 2014 to 2016 will outweigh costs by $174 million, helping keep rates low for all NV Energy customers. In addition to these grid benefits, rooftop solar is proving to be a strong economic engine for the state. Nevada’s growing rooftop solar market has driven $200 million in private investment and helped support more than 2,400 solar jobs with both local and national solar companies.

“Just as leading national rooftop solar companies like Sunrun are investing in Nevada’s clean economy and creating in-state solar jobs, rooftop solar has come under attack,” said Walker Wright, spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC). “We encourage state leaders to stand for innovation and progress by ensuring that Nevadans can continue to generate their own clean energy.”

Local solar power development is also building healthier communities and benefiting the environment by reducing harmful pollution. This pollution reduction is especially important for low-income families who disproportionately bear the public health burden of fossil power. Of particular benefit to Nevada, rooftop solar also helps reduce the state’s use of water-intensive traditional power sources.

“Whether we are talking about healthier air for our children to breathe, water conservation during this severe drought, or combatting the very real threat of climate change, solar is readily available to be part of the solution here in Nevada. I urge our state leaders to defend our net metering program and other policies that empower Nevada homes, schools and businesses to invest in and benefit from a growing clean energy economy,” said Jane Feldman, Energy Chair for the Toiyabe Chapter of Sierra Club.

Vote Solar's Susannah Churchill talks to the crowd

Vote Solar’s Susannah Churchill rallies

So why is NV Energy working to weaken such a commonsense solar program? Quite simply, affordable solar puts Nevadans in control of their electricity bills like never before, and the utility views this kind of customer energy choice as a threat to its old way of doing business. Nevada solar supporters are coming together to urge state leaders to stand strong for innovation, progress and customer choice by defending rooftop solar.

We were proud to work with a number of great partners on the petition drive including TASC, the Sierra Club and CREDO as well as local consumers and businesses. Thanks to all of the 75 folks who showed up in person at the PUCN and the thousands more who spoke up by adding their name to our petition. If you live in Nevada, it’s not to late to show your support by adding your name here!

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Justin Hoysradt <![CDATA[Florida Power & Light’s Half-Baked Solar Program Moves Forward]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13535 2014-09-02T21:34:01Z 2014-08-18T19:54:23Z
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  • Florida PSC approves voluntary solar proposal, calls for stakeholder involvement after FPL admits it has no goals for program.

     

    The Florida Public Service Commission cautiously approved Florida Power & Light’s proposed Voluntary Solar Partnership Program on August 12, following some remarkably, shall we say – candid – comments during the public meeting. So candid, in fact, that we felt it is worth sharing the highlights:

    Commissioner Edgar: “Do you have a goal?”

    FPL: “We do not have an ultimate goal.”

    Commissioner Edgar: “Is this program cost-effective?”

    FPL: “I’m not exactly sure what the definition of cost-effective refers to.”

    Watch for yourself here:

    It’s hard not to laugh and let FPL choose lifeline or phone a friend. But folks, this is serious business. Florida’s largest investor-owned utility, with its army of attorneys, engineers, financial analysts, and lobbyists, could not answer simple questions about its flagship new solar program. These are people on whom we rely to act in the public’s best interests. People the Commissioners look to for technical expertise. In that light, Tuesday’s showing is suddenly not so funny.

    FPL voluntary solar proposal falls short of best practices

    Some background: FPL proposed the “community based” voluntary solar program back in April as a replacement to rooftop solar incentives. The proposal quickly gained the wrong kind of traction among industry stakeholders and customers. The gist of FPL’s proposal: Customers should voluntarily pay an extra $9/month to support local solar projects.

    Let’s be clear – we’re all for utilities taking the initiative to bring their customers the clean energy they want. And we love community shared solar, a model in which customers who might not be able to put solar on their own property can share the output of a solar project located elsewhere in their community. But FPL’s proposal is, to put it nicely, lacking.

    For contrast, FPL’s investor-owned utility peers at Tucson Electric Power offer their customers energy from community solar projects at a fixed rate for 20 years. Which makes sense, because the fuel is free–that’s one of the main benefits of renewable power. While TEP’s customers pay a slight premium for the solar energy in the early years, the expectation is that they will save money over time as standard rates increase.

    And at Orlando Utilities Commission, which pioneered community solar in Florida, it works the same way: higher rate up front, but participating customers get to lock it in for 25 years. Now, we could argue that there should not even be an initial premium for the solar, but the point is that these utilities are at least making a straight-faced effort to offer their customers the bill-saving benefits of going solar.  OUC customers agree — the program sold out in under a week.

    Advocates recommend solar program improvements

    The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Vote Solar filed comments in July expanding on the public’s demand for a scalable solution to solar energy for the masses. And Vote Solar’s Justin Hoysradt was on hand at Tuesday’s meeting to offer some national context on community solar programs, and request that the Commission direct FPL to consult with stakeholders to ensure that their program would actually benefit customers. After FPL staff could not answer questions on the program’s goals, justification, or cost-effectiveness, Commissioner Brisé did just that – suggesting that the utility work with stakeholders to improve program design.

    We look forward to that stakeholder engagement, and to seeing FPL deliver on its much-advertised commitment to bring more clean energy to its customers in the Sunshine State.

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    Adam Browning <![CDATA[Rebirth of residential PACE financing]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13522 2014-08-07T23:34:46Z 2014-08-07T22:38:01Z Residential PACE, an innovative clean energy financing program, is making a comeback in California.

    californiafirst_launch

    Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and RenewableFunding CEO Cisco DeVries at lauch of CaliforniaFirst

    With the establishment of a state loss reserve program designed to address FHFA’s concerns, this week CaliforniaFIRST launched a massive residential PACE program for 17 counties and 142 cities in California.  The innovative clean energy financing program covers 14 million people — almost a third of California’s population.

    The San Francisco Chronicle has a good article covering the development, as the San Jose Mercury News.

    CaliforniaFIRST joins a couple of other residential programs in the state.  Sonoma County has long been a leader, with a longstanding program that continued in the face of FHFA objections.  To date, Sonoma County has done 2,030 residential projects, totaling $56 million worth of investments (plus another ~$10m worth of commercial).  Placer County has launched a new residential program called mPower.  And Renovate America’s HERO program has already done $260 million worth of upgrades on 14,000 projects and is rapidly expanding.

    All told, at this point most of the state of California is now (or will soon be) served by a residential PACE program.

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    Peter Olmsted <![CDATA[Massachusetts’ lawmakers raise the net metering cap in the final hour]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13514 2014-08-05T02:00:37Z 2014-08-05T02:00:37Z After a last push to pass comprehensive solar legislation last week, Massachusetts lawmakers worked into the wee hours of the morning on the final day of session to instead pass S.2214, a bill that’s focused on raising the looming cap on the state’s successful net metering program. While it is not as robust as H.4185, which would have removed the caps on net metering altogether and memorialized the state’s 1,600 megawatt (“MW”) by 2020 solar goal, S.2214 does send an important signal to the state’s vibrant solar industry – namely, that Massachusetts is committed to its growing solar market.

    Net metering is the simple and straightforward policy that provides Bay Staters with full credit on their energy bills for the valuable clean electricity they deliver to the grid for use nearby. Specifically, S.2214 raises the net metering cap for local governments from 3 to 5 percent of a distribution company’s peak load and raises the cap for business and private sector installations from 3 to 4 percent. This provides critical relief as government entities have already reached their caps in parts of the state – with businesses not far behind. This interim cap raise offers a welcome contrast to the many states across the country where we are fighting to protect net metering programs altogether. It’s clear that Massachusetts sees real value in its new solar economy and the proven policies that are supporting it.

    S.2214 will keep the state’s solar market from grinding to a halt in the near term – but with strong solar growth ahead, there is no question that the state will need to continue its consideration of a long-term, sustainable plan for its net metering program. Recognizing this imperative, S.2214 also establishes a net metering task force to review the long-term viability of net metering and to develop recommendations for policies and programs that will support continued solar deployment. Comprising a diverse mix of stakeholders, the task force is required to report its findings, along with any recommendations for legislative or regulatory reforms, back to the legislature by March 31, 2015.

    With the majority of residential and small commercial systems already exempt from the state’s net metering caps (see FAQ #55), we agree that it will be vital to undertake comprehensive consideration of policies and programs to ensure that all aspects of the state’s solar market continue to thrive. Indeed, negotiations over the past several months around the compromise solar legislation (H.4185) clearly demonstrated that the state’s solar market comprises diverse value propositions for a variety of customer segments. And that’s a good thing! In Massachusetts and all across the country, we think the strongest market is one that allows as many participants as possible to invest in and benefit from solar power.

    We look forward to working with all stakeholders as this process unfolds over the coming year. For the moment, however, we’ll enjoy a cup of chowda as we celebrate that more Bay Staters can choose solar thanks to S.2214.

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    Rosalind Jackson <![CDATA[Permitting Adds Unnecessary Cost to Solar in LA County]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13505 2014-08-18T21:37:00Z 2014-08-04T17:49:16Z

    As any installer dealing with the headaches of antiquated permitting practices will tell you, these local rules have a significant impact on the cost and time of going solar. Today with our partners at the Sierra Club we released a report rating residential solar permitting practices across one high-growth solar region: Los Angeles County. Our report found that these solar permitting practices vary widely across the county with significant room for improvement in a majority of cities. In other words, permitting is a major unnecessary cost-culprit.

    Read the full report here.

    Like any other home improvement project, when a homeowner invests in a solar electric system, he or she must first apply for and obtain a permit from their local government. According to best practices, this process should be simple and quick and reflect the municipality’s actual cost of review and issuance. Instead, we have a patchwork of permitting practices that vary city to city all across the country  - and are more often than not unnecessarily costly, complex, non-transparent and time-intensive. And those costs add up. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that such inefficient permitting processes add $1,000 – $3,500 in cost and one month in development time to the typical residential solar installation.

    “While the cost of solar panels have dropped far and fast over the past few years, non-hardware costs, like permitting, haven’t budged much at all,” said Evan Gillespie, Director of Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign. “While there are some cities who are real leaders on the permitting issue in L.A. County, there are many more that lag. We encourage all cities to adopt best practices and reduce costs and headaches for solar installers, customers and public agencies alike.”

    “With a clear policy commitment to clean energy at the state level, California leads the nation on rooftop solar. However, we have an inefficient local permitting landscape that directly undermines its clean economic development and carbon reduction goals. Cutting red tape, reducing unneeded fees and otherwise standardizing permitting practices are simple and effective ways that local governments can support Californian investment in solar energy,” added Susannah Churchill, our West Coast Regional Director.

    The Sierra Club assessed 90 Los Angeles County municipalities and 11 Los Angeles incorporated areas against six best practices from Vote Solar’s Project Permit tool. San Fernando, Temple City, Long Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Hidden Hills, Santa Monica, Downey and Lancaster lead in solar-friendly permitting practices with “Best” scores. The City of Los Angeles received a “Good” grade, which is expected to improve in the coming months as the city implements Mayor Garcetti’s exciting “Sunny Skies” initiative. Fully 40 municipalities received “Worst” scores, indicating significant need for improvement. However, the biggest problem identified in the report is simply the lack of standardization. Nearly every city in Los Angeles County has adopted a unique permit approval process.

    California’s Assembly Bill 2188 (Muratsuchi), which is now moving through the halls of Sacramento, would help address this unnecessary barrier to residential solar by standardizing and streamlining permitting practices statewide. In May, the bill overwhelmingly passed the Assembly with a bipartisan vote of 58-8. It must now pass the Senate and be signed by the Governor in order to become law. The bill is supported by a coalition of business associations, solar companies, environmental groups, and local elected officials.

    California is the largest rooftop solar market in the nation. Solar panels are installed on over 250,000 homes, businesses, and schools totaling more than 2,000 megawatts of clean energy capacity statewide. A bright spot of economic growth in the state, rooftop solar has helped support over 43,000 local jobs and driven $10 billion dollars in local private investment. Streamlining local permitting would clear the way for continued solar success by lowering costs for the solar industry and the customers they serve.

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    Rick Gilliam <![CDATA[“Solar Tax” on the Table in Utah General Rate Case]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13500 2014-07-30T23:32:31Z 2014-07-30T23:31:08Z I spent part of this week in Utah, where the major utility has proposed a discriminatory fee for net metered solar customers as part of its General Rate Case – or GRC.

    GRCs are typically complicated matters. They evaluate a utility’s assets, expenses, and capitalization to develop the revenue required by the utility to achieve a rate of return on shareholder equity (i.e. profit) high enough to attract private capital to this very capital-intensive industry. This part of the case involves truckloads of witnesses, testimony and exhibits.  And that’s just the first phase.  Once the Commission figures out how much money it is willing to let the utility collect, the second phase divvies up the total pot of revenues across all the various classes of utility customers – residential, commercial, and industrial to name some major categories.  More witnesses, more truckloads, and then a hearing rivaling the chariot race in Ben Hur.  Not surprising since all of these attorneys and expert witnesses are fighting over tens – if not hundreds of millions of dollars – include Commission authorized profits for the utility.  The granular economic, financial, legal, engineering and accounting considerations will often number in the hundreds.

    That’s why when a utility files a change to net metering policy in the context of a rate case, we join with a keen appreciation for the complicated road ahead.  In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power or “RMP” filed such a rate case late last year.  We joined the fray with our friends and partners at Utah Clean Energy.  True to form, the case followed the expected pattern until early this summer when all of the disparate parties got together and settled every last darn issue!  Well, all except one.  Can you guess which one that might have been?

    Right.  The net metering charge RMP seeks to impose upon those self-reliant customers who install solar on their homes.  This “solar tax” – so-called by local groups – would amount to an 8% rate increase on net-metered customers.

    If a utility in Utah or any other state brings sweeping changes to the treatment of net metering customers to the Commission for consideration, it also has the legal burden of proving that the issue is indeed critical, and that its proposed resolution is reasonable and in the public interest. In our view, RMP has proven none of these points.

    The utility argues that revenue reduction from customers generating their own power is a cost of net metering. Therefore, the argument goes, such customers should pay an additional charge to make up the difference.  And this should apply to all existing and new residential solar customers, and start really soon – like September 1. Meanwhile the utility has yet to undertake a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to make their case with . . . facts. The utility’s 2,000 net metering customers account for just 0.25% of its residential customer base. This issue is clearly not so acute that there isn’t time to do the proper analysis. There is time for a fact-based conversation rather than rash action that would seriously impact solar customers in the state.

    Opponents of the fee – Vote Solar included – argue that charging solar customers a fee is discriminatory and does not properly account for the very real grid benefits of rooftop solar. Private investment in local solar reduces the need for utilities to invest in (and rate base) expensive and polluting fossil fuel power plants and electricity grid infrastructure. Furthermore it is clearly in the public interest to empower more energy consumers to choose clean energy and bring economic, public health and environmental benefits to their community.

    Fortunately, we have the Commissioners who strive to understand very complex GRC issues from varying perspectives and ultimately pass judgment on the utility’s solar fee proposal. The diverse set of voices speaking out against this solar fee – including 150 individuals who attended a rally at the Commission yesterday – clearly shows that Utahns care deeply about their ability to go solar. We hope that the Commission will stand strong for solar choice rather than letting the utility’s business interests outweigh the customers they serve. Stay tuned.

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    Rosalind Jackson <![CDATA[Standing Room Only as CO Net Metering Review Kicks Off]]> http://votesolar.org/?p=13491 2014-07-30T18:52:13Z 2014-07-25T21:06:59Z Earlier this year Colorado utility regulators rejected a proposal from Xcel Energy to weaken the state’s solar net metering program outright, instead calling for an open stakeholder discussion before making such an important decision about the future of the successful rooftop solar program. The decision was a big win for public engagement . . . and that same public showed up in droves yesterday to reinforce their support for rooftop solar as the new process kicked off.

    The Commission held the first of a series of three panels that will look at the impacts of net metering in Colorado. More than one hundred enthusiastic Colorado solar supporters packed the PUC building, spilling over into two overflow rooms. In front of the crowd, representatives of the Colorado arm of Xcel Energy, the solar industry, and the cooperative utility trade association made technical presentations about the costs of residential net metering as well as the growth of the solar industry to date and prospects for the future.

    By way of background, net metering, which is the primary policy driver of rooftop solar in 43 states, is a simple and proven state policy tool for supporting self-generation. It allows customers to first meet their own electricity needs and then receive full retail bill credit on their utility bill for any excess electricity sent back to the grid. By our calculation, the benefits of this private investment in local, clean, reliable power generation outweigh the costs by $13.6 million annually. But Xcel, in a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for Coloradans to go solar, paints an alternative view wherein those customers aren’t paying their fair share.

    In the words of the PUC Chairman, through yesterday’s discussion he hoped to “narrow the disagreement” on the cost estimates between the two sides. In good news, we believe that strong progress was made on this point. The discussion showed that utilities and solar stakeholders do not differ hugely on their view of net metering program costs. Although, one area of disagreement worth noting is that the solar industry recommends excluding the customer’s self-consumption behind the meter from the cost calculation. We strongly agree. At Vote Solar we are committed to customers’ PURPA-backed right to generate their own electricity to meet their own on-site energy needs. Whatever happens on the customer side of the meter – whether it’s reducing energy consumption or producing their own solar power – is up to the customer. And because that non-exported power never touches the utility grid, it simply should not be part of the cost calculation.

    The solar representatives also made the point that because the typical residential solar customer is larger than the average residential customer, the solar customer continues to contribute to the cost recovery by the utility. Tom Beach, speaking on behalf of solar stakeholders, said, “they go from being a larger than average consumer before solar to a less than average consumer after solar.” In other words, solar customers continue to purchase nearly as much energy from the grid as the average residential customer, thus paying their fair share of the utility’s costs.

    All in all, we think it was a positive start to a constructive, fact-based discussion that should help inform good decision-making by leaders at the Commission. The next meeting will be in September and will address the benefits side of the cost/benefit equation, the area where all parties expect the contrast between utilities and industry to be more stark. We urge the Commission to continue to maintain open minds and to think comprehensively about the very real benefits that distributed solar generation across all customer types brings to Colorado ratepayers. The fact of the matter is that private solar investment saves the rest of Xcel’s customers’ money in many ways. It reduces the need for the utility to build expensive conventional power plants and transmission infrastructure over time. It reduces the amount of electricity lost in the delivery process by generating power right where it’s needed. And it reduces the cost of meeting Colorado’s clean energy goals. And that’s all before we account for the societal benefits of a growing local solar economy.

    For the first time in a century, there’s real business model innovation happening in the electricity sector. The old utility approach to valuing centralized generation will simply not fly in this new solar-powered, consumer-driven energy marketplace. We hope the Commission uses this process as an opportunity to update those old approaches and lead the state toward the clean, reliable, participatory energy landscape that Coloradans want.

     

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