Categories: "Non-profit solar"

04/23/20

  06:41:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 725 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting, Non-profit solar

While You Were Sleeping: Will FERC Preempt States' Ability to Regulate Solar?

For the most part, the regulation of the solar industry - particularly the residential and commercial solar industry - is a function of state regulators.  In California, both the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) have been the major players in shaping the policies that govern solar installations, including policies like Net Energy Metering (NEM) which determines the economic value of going solar.  But now, a petition from the other side of the country could change all of that, and force states to turn control over the solar industry to federal regulators.  Here’s our take…

FERC logo

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is ”an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil.” Well, wait a second, what does rooftop solar have to do with the “interstate transmission of electricity"?  At first blush, certainly nothing - the excess power from your home solar might go to power your neighbor’s house, but it certainly isn’t crossing state lines. (As a recovering lawyer I could go into a lengthy discussion of the Constitution’s Commerce clause and how that has been broadly interpreted to cover an amazing array of things that seem local, but are actually interstate commerce - but I will spare you that discussion!)  

The hook here is in the greater detail of what the FERC does: “Regulates the transmission and wholesale sales of electricity in interstate commerce."  Under NEM rules, excess energy put out onto the utility’s grid by a “behind-the-meter” solar system, i.e., all grid-tied residential and commercial PV systems,  is then resold by the utility to its other customers.  A petition to the FERC filed by the New England Ratepayers Association is asking FERC to find that those sales are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the FERC.  From the petition:

The law is incontrovertible. The [Federal Power Act] draws a bright line between state and federal jurisdiction over energy sales. Sales of energy at wholesale are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of this Commission. Sales of energy at retail are subject to the jurisdiction of the states. The sales at issue in this Petition are wholesale sales because the energy is being sold to the utility for resale to the utility’s retail load…  and therefore the Commission is required to exercise its rate jurisdiction over them. [Emphasis added.]

Wow!  Now that is interesting - energy exported to the grid, for which the PV owner is paid retail rates (or closer there to), and which the customer down the wire pays full retail rates, is somehow transmogrified into a wholesale energy sale!

But what is the point of all this?  Simple - if these are wholesale energy sales, then FERC has sole regulatory control, and pro-solar policies such as NEM would be replaced by, at best, compensation for excess energy exported at the wholesale rate.  Never mind that SCE is charging you anywhere from 19¢ to 40¢, you are only going to be compensated at the 2-6¢ rate!

Much of the “logic” behind the petition argument will be familiar to readers of this blog: rooftop solar is economically inefficient, NEM distorts wholesale energy markets, and imposes unfair burdens on ratepayers without solar.  Nevermind that all of these points have been debunked before (their expert calls those debunking efforts “irrelevant"), what is important to note is that while many of us are locked out and hunkered down during this crisis, are opponents are not.  They are hard at work, hiring top-dollar DC lawyers to press the case while the rest of us are just trying to get through the month.

Make no mistake about it - if this petition is successful, it will be the end of NEM as we know it, and not just in New England, but nationwide!

This is where organizations like CALSSA(for solar installers here in CA) and the Solar Rights Alliance (for solar system owners) are so critical.  If you are a solar installer, or run a solar company and you are not a CALSSA member, shame on you.  Join!  If you have a solar installation on your roof and you don’t belong to the Solar Rights Alliance - wake up!  Join!

NERA’s petition was filed on April 14th and under the fast track rules that NERA requested (and paid a $30,000 filing fee to secure), comments are due by mid-May.   We will update you when we learn more about its progress.  Watch this space.

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10/23/19

  08:50:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 464 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Safety, Non-profit solar

The Solar Fire that Wasn't!

Solar fire!

Fire damage at a Walmart store.

We recently wrote about a spate of fires that occurred at Walmart stores due to problems with solar power systems on their roofs.  The damage, in some cases, was extensive and overall, painted a pretty bleak picture of commercial solar.  But it doesn’t have to be that way - read on to learn about the solar fire that wasn’t!

One of the problems with the systems that were installed at Walmart is that they were tied to string inverters.  That means that multiple solar panels are wired together into a series string.  When solar panels are wired together that way, the voltage in that string adds with each additional panel.  So if you have twenty panels wired together, and each panel produces 40 volts, the total voltage for the string is 800 volts!  (Indeed, commercial systems can be as high as 1000 volts!)  If there is a gap - say from a loose wire, or a damaged panel - you can get an electric arc that can easily start a fire.

Yikes!

But the other day we were doing a maintenance check on a small commercial system that we installed a few years ago.  While we were installing a software update we did a visual inspection of the array and came across this - a totally shattered panel!

Shattered panel

Totally shattered panel - but no fire here!

So what happened here?  Turns out that the company that owns the system had a mishap, and a brass valve fell on the panel from about 100′ in the air - yep, that will do it!

But more importantly was what didn’t happen - there was no fire.  This was during the middle of the day, and the system was operating at full capacity, yet despite being entirely shattered by the blow, there was no fire because this was not part of a high voltage string.  Rather, this was part of an Enphase microinverter system, so the total DC voltage was only 40 volts.  At that low a voltage there is no arc, and with no arc, there is no fire!

We have heard people say that string inverters are the way to go with commercial systems because they are so much cheaper.  To which we reply - really?  How much does it cost to repair the damage from a fire like those that Walmart has experienced?  Moreover, with a string inverter system, finding faults before they become a hazard is much harder than it is with an Enphase microinverter system.  The Enphase monitoring tells you where the problem is so you can fix it with minimal impact on your operations.

Bottom line: beware of false economies.  Spending a little more to have a safer system is just smart business.  That’s one of the many reasons that we are exclusively an Enphase shop - simply safer solar!

08/28/19

  10:29:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 174 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Say Hello to Jenni O'Neil

Jenni O'Neil

We are excited to introduce the latest member of the Run on Sun team, our new Office Manager and Social Media Guru, Jenni O’Neil.

Jenni joins the Run on Sun team with ten years of customer service experience, four of which were spent as a social media coordinator for a Strategic Solutions company. In her early work experience, Jenni spent time on Capitol Hill working for a Representative from the great state of South Carolina. 

A woman of many skills, Jenni’s work experience encompasses many areas with a focus in politics, social-media marketing, sales and management - all of which will be put to use here!

In her spare time, Jenni is a singer-songwriter who composes music and enjoys singing both Jazz and Blues.  She also enjoys the written-word, and when not working on music, is pen-deep in the historical-fiction novel she is writing.

We are looking forward to Jenni spicing up our social media content, particularly on Twitter!  Expect things there to be far more lively going forward!

Please join us in welcoming Jenni aboard!

08/04/18

  09:01:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 199 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Introducing Victoria Villalobos!

Victoria VillalobosRun on Sun is excited to introduce Victoria Villalobos as the latest member of the RoS Team!

Victoria comes to Run on Sun with more than ten years of project management experience.  Although new to the solar industry, Victoria is a very quick study and is already looking to help streamline operations - an area of particular expertise!

A dog lover herself, Victoria has already bonded with Prosper, the Solar Dog, and we especially were drawn to her passion for building relationships, connecting with folks from diverse backgrounds, and finding common ground.  

Victoria is also a ten-year Army veteran with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan - so Southern California heat doesn’t phase her.  In her spare time, Victoria is studying to be an instructor for a national organization dedicated to healing the trauma of United States military veterans, and she takes great pride in doing what she can to strengthen the veteran’s community and welcome them home from service.

Bringing Victoria onboard increases our resolve as a company to do more to integrate vets into our operations, and we are eager to work with Victoria to make that resolve a reality.

Please join me in welcoming Victoria to the Run on Sun family!

10/25/17

  04:09:00 pm, by   , 145 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting, Non-profit solar

Building Client Trust - Podcast with Run on Sun Founder & CEO, Jim Jenal

At Run on Sun we work hard to build trust with our potential clients, and to maintain that trust with those who choose to go forward with us.  Recently, our distribution partner, BayWa, r.e. asked Run on Sun Founder and CEO, Jim Jenal, to join a podcast discussing that very issue.  Jim shared the mic with Tom Miller, Creative Director at BayWa, and Pam Cargill, Principal at Chaolysti Interactive, a consulting firm focused on improving the solar industry.

Although Jim was a bit embarrassed by the title - “In Jim We Trust” is a bit much - he stands by the thoughts expressed!  Check it out:

We would love to hear from both clients and other installers alike - how important is it to build trust?  What do you do to achieve that end?  And what happens when that trust is damaged, how do you make things right?

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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