Tag Archives: Pg&e

PG&E Free: Revolutionary Energy at Stone Edge Farm in Sonoma, California

By Jonah Raskin, CounterPunch

Pacific Gas & Electric has never had many loyal friends, not since 1905 when the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company and the California Gas and Electric Corporation merged to form the utility giant usually referred to as PG&E.

The company has been increasingly unpopular ever since gas leaks led to a big explosion and the death of consumers— eight people in San Bruno just south of San Francisco. Nor has the company made new friends ever since its power lines were found to have caused wild fires and huge property losses in California.

Earlier this year—to protect its profits and stockholders— the company filed for bankruptcy, though it still has citizens in a chokehold otherwise known as a monopoly. If consumers want electricity and gas in their homes and businesses they have little choice but to rely on PG&E, which owns and controls the power lines.

There are alternatives, including Sonoma Clean Power that sources clean energy from renewables: geothermal, water, wind, solar, and biomass. But Sonoma Clean Power doesn’t have its own power lines. PG&E has said it will cut off all power if and when there’s wild fire and high winds. That could save lives and protect property, but it also sounds like PG&E letting Californians know that it’s still the all-powerful boss.

With big bucks, access to the latest technology and technological wizards, citizens can by-pass PG&E. That’s what Mac and Leslie McQuown have done at Stone Edge Farm, a model of organic agriculture and a center for innovation in the field of energy. The farm is on Carriger Road, outside the town of Sonoma, where olives and grapes are grown. Not long ago, the visionary McQuowns had a big dream: reduce their carbon footprint. They’ve realized that dream and gone beyond it. Now, Stone Edge generates electrical power on a micro-grid that serves all its energy needs. 

Read full article from CounterPunch

California solar plus storage shows consistent installs, residential growth

By John Weaver, pv magazine

The California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA) has collected and shared data on California’s behind the meter solar+storage activity in the first half of 2019, with data that goes back to the beginning of 2016.

The data suggests that within the three main investor owned utilities – San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric – commercial interconnections are running slightly behind the 2018 numbers in terms of projects interconnected. However, residential systems seem to be picking up a bit. 

One chart that gives a bit of indigestion is the time for approval for stand alone and solar+storage installations – if only because of the high variance, but also because quite a few larger projects take more than a year to get approved. The projects are divided into residential, commercial, education and industrial with time frames ranging roughly from 30 to 60 days for residential, to two years for industrial systems. Adding solar power to a storage installation seems to speed up the amount of time for a residential installation, however, it slows a commercial installation.

In Pacific Gas & Electric territory 20% of residential energy storage systems are stand alone, while in the other territories solar is coupled with storage 99-100% of time. Commercial installations had an inverse relationship though – with only 40% of storage projects coupled with solar power, suggesting the market is being driven by other factors like demand charges.

Read full article from pv magazine

 

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

Opinion: How Lackluster Grid Maintenance Jeopardizes California’s Green Energy Future

By Ariel Cohen (Contributor), Forbes

In Part I of this story, I examined the factors that led to California’s now infamous ‘Camp Fire’ and the bankruptcy of the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E). It turns out that while climate change, forest mismanagement, and overzealous lawmakers share some of the blame, PG&E is at the center of this multibillion-dollar catastrophe.

But in California, it is ratepayers, shareholders, and green energy that will pay the greatest price. PG&E has been a key partner in California’s green energy agenda, investing aggressively in solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects over the past decade. Last year renewables accounted for 33% of PG&E’s power mix — an impressive amount by industry standards. However, PG&E’s bankruptcy in the wake of the Camp Fire means that a lack of trust (and credit) in the utility could imperil the state’s green energy sector, and with it dreams of 100% carbon-free power by 2045.

Green power is now an uncertain space to do business in California, and we are already seeing the consequences: a major PG&E solar farm – Topaz – had their credit rating downgraded even before PG&E officially filed for bankruptcy, imperiling the clean electricity it provides to roughly 180,000 homes in California. The credit agency Fitch Ratings recently downgraded NextEra Energy’s 250-megawatt Genesis Solar project in the Sonoran Desert, citing its link to PG&E. Others are on the chopping block.

More critically, bankruptcy court might also jeopardize PG&E’s many long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with renewable energy providers. From a financial perspective, it makes sense for PG&E to tear up these contracts and start anew. The falling cost of wind and solar means that energy prices negotiated in 2012 and 2013 are three to four times higher per megawatt hour (MWh) than they are today. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (NEF), the estimated remaining obligation on these PPAs are more than $2 billion, though they would be worth only around $800 million at current market rates. Restructuring these contracts in court would increase cashflow, affording PG&E a much-needed liquidity boost to help deal with mounting liabilities.

Read full article at Forbes

 

The Looming Bankruptcy Battle Over PG&E’s Renewable Energy Contracts

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

If Pacific Gas & Electric goes bankrupt, who gets final say over whether it can renegotiate its old and expensive solar power-purchase agreements — federal regulators or the bankruptcy court?

This multibillion-dollar question has come to the fore as PG&E, overwhelmed by tens of billions of dollars in potential wildfire liabilities, prepares to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as early as tomorrow.

Last week, PG&E solar provider NextEra asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use its authority under the Federal Power Act to order the utility not to “abrogate, amend or reject in bankruptcy any of the rates, terms and conditions of its wholesale power-purchase agreements,” including hundreds of megawatts of decade-old solar farms that are selling power at far above today’s market rates. Consolidated Edison, which counts PG&E as an offtaker for nearly one-third of its renewable energy portfolio, also weighed in last week to ask FERC to expedite NextEra’s request.

Late Friday, FERC offered these companies a lifeline, with an order declaring that it has “concurrent jurisdiction” with federal bankruptcy courts over whether utilities in bankruptcy can breach their contracts. But PG&E, even though it hasn’t filed for bankruptcy yet, maintains that a bankruptcy court, not FERC, should decide which PPAs and other power-purchase contracts it can breach and which it can’t. 

Read full article from Greentech Media

The $2.5 trillion reason we can’t rely on batteries to clean up the grid

By James Temple, MIT Technology Review

A pair of 500-foot smokestacks rise from a natural-gas power plant on the harbor of Moss Landing, California, casting an industrial pall over the pretty seaside town. If state regulators sign off, however, it could be the site of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery project by late 2020, helping to balance fluctuating wind and solar energy on the California grid.

The 300-megawatt facility is one of four giant lithium-ion storage projects that Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility, asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve in late June. Collectively, they would add enough storage capacity to the grid to supply about 2,700 homes for a month (or to store about .0009 percent of the electricity the state uses each year).

The California projects are among a growing number of efforts around the world, including Tesla’s 100-megawatt battery array in South Australia, to build ever larger lithium-ion storage systems as prices decline and renewable generation increases. They’re fueling growing optimism that these giant batteries will allow wind and solar power to displace a growing share of fossil-fuel plants.

But there’s a problem with this rosy scenario. These batteries are far too expensive and don’t last nearly long enough, limiting the role they can play on the grid, experts say. If we plan to rely on them for massive amounts of storage as more renewables come online—rather than turning to a broader mix of low-carbon sources like nuclear and natural gas with carbon capture technology—we could be headed down a dangerously unaffordable path.

Read full article from MIT Technology Review

 

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.

Utilities look to reverse net metering decision

By Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego Gas and Electric and two other major California utilities Monday filed applications urging the California Public Utilities Commission to hold a rehearing to vacate or make “modifications” to its decision keeping retail rate net metering in place until 2019.

“We feel it’s in the best interest of our customers to re-look at this issue and consumer advocates actually agree, as they have taken similar action,” said SDG&E representative Amber Albrecht.

In January, in a tense 3-2 vote, the CPUC sided with solar backers over utilities that insist they are not trying to blunt the growth of solar power in California. Instead, utilities say the net metering system that pays rooftop solar customers for the excess electricity their systems send back to the grid is unfair to consumers who don’t have solar energy systems. Solar companies and their customers say the power their systems generate helps lower strain on the electrical grid and reduces the need to buy power during times of high demand.

The commission — in a ruling that ran more than 150 pages — agreed to keep tying credits to retail rates, rather than near wholesale rates that other states use. The CPUC said it will continue to re-evaluate the rules but the decision was widely viewed as a big win for solar, as other states such as Nevada have rolled back some solar incentives.

SDG&E filed its application for rehearing jointly with Southern California Edison, calling on the CPUC to make changes to its decision. Pacific Gas and Electric also filed paperwork Monday, the deadline for applications for a rehearing, looking to get the commission to vacate its ruling. The CPUC has 120 days to respond to the requests for a rehearing.

Read full article in the San Diego Union-Tribune

PG&E Launches Program To Let All Customers Go 100% Solar

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has officially launched its previously announced program to extend the option for 100% solar power to all customers, whether or not they are planning to install rooftop solar.

Under PG&E’s Solar Choice program, customers can purchase half or all of their electric power from solar energy locally sourced in northern and central California for what the utility calls a modest charge. PG&E says this will allow customers to reduce their carbon footprint and drive the development of new solar resources within the state.

“PG&E’s Solar Choice program is all about giving customers more choice and control over their energy and bringing the benefits of solar to our communities. Our customers already enjoy some of the cleanest power in the country. Now, they can directly contribute to bringing more renewable energy onto the electric grid – a win for our customers and for California,” says Laurie Giammona, PG&E’s senior vice president and chief customer officer.

Additionally, participating organizations could qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) points for green building leadership, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership for electricity generated from renewable resources.

Read full article from Solar Industry

Related Article: New PG&E Program Lets Customers Choose Solar (CleanTechnica) – Feb. 28, 2016

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