Introduction: Vote Solar’s Annie Carmichael recently sat down with Stan Greschner, Director of the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes Program (SASH) at GRID Alternatives. We learned some surprising facts about who’s going solar in California. » Read the rest of this entry «
Vote Solar hosted a webinar this week on a very hot topic – how to assess the costs and benefits of net metering. The well attended webinar focused on efforts completed to date to assess the value of net metering in various utility territories. The speakers discussed best practices in these studies, and offered a generalized approach that other states or utilities can employ to assess the rate impacts of net energy metering policies in their areas. » Read the rest of this entry «
Some of California’s utilities are trying to dismantle an important policy that empowers energy consumers to generate their own clean, reliable electricity from the sun.
Commonly known as the policy that allows your electric meter to spin backwards when you go solar, “net metering” is one of the most important tools we have for helping residents, businesses and other organizations invest in solar power. And it’s working! To date, net metering has supported over 1,000 megawatts of rooftop installations in our state (that’s equivalent to TWO fossil power plants!), helped our cash-strapped public agencies and schools save $2.5 billion, and built a local solar industry that employs 25,000 Californians. » Read the rest of this entry «
Cities and counties throughout the U.S. are developing new finance programs that support green retrofits in their communities. Called PACE, these programs represent one of the most promising tools available to local governments eager to bring new jobs, energy bill savings, and environmental benefits to their residents.
Last month, a rather cryptic letter issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suggested that property owners with mortgages from these lending giants would be prohibited from participating in PACE programs. The move attacks the constitutional right of local governments to assess property taxes and throws a massive wrench in American green job growth and investment. Now a broad coalition of industry, environment, and government groups is working hard to meet this challenge head on and get PACE back on track.
Our members and others have been asking us about the implications of Fannie and Freddie’s actions – and what can be done to help keep PACE moving. To help explain the situation, we penned an article that we’ve reposted here.
Article published in Greentech Media on June 8, 2010:
Local governments have the constitutional authority to assess property taxes and use those taxes to pay for projects that benefit the public good. For over a hundred years, cities and counties have been using a widely adopted mechanism of land-secured financing to make improvements to sewage systems, sidewalks, street lights and other projects that serve a public purpose.
PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) programs use that same authority to finance energy efficiency, solar, water conservation, and other green retrofits on private property. Under these innovative PACE programs, the taxes are only assessed on those properties that have voluntarily opted to participate. By allowing property owners to spread payments across this kind of long-term, line-item addition to their property tax bill, PACE helps Americans overcome the single greatest barrier to efficiency and renewable energy improvements: upfront costs.
By putting boots on roofs and hammers in hands, green retrofits create thousands of local jobs. Even modest estimates for national PACE implementation expect the creation of approximately 160,000 long-term, green jobs for our economy.
Recognizing its tremendous implications for jobs and the environment, PACE has seen strong support at all levels of government. In early 2009, Congress passed legislation to make sure federal tax law doesn’t stand in the way of PACE progress. The PACE model was a cornerstone of Vice President Biden’s ‘Recovery through Retrofit’ policy recommendations. The Department of Energy has allocated over $100 million in Recovery Act dollars to help get PACE programs up and running. The White House and the Department of Energy have developed guidelines for emerging programs that mitigate risk for both homeowners and mortgage lenders. To date, at least 22 states and the District of Columbia have authorized their local governments to roll out PACE programs. And hundreds of cities and counties are quickly making good on their new authority to build local green economies. Thousands more have the opportunity to implement similar programs.
Unfortunately, on May 5th, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac put this positive momentum at risk. The government-chartered entities, which collectively back around half of the mortgages in the US, issued “lender guidance letters” that seemed to suggest that PACE programs were incompatible with their mortgages.
The response was fast and furious. Letters of PACE support poured into the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees the two quasi-public lending entities. Governors including Schwarzenegger and Richardson, state attorneys general, mayors, officials from the Department of Energy, and representatives from across the PACE community all urged the FHFA to work with Fannie and Freddie to rescind or revise the lender guidance letters. Central to this effort was a call for a meaningful conversation with PACE stakeholders about specific criteria the financial regulatory community believes is necessary to enable PACE financing programs to proceed.
That decision is working its way through the halls of the FHFA and other regulators. Senior officials at FHFA have indicated that clarifications are forthcoming and that they are engaged in a thorough review of underwriting standards. Given the high level of political and business leadership directly involved in the discussion, we are optimistic that the regulators will encourage new lender policies that better reflect PACE’s modest risks and significant returns.
In the meantime, the move from Fannie and Freddie has many asking why these financial institutions — themselves the subject of intense scrutiny for their role in the mortgage crisis and ongoing federal bailout requests — are standing in the way of real economic recovery?
Specifically, the lender guidance letters expressed concern about “new” debt negatively affecting the security of their mortgages – an assertion that we believe is misplaced. Federal guidance specifically stipulates that PACE-funded improvements need to be cash-flow positive within a small window of time. In other words, the property owner’s utility bill savings must generally outweigh their increase in property tax payments. The money that a homeowner would use to pay for PACE improvements is already being used to pay his or her utility bills each month. There is no new debt created. If homeowners can’t pay their utility bills, there is very little incentive to pay the mortgage on a powerless, waterless home. But reduce the cost of a property’s monthly energy bills through PACE and you’re putting money back in the pockets of the property owner, funds that actually reduce the risk of default on the mortgage.
The letters also call into question the century-old tool of local governments to finance projects through land-secured tax financing. In response, the top-notch legal team at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP took a close look at land-based finance issues under both federal and California state law. Thoughtfully summarized in a white paper you’ll find here (PDF), they concluded that PACE falls squarely within local governments’ constitutional authority. If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are successful in stripping away these special financing districts for energy efficiency and renewable energy, it calls into question the other 37,000 special assessment districts allowing public improvements in communities across the country.
The stark truth is, PACE is part of a very limited set of policy options available to local governments for addressing the serious challenges of economic revitalization, energy security, and — let’s not forget — climate change. This model is one of the best tools we’ve seen yet for chipping away at the carbon-intensity of our nation’s built environment. As is true of any effort to address the formidable challenge of climate change, PACE can only be one piece of the solution. But as the months and years tick by without strong national or international carbon policy, it’s becoming ever clearer that PACE — a local tool for direct progress — deserves to move forward.
When you put 75 solar installers, policy makers and advocates in a room and ask them to discuss policies and tactics for reducing the local cost component of solar energy, what do they say?
We tried it at the end of May at the American Solar Energy Society’s (ASES) annual conference SOLAR 2010, and here is what we learned.
Reducing Costs – What Can We Control at the Local Level?
Building Customer Demand Reducing Cost of Customer Acquisition
Use Social Media: Explore all low cost methods of reaching networks of individuals. We all know solar must be “sold,” and the more personal connections a potential solar adopter has to others who have already gone solar, the more likely they are to join in. Encourage your customers to share their experience on facebook or twitter.
Empower Contractors: Contractors are still the most important factor in creating customers that will become solar ambassadors. Cities and firms need to ensure that contractors have the education/ tools they need to be an effective first point of contact. Contractors need to encourage each of their customers to continue to spread the word about the process and benefits of going solar.
Support Solar Converts: Nobody makes a better solar evangelist than a happy solar customer. Encourage, or help facilitate, solar socials” or other community building events.
Solar Donations to a High Profile Site: Some projects get more attention than others, and tap into networks and individuals. Consider donating a system to a church, YMCA, or other community group/organization. Such a donated system will help raise the visibility of solar throughout the community & generate a direct channel to members of that organization/entity.
Hands on Demonstrations: Consider hosting hands on activities to show potential customers how solar works. Set up a display at a farmer’s market, or a busy neighborhood park. Show people how to assemble a panel, or use a panel to power a small appliance (blender, sewing machine, etc).
Reducing Overhead Increasing Efficiencies in Installation Companies
Automate your business: Consider switching your business to an online platform with integrated products and services to efficiently manage solar sales process.
Truck Check-list: The profitability margin in residential systems is tight, and even small inefficiencies in the project may wipe away that margin. Does your company require organized check-lists that must be met before a truck can leave the lot? Small improvements in organizational efficiency lead to surprisingly valuable outcomes.
Streamlining Solar Permitting Reducing time and money spent on permitting
Encourage the Adoption of the Solar ABC’s Expedited Permitting Process: Want to encourage your city to adopt solar permitting best practices? Encourage your city to implement Solar ABC’s Expedited Permitting Process. The guidelines simplify the technical requirements for PV contractors submitting the application for construction of a new PV system while also facilitating the efficient review of the application’s electrical and structural content by the local jurisdiction awarding the permit.
Use Vote Solar’s Project: Permit Toolkit: See how your city measures up against best practices on Vote Solar’s interactive permitting map. If you don’t see data entered for your city, please consider helping us gather the information. If your hometown has high fees or long turn-around times, check out our online toolkit. You’ll find resources to help you work with city officials to make improvements.
Encourage Statewide Permitting Standardization: Encourage your state to follow Arizona’s example by passing statewide legislation requiring all cities to implement standardized fees, with quick turn around times.
Reaching Building Code Officials: As a solar community we need to tap into networks of building inspectors to educate them on the importance of streamlining solar permitting.
Start with One City, then Expand: Identify a high-profile city in your state that is in need of permitting improvements. Help make code changes there, and then use that success story to influence change in other locations across the state.
Recourses abound to help you try this at home. First, peruse the Vote Solar website under “Local Initiatives” and “More Resources.” Also check out the Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities guidebook at www.solaramericacities.energy.gov/resources for a list of local solar policy recommendations and sample.
Renewable energy policy is moving at breakneck speed all around the country. So we teamed up with Clean Power Finance to give state-by-state policy updates from the regions that are keeping us busiest. Did you miss the live webinars? Never fear, we have them recorded for posterity here . . .
Vote Solar’s Director of East Coast Campaigns Shaun Chapman discussed the latest policy developments from the coast where the sun rises first. In this webinar, Shaun provides an overview of the regional policy landscape and dives deep into developments in CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, OA and VT.
This webinar featured Vote Solar’s Claudia Eyzaguirre discussing the midwestern solar policy landscape. Thanks to new renewable energy targets, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan are poised for tremendous solar growth. Listen in as Claudia explores the opportunities and remaining policy hurdles facing these emerging solar markets.
In this final installment of our regional policy webinar trilogy, Adam Browning and Annie Carmichael tag team to bring you insights from the solar powerhouses of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
Today Governor Ritter is expected to sign into law a bill requiring that 30% of Colorado’s electricity needs be met with renewable energy sources. With the passage of HB 10-1001 Colorado joins California as the only state in the country committed to delivering close to a third of their electricity from clean, renewable resources (see House and Senate vote here). Vote Solar has been working on this bill from its inception, and can attest that the game-changing bill sitting before the Governor is thanks to the impressive negotiating and organizing skills of many of our in-state partners like Environment Colorado, COSEIA, and others.
Vote Solar focused our advocacy efforts on making the solar goal in the bill as strong as possible. What we got was a requirement that 3 percent of total electricity sales come from “distributed generation” (DG) systems such as solar. This requirement is expected to deploy 700 megawatts (MWs)of solar generation by 2020, enough to power 102,200 Colorado homes, and create 23,450 jobs over the next 10 years.
Right now only Xcel Energy and other smaller investor-owned utilities (IOUs) are required to meet the goals laid out in HB 10-1001. Extending the same requirement statewide, Colorado could expect to see 1000 MW of new solar power, and the full benefits we quantified in our recent report “Investing in the Sun.”
We’re looking forward to personally thanking Governor Ritter for his leadership during this year-long process. Next Tuesday we will honor the Governor as our “Solar Champion” of the year at our annual Equinox event in San Francisco. If you live in the Bay area think about joining us!
2010 is shaping up to be a year of big wins for state solar energy policies – with net metering victories in California and New York, and fending off hostile amendments to Arizona’s renewable energy goal. It’s nice to see such momentum, and it’s only March.
In partnership with our friends at Environment Colorado, we recently issued “Investing in the Sun,” a new report estimating the jobs and economic benefits that would result from an increased investment in solar in Colorado.
The response? We are going to need a bigger internet to hold it all:
Renewable energy would create jobs, Pueblo Chieftain, 03/03/10. Colorado would create thousands of jobs with legislation requiring large utilities to increase their use of renewable energy, a study released Tuesday by Environment Colorado said. But Republicans are questioning how much the measure would impact the state’s economy, as well as the number of long-term jobs that have been created under previous renewable energy requirements.
Energy standard measure moves, Denver Daily News, 03/03/10. A Democrat-controlled Senate committee yesterday backed a bill that would increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 30 percent by 2020, over cries from Republicans that the measure would raise utility costs for business owners.
Backers of renewable-energy bill foresee 23477 new jobs, Denver Post, 03/03/10. Backers of a plan to require more Colorado energy to come from renewable sources said Tuesday that if their bill continues its progress in the state Senate, it could produce thousands of new jobs at small solar companies. But an analysis that shows 23,477 new short-term and permanent jobs installing, designing and maintaining rooftop solar panels leaves out the number of jobs that could be sacrificed in the coal industry as the state relies less on traditional energy sources.
Whitehead’s bill moves in Senate, The Durango Herald, 03/03/10. Sen. Bruce Whitehead’s renewable energy bill passed its first test in the state Senate on Tuesday. House Bill 1001 would require the state’s largest utilities to get 30 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. That is triple what the standard was in 2007, when Gov. Bill Ritter took office.
Study says renewable energy creating jobs in Colo., KRDO/Colorado Springs, 03/02/10. The Senate Local Government and Energy Committee has approved a bill that would require large utility companies to generate nearly one-third of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. An environmental group says Colorado has already created thousands of jobs with legislation requiring renewable energy, and the legislation approved Tuesday will add thousands more, but they can’t say how many.
Renewable Energy Bill Could Increase Colorado Jobs By 23,000. Huffington Post, 3/2/10, Environmental advocates supporting a bill in the state Legislature that would require Xcel Energy to get 30 percent of its power from renewable sources released a report Tuesday saying the higher mandate could create 23,000 jobs in the state’s solar industry over the next 10 years.
In hospital, Ritter overshadows his top legislative priority. KDVR Fox 31, 3/2/10Heading into his fourth and final legislative session, Gov. Bill Ritter decided to make House Bill 1001, a push to increase the state’s Renewable Energy Standard, his signature bill; and, last month, he even testified on its behalf, something he’d only done twice before in his first three years in office.
Study says renewable energy creating jobs in Colo.KJCT ABC 8, 3/2/10. (AP) – The Senate Local Government and Energy Committee has approved a bill that would require large utility companies to generate nearly one-third of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.
Study: Renewable Energy Would Create Jobs In Colo.KMGH ABC 7, 3/2/10- Colorado would create thousands of jobs with legislation requiring large utilities to increase their use of renewable energy, a study released Tuesday by Environment Colorado said.
Study says renewable energy creating jobs in Colo.Vail Daily, 3/2/10- An environmental group says Colorado has created thousands of jobs with legislation requiring renewable energy, but Republicans are questioning the long-term impact on the state’s economy.
Today, Vote Solar jointly released “Investing in the Sun” with Environment Colorado. The report models the economic and environmental benefits of developing 1,000 megawatts (MW) of solar electricity on homes and businesses across Colorado. We released the report as the Colorado Senate is poised to consider HB10-1001.
Take action to support passage of HB 10-1001 here.
HB 10-1001 would increase the overall Renewable Energy Standard to 30 percent by 2020, in addition to setting the requirement that 3 percent of total electricity sales come from “distributed generation” (DG) systems such as solar. Only Xcel Energy and other smaller investor-owned utilities (IOUs) would be required to meet the goals.
“Investing in the Sun” indicates that 1,000 megawatts of distributed solar energy would deliver the following benefits over the lifetime of the systems:
Summary of Potential Benefits
33,325 Total New Construction-Period Jobs
$4.3 Billion in Lifetime Economic Output
6.8 Billion Gallons of Water. Equal to the Annual Consumption of 3,300 homes.
30 Million Tons of CO2 Avoided. Equivalent to Taking 669,730 Cars off the Road.
Vote Solar’s Jim Baak participated in a press conference on the report at the State Capital this afternoon. The bill sponsors ( Senators Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) and Bruce Whitehead (D, Hesperus), and Rep. Max Tyler (D-Golden)) and representatives of Environment Colorado, and COSEIA also spoke to the media. He told the audience that this study is intended to shine a spotlight on the real and immediate economic development opportunity Colorado could realize if a stronger statewide solar requirement were enacted.
We used the Job and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as well as inputs and assumptions drawn from real-world experience of local Colorado solar energy system installers to develop the full report. A strong distributed solar energy market would likely also support a new in-state manufacturing base and associated economic benefits, although such manufacturing development was not included in this analysis.
Our friends in Washington at the Solar Energy Industries Association (www.seia.org) just shared some great news. President Obama’s federal budget for 2011 was released yesterday, and it includes $302.4 million for the solar energy program at the Department of Energy (DOE). This is a 22% increase from last year’s funding level. In addition, DOE’s Building Technologies budget includes another $7.2 million for solar heating and cooling, also an increase over last year’s budget. Obama’s budget request also includes additional funding for the solar manufacturing tax credit, to the tune of $5 billion (more than double the current funding level).
The proposed funding increase for solar related programs is a victory to savor, particularly given that Obama’s team suggested spending cuts to almost all other aspects of the budget. In an attempt to bring down the federal deficit the President’s budget includes a freeze on the overall level of “discretionary spending” apart from national security spending and the mandatory spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Click here for news on Obama’s plan to trim the deficit.
The President’s budget still needs to be approved by Congress, and like always SEIA will take the lead on advocating for the strongest funding levels possible for solar.
Below is a breakdown provided by SEIA on the budget: Total program request: $302.4 million, increased from $225 in current budget:
$152 million for PV, increased from $128.5 million
$98.2 million for CSP (Including $50 million for new demonstration program), increased from $49.7 million
$30.7 million for systems integration, increased from $23.3 million
$21.5 million for market transformation, decreased from $23.5 million
DOE Solar Program Highlights:
Advanced PV manufacturing
Reliability (of components) to extend life of PV system
Thermal storage research to make CSP cost-competitive as baseload power
New Concentrating Solar Power demonstration program to show that technologies can scale up, provide operational data needed by finance community to invest in a project.
DOE Building Technologies Program:
$7.3 million for solar heating and cooling
Continued support for renewable generators, reliability
New $6.4 million for “permitting, siting and analysis” to educate states, regional grid operators, federal agencies and help assist in modernizing the electric grid.
$5 billion for the previously mentioned Advanced Energy Manufacturing tax credit.
FY2011 Department of the Interior Budget Highlights:
Total of $73 million investment in renewable energy.