Tag Archives: Utilities

California’s huge solar projects causing energy poverty

By Thomas D. Elias, The Los Angeles Daily News

When ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made their way onto a hot, dry alkali flat just west of the Interstate 15 freeway between Barstow and Las Vegas in late 2010, all anyone knew for sure was that they were opening an era of giantism in solar electricity in California. What no one could predict was that they were also putting a stamp of approval on the spread of energy poverty in many parts of this state.

The Ivanpah dry lake on which the two former officials proudly strode that day now hosts a huge solar farm easily visible as a glassy sea of deep blue to travelers just southwest of the California-Nevada state line. Ivanpah, built largely with federal loans, is the second-largest of half a dozen desert-region solar thermal developments that produce many thousands of megawatts for privately-owned utilities like Southern California Edison Co., Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

Besides paying for the energy produced by those plants, including construction costs, the big utilities have erected hundreds of miles of power transmission lines to bring the sun’s energy to big cities in all parts of California. When they do that, they receive about 14 percent profit on their constructions costs each year for 20 years.

The solar farms are part of a plan first adopted by executive order by Schwarzenegger and later expanded on by current Gov. Jerry Brown. By 2020, California is to produce one-third of its electricity from renewable sources. By 2030, that’s supposed to rise to one-half. Of course, the current four-year drought has tossed a wrench into some of the calculations behind those mandates, causing enormous cuts in the power produced by hydroelectric dams for more than a century.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Daily News

State Policy, Utilities Ignite Community Solar Growth

By Rebecca Kern, Bloomberg BNA News

The community solar market is heating up thanks to favorable state legislation and interest from utilities in installing solar panels that provide cost-sharing among consumers who don’t have access to rooftop solar. With nearly 50 percent of the households and businesses unable to host rooftop solar systems, community solar is a largely untapped market for consumers looking to invest in solar, which is becoming cheaper than retail electricity in parts of the country.

Developers, analysts and utilities predict that the pace of community solar will continue to grow in the future as prices of solar decline and more utilities get involved. Solar developers and utility companies are driving a lot of the growth in the community solar market, leading to a projected 59 percent annual growth rate over the next five years. Legislation in a handful of states encouraging the development of community solar systems has also driven a lot of the growth in community solar over the past several years.

Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York are the states that “have set forth mandates in a very cookie-cutter program design to attract a lot of companies that are looking to scale up their community solar presence quickly,” Cory Honeyman, a senior analyst at GTM Research, said. Much of the near-term growth in community solar is concentrated in those four or five state markets “that have the right design in place for scale,” and 90 percent of the installations expected in 2015 and 2016 will take place in states with community solar legislation in effect.

Community solar is currently economically viable in parts of the country where electricity rates are high and has the potential to become more competitive in the future, analysts and developers say. The savings that community solar subscribers receive depend on the cost of electricity in the region and the solar resources in the state, and the electricity rates depend on the competitiveness of the electricity market, Glen Andersen, energy program manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said. “They have high electricity rates in California, for example, so it does make [community solar] more competitive. But if you were in a state like Kentucky, where electricity rates are really low, whether or not you’re going to see savings over just buying it from the utility is more questionable,” Andersen said.

Read full article from Bloomberg BNA

Related article: Note to Utilities: Here’s Why 2015 is the ‘Tipping Point’ for Community Solar (Aug 11)

 

Is California’s Net Metering 2.0 a Solar Tax Risk?

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

Everyone agrees that net-metered rooftop solar doesn’t pay income tax. But nobody really knows how Uncle Sam will treat feed-in tariffs, wholesale export compensation, and other arrangements that California’s utilities are suggesting to replace the state’s net metering regime — and that’s a risk exposure the industry shouldn’t have to bear.

Solar groups have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to consider this argument as it mulls the biggest changes to state solar policy in over a decade. Under AB 327, the CPUC has until the end of 2015 to create a successor “NEM 2.0” tariff that balances solar, utility and non-solar customers’ needs, and will apply to all new customers starting as early as next year.

The NEM 2.0 proceeding has pitted utilities, whose proposals would roughly halve the per-kilowatt-hour rates that customers are paid for their net-exported solar, against solar and environmental advocates, who have argued in favor of keeping net metering the way it is. Utility proposals would also impose fixed or per-kilowatt-hour charges, and impose other restrictions that chafe solar advocates.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Beyond batteries: The diverse technologies vying for the bulk storage market

By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

All the talk in the electric utility industry these days seems to be about battery storage, but there are other ways to save generated electricity for later.

With more demanding state renewable portfolio standards, the finalization of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and utilities increasingly turning to renewables as a least-cost option, grid operators are likely to need more and bigger storage options by the mid-2020s, if not before.

“The excitement in the market now is around the policies we have in place, which very specifically exclude big pumped hydro applications,” explained California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA) Sr. Advisor Mark Higgins, the VP/COO at Strategen Consulting. “Those policies were designed to create a diversity of technologies. Bulk storage would work against that.”

But, Higgins said, by around 2024, when California gets to about 40% renewables, there will be a real need to shift excess renewable energy supplies from the middle of the day to the late afternoon and evening. “That will require storage resources that can handle big amounts of energy over long periods of time.” Higgins expects California regulators to again take the lead, as they did with the AB 2514 policy now driving battery technology growth, and put in place incentives for long duration storage technologies. Following is an overview of some of the diverse technologies vying for the bulk storage market…

Read full article from Utility Dive

Renewable Energy’s Potential May Be Understated

By Gabriel Kahn, The Wall Street Journal

In February 2013, California energy officials sat down with power-industry executives to figure out how to avert an approaching calamity: The rapid rollout of wind and solar electricity was stressing the state’s grid. The more renewable energy California added, the more its power supply could be whipsawed by a cloudy day or a windy storm. Some at the meeting warned that problems, such as rolling brownouts, could start to show up later that year.

Those same worries were being echoed across the county as state authorities struggled to load aging electricity grids with ever-greater amounts of renewable power. At the time, renewable energy accounted for about 14% of California’s electricity output. Today, California often gets as much as 30% of its power from renewables; there are periods of the day when production can soar to 40%. California legislators just approved a plan that would require half of all power to come from renewables by 2030. Still, the tipping point the power industry feared hasn’t materialized.

The experience of California and other states with high concentrations of solar and wind is challenging long-held assumptions about the limits of renewable energy. As the boundary of what is considered possible expands, so does the momentum around investment in new technology and resources. Plenty of risks still remain. But the fact that the grid has been able to handle more renewables than previously thought is driving massive changes through the industry. One of the places it is being felt most acutely is among utilities.

Read full article in the Wall Street Journal

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

8 Facts That Explain SDG&E’s Complicated Relationship With Rooftop Solar

By Lisa Halverstadt, Voice of San Diego

Despite San Diego’s reputation as a solar mecca, San Diego Gas & Electric and the rooftop solar industry are consistently at odds.

In some ways, the game is rigged for these two to be foes: Rooftop solar has grown rapidly with the help of incentives and mandates, forcing SDG&E to integrate it. State requirements have ensured disagreements between the two play out publicly at the statehouse and at the Public Utilities Commission.

SDG&E has long argued, for example, that solar customers aren’t paying their fair share for use of the power grid, an argument being pushed by utilities across the nation. The solar industry and its supporters say SDG&E’s missing the big picture and discounting the value of rooftop solar, which allows everyday San Diegans to help the region reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. That’s far from the only dispute, though.

Here’s a breakdown of the realities contributing to SDG&E’s strained relationship with the solar industry…

Read full article from Voice of San Diego

Power companies may have found a new way to crack into the booming solar business

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post

There’s a tense dynamic accompanying the rapid growth of solar in the United States—in which traditional utility companies, nervous about the spread of rooftop solar panels, are seeking ways to limit the compensation earned by solar customers for the extra electricity they provide to the grid—a system known as net metering.  This battle over net metering has been often depicted as a zero sum conflict between an upstart and an incumbent, but new research out of the University of Texas at Austin suggests there could be a kind of “middle ground” in the conflict between some utilities and solar installers.

The potential “win-win,” as the researchers put it, involves community solar—solar energy projects or panels that are in effect shared by a group of people. Their research suggests that community shared solar has the potential for “stabilizing the customer-utility relationship with deeper solar penetration.”

The new study, recently published in Energy Research & Social Science, found that at least some utility companies seem to like community solar programs, are already offering them, and plan to expand them. One key reason? Customers clearly want access to solar, and some utility industry representatives find community solar to be a great way to give it to them—in a manner that allows the utility to continue to service these customers’ full electricity demand, that is.  The research also suggests that community solar is yet another way—beyond getting directly into the business of installing rooftop solar—that traditional power companies seem to be finding their way into the hot residential solar market.

The state of California has even mandated that its three main utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric — begin to offer community solar programs, and on a large scale. The utilities are slated to set up 600 megawatts of community solar capacity by 2019.

Read full article in the Washington Post

A Revolutionary Roadmap for California’s Distributed Energy Future

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

California is already changing its utility and energy regulations to incorporate rooftop solar, behind-the-meter energy storage, plug-in electric vehicles and other grid-edge resources, arguably faster than any other state. But a group of utilities and energy industry members have ideas for even more radical transformations ahead.

On Tuesday, the Advanced Energy Economy Institute released a report that calls for California regulators to consider entirely new ways for its major utilities to invest in and operate a distributed energy resource-rich grid, and how to get paid for it. The report, Toward a 21st Century Electricity System in California, lays out a laundry list of concepts that could help utilities shed their institutional need for investing in traditional generation and grid infrastructure, and encourage them to embrace customer-owned and third-party-controlled distributed energy resources (DERs) as an alternative.

The ideas aren’t that novel in and of themselves. What’s more noteworthy is the list of participants in the working group that created the document. That list includes California utilities Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, as well as DER providers like SolarCity, Stem, SunPower, Enphase, EnerNOC, ChargePoint and SunEdison, which have at times sparred with the state’s utilities over how to balance utility and third-party interests when it comes to distributed energy.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Related article: Report—Incentives hold back clean energy (The San Diego Union Tribune)

California’s Solar Industry Fights Back on Net Metering 2.0

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

California’s biggest utilities want future net-metered rooftop solar systems to earn less for the energy they feed to the grid and solar customers to pay extra charges to cover the costs of serving them grid power.  California’s solar industry has a different idea: keep things the way they are — and don’t believe utilities when they say they and their non-solar customers can’t afford it.

In filings this week, key solar groups The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to retain key features of the state’s net metering regime, including full retail payments for the power that rooftop solar systems feed back to the grid. That’s in stark contrast to proposals from the state’s three large investor-owned utilities, which ask the CPUC to lower payments, impose new charges, and make other changes that would reduce the economic payback of future net-metered solar systems. Utilities say that today’s net-metering regime unfairly slants compensation toward rooftop solar and will impose billions of dollars of cost shifts to non-solar customers if not changed.

Read full article from Greentech Media