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Democratic Energy Media Roundup – March 11, 2015

| Written by Rebecca Toews | No Comments | Updated on Mar 12, 2015 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/democratic-energy-media-roundup-march-11-2015/

Can one state lead the way for others in sound, smart energy policy? New York is setting the stage. This week, Mother Jones, and others talked to John about getting what we want from the utility of the future. (Hint: utilities may soon be waiting-in-the-wings!) Read more stories from this week, below.

New York Just Showed Every Other State How to Do Solar Right: “This is as exciting as the Public Service Commission gets.” by Tim McDonnell, Mother Jones

The policy puts New York on track for a new way of doing business that many energy wonks now see as inevitable. In the past, the role of electric utilities was to generate power at a few central hubs and bring it to your house; in the near future, their role will be to facilitate the flow of power between countless independent systems.

“We need to plan for a primarily renewable system,” said John Farrell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for breaking up the old utility model as a key solution to climate change. “We want to pay [utilities] for doing things we want, rather than paying for their return on investment for the things they build.”

Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar
by Joby Warrick, Washington Post

Three years ago, the nation’s top utility executives gathered at a Colorado resort to hear warnings about a grave new threat to operators of America’s electric grid: not superstorms or cyberattacks, but rooftop solar panels.

“Conservatives support solar — they support it even more than progressives do,” said Bryan Miller, co-chairman of the Alliance for Solar Choice and a vice president of public policy for Sunrun, a California solar provider. “It’s about competition in its most basic form. The idea that you should be forced to buy power from a state-sponsored monopoly and not have an option is about the least conservative thing you can imagine.”

“It’s really about utilities’ fear that solar customers are taking away demand,” said Angela Navarro, an energy expert with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “These customers are installing solar at their own cost and providing a valuable resource: additional electricity for the grid at the times when the utilities need it most. And it’s all carbon-free.”

Utility Companies Can’t Beat Solar Power, So Now They’re Trying to Pass Laws Against It
by Amy Eddings, Ring of Fire Radio

Because of this rapid increase in affordability and use, utility companies are terrified and are launching attack campaigns to try and limit the damage to their bottom line.

Luckily, as the Post pointed out, the campaign’s push for state laws that would raise prices for solar customers “failed spectacularly” because of a surprising amount of support for solar energy in conservative states.

Now the industry’s focus is on public utility commissions, “where industry backers have mounted a more successful push for fee hikes that could put solar panels out of reach for many potential customers.”

What’s behind solar price variability, and why utilities get the best deals
Solar prices vary, but informed customers stay ahead of the curve by Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

“The utility is a much more engaged and informed customer than the typical homeowner. It should be able to generate a good amount of competition among installers. I would anticipate that utility systems would tend to be lower-priced.”

“The utilities we work with, Duke Energy and South Carolina Electric and Gas, have a strong drive to meet customer service demands and are very well-informed,” SunStore Solar Energy Solutions CEO Bruce Wood said, affirming Wiser’s theory.

“Customers who look at the status quo and conventional wisdom are behind the curve,” he said. “The utilities are much more engaged in the market now so they know where the prices are.”

Future of energy – and decline of centralised generation – explained in 70 seconds by Giles Parkinson, RenewEconomy

“…Our industry is in the early but unmistakable stage of a technology-driven disruption of historic proportion. This disruption ultimately is going to end in a radically transformed energy industry where the winners are going to be those who offer their customers, whether they be commercial, industrial or individual customers, a seamless energy solution that is safer, cleaner, more reliable, more convenient and increasingly wireless.

“We believe that the future eventually will belong to demand-driven decentralized models of service that empower individual consumers through sustainable energy solutions that are affordable, personalized, convenient, and reliable,” [NRG Home president and CEO Steve McBee] said.

McBee said his task is to win business in a world “where we believe a growing share of the market is going to want and expect to generate and manage a larger share of their own energy.”

Within 15 years, solar will be a dominant energy source: In just two years, solar will reach price parity in nearly all U.S. states with traditional electrical generation by Lucas Mearian, Computerworld

Today, unsubsidized rooftop solar electricity costs between $.08 and $0.13 per kilowatt hour of capacity (KWh), or 30% to 40% below the retail price of electricity in many markets globally. This is unsubsidized, meaning there are no government incentives such as tax credits.

In markets heavily dependent on coal for electricity generation, the ratio of coal-based wholesale electricity to solar electricity cost was 7:1 four years ago. This ratio is now less than 2:1 and could approach 1:1 over the next 12 to 18 months, the report stated.

What is Prosumer Value to Utilities? by Christine Hertzog, The Energy Collective

The Age of the Prosumer presents challenges for utilities accustomed to thinking of their customers in terms of kilowatthours consumed. The Smart Grid is responsible for these challenges, borne out of technology, policy, and capital innovations. These innovations are triggering many disruptions to the utility business model, and will eventually transform the historic dependency of electricity consumers on utilities into new prosumer relationships of interdependency.

Startup selling solar panels ‘in the cloud,’ not on your roof
By Callum Borchers, Boston Globe

Community solar gardens, like those in Brewster and Rehoboth, sell memberships or panels to local residents who receive cash credits on their monthly electric bills. Community solar garden customers must live within a certain geographic radius, but CloudSolar customers can live anywhere.

“The best economics for the consumer is still to buy the panels and put them on your own roof,” said Ian Bowles, managing director of Windsail Capital Group in Boston and a former Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “But I’m in favor of 1,000 flowers blooming in solar, and this is one of those flowers.”
Each panel or partial panel includes a 25-year maintenance contract with CloudSolar, which has existed for just eight months and doesn’t yet own the land for the farm.

Do you want to own a solar panel in a farm far away? by Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom

CloudSolar’s idea is an interesting tweak on all of these models: community, solar-as-a-service and crowdfunding. But beyond the early adopter market who likes trying out new things on Indiegogo and Kickstarter, I’m not exactly sure what the motivation will be for people to buy into a remote solar farm.

Since the solar farm is probably no where near the panel owner, the motivation of helping your direct neighborhood or community probably won’t be there (though, perhaps CloudSolar could create more of a virtual community). Because the solar panel(s) will be owned by you, there’s not really much of a charitable aspect involved.

One of the more clear motivating factors for someone to participate in this is, frankly, guilt — or put in a nicer way, someone who is looking to offset their own grid energy or gasoline usage. Offsets are a little controversial because they’re always so complicated.

If you buy one solar panel it would offset the use of your iPhone for forever, or your laptop for over a decade, or driving thousands of miles in a Tesla car. But when it comes to offsetting the energy used by an average house? One panel only offsets the energy used by an average home by about seven months. So, unlike if you had solar panels on your roof or you bought into a community solar program through your utility, one panel isn’t gonna cover you.

Change is coming, but how and why depends on where you are by Robert Walton, Utility Dive

Democratic Energy Across the Nation 

California
Crowdfunding Campaign Secures $120,000 For Solar Energy Fund

RE-volv, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, successfully completed its third crowdfunding campaign on Thursday, raising over $50,000 to finance a 36kW solar array for the Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco. RE-volv’s innovative solar financing model, the Solar Seed Fund — the first of its kind — uses crowdfunding to grow a revolving fund that’s continually reinvested in community-based solar projects.

Colorado

Colorado Introduces Legislation to Create a New Utility Business Model by Tom Plant, The Energy Collective

 

Florida
Conservative solar proponents decry attack on ballot initiative as ‘campaign of deception by Ivan Penn, Tampa Times

Tory Perfetti, Florida director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom and Floridians for Solar Choice, said statements about mandates for subsidies or purchases of solar over any other form of energy also are inaccurate.

“This ballot initiative will open up the energy market in Florida to freedom of choice and allow commerce to be conducted through the free market,” said Perfetti, a conservative Republican. “This initiative will not mandate the purchase of solar nor will you find anywhere in the ballot language anything which says that solar will be subsidized, so to say otherwise is false.”

Hawaii
Hawaii commercial solar energy market a race to beat the tax credit deadline by Duane Shimogawa, Business Journals

 

Illinois
Sometimes it Takes a Community to Go Solar by Andrew Barbeau, EDF

 

Iowa

Iowa court ruling lets public sector tap into solar by Rick Smith, The Gazette

“I took on the big energy conglomerates on an issue that they really cared about, and took it to the finish line and won,” said Barry Shear, president of Eagle Point Solar in Dubuque.

“I had to make the point that the position that the utilities were taking regarding what constitutes a public utility, was, in fact, preventing municipalities, schools and universities, churches and any other non-taxed entity from adopting solar. That’s what they were really doing.”

Maine
PUC Study: Solar Power Delivers Economic Return by SUSAN SHARON, MPBN

A new study by the Maine Public Utilities Commission confirms what environmental groups have been saying for some time: Solar power delivers a powerful economic and environmental return on investment.

Maryland

Exelon ups Merger Offer in Maryland as AG Calls for Rejection by Suzanne Herel, RTO Insider

[Maryland Attorney General Brian] Frosh told the Public Service Commission the $6.8 billion deal was unlikely to improve reliability and would harm competition.

Frosh said the deal would only benefit the companies’ shareholders and executives, not ratepayers.

“Post-merger, Exelon will control service to 80% of the state’s ratepayers,” Frosh said. “Internal documents show that Exelon plans to operate its distribution utilities to protect the company’s massive, multi-billion dollar investment in unregulated generation (including its economically challenged nuclear plants) by seeking to control the pace of distributed energy resource penetration in retail service territories.”

Minnesota

New Concept in Solar Energy Poised to Catch on Across US by Steve Karnowski, Associated Press

The gardens feed electricity to the local power grid. Customers subscribe to that power and get credit on their utility bills, with contracts that typically lock in for 25 years and shelter against rate increases. Some developers say customer bills will drop below regular retail rates within a few years; others say the savings begin immediately.

“This is really the year that community solar becomes mainstream,” said David Amster-Olszewski, CEO of Denver-based solar garden developer SunShare LLC, which runs two operations in Colorado and is developing more with Xcel Energy Inc., including in Minnesota.

Solarize program aims to make solar power affordable by Taft Wireback, News & Record

“What we hope to do, we want to make solar happen for people across the economic spectrum, not just those who can afford to pay for it up front,” said Warren, executive director of the nonprofit energy watchdog group, NC WARN, based in Durham and a cosponsor of the statewide Solarize campaign.
One of the first steps along that path is the Solarize Triad initiative begun recently by Warren’s group and its partner nonprofit, Clean Energy for Us. The two groups previously ran separate, but similar “solarize” programs in several other parts of the state.

VIDEO: New Bill Supports Utilizing Wind, Solar Energy in Minnesota by Julia Russell, KQDS

More than 60 orgs are wanting to make MN a leader in Clean Energy Resources– power companies will have to generate 40% from renewable resources.. Keep $ in state, save money, create good jobs, Duluth Mayor Don Ness wants to make coal fire plant sustainable. Convert to closed loop hot water.
New Jersey
5 Hudson County officials among group vying for increased solar energy dependency by Matthew Speiser, The Jersey Journal

“We want to engage people at the local level, said David Beavers, campaign organizer for Environment New Jersey. “Our goal is to promote solar energy at the local level so we’ll be ready and have the support when the governor comes around.”

The 72 signers represent 40 towns in 17 counties, as well as five state legislative districts.

“Helping to foster energy commerce like solar can lead to scale efficiencies and innovation in the renewable energy market that will benefit all of New Jersey.” said Osborne, Jersey City’s Ward E councilwoman.

New Mexico

Rise in rooftop solar systems is game-changer for electric utilities
by Staci Matlock, The New Mexican

“The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s not going back in,” said Regina Wheeler, chief executive officer of the Santa Fe-based solar company Positive Energy.

Utility companies are responding by searching for new ways to bill solar customers who are connected to the grid, known as “access fees,” as well as adding extra “renewable energy” fees to non-solar customers.

New York:

Utility Shift: Examining New York’s Vision for Distributed Service Platform Providers by Katherine Tweed, GreenTech Media

New York Calls for Utilities to Accelerate Distributed Energy With New Platforms and Partners by Katherine Tweed, The Energy Collective

Self-Generation Cos. Turn Up Antitrust Heat On Utilities by Keith Goldberg, Law 360

SolarCity Corp.’s recent suit accusing an Arizona utility of imposing surcharges on rooftop solar in order to maintain its monopoly over retail electricity sales highlights a brewing nationwide antitrust battle as distributed generation increasingly encroaches on an electric grid long dominated by traditional utilities.

Wellinghoff, who served as a utility consumer advocate in Nevada prior to joining FERC, argues that utilities like PNM haven’t provided legitimate explanations for imposing surcharges on a subgroup of customers that use rooftop solar or other forms of distributed generation to reduce the amount of electricity they get from the utility.

“How is that any different from someone putting a heat-efficiency pump in their house or installing all-LED lighting?” Wellinghoff said. “It’s a matter of looking at what are the real costs and benefits of a distributed system. Analyses can be done to make those determinations, [and] once you make those determinations, then you can determine what the compensation level should be and who should be directed to pay it.”

Current Regulatory Environment A Positive For Decentralized Generation by Seeking Alpha

The forward-thinking nature of the New York Public Service Commission is slowly becoming the norm, despite headlines being dominated by anti-competitive regulatory rulings. The New York Public Service Commission’s new proposal is truly significant in that it shows that regulatory boards/commissions are starting to have a much deeper and nuanced understanding of the DG markets.

South Carolina:

Sun block: Rules on solar panels differ by community by Rebecca Lurye, Island Pocket

 

Opinion 

 

The Daily Review: Pennsylvania

Most of the conversation about increased employment in the energy sector, in Pennsylvania and nationally, revolves around the oil and gas industry booms due to advances in drilling technology.

But even as burgeoning domestic oil and gas development have driven down energy prices, solar energy has taken off and produced an employment boom of its own.

Gov. Tomblin can stop attempt to strangle W.Va. solar industry by Bill Howley, West Virginia Gazette:

The result of all this meddling and manipulation is that HB2201 is now a mess that casts a cloud of regulatory uncertainty over business investment and innovation in West Virginia. Solar installers in West Virginia are already seeing current orders being canceled or postponed as customers fear for the future of their investments. Large installed projects, such as those as American Public University in Jefferson County or the Morgantown Transit Authority, are now looking at much longer payoff periods on their investments of taxpayer funds. Most disturbing of all, Yeager Airport’s planned project to invest $15 million to $20 million in the largest solar power array in the state may not happen.

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Rebecca Toews

About Rebecca Toews

Rebecca is ILSR’s Communications Specialist.  For media inquiries, reach Rebecca by e-mail at: rebecca@ilsr.org
Rebecca’s experience lies all along the media spectrum. Her communication focus originated in the news field, with more than seven years experience in newsroom settings and professional & university teaching positions. More

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