Political solar news roundup: Utah net metering fight, ITC case stalls Minn. PV plant, SEIA adds to board

Utah rooftop solar installs in standstill

utah net metering solar

The Utah rooftop solar rate debate is reaching its peak, and thus creating uncertainty in the local market. Last November, Rocky Mountain Power proposed charging solar rooftop customers installation fees and nearly triple monthly customer charges and peak-time usage, which the solar industry and solar adopters objected to. The proposal will now be considered over the next two weeks by the Utah Public Service Commission in two hearings – one for public input and one to consider the proposal.

As the Spectrum reports, the same arguments are being put forth that are always put forth.
In a study supporting the measure, RMP researchers suggest the typical rooftop solar customer underpays their actual cost of service by about $400 per year, and with an estimated 20,000 rooftop solar customers it amounts to millions statewide that other customers must pay to make up the difference.

People with solar systems on their homes typically stay connected to the power grid, allowing them to purchase power from the utility as needed or to sell off any excess power generated back to the utility.

But RMP authors argue the utility pays full retail price for the solar-produced power, meaning that solar customers aren’t being charged equitably for capital investments or infrastructure like work crews and power lines. The buyback rate from rooftop is sometimes three times the rate the utility pays for solar from large-scale facilities.

And then the same counters are being countered by solar advocates.

Utah Clean Energy, a Salt Lake City-area think-tank, produced its own analysis of RMP’s numbers and concluded that the utility was undervaluing solar’s benefits, leaving out the fact that generation taking place on rooftops doesn’t need to be done elsewhere, lowering transmission costs and the demands for new generation facilities. The analysis concludes rooftop solar customers are actually saving the utility $1.3 million annually.

And just like its neighbor Nevada, solar adopters are preparing for the rug to be pulled out from under them.

Solar companies and their customers fear higher costs will slow the booming industry and community benefits, like cleaner air. Among them are the Searles, who scraped up the money last year to put 14 solar panels on their modest home in Rose Park.

Erin Searles says a rate hike now would undercut their investment.
“It’s kind of a punch in the gut, honestly,” she says. “You know, we did this for the right reasons. It’s, it’s completely unfair.”

Solar panel manufacturer unsure about Minnesota investment now

The Suniva trade petition hearings draw near. You can prep yourself with all of our previous coverage here:

Suniva case watch: SEIA sends out four ways you can help this week

GTM Research predicts solar market doomsday scenario if Suniva’s proposal is approved

SEIA explains plan to lead fight against Suniva petition, remedies for the future

But we travel to Minnesota where Heliene Inc., a Canadian manufacturer that just opened a state-side manufacturing plant in a jobs-starved former mining region – or at least they hope to do so, still. Much will depend on the ITC ruling.

From the Star Tribune:

The Iron Range is no stranger to trade disputes. Usually it’s on the other side, trying to stop cheap foreign steel from glutting the market. The region is only just beginning to fight its way back from a recent market slump that idled half of its mines and threw thousands of people out of work.

“I’d much rather see our friends in Canada helping out” with a new business on the Range “than some of our foreign competitors who have flooded the market with solar in the past,” said state Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, who signed on to a letter to the ITC in July against the tariffs. “We’re excited for the opportunity to make solar manufacturing work up here on the Iron Range.”

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board hopes to invest $10 million on new equipment for the plant, which eventually would employ 25 to 70 workers.

SEIA adds to board of directors

SEIA

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has added three companies to its board of directors:

  • Tradewind Energy, Inc., a Kansas City-based developer of utility scale wind and solar projects,
  • DEPCOM Power, a development, engineering, procurement, construction, operation and maintenance company for utility-scale solar and
  • McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., a national general contractor.

“The addition of these three great companies is another strong indication that the broader solar industry is stepping up to fight for this industry’s future,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “At a time when the solar industry is both enjoying significant growth and facing a trade challenge, DEPCOM, McCarthy and Tradewind Energy are making an important contribution to the whole industry, and we are thrilled to have them on board.”

Tradewind is actively developing wind and solar sites in 22 states throughout the central and eastern regions of the U.S. The company was started in 2003 and has become one of the largest independent renewable energy developers in the country.

Founded in 2013, DEPCOM Power is a “Buy America Products First”, “Hire Military Veterans First” and “Donate 10% Net Income to Charity” company leveraging a highly experienced team of solar industry veterans.

One of the oldest American-owned construction companies, McCarthy Building Companies has been helping this great nation grow project by project, delivering facilities that communities rely on and building up neighborhoods by helping those in need.

— Solar Builder magazine

The end of net metering? Report sums up movement to new solar compensation plans

OK, so it’s never a not pivotal time for the solar industry, it seems, but The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center’s most recent report does highlight the importance of this current moment in terms of dictating the value of PV to homeowners into the future.

The aggregated data within the Q2 2017 edition of The 50 States of Solar paints a picture of a widespread net metering sea change happening across the country. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but much of solar’s rise at the residential level has been linked to that framework. So, if it’s going to change, a lot depends on who is defining “the value of distributed generation” and what information they are using in their methodology.

“There seems to be a movement from net metering toward alternative compensation structures that are based on the value distributed energy resources provide to the grid,” said Achyut Shrestha, Senior Policy Analyst at NCCETC. “How these proceedings play out will have an important impact on state solar markets.”

solar net metering policy

Key Solar Policy Actions in Q2 2017

The report finds that 39 states and the District of Columbia took some type of solar policy action during Q2 2017 (see figure below). Specifically, the report finds that:

• 42 utility requests in 25 states plus D.C. to increase monthly fixed charges or minimum bills on all residential customers by at least 10% were pending or decided.
• 24 states considered or enacted changes to net metering policies.
• 17 states plus D.C. formally examined or resolved to examine some element of the value of distributed generation or the costs and benefits of net metering.
• 12 states took policy action on community solar.
• 13 utility requests in 8 states to add new or increase existing charges specific to rooftop solar customers were pending or decided.
• 6 states had policy action on third-party solar ownership laws or regulations.
• 3 states had action on utility-owned rooftop solar policies or programs.

“Many states are putting an emphasis on data-driven decision-making,” noted Autumn Proudlove, lead author of the report and Manager of Policy Research at NCCETC. “There are increasing efforts to conduct studies or pilot programs before making dramatic changes to net metering or rate design.”

Net metering updates

The authors of the report felt the number of states considering major changes to recently adopted net metering successor tariffs was noteworthy. The Nevada legislature enacted a new successor policy during Q2 2017, while Hawaii and Maine considered changes to their tariffs. Both Indiana and New Hampshire adopted net metering successor tariffs this past quarter, with the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission intending to revisit the successor after further data collection.

Top 5 solar policy developments

A total of 140 state and utility-level distributed solar policy and rate changes were proposed, pending, or enacted in Q2 2017. The report notes the top five policy developments of Q2 2017 were:

• The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission adopting a net metering successor tariff;
• The Nevada legislature nearly restoring net metering in the state;
• Montana initiating a review of the costs and benefits of net metering;
• The North Carolina legislature passing a bill that would enable solar leasing and a review of net metering credit rates; and
• Maine’s governor vetoing compromise net metering legislation passed by the legislature.

The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center’s 50 States of Solar is a quarterly series provides insights on state regulatory and legislative discussions and actions on distributed solar policy, with a focus on net metering, distributed solar valuation, community solar, residential fixed charges, residential demand and solar charges, third-party ownership, and utility-led rooftop solar programs.

Solar rate design: Details on unified approach to evolve net metering

— Solar Builder magazine

Net metering revival in Nevada brings back Vivint Solar

Nothing to see here, says Nevada. The governor signed AB 405, which reinstates net energy metering after the state had abruptly put an end to it in 2015 — a controversial decision that caused both high profile and small residential solar installers to leave the state or cutback operations. It also left customers in the lurch, who had installed a system under previous rate assumptions.

nevada solar net metering

Inside AB 405

The bill (AB 405) reinstates the Net Energy Metering mechanism, but with a discounted rate for customer-generated power that is exported to the grid. The bill is expected to bring back the rooftop solar market in Nevada, while also adding strong solar consumer protection measures and a “Bill of Rights” for solar customers that the industry strongly supports.

“Nevada is one step closer to a policy that will allow it to get back thousands of solar jobs that were lost. This bill is a compromise that doesn’t fully value the benefits of distributed solar,” says Sean Gal-lagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “It will, however, allow Nevada consumers and small busi-nesses who may have wanted to go solar, but found it uneconomic under the existing solar policies, to now proceed. The legislation also provides important consumer protections, ensuring that solar cus-tomers aren’t placed in discriminatory rate classes and giving customers 20 years of certainty when they sign up to go solar. We believe that it will be able to get solar companies back to business in Ne-vada, creating jobs and investment.”

Nevada lost more than 2,600 jobs after the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada eliminated net me-tering in late 2015. AB 405 will help bring those jobs back by spurring increased demand for solar.

In fact…

Vivint Solar returns

Vivint solar

Vivint Solar, a full-service residential solar provider, has already said it plans to re-enter the Nevada market.

“We are very pleased Nevada officials have recognized the broad public support of rooftop solar and reestablished the state’s commitment to the future of renewable energy,” said David Bywater, CEO of Vivint Solar. “This bill demonstrates the power of building consensus across stakeholders to find a win-win-win solution for the residential solar industry, utilities and Nevada consumers. We look forward to bringing jobs, consumer choice and affordable solar power back to the state of Nevada.”
Vivint Solar expects to create up to 60 jobs in Nevada in the coming months and approximately 100 total jobs once it fully resumes operations in the state.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar rate design: Details on unified approach to evolve net metering

solar rate design plan

The only agreement there seems to be on net metering and rate design is that no one can really agree on what to do. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar have taken a big step in moving forward by developing a set of principles to help guide and unify future state-level solar rate advocacy work. Supported by a broad coalition of energy advocates across the United States, Principles for the Evolution of Net Energy Metering and Rate Design provides a consensus view for regulators and stakeholders actively involved in the compensation for distributed solar generation.

“To effectively communicate as a group, you need to sing from the same song sheet and I’m confident this set of shared principles will resonate loud and clear,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “With these Principles we’re taking a collective, proactive approach that will ultimately allow for expanded consumer electricity choice and fair compensation for America’s families.”

This year, 40 states plus DC, have already considered changes to solar policy. This free paper was developed to guide stakeholders through current and future rate design cases, particularly where higher levels of distributed solar are driving evaluation of the costs and benefits of net energy metering (NEM), or potential NEM successor or replacement measures.

The paper is organized into four sections to guide the decision-making process:

• Basic principles, foundational to considerations for considering rate design and compensation for distributed solar generation.
• Criteria and Conditions for the Consideration of Alternatives to Net Energy Metering
• Guiding Principles for Solar Rate Design, and
• Guiding principles for Alternative Compensation

“By this time next year, more than two million households nationwide will own or lease rooftop solar,” said Rick Gilliam, Program Director of DG Regulatory Policy at Vote Solar. “Americans will continue to invest in solar to harness clean, affordable and reliable power for their own homes and businesses, which goes hand-in-hand with building a 21st-century grid that remains reliable, secure and affordable for everyone. This set of principles was designed with that in mind and should serve as a guide for all stakeholders that share that vision.”

We dive into the specifics on page 2

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar legislation update: Indiana kills residential solar; Florida close to tax exemptions

First, the bad news.

Indiana says goodbye to net metering

Indiana solar net metering bill

Unofficially the most-talked-about bill in the solar industry, Indiana’s SB 309 was officially passed and signed into law, just before the end of the legislative session. The bill lost some of its teeth from a total “buy all; sell all” approach, but there is enough left to really disincentivize homeowners from going solar. In short:

  • It ends net metering for new customers after 2022.
  • It ends net metering for existing customers who replace or expand their solar system after 2017.
  • It empowers utilities, with the approval of the regulatory commission, to charge rooftop solar owners an additional fee for “energy delivery costs.”

Under the new law, the utility would buy the excess power at a little more than the wholesale rate — around 4¢ per kwh.
Luckily, for the moment, Indiana might be an outlier compared to its Midwest neighbors. Here’s our deep dive into the solar market in that region.

Now some positive news.

Florida bill approved to reduce tax barriers for solar

florida solar tax exemption

The Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 90, sending the bill to Governor Rick Scott. The measure implements Amendment 4 of 2016, which Florida citizens approved with 73 percent of the vote last August. This bill makes solar and renewable energy equipment on commercial buildings exempt from property taxes for 20 years, beginning in 2018. The measure also ensures proper consumer protections are in place.

Here’s what Tom Kimbis, executive vice president for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), had to say about it:

“The Florida legislature took a historic step forward today to expand solar across the state while recognizing Floridians’ desire for more choice over their energy options. And, importantly, the bill includes strong protections and increased transparency for consumers, helping ensure they fully understand solar transactions. Consumer protection is both the right thing to do and critical to the success of the industry and we congratulate the Florida legislature for advancing these protections without creating burdensome red tape for small businesses.

“SEIA applauds the leadership of Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues and Senator Jeff Brandes in working to pass this legislation. And we urge Governor Scott to sign the bill into law to give Florida citizens the energy choices that they overwhelmingly voted in favor of last year.”

— Solar Builder magazine