Back to top Jump to featured resources
Article filed under Energy

Energy Democracy Media Roundup – week of September 4, 2017

| Written by Nick Stumo-Langer | No Comments | Updated on Sep 6, 2017 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/energy-democracy-media-roundup-week-of-september-4-2017/

This week in Energy Democracy news:

A writer from Vox breaks down why most monopoly electric utilities suck, West Virginia’s state parks implement an extensive EV charging network, and a useful rundown of the rooftop solar fight that’s consumed Nevada’s politics.

The simple reason most power utilities suck by David Roberts, Vox

The take-home here is simple: Socially, we need to shift to greener, smarter grids built around aggregated, coordinated DERs, but the regulatory regime under which utilities operate puts them inherently at odds with that shift.

Utilities do not have to suck. They have been designed to suck. They can be designed differently.

Utilities grapple with rooftop solar and the new energy landscape by Jacques Leslie, Yale 360

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission fostered the growth of rooftop solar’s close cousin, community solar (which typically involves placing solar arrays over parking lots and agricultural fields) by abandoning net metering. Instead, it devised a methodology for calculating a fair rate for electricity fed back to the grid by adding up all the components of community solar’s value, including the so-called “social cost of carbon” — the dollar benefit from reduced climate change impacts and air pollution.

“What we found is that every year, the value of community solar has been higher than the retail electricity price,” said John Farrell, an energy researcher at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Which means that customers who produce solar energy were giving more value to the grid than they were receiving in net metering payments.”

WV State Parks build extensive car-charging network in green initiative by Rick Steelhammer, Charleston Gazette-Mail

In solar scuffle, big utilities meet their match by Elizabeth Shogren, High Country News

Her business relied on a state law that required the monopoly electricity provider, NV Energy, to pay customers for power generated by their solar panels. For each unit of energy provided to the grid, NV Energy would give them a free unit. This one-to-one swap, called net metering, kept solar customers’ bills low and reduced the time it took to recoup their upfront investments.

Big companies that lease solar panels, such as SolarCity and Sunrun, swooped into Nevada, hiring hundreds of people. In 2015, a record 24,564 people applied to be solar customers with NV Energy, according to the company. But near the end of that year, the Public Utility Commission of Nevada, the state’s utility regulators, crushed the nascent solar boom by increasing fees for solar customers and slashing reimbursements for the power they feed into the grid. That fundamentally altered the economics of rooftop solar. “It was stunning,” Helton recalls. “That’s how we found ourselves upside-down and backwards and almost out of business.”

The Nevada regulators’ order was the most extreme example of a nationwide effort by corporate utilities — panicked about losing market share and profits — to roll back net-metering policies. It’s backed by the deep pockets of fossil fuel industrialists like the Koch brothers, conservative lobbying groups like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the electricity industry’s own trade group, the Edison Electric Institute.

Municipal utility offers springboard for Minnesota city’s energy vision – Episode 42 of Local Energy Rules podcast by John Farrell, CleanTechnica

Minnesota has the best community solar program – here’s why by John Farrell, MinnPost

Leech Lake solar garden is first in nation linked to energy assistance program by Pam Lowagie, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Pueblo targets all-renewables future to bolster local economy by John Farrell, CleanTechnica

Video: A solar leader emerges in rural Iowa by John Farrell, CleanTechnica

Unlocking universal access to community solar by John Farrell, CleanTechnica

 

Energy Democracy News Across the States

California

California lawmakers begin push for 100% clean energy by 2045 by James Rainey, NBC News

California is the state that most depends on the sun for energy. It survived the eclipse without losing any. by Dino Grandoni, Washington Post

Should California spend $3 billion to help people buy electric cars? by Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times

A new net-zero-energy community is coming to California’s central valley by Julian Spector, GreenTech Media

 

Colorado

Lighting the way by Tracy Chamberlin, Durango Telegraph

Community solar, PACE policies moving forward in Illinois by Mark Burger, PV Magazine

 

Indiana

Solid on solar by Rebecca R. Bibbs, The Herald Bulletin

Solar panels catching on in area by Debbie Blank, Batesville Herald Tribune

Local solar power initiative urges homeowners to act now by Leandra Beabout, Goshen News

 

Maine

Community group aims to bring more solar energy systems, education to Bangor area by Lauren Abbate, Bangor Daily News

 

Michigan

Commentary: Michigan is primed for an electric vehicle future by Sarah Tyler, Midwest Energy News

L’Anse community meeting gauges interest in possible community solar garden by Donny Miller, Fox UP

Michigan communities take slightly different approach to clean energy financing tool by Andy Balaskovitz, Midwest Energy News

BWL plans to build large solar array in Delta Township by Fox 47 News

 

Minnesota

Minnesota has the best community solar program – here’s why by John Farrell, MinnPost

Leech Lake solar gardens is first in nation linked to energy assistance program by Pam Lowagie, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minnesota environmental camp faces challenges in achieving net-zero status by Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News

Tracy schools to light up with solar arrays by Jody Isaackson, Marshall Independent

 

Nebraska

Winnebago reservation to add 1,000 solar panels by Ty Rushing, Sioux City Journal

 

Nevada

In solar scuffle, big utilities meet their match by Elizabeth Shogren, High Country News

Her business relied on a state law that required the monopoly electricity provider, NV Energy, to pay customers for power generated by their solar panels. For each unit of energy provided to the grid, NV Energy would give them a free unit. This one-to-one swap, called net metering, kept solar customers’ bills low and reduced the time it took to recoup their upfront investments.

Big companies that lease solar panels, such as SolarCity and Sunrun, swooped into Nevada, hiring hundreds of people. In 2015, a record 24,564 people applied to be solar customers with NV Energy, according to the company. But near the end of that year, the Public Utility Commission of Nevada, the state’s utility regulators, crushed the nascent solar boom by increasing fees for solar customers and slashing reimbursements for the power they feed into the grid. That fundamentally altered the economics of rooftop solar. “It was stunning,” Helton recalls. “That’s how we found ourselves upside-down and backwards and almost out of business.”

The Nevada regulators’ order was the most extreme example of a nationwide effort by corporate utilities — panicked about losing market share and profits — to roll back net-metering policies. It’s backed by the deep pockets of fossil fuel industrialists like the Koch brothers, conservative lobbying groups like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the electricity industry’s own trade group, the Edison Electric Institute.

Nevada PUC OKs policies to help rooftop solar industry grow by Ben Botkin, Las Vegas Review Journal

 

New York

Questions shaping the future of energy storage in New York by Julian Spector, GreenTech Media

 

Oklahoma

Alternative energy: Residential solar power systems rising in Oklahoma by Lenzie Krehbiel-Burton, Tulsa World News

Oklahoma averages more than five hours of peak solar energy generating capacity per day and ranks among the top 10 states for solar energy potential.

However, less than 1 percent of the state’s electricity is generated by solar power. Solar panels across the state are generating an estimated 2.9 megawatts of energy, thus ranking Oklahoma 47th nationally for solar use.

 

Ohio

Poll: Even Ohio’s coal country supports more use of clean energy by Kathiann M. Kowalski, Midwest Energy News

 

Tennessee

How Tennessee’s taken the politics out of renewable energy by Elizabeth Daigneau, Governing Magazine

 

Texas

Austin Energy targets 65% renewables by 2027 by Robert Walton, Utility Dive

 

Utah

State announces solar net-metering deal by Annie Knox, Deseret News

Under the proposed move, net-metering customers who now are reimbursed for the extra kilowatts they return to Rocky Mountain Power will retain the payments through 2035. The average for homeowners now is 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Starting in November, any new customers will receive three years of credits, though at a slightly lesser rate, during a transition period. After that, a new fee structure determined by the state’s Public Service Commission will take effect.

The commission rate still is being hashed out and will be released by 2020, according to a prepared statement from the governor’s office. Solar companies and energy advocates also were involved in the yearslong negotiations.

Op-ed: A hard-won victory for rooftop solar with settlement agreement finalized by Ryan Evans and Sarah Wright, Deseret News

 

Vermont

Solar firm gets OK for Guildford community project by Vermont Biz

 

West Virginia

WV State Parks build extensive car-charging network in green initiative by Rick Steelhammer, Charleston Gazette-Mail

 

Nationwide Energy Democracy News:

Electrification for both customers and the grid by Mike O’Boyle, GreenTech Media

Electric vehicles are on the path to becoming mainstream, thanks to strong policy support and rapid lithium-ion battery cost declines. The next key driver is the role that utilities will play.

Beyond rooftops: States move to encourage community solar by Jon Frandsen, StateLine (Huffington Post)

The thorniest question states face, perhaps, is how to value the excess energy that is sold back to utilities — an issue dogging efforts to encourage the use of solar power and incorporate it into the power grid.

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws enabling third-party community solar. And some 90 percent of the explosive growth in the sector in the next five years will take place in five of them that have taken early steps to encourage the industry: Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York, according to GTM Research, which studies solar power and other renewable energy.

How rural co-ops are shifting to a clean power mix by Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

Solar eclipse’s effect on power demand proved a yawn for utilities by Ruthy Munoz, Reuters

Solar-plus-storage poised to beat standalone PV economics by 2020 by Julian Spector, GreenTech Media

In today’s market, under the assumptions of the model, standalone PV beats any of the hybrid combinations. Fast-forward to 2020 with an assumed 15 percent solar penetration, and DC-coupled PV-plus-storage with the federal Investment Tax Credit takes the lead.

In a 2020 scenario with 24 percent solar penetration, standalone PV plummets in value and all types of solar-plus-storage take the lead.

Rick Perry and his own grid study are saying very different things by David Roberts, Vox

That forced transparency seems to have restrained the hand of political appointees at DOE friendly to coal and nuclear. To be sure, the report has been changed. Some baseload-friendly language has been added and the straightforward conclusion about reliability I quoted above is gone. A few coal-friendly policy recommendations were added. It’s definitely been massaged.

But the bones of the analysis remain the same and still indicate the same conclusion: There’s no reason in the world to keep coal plants open and only one reason to keep nuclear plants open — climate change, which the report never mentions.

We’ve been underestimating the solar industry’s momentum. That could be a big problem by Chelsea Harvey, Washington Post

The national debate unfolding over PURPA and solar power by Chris Warren, GreenTech Media

PURPA was designed to be a driver of conservation and renewable energy in response to the energy crisis of the early 1970s. The law requires utilities to purchase energy produced at what are known as Qualifying Facilities (QFs) if they match a utility’s avoided cost. “Avoided cost” is defined as the cost equal to or below what utilities have to pay for energy produced by a traditional power plant.

In Montana, and in several other states across the nation, PURPA has become a major driver for the development of solar projects. It’s a new phenomenon, made possible only by the dramatic decrease in solar prices in recent years. Now, the success that large-scale solar has seen as a result of PURPA is starting to cause a stir.

Wind power costs could drop 50%. Solar PV could provide up to 50% of global power. Damn. by David Roberts, Vox

Harvey’s devastation shows the need for distributed energy, microgrids during disasters by Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media

The simple reason most power utilities suck by David Roberts, Vox

The take-home here is simple: Socially, we need to shift to greener, smarter grids built around aggregated, coordinated DERs, but the regulatory regime under which utilities operate puts them inherently at odds with that shift.

Utilities do not have to suck. They have been designed to suck. They can be designed differently.

Utilities grapple with rooftop solar and the new energy landscape by Jacques Leslie, Yale 360

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission fostered the growth of rooftop solar’s close cousin, community solar (which typically involves placing solar arrays over parking lots and agricultural fields) by abandoning net metering. Instead, it devised a methodology for calculating a fair rate for electricity fed back to the grid by adding up all the components of community solar’s value, including the so-called “social cost of carbon” — the dollar benefit from reduced climate change impacts and air pollution.

“What we found is that every year, the value of community solar has been higher than the retail electricity price,” said John Farrell, an energy researcher at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Which means that customers who produce solar energy were giving more value to the grid than they were receiving in net metering payments.”

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly update.