Car dealership in Dallas installs 37 solar canopies for both revenue generation, inventory protection

Sunfinity Renewable energy

Dallas-based El Dorado Chevrolet / Mazda of McKinney, has collaborated and contracted with Sunfinity Renewable Energy of Dallas and The Ratliff Group of Coppell in an innovative program that turns solar power into a tool for generating positive cash flow that can be used for a variety of corporate growth and expansion goals. El Dorado Chevrolet is now being recognized as the first green automotive dealership in the nation.

“Our commitment to solar canopies is our biggest environmental initiative to date,” said Stanley Graff, owner of El Dorado Chevrolet. “Sunfinity was able to show us how to benefit the environment and our bottom line all at the same time, and that’s an unbeatable combination.”

Other environmentally oriented programs at El Dorado Chevrolet include landscape design using plants suited for Texas with low water requirements, along with a major recycling program to cut solid waste disposal by 35% or more.

The new solar system will turn El Dorado’s buildings into Net-Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB), with the total amount of renewable energy created on the site exceeding the energy used by the buildings on an annual basis. Graff further states, “This will significantly reduce our cost structure, and we will be able to pass these savings on to our customers.”

According to John Billingsley, Chairman, and CEO of Sunfinity Renewable Energy, the plan centers on powerful system design combined with leveraging Retail Electric Provider programs in deregulated Texas that credit excess electric generation exported to the grid back to the originating business. “While this ‘net metering’ concept is law in some other states, it isn’t mandated in Texas,” said Billingsley. “However, our Commercial & Industrial team has identified ways to, in effect, create net metering-like cash flows for a business.”

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The El Dorado system features 37 new car canopies topped with 3,456 solar panels, installed at El Dorado Chevrolet / Mazda. These canopies will produce more electricity than is used on the entire 28-acre campus, which is home to El Dorado Chevrolet / El Dorado Mazda. The excess energy not used on site will be exported to the state’s power grid, generating electricity credits for El Dorado. The system is estimated to offset more than 45 million kilowatt-hours of electricity over a 30-year life, saving El Dorado more than $4 million in electricity expenses which can be reinvested into the business.

“This type of project is a win-win-win,” said Billingsley. “El Dorado receives a lower utility budget certainty for decades, which enables them to dedicate those dollars to other business-building initiatives. The project helps the Texas grid by supplying power when it’s most needed. And the community benefits environmentally because El Dorado will be offsetting a significant amount of CO2 – equivalent to replacing over 35 million pounds of coal burned.”

Benefits beyond solar

“We have been looking for a solution to the rising insurance premiums due to hail damage for our automotive clients for several years and have been impressed with the Sunfinity solar solution to car protection and electricity generation in one clean package,” said Bennett Ratliff, President of The Ratliff Group. “We believe this is a solution that delivers incredible value for El Dorado Chevrolet / Mazda and will be a model for the industry.”

In addition to generating over a megawatt of clean energy, the Sunfinity-designed canopies
will protect one of the largest automotive inventories in the North Texas region from hail and weather damage, and provide a shaded, protected environment for customers to shop. (El Dorado has up to 1,600 vehicles in inventory.) The Ratliff Group, LLC represents El Dorado Chevrolet / Mazda as their owner’s representative and construction manager and projects construction will begin in the first quarter of 2019.

— Solar Builder magazine

Texas to improve its Smart Meter Texas portal, making it easier to access distributed generation

solar texas smart meters

The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) approved recommended improvements to streamline the Smart Meter Texas (SMT) portal at the Commission’s Open Meeting. Implementation of the approved changes will make it easier for customers in competitive electricity areas of Texas to choose energy management providers for services such as energy efficiency, demand response, distributed generation, and other energy software products and services. Under the settlement agreement, these “competitive service providers” (CSPs) are not considered retail electric providers — which get more revenue when customers use more electricity — but rather are companies that specialize in providing services to help customers better manage how much energy they use, when they use it, and how much they spend on their monthly bills.

“Energy data by itself is not helpful to most customers, but when energy experts can interpret that data and provide concrete actions customers can take to change their electricity use — that results in real dollars saved by customers,” said Suzanne Bertin, Executive Director of Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance (TAEBA), a business association of advanced energy companies in Texas. “Those energy savings instead can be spent on other products and services in the Texas economy. All of us who were involved appreciate PUCT’s approval of this settlement, which will make this data easier for customers to obtain and put to work and save them money.”

RELATED: Texas rate case settled — what’s the outcome for solar customers?

Smart meters in Texas

Texas was one of the first states to deploy advanced meters in 2008, with the Smart Meter Texas portal being a feature unique to Texas. The SMT portal provides a way for customers to download and view their own energy data or share it with companies that can help interpret the data and suggest actions to save money.

As originally designed, the SMT portal has been difficult for customers to use, resulting in very few taking advantage of the system. The improved SMT access resulting from this settlement agreement will allow customers to opt-in to data sharing with their chosen competitive providers with a simple and secure one-click email consent.

With this decision, Texas will be updating the Smart Meter Texas portal to be more in line with national standards such as Green Button, which provides a standardized data format for software developers to develop application programming interfaces (APIs) with the system. Standardization will promote new business development in the state as advanced energy companies offer new products and services to help customers manage their energy use.

“We’ve seen that customers are discouraged from enrolling in programs with unnecessarily time-intensive, complex, and complicated steps,” said Laura Kier, Senior Associate, Market Operations, at EnergyHub, a residential demand response and grid services provider. “This more streamlined process for Smart Meter Texas is crucial to creating a positive customer experience, and one that encourages customers take advantage of new energy services.”

“EnerNOC, an Enel Group Company, has been unlocking value to its commercial and industrial customers while contributing toward grid reliability through participation in ERCOT’s Emergency Response Services (ERS) for years,” said Mona Tierney-Lloyd, Sr. Director, Western Regulatory Affairs, EnerNOC. “Now, our customers can get the information they want and the services they need much more easily.”

”The settlement agreement is part of a nationwide trend toward increasing usability of utility-controlled websites,” said Michael Murray, President of Mission:data Coalition, a non-profit. “For several years the law in Texas has provided customers with rights to access their energy data, but exercising those rights in practice has been difficult. This agreement remedies that, and we applaud the PUCT for approving the settlement.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Texas rate case settled — what’s the outcome for solar customers?

El paso texas rate case

The Public Utility Commission of Texas approved a Final Order in El Paso Electric Company’s rate case, the latest in the utility’s ongoing attempt to punish solar customers. The outcome will please early residential adopters of solar, who will be grandfathered in under the rates they signed up for, but from here, solar customers will have a monthly minimum to deal with.

“While this settlement is far from perfect, SEIA is pleased that the El Paso Electric Company was willing to negotiate with the many parties in this case,” says Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “However, we do have some remaining concerns about the future of the solar market in this territory. The newly-established rate structure for those looking to go solar has become much more complicated, leaving the burden on future solar customers to choose their family’s rate very carefully.

As the Solar Market Insight report shows from Q3, Texas is one of the fastest-growing solar markets in the country, so any new impediments are a bummer for sure.

What’s in the order?

The Order establishes baseline revenue requirements for recovery of future transmission and distribution investment costs, and includes a minimum monthly bill of $30 for new residential customers with distributed generation, such as private rooftop solar. Additionally, the Order allows for the annual recovery of $2.1 million of nuclear decommissioning funding and establishes annual depreciation expense that is approximately $1.9 million lower than the annual amount requested by the Company in its initial filing. Finally, the Order allows for the Company to recover revenues associated with the relation back of rates to consumption on and after July 18, 2017 through a separate surcharge.

New rates are anticipated to be implemented in January 2018. As a result of the non-fuel base rate increase, the Company’s Texas residential customers will likely see an average monthly bill increase of $3.50 and $5.00 in winter and summer months, respectively.

El Paso Electric Company is a regional electric utility providing generation, transmission and distribution service to approximately 417,000 retail and wholesale customers in a 10,000 square mile area of the Rio Grande valley in west Texas and southern New Mexico.

The value proposition of AC panels

— Solar Builder magazine

Texas State College expands solar energy tech program to meet growing industry needs

texas solar

To deploy more solar, more people must be ready and interested in doing so. Within a state with a lot of potential, Texas State Technical College is growing its Solar Energy Technology program and poised to fill an expected growth of jobs in the state. Equipment used for program lectures and labs will be moved throughout the spring semester from an older metal building on Airline Drive to a newer, larger structure up the road next to the Building Construction Technology program’s building. The new building provides more space to teach solar energy design, troubleshooting, solar thermal systems and other classes.

“Having spent several years in the industry recently, I have a detailed understanding of what employers require in their employees,” said Hugh Whitted, a Solar Energy Technology instructor at TSTC. “Using this experience, I have made adjustments to curriculum and labs that allow students to be successful employees.”

TSTC is helping to contribute to the state’s growing solar energy industry. Solar energy technology jobs grew in Texas by more than 30 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to The Solar Foundation’s 2016 National Solar Jobs Census. In 2015, there were 7,030 industry jobs and in 2016, the workforce grew to more than 9,300. This put Texas third in the country in solar energy jobs, followed by California and Massachusetts.

RELATED: PV in schools: Education sector is one of solar’s best opportunities 

Texas had about 21,000 commercial and residential properties using solar panels as of summer 2016, according to the Texas Solar Energy Society. Usage has been seen primarily in parts of Texas that use deregulated energy sources and in the Austin and San Antonio areas, according to information compiled by the state solar energy society.

“Solar is growing in Texas right now,” Whitted said. “With federal rebates and local rebates being offered and a climate that makes solar very productive, many individuals and businesses are adding in solar power.”


There were more than 260,000 solar jobs in the United States in 2016, according to the solar jobs report. Nine percent of the workers were veterans, while 28 percent were women and 17 percent were Hispanic. TSTC offers the Associate of Applied Science degree in Solar Energy Technology. Since 2011, the program has had more than 20 graduates.

— Solar Builder magazine

Freedom Solar launches new rebate program for rural solar customers

Texas-based Freedom Solar announced a substantial new incentive for homeowners serviced in rural electric cooperatives (outside of Austin and San Antonio) to install solar on their homes.

“Our commitment as a company is to increase solar adoption across all areas of Texas, especially to the 75 rural electric cooperatives that serve more than 3 million residents but do not offer any economic incentives for solar generation,” says Kyle Frazier, director of sales.

freedom solar incentives

The deal

Freedom Solar is offering qualifying homeowners an up-front rebate of 15 cents per watt, up to $3,000. A qualifying homeowner is anyone who lives in a utility territory that does not currently offer a rebate for solar.

The discount represents the value of renewable energy credits generated by the residential solar system, which Freedom Solar will purchase from the customer and retire as part of the company’s commitment to building a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Freedom Solar started utilizing the policy of purchasing renewable energy credits to offset the carbon footprint associated with its operations last year, and hopes to become entirely carbon-neutral by 2018.

Bret Biggart, managing director, says: “Over the past decade we’ve seen solar prices decrease and solar efficiency increase dramatically; however, the upfront cost of solar installations often makes it impossible for rural Texas residents to transition to renewable energy because they don’t have access to the same substantial solar rebates offered by municipal city utilities. We’ve introduced this new program to change that and make solar accessible to all Texans.”

Freedom Solar’s innovative rural rebate program is made possible by their partnership with SunPower as a master dealer, the only company with that distinction in Texas. Freedom Solar will be able to provide 40 homeowners with this incentive to per quarter, for a total of 160 budgeted per year.

— Solar Builder magazine