Categories: "Solar Policy"

06/29/20

  07:47:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 404 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Net Metering

Update on Net Metering Attack at the FERC

Back in April we wrote about an attempt to eliminate Net Energy Metering - the primary economic benefit for rooftop solar - by way of a misleading petition filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Here’s an update (h/t Utility Dive)…

The petition was filed by an entity called the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) and if successful, would potentially affect net metering in the 45 states where it presently exists in one form or another.  The FERC regulates interstate electricity markets, and NERA portrayed net metering as a “wholesale sale” of energy, essentially subjecting rooftop solar systems as if they were utility power plants.  From NERA’s FAQ about the petition:

[N]et metering is having an unfair and harmful impact on ratepayers, especially low-and middle-income families. Given this problem, NERA has chosen to challenge net metering at the body which has the proper jurisdiction over wholesale electricity transactions.

Under FERC rules, the public had until June 15 to comment on the petition, and NERA found support from some usual suspects including the Heartland Institute (famous for its climate change denialism), the coal company Murray Energy (hilariously ridiculed by John Oliver a few years ago), the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform (say what?), and Citizens Against Government Waste. 

Curiously, although several utility companies - including PG&E - had suggested that they would comment, none of them did.

In opposition was a very long and bipartisan group of people ranging from solar companies (well duh) and solar trade associations, to local state energy regulators.  For example, the National Association of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners (which includes the California Public Utilities Commission amongst its members) said in its comments:

The [FERC]… has for nearly 20 years acknowledged states’ authority and held that net metering does not involve wholesale sales subject to its jurisdiction… Relying on that settled law, states and utilities have developed and implemented net metering programs, and millions of Americans have made long-term investments in solar panels and other distributed generation for their homes and businesses.

Exactly!

Interestingly, Public Citizen dug up some IRS filings for NERA - which self-describes as "a non-profit organization focused on promoting sound public policy that protects utility customers, both families and businesses, and lowers the cost of regulated services” - that cast doubt on that claim.  According to the IRS filings, NERA consists of 15 members (identities not disclosed), ten of whom pay $20,000 in annual dues and five that pay $5,000.  Not exactly a grassroots organization!

Watch this space!

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06/30/18

  02:34:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 276 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Ranting, Solar Policy

LG to Assemble Solar Modules in the US

LG - the exclusive solar module supplier for Run on Sun - has just announced that starting next year they will be assembling solar modules in the United States!  This is big news, here’s our take.

LG NeON 2 solar module

Cell detail of LG’s NeON 2 Solar Module

Ever since the Trump Administration imposed so-called “201 sanctions” on imported solar modules, there has been speculation that companies like LG would start assembling modules in the U.S.  This week that speculation was confirmed as LG announced that they would expand their existing facility in Huntsville, Alabama to create a module assembly plant capable of producing 500 MW of modules per year, with production to begin in “early 2019.”

LG intends to produce their 340 Watt NeON 2 series of 60-cell modules, the successor product to our current go-to, 335 Watt module.  It is not clear whether LG will produce modules with both white and black backsheets, or whether they will begin to manufacture the even higher efficiency, “rear-contact” modules in the U.S.  Given that LG is appealing the tariffs on the rear-contact modules (as they are on the AC module that they make with Enphase) on the grounds that those products do not compete against the cheaper Suniva and SolarWorld modules that are the basis for the (entirely bogus) tariff case (see, Suniva – the Tail Wagging the Dog), it seems that any decision to include their production here would turn on the outcome of that appeal. 

It remains to be seen how much cheaper this will make LG modules, but this appears to be a good development both for about 160 workers in Huntsville, and U.S. consumers.   The tariffs, meanwhile, remain an ignorant policy decision, causing substantial harm throughout the solar industry.

05/30/18

  02:52:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 321 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Energy Efficiency, Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy

Solar Policy: A Victory and a Challenge

As a reader of this blog, you care about solar policy making, and are no doubt aware that the utilities are constantly trying to erode the value of solar.  Recently we notched a big win, but at the same time the need for vigilance is ever greater.  Here’s our take…

An Historic Win

First the win - as you have no doubt heard, starting in 2020, California will require that all new single-family homes include a solar power system.  (At present, about one in five new homes has solar added when built.)  This will help California meet its ambitious goals regarding greenhouse gas emissions, and will continue California’s leadership in home energy efficiency.

An Ongoing Challenge

As exciting as that news was, it makes it far to easy to overlook the constant, ongoing efforts of utilities, particularly the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), like SCE, to erode the value of solar.  Case in point, SCE has a rate case before the California Public Utilities Commission that attempts to create rate structures that are blatantly hostile to solar power systems.  That means that SCE customers who installed solar in good faith, could see the value of their investment diminished thanks to a concerted effort by SCE to do just that!

Solar Rights Alliance

Fortunately you don’t have to take this lying down.  The Solar Rights Alliance (formerly known as Solar Citisuns) is working to organize solar system owners into a potent political force to push back against the army of lobbyists employed by the IOUs.  There are over 700,000 solar system owners in California - that is an interest group that needs to be heard.  By joining the Solar Rights Alliance you will help to make sure that your interests are being heard by legislators and regulators alike.

It is easy to join: just follow this link to become an active member of the Solar Rights Alliance.  The IOUs have the lobbyists, but we have the people!  Be heard - join today!

02/27/18

  02:14:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 347 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, SCE, Residential Solar, Net Metering

Beware SCE's Attempt to Switch Solar Customers to TOU Rates!

 

Attention SCE customers who installed solar before the NEM 2.0 deadline (that is, you installed solar before July 1, 2017) - we just learned that SCE is sending around notices suggesting that you switch over to a Time-of-Use rate. You do not need to make that switch, and you most likely don’t want to!
Here are the facts…

SCE customers who installed solar systems prior to the transition to Net Energy Metering 2.0 rules ("NEM 1.0 Customers") are grandfathered into their existing tiered rate structures for 20 years following their go-live date.  While the costs under that rate structure may change, the basic design - a tiered rate where you pay more the more you use, versus a time-of-use rate where what you pay is tied to when you use it - is locked in.  For most solar system owners, that is a better deal.

But we just learned that SCE is trying to convince NEM 1.0 Customers to switch to TOU rates.  (You can find their oh-so encouraging web page for the transition here.)  For the vast majority of solar system owners, such a transition is NOT IN YOUR BEST INTEREST!  The TOU rates have their highest charges either from 4-9 or 5-8, and their lowest charges between 8 a.m. and 4 or 5 p.m.  That means that any energy exported back to the grid will be compensated at the lowest rate (unless your system happens to be exporting after 4 or 5 in the evening, not very likely), whereas energy you need to use in the evening will cost you the most!  

Check out these numbers:

SCE's 4-9 p.m. TOU rate      SCE's 5-8 p.m. TOU rate
SCE’s 4-9 p.m. Time-of-Use Summer Rates   SCE’s 5-8 p.m. Time-of-Use Summer Rates

Yikes!  That’s a whopping 49¢/kWh if you select the 5-8 p.m. rate - but you will only earn 23¢/kWh for energy that you export from your solar system!  Not a good deal at all!

The good news is you don’t have to make this switch!  And if you mistakenly were convinced to switch, you have the right to switch back.  (Similar scams are underway in PG&E and SDG&E territory as well.)  If you have questions, give us a call and we will help you to sort this out.

11/02/17

  11:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 947 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy, CALSSA

Solar Policy Progress!

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento, August 2017.

We wrote the other day that securing sustainable solar policy is not a spectator sport, that it requires all of us to roll up our sleeves and do the work needed.  Leading that charge here in California are our friends over at CALSEIA, and I think it is helpful to motivate others to join in when they can see positive results. 

After all, winning begets winning (well, ok, maybe it didn’t in Game 7, but wait ’til next year!), and recently CALSEIA published a list of policy victories this year that I thought you would like to see. 

So check it out, so much winning!

AB 1070 - Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego)

Currently solar installers decide what information they will provide to potential clients, and it varies all over the lot, with many companies simply providing “generic” solar system quotes (i.e., this will be a 4.5 kW system for $4.50/Watt).  On the other end of the continuum are the quotes that we provide, calling out all of the equipment we propose to use, how much each line item will cost, a detailed analysis of your savings (using Energy Toolbase, the most sophisticated tool available) and payback over time.  We disclose all of our assumptions (such as energy costs increasing by 3%/year), and lay it all out in a clear and easy to follow format.

AB 1070 will drag some of those less forthcoming companies into the light.  From the legislative counsel’s digest:

This bill would require the [CSLB], in collaboration with the Public Utilities Commission, on or before July 1, 2018, to develop and make available on its Internet Web site a disclosure document that provides a consumer with accurate, clear, and concise information regarding the installation of a solar energy system, as specified. The bill would require this disclosure document to be provided by the solar energy systems company to the consumer prior to completion of a sale, financing, or lease of a solar energy system, as defined, and that it, and the contract, be written in the same language as was principally used in the sales presentation and marketing material. The bill would also require, for solar energy systems utilizing PACE financing, that the financing estimate and disclosure form satisfy these requirements with respect to the financing contract, as specified. The bill would also require the board to post the PACE Financing Estimate and Disclosure form on its Internet Web site.

The bill would require the Contractors’ State License Board to receive and review complaints and consumer questions, and complaints received from state agencies, regarding solar energy systems companies and solar contractors. The bill would, beginning on July 1, 2019, require the board annually to compile a report documenting complaints it received relating to solar contractors that it shall make available publicly on the board’s and the Public Utilities Commission’s Internet Web sites.

This is something we have been advocating for a long time.  Hopefully the CSLB and the CPUC will craft an easy-to-understand document that will help consumers make meaningful comparisons between competing quotes.  We are also pleased that this requires the contract language to track the language of the sales presentation and marketing materials - which in many cases they do not.  On top of that is the requirement for the CSLB and the CPUC to document complaints against solar contractors and to publicize those complaints on their website for all to see.

This bill won’t solve the problem of shady solar contractors, but it is a giant step in the right direction.

AB 1414 - Laura Friedman (D-Glendale)

It used to be that local jurisdictions could charge whatever they liked for solar permits, and getting those permits could take weeks, even for the smallest resi-install.  That was changed a few years ago and permit fees for small PV systems were capped at $500, although realistically, they are supposed to be limited to the actual cost of providing the service.  Some jurisdictions have done a lot to live up to the spirit of the requirement, and both the City of Los Angeles and LA County now have very reasonable permit fees.  Other jurisdictions, however, magically charge that $500 maximum no matter what.   Funny about that.

The cap on those fees was due to expire come January 1, 2018, but AB 1414 extends the cap for seven more years, and lowers the cap from $500 to $450, and extends the cap for both ground-mounted systems as well as solar thermal systems.  Big win.

Other Wins

Some other victories include:

  • AB 634 - Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) - prohibits HOAs from establishing a general policy that forbids the installation or use of a rooftop solar energy system for household purposes on the roof of the building in which the owner resides, or a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use.
  • AB 1284 - Matthew Dababneh (D-Calabasas) - Requires PACE lenders to make a “reasonable good faith effort” to ensure borrowers have the ability to repay their loans based on income, assets and current debt obligations.  Too often shady contractors prey on low-income and/or non-native English speakers to sign up for PACE loans that they really do not understand.  This law should help curb that practice, along with…
  • SB 242 - Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) - Mandates that PACE providers have calls with all homeowners before they take out the loan to ensure they understand the terms.

Collectively these measures strengthen the solar industry in California, while providing important consumer protections.  CALSEIA’s work - and that of its members - was key in achieving these results. 

But there’s lots left to do - CALSEIA’s legislative analysis list has many “Failed” entries on it where vital measures were either stalled or defeated outright.  So get involved - this is not a spectator sport!

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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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