Tag Archives: Community Choice Aggregation

MCE completes 3-MW solar project in Napa County, California

By Kelly Pickerel, Solar Power World

California community choice aggregation (CCA) MCE has completed its first local, renewable energy project in Napa County. Along with developer Renewable Properties, MCE held a ribbon cutting for the 3-MW American Canyon Solar Project this month.

This is the 12th local, small-scale renewable energy project MCE has completed in its four-county service area — and MCE’s first Feed-In Tariff (FIT) project in Napa County. The FIT program allows small-scale renewable energy projects to become long-term suppliers to MCE. MCE has approximately 31 MW of local renewable projects in its service area, with ~25 MW operational and ~6 MW in the pipeline.

Located on approximately 21 acres of land, the American Canyon Solar Project uses single-axis trackers. MCE and Renewable Properties have agreed to a 20-year power purchase agreement.

Read full article from Solar Power World

As PG&E faces uncertainty, Sonoma Clean Power sees a bright future in green energy

By Bill Swindell, The Press Democrat

The troubling saga of PG&E has been well chronicled along its path that led to a bankruptcy filing in January. Massive liabilities from wildfires caused by transmission lines. A push to increase already high energy prices to ratepayers. Public outrage over bonuses paid by executives during a period of turmoil.

Yet during the same time, the fortunes of Santa Rosa-based Sonoma Clean Power could not be more different while much less heralded. Five years since first providing electric service to customers, the nonprofit public agency now has 87% of its eligible customers in both Sonoma and Mendocino counties, totaling 224,000 accounts. It claims to have saved approximately $80 million for its customers in reduced rates compared to the investor-owned PG&E, which still provides natural gas locally.

The local company — which has only about 25 employees — also has made tremendous strides in curbing carbon emissions. It sources green energy with a standard service that now provides 91% carbon-free power and has almost 2,000 customers enrolled in its premium EverGreen service, which offers 100% renewable energy sourced locally from solar panels and geothermal plants at The Geysers. Two years ago, it got into the production side by breaking ground on two solar-panel projects in rural areas located in Petaluma, and it is on a course to have a total of six such projects in the region. It also purchases power from a wind farm in the Altamont Pass.

Indeed, Sonoma Clean Power officials said they believe their agency is nicely positioned to play a leading role in curbing carbon emissions at the local level while also serving as a role model for other Golden State communities to accomplish that same goal.

Read full article in The Press Democrat

Solar is Generation of Choice in California

By Robert Mullin, RTO Insider

California’s second-largest publicly owned utility is “not buying anything other than solar right now,” said Arlen Orchard, CEO of Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). Orchard’s comment reflected prevailing opinion at the Infocast California Energy Summit last week: Solar is the generation of choice now in California — and its role will only grow.

For SMUD, the decision to go with solar is a financial one. Despite historically low natural gas prices, California’s environmental mandates — such as emissions caps and a ban on once-through cooling — make investment in even the most efficient new gas-fired generation less attractive than solar, even in the resource-constrained Los Angeles basin. “It sounds like for a lot of reasons, building more gas-fired generation in L.A. is not going to happen,” said Charles Adamson, principal manager with Southern California Edison, also pointing out the political unpopularity of building new gas generation in the state.

In Northern California, the alternatives to solar are other — more expensive — renewable resources. “Solar was once the most expensive — now it’s the lowest cost,” said Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, whose membership includes gas-fired and renewable merchant generators.

Declining solar costs are attracting the interest of more than just traditional utilities, according to Mark Fillinger, director of project development for First Solar. California’s investor-owned utilities have effectively met the state’s 33% by 2020 renewable portfolio standard. Fillinger said his company is now seeing a “huge shift” in demand from those customers to large “direct access” commercial and industrial clients who choose to purchase power from an independent electricity supplier rather than a regulated utility.

Read full article from RTO Insider

California’s Distributed Energy Future

GTM Research has established itself as the premier source of information on solar industry trends and developments in the United States. It’s instructive that from that perspective, they chose to organize a conference focusing on a single state, California.

We who participate in the solar industry here have recognized the state as a leader, but the less patronizing among us also recognize that the magnitude of this lead is only temporary. If solar is to realize its potential as one means of reducing environmental damage while reducing future customer utility costs, then other parts of the United States need to catch up (and as GTM’s latest data for 2015 shows, they are).

Nonetheless, as GTM Research Senior Vice President Shayle Kann observed in his opening keynote at GTM’s California Distributed Energy Future conference in San Francisco, California remains the epicenter of next generation distributed energy (DE) regulation and is at the forefront of the shift toward distributed energy in the U.S. And (I would add) what happens in California doesn’t always stay in California. Hence the conference to examine California’s transition to a distributed energy future and consider what’s working and what isn’t.

The discussions at the conference covered a variety of issues confronting the state. Here is an overview of the key themes coming out of the discussions, and the insights shared by the different speakers:

The strongest and most frequently recurring theme was that of the interaction of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs, essentially distributed solar PV) and the electrical grid. This issue has numerous dimensions, and subsequent “fireside chats” helped highlight some of these.

Appropriately the first discussion was with a Senior Vice President from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s largest investor-owned utility (IOU) and the utility with more connected PV capacity than any other in the United States. Issues were fairly raised: e.g., how should rates be structured to fairly compensate the value of Grid access received by the customer, how does PG&E envision an environment of growing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) systems and how is the Grid managed for reliability. Unfortunately, the moderator for this session let the PG&E representative off with the stock, PR answers: “we have to make changes in our rate structures”, “they can work, note how long Marin (Clean Energy, 2010) and Sonoma (Clean Power, 2014) have been in service”, and “we need to build in robustness.”

Ah well, at least subsequent chats returned to DER issues in more depth. DERs can lower costs for Grid operators / managers; experiments were cited by both Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) involving combinations of storage and DERs. Time of Use (TOU) pricing is coming, and 150 studies worldwide on this issue indicate that customers like this. But there is just too little experience with California’s residential customers while the customers themselves have too little information on which to make decisions as to costs versus savings.

Questions were also raised about Grid planning, to which respondents appeared to agree that too much is moving to identify a “right” strategy, especially as there isn’t even agreement on how to weigh technical issues such as reliability against other social goals we “should” be pursuing. The underlying complexity raised by these superficially straightforward questions was well-highlighted.

Michael Picker, President of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) noted that despite all the issues the CPUC addresses, DE issues are of significant importance. CPUC needs to consider even the framework for its decision making processes going forward. A system designed to regulate railroads in the 1890’s may not provide the responsiveness and flexibility for regulating changes to utilities in a rapidly evolving technological, economic and social environment. The “adversarial” approach used in CPUC proceedings may not be the best approach—why is the current process more dependent on legal skills than on engineering skills? The desire is to move forward not too fast, not too slow in opening the market to competition while allowing utilities to remain viable business entities. These are issues that could keep one up at night.

Michael Picker (CPUC, left) and Shayle Kann (GTM, right) during their “Fireside Chat”

GTM California's Distributed Energy Future Conference

The second, albeit lesser, recurring theme I heard at the conference was that of CCA developments. Until this year, there have been only three of these organized in California: Marin (with subsequent geographic extensions) and Sonoma were cited above, and Lancaster Choice Energy was launched in 2015. San Francisco’s Clean Power SF, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy (San Mateo County) are in the process of launching this year.

As Mark Ferron, CAISO Board of Governors, cited, in 5 years 60% of the state’s eligible population could potentially be served by CCA’s if all programs now in discussion came to completion in that time. He provided a link in later discussion which I repeat here for those who want to follow up on the tally he reported: climateprotection.tumblr.com/tagged/Community-Choice

CCA’s make solar available to those in multi-family dwellings or who own a home not situated with a solar-favorable orientation or location. Expansion of solar power to these customers is required if solar-based power is to expand. Yet as Michael Picker observed, CCA “forced collectivization is a coup against the traditional utility model, challenging utilities and eroding the role of the PUC.” We don’t know yet where this takes existing suppliers and industry participants.

The challenges of the new, evolving energy infrastructure are actively being addressed by the states of California and New York. Conferences such as this provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on the issues and the difficulty this transition poses for firms competing in the market, regulators and the state legislatures who will eventually need to rewrite the rules for structuring state energy markets.

PG&E wants Marin Clean Energy customers to pay more for exit ticket

By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal

The California Public Utilities Commission will rule this month on requests from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. that some say if granted could hinder the effort to boost renewable energy use in the state. PG&E is seeking permission to nearly double the monthly fee it levies on customers of Marin Clean Energy and other community choice electricity suppliers. The investor-owned utility is also proposing a change in net metering policy that would substantially reduce the financial incentive for installing residential solar power systems.

When a PG&E customer opts to buy electricity from another energy supplier, such as Marin Clean Energy or Sonoma Clean Power, the company is permitted to charge that customer an exit fee to compensate it for the power contracts it previously entered into to supply that customer’s electricity. The average Marin Clean Energy customer pays an exit fee of $6.70 per month. PG&E is requesting permission to nearly double the exit fee to about $13 for an average Marin Clean Energy customer. The increase would mean that, for the first time in several years, Marin Clean Energy customers would be paying more for their electricity than PG&E customers.

When PG&E loses a customer to another energy supplier, it sells the excess electricity that it purchased for that customer. The company might earn or lose money, depending on market conditions. So far, PG&E has stockpiled more than $1 billion from transactions in which it earned money. In conjunction with its request for a hike in the exit fee, PG&E initially asked the CPUC’s permission to absorb this money. Marin Clean Energy objected. The CPUC rejected Marin Clean Energy’s request that the money be used to offset the need for additional exit fee revenue and directed PG&E to submit an alternative proposal outlining its plans for the $1 billion next year.

Read full article in the Marin Independent Journal

Clean energy joint venture gains support: San Mateo County joint powers authority formed to buy renewable energy in bulk

By Bill Silverfarb, The San Mateo Daily Journal

About 297,000 PG&E customers in San Mateo County could get their energy from renewable sources in less than a year under a joint powers authority being formed called Peninsula Clean Energy.

The Office of Sustainability has been granted $1.5 million to form the joint venture known as Community Choice Aggregation that is already in place in Marin and Sonoma counties. The county will need at least three of 20 cities to join the JPA to get it off the ground. The hope, however, is that all cities will partner with the county to buy clean energy.

The JPA would allow its customers to buy renewable energy at competitive rates. In fact, customers who purchase 100 percent renewable energy from sources such as wind or solar will see their monthly electric bills rise by a modest $2, according to a technical study the Board of Supervisors heard Tuesday. A JPA agreement is expected to be in place by the end of winter 2016 and the tentative plan is to start purchasing renewable energy next summer.

Supervisor Dave Pine brought the proposal to the board in December and the newly-formed Office of Sustainability, directed by Jim Eggemeyer, has been working on the first phase of the proposal since. The second phase includes forming the JPA, which would be a nonprofit with a board made up of either elected city officials or appointees. The goal is to have it formed by March or April.

Read full article in the San Mateo Daily Journal

Related Article: Op-ed: Greener, cheaper electricity with community choice (The San Francisco Chronicle)

A BRIGHT QUARTER FOR SOLAR CALIFORNIA

In June, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released their US Solar Market Insight report for the first quarter of 2015. Their report and others from a variety of state and federal sources indicate the solar industry in California continues its impressive growth. The state remains above the national average in the rate of growth in residential and commercial solar capacity, and continues to contribute well over half the national utility capacity added. The US Energy Information Agency reports that last year California became the first state to obtain more than 5% of its electricity production from utility-scale solar power. While the glass appears more than half full, we must not become complacent as there are a number of long-term issues — warning clouds on the horizon — that we must face and resolve.

First quarter residential additions reportedly totaled 231 MW; that is enough to power an additional 60,000 homes with solar energy. This added capacity is 78% larger than the capacity added during the same time last year — a year-over-year growth not even dreamed of in most industries. And for the naysayers who claim this is all subsidized, the California Solar Initiative program has pretty much run its course so that over 80% of these installations occurred without need of state support.

Commercial or non-residential on-site (commonly rooftop) systems have experienced marked growth also, though at more modest volumes. The GTM Research/SEIA study identifies 88 MW added in the first quarter—small compared to residential activity, but still a healthy 42% increase over the 62 MW added in the first quarter of 2014. As with residential systems, these too are increasingly being installed on their economic merits without state subsidies.

Taken together, these 3-month additions bring the total residential and commercial capacity to over 3000 MW of Photovoltaics. When operating in full sun, these systems generate more kilowatt hours of electricity than the 2200 MW capacity of the state’s remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon:  more than a nuclear power plant’s energy production on our rooftops with far less risk or controversy.

And speaking of power plants, utility scale PV is the third category of solar production. The 399 MW reportedly added was less than was added during the same quarter last year, but these numbers tend to be lumpy. Utility-scale additions often are tallied in chunks of various sizes, like the 550 MW Topaz and Desert Sun projects that were phased in during 2014. With 5400 MW installed at the end of 2014, and over 4500 MW planned for installation during the next few years, quarterly comparisons are less significant.

So in summary, past quarter growth has been strong and the market outlook is bright. Governor Brown announced in January (and the Assembly is considering) the goal to obtain half the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The 2016 goal of 25% has already been achieved; the 2020 goal of 33% appears achievable, maybe even sooner. These policies should serve to maintain efforts to expand renewable energy production.

Potential market expansion programs are imminent. The Green Tariff Shared Renewables program should expand the PV market to include renters and single family homeowners whose homes don’t lend themselves to on-site generation (due to structural, shading and other site-specific constraints). The state’s three large investor-owned utilities will be rolling out programs to provide renewably-sourced electricity to customers later this year. In parallel with this, cities and counties are assessing the benefits to residents of Community Choice Aggregation programs where-by they can source the electricity for resale to their residents. If priced and operated in a manner appealing to the untapped market, these programs could expand the potential number of households that source their electricity from solar sources by at least fourfold.

But there are competing perspectives to be balanced as the state moves forward, and not all focus on the same single issue of carbon reduction. The question of rate-payer equity and possible subsidization of PV owners by other utility customers needs to be addressed. This struggle to identify an equitable means of Net Energy Metering is not unique to California, but it is critical for its potential to up-end the economic attractiveness of residential and commercial scale PV systems. Its importance to the continued expansion of solar energy use in California is emphasized by Bernadette Del Chiaro’s guest commentary elsewhere on this website.

And at the federal level, the reduction (commercial) or expiration (residential) of the 30% investment tax credit has the potential to depress demand not just in California but nationwide. Falling prices of PV systems may soften this effect, but its loss could still be damaging to both the industry and our climate.

Industry reports this past quarter were widely favorable, and the solar industry in California appears to be under the influence of the Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you

May the wind always be at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

Though we are falling short of the soft rains! We need to deal quickly and effectively with the warning clouds on the horizon — lest the resulting rain be not as soft as either the traveler or we Californian’s desire.

Move Over PG&E? Community choice aggregation could be electrical balancing act

By J.A. Savage, The North Coast Journal

Humboldt County and the city of Arcata now have proposals from two private companies that are offering to whisk the agencies and their thousands of ratepayers away from PG&E. If either is hired, it would be the first community choice aggregation program in the state to hand the reins to a private company. The only municipalities in the state operating community choice — Marin County and most of Sonoma County — have done so through their own governments.

Arcata and Humboldt County are considering a more hands-off method through for-profit companies. Neither company with proposals for the governmental agencies has operated a program for non-PG&E alternatives before. Although Arcata could proceed on its own, it’s possible for the entire county to switch away from PG&E. Unlike most California municipalities, Humboldt already has a joint powers agreement among governments through the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, which has been in preliminary discussions to implement community choice aggregation for more than a year.

State laws governing electricity production say community choice aggregation has to be a mix of energy sources, and consumers have a say in what energy sources are included in their power mix. While you could save a few cents on your monthly bill with community choice, more important, say proponents, is that — unlike your dealings with PG&E —your elected representatives could increase or decrease how much renewable and Humboldt-grown electricity is in the mix. Local governments could require more biomass fuel for electricity from Humboldt’s forests, or require building new solar installations. By playing with the mix, consumers/voters can determine the cost of their electricity, to a certain extent.

Read full article in the North Coast Journal

California Utilities Ready Plans For Community Solar Programs

By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Drive

As mandated by Senate Bill 43, California is about to initiate a community shared solar program requiring its three dominant investor-owned utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric — to obtain 600 megawatts of new capacity by 2019. Solar advocates question the affordability of the utility programs.

Rooftop solar installers do not expect the community shared solar arrays to interfere with their business opportunities because subscribers are expected to be from the 48% of businesses and 49% of residences that do not have solar-suitable roofs. It could compete with municipal governments’ community-choice aggregation programs.

Read full article from Utility Drive