Tag Archives: Renewable Energy Policy

Why Rooftop Solar Advocates Are Upset About California’s Clean-Energy Law

By Ivan Penn, The Los Angeles Times

California’s aggressive push to increase renewable energy production comes with a catch for people with solar panels on the roof: You don’t count.

If a home or business has a rooftop solar system, most of the wattage isn’t included in the ambitious requirement to generate half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030, part of legislation signed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown.

That means rooftop solar owners are missing out on a potentially lucrative subsidy that is paid to utilities and developers of big power projects. It also means that utility ratepayers could end up overpaying for clean electricity to meet the state’s benchmark because lawmakers, by excluding rooftop solar, left out the source of more than a third of the state’s solar power.

Owners of rooftop solar systems and their advocates aren’t happy about the policy…The rooftop solar industry and consumer advocates say opposition to including rooftop solar in California’s renewable energy mandate came from large developers that feared competition for subsidies as well as unions that were upset because rooftop solar installers typically aren’t members.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Times

Inside California’s energy politics, the FERC Order 745 case, and the coming storage cost shift

By Gavin Bade, Utility Dive

[Editor’s Note: The following is part of Utility Dive’s coverage of the 2015 Energy Storage North America conference.]

For many power sector observers, California utilities are the ideal partners for forward-thinking regulators looking to adapt the utility business model to the 21st century. California’s investor-owned utilities proclaim their commitment to clean energy technologies demonstrating how they’ve surpassed mandates, accepted more rooftop solar, or integrated large amounts of storage.

Utility executives from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), provided apt examples in their keynotes at the Energy Storage North America conference. All these announcements could logically lead observers to conclude that California utilities have been proactive partners in helping set California’s ambitious clean energy goals. Not exactly, two veteran state legislators told Utility Dive at the conference.

Politics of renewable energy policy:

State Sen. Ben Hueso, chair of the Senate energy and utilities committee, ushered SB 350, the bill that set the state’s 50% RPS, through committee earlier this year. He said that the utilities have always fought hard against any mandates behind closed doors, whether it was SB 350 or earlier efforts. Former Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, echoed Hueso’s observations, but said that the power industry doesn’t behave much differently than others in this respect. “No industry likes mandates,” she said, noting that it took three legislative sessions to usher through the state’s previous 33% RPS, which was met with utility pressure behind closed doors.

California’s new RPS, by contrast, was authored and passed in one legislative session, a feat that Skinner said cannot be overstated. Not only does the bill increase the renewables portfolio standard to 50% by 2030, it also specifically calls on utilities to deploy energy storage and combines the renewables goal with an aggressive efficiency standard. So what changed to get such an aggressive bill passed so quickly?

…Clifford Rechtschaffen, a senior advisor to Brown, said the most important thing was that, in the end, “all of the utilities with the tiny exception of some northern California power agencies that had some qualms, they all supported SB 350.” Rechtschaffen said that while the utilities may have shown some resistance as the bill was working its way through the legislature, most of their concerns were operational in nature. “They weren’t quarreling with the notion that we needed to get to 50%,” he said. “They had concerns about how best to do it — some of which we agree with and others which we aren’t completely in line with, but we’re working on those. Storage is a big part of the solution.”

The role of storage in California’s renewable energy economy:

In a keynote panel discussion the California policymakers highlighted energy storage as the technology that can make 50% renewables and beyond possible for California. Once you get to that level of renewables, Rechtschaffen said, “storage is absolutely critical for grid integration. There’s no arguing about that.”

But the situation for storage, especially in the eyes of utilities, wasn’t always so rosy, Rechtschaffen said. Back in 2014, the state’s IOUs were resistant to the PUC’s mandate to deploy over 1,300 MW of storage on the grid by 2020, worried that the technology wasn’t ready and that it would “put storage in a bad light.”

In reality, the opposite happened, and SCE started off the storage procurements by buying 264 MW, when it was only compelled to purchase 50 MW at the time. For the California policymakers, it was a validation of the power of mandates to drive innovation in the power sector.

Read full article from Utility Dive

Related article: Why energy storage is key to a future with ‘no more gas turbines’ (Utility Dive) – Oct. 15, 2015

Brown signs climate law mandating 50% renewable power by 2030

By David R. Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle

By the end of 2030, half of California’s electricity will come from the wind, the sun and other renewable sources under a new law that sets one of the country’s most ambitious clean-energy targets. The legislation, SB 350, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown, accelerates California’s shift away from fossil fuels as its dominant source of energy and marks another milestone in the state’s fight against climate change.

The law expands a transformation already well under way. For more than a decade, California has required its electrical utility companies to use more renewable power, with the Legislature repeatedly raising the goal. The requirement led to a construction boom for solar power plants and wind farms. But the activity slowed in recent years as developers waited to see whether the Legislature would once again set a higher target. The new law eases that uncertainty, ensuring that California remains a major market for companies that design and build renewable power facilities.

While some business groups have complained that California’s aggressive climate and energy policies could burden local companies with higher costs, the same policies have helped create a thriving clean-technology industry in the state. Supporters of the new law say it sends those companies a signal that the state won’t back off its goals.

Read full article in the San Francisco Chronicle

California Leads a Quiet Revolution

By Beth Gardiner, The New York Times

California is cruising toward its 2020 goal for increasing renewable energy and is setting far more ambitious targets for the future. Its large-scale solar arrays produced more energy in 2014 than those in all other states combined. Half the nation’s solar home rooftops are in the state, and thousands more are added each week.

With its progressive politics, high-tech bent and abundant sunshine, California is fast ramping up its production of clean electricity, setting an example its leaders hope the rest of the country, and other nations, will follow as they seek to cut emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of California in terms of renewables,” said William Nelson, head of North American analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “It’s like an experiment in terms of how quickly we can add solar to the grid.”

Fifteen years after an energy crisis, caused partly by deregulation and market manipulation, brought blackouts and price spikes, the shift has been remarkably smooth, many analysts say. Even without counting the big contribution from home solar generation, 26 percent of the state’s power this year will come from clean sources like the sun and wind, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates. The national average is about 10 percent. “It’s kind of a quiet revolution,” said Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “Nothing weird or strange has happened, electricity prices haven’t shot up or down.”

Read full article in the New York Times

Solar Power International: Moving into Second Gear?

It’s a challenge to summarize what transpired over four days at an event with 600 exhibits, 70 concurrent sessions (forcing choice between 6 at a time), 15 manufacturer-sponsored hands-on training sessions, 10 workshops, plenary sessions, parties and, oh, did I mention solar-supportive keynote remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to an enthusiastic audience.  With participants from over 75 countries, it’s easy to see why Solar Power International (SPI) claims to be the largest and fastest growing solar conference in North America.  But let me try to extract a few themes from this mid-September event sprawled across all four Exhibit Halls at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Clearly the industry is growing.  In advance of the conference, the Solar Energy Industry Association and GTM Research released their quarterly update.  With 1,393 Megawatts of PV capacity installed in the second quarter, the US Solar industry remains on track for an annual forecast total of 7,700 MW.   Of this, 840 MW (60%) was installed in California.  (A brief reminder that the capacity of a typical nuclear powerplant is 1,000 MW.)  The fact that the California Senate and Assembly passed SB350 increasing the state’s current Renewable Energy target of 30% by 2020 to 50% by 2030 days before SPI added to the conference’s buoyancy.  Repeatedly cited was the statistic that California has over 55,000 employees working in the industry (more employees than the state’s top 5 utilities combined).

Clearly the industry faces challenges.  The major one is the currently scheduled expiration of the 30% residential tax credit and reduction of the commercial investment tax credit (ITC) from 30% to 10% fifteen months from now, the Administration’s request for a permanent extension of the ITC not withstanding. A Bloomberg forecast released at the conference anticipates that without an extension, 2017 will see installation activity dropping to its 2012 level.  The loss of the tax credit would hit California’s businesses as hard as elsewhere.  In addition, the fact that California’s Public Utility Commission (CPUC) is in the process of redesigning the utility rate structure, including deciding on an appropriate level of compensation for customers who generate their own solar energy, has the industry on edge.  Utilities have requested the compensation (or credits) allowed solar customers be reduced by 40%, and that fixed fees be added to solar users’ bills.  (If this sounds completely contrary to the legislative action on SB350 cited above, welcome to the world of Government.)

But beneath these Good News / Bad News headlines, several themes emerged that cut across the gazillion specific new product and service announcements.

Energy Storage developments are booming with a variety of technologies and products. Over 50 firms provided products or services related to Storage.  Those in California are as diverse as 90-year old Trojan Battery Company of Santa Fe Springs and Milpitas-based JuiceBox Energy, a start-up barely out of the garage.  Many clustered together on the exhibit floor in a zone known as the “Energy Storage Pavilion.” The CPUC mandate to the state’s three largest Utilities and other energy service providers to procure 1.3 GW of energy storage by 2020 creates an immediate market in California.  And the recognition that commercial electric customers can utilize storage to reduce their bills through reductions in their peak demand charges creates a market rationale for growing storage demand beyond the utility mandate.

Finance is another area experiencing dramatic change.   While the discussion only a couple years ago focused on lease or buy, a plethora of new financial instruments and capital sources have emerged.  Sessions and exhibits provided information on new approaches to debt financing for non-residential projects (which appears to focus on financial support for Commercial and Industrial (C&I) customers, a growing solar niche), Tax equity markets, and the pooling of solar project cash flows (in what’s become known as a YieldCo).  The good news is that investors (not just system owners) are seeing value (!) in PV installations.

And of course there were new panel developments, racking system improvements, Inverter advances and the like.

So what’s the take-away?  The Solar industry is growing through its increased cost-competitiveness as a result of new product and service innovation. This dynamic was well captured by Vice President Biden’s comment, “Anyone who thinks it (Solar) is not happening just take a look at the market.  It’s a competitive choice for consumers. …  Look, this isn’t a government mandate, this is the market working.”  Yes, but the uncertain future of tax credits and utility pushback (in California and elsewhere) continue the uphill slog.

California Entering Uncharted Territory On Clean Energy

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

The Coachella Valley’s state Senator, Republican Jeff Stone, wrote a bill this year urging Congress to extend a 30 percent tax credit for solar energy. The bill sailed unanimously through the Senate, then passed the Assembly with just one dissenting vote. Stone’s resolution was largely symbolic. But its near-unanimous passage spoke volumes.

While national policymakers spin their wheels debating climate science, California is charging ahead to promote clean energy — with support from Democrats and Republicans alike. More than a quarter of the state’s electricity now comes from renewables, and last month lawmakers approved a 50 percent clean energy mandate.

Nowhere has California’s energy revolution been more visible than in the desert, which will host the SoCal Energy and Water Summit Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. But even with strong bipartisan support for clean energy, contentious political battles lie ahead. Already, the state’s clean energy policies have stirred impassioned debates about electricity costs, desert protection and the future of the utility industry.

Those arguments have pitted large-scale solar against rooftop solar, land conservation against clean energy, and utility companies against the world. Experts say California can achieve its 50 percent target, but there’s little agreement on the best way to do it. State officials will need to answer that complex policy question while navigating an increasingly thorny political landscape, knowing the rest of the world is watching to see what they decide.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

Half Of California’s Electricity Will Come From Renewable Energy In 15 Years

By Ryan Koronowski, ThinkProgress.org

Late Friday night, the California State Assembly voted 51-26 to pass SB 350, a landmark bill that would boost renewable energy and make buildings twice as efficient as before. The legislature sent the bill to California Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature, and he is expected to sign it later this month, as the legislation makes real the goals Brown set down earlier this year in his inaugural address.

The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) currently requires utilities to provide 33 percent of their electricity generation from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal power, by 2020. SB 350, The Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015, increases that target to 50 percent by 2030. It also requires a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by that year.

Brown also issued an executive order in January that aims to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 — a big step to the larger 2050 goal of reducing GHGs by 80 percent under 1990 levels. This legislation accelerates the pace to that target.

Read full article from ThinkProgress.org

California pushes forward on renewable power

By Kate Galbraith, CALmatters

At a Pacific Gas and Electric power plant east of San Francisco, greenhouse gases flow from a stack as the air shimmers from heat, with no dirty cloud of pollution in sight. In the distance, wind turbines spin slowly under a cloudy sky. Nearby, local schools are celebrating the addition of solar panels to their roofs and parking structures.

The state’s electric power sources are poised to get cleaner still. In 15 years, California’s electric utilities would need to get fully half their electricity from renewable sources, if SB 350, which is working its way through the Legislature, passes. The goal, called a renewable portfolio standard, can almost certainly be met, though it will require utilities to make behind-the-scenes adjustments as they juggle different types of energy. California’s plan, a piece of a broader strategy for battling climate change, is considerably more ambitious than most other states’ efforts.

California’s electricity providers have already made strong efforts to add solar and wind power, and have never used much coal — a big reason why the state will feel little impact from the new federal rule. Between 2000 and 2013, greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s electric sector fell considerably faster than emissions overall, largely because of renewable energy mandates, first enacted in 2002 and strengthened in 2008 in by then-Gov. Schwarzenegger’s executive order.

The order, which subsequently became law, requires utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. However, not all forms of renewable energy get counted. Large hydropower projects are excluded. So are most rooftop solar panel installations, as opposed to the large solar arrays in the desert, which do count. That is a point of contention in the current bill, with utilities and solar installers arguing that rooftop systems also should count.

Read full article from CALmatters

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.

Debate Over California’s Renewable Energy Expansion Goes Through The Roof

By Jeremy B. White, The Sacramento Bee

A political fight over California’s renewable energy industry is playing out in the corridors of power, but it deals with something closer to home: your rooftop.

Capitol policymakers are advancing an ambitious proposal to have renewable sources generate half of the state’s electricity by 2030, up from the 33 percent benchmark already in law.

The full force of California’s political establishment backs the goal: Gov. Jerry Brown pitched the idea, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, has promoted it aggressively, and bills enshrining the new standard passed both the Senate and the Assembly with strong Democratic support.

The question now seems less whether the new goal will be enacted than how utilities will get there. With the clean energy industry anticipating an opportunity for more business, California’s rooftop solar firms are fighting to be included – and meeting resistance from other industry players.

“The rooftop solar is going to be a big policy issue,” said Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, who chairs the committee overseeing utilities and energy. “It’s also going to be a big political issue.”

Read full article in the Sacramento Bee