Missouri avoids anti-solar legislation for now

missouri solar legislation

The Missouri General Assembly adjourned without passing House Bill 340, which was an onerous new tax on solar energy users that would have devastated one of the state’s fastest growing industries. This was one of the more under-the-radar but most watched pieces of solar legislation in the Midwest. HB 340 passed the Missouri House on April 3 but was not taken up in the Senate after thousands of Missourians signed petitions opposing the measure.

“This job-killing energy tax would have devastated one of Missouri’s most innovative and fastest growing industries while making energy more expensive for thousands of solar energy users across the state,” said Zachary Wyatt-Gomez, Executive Director of MOSEIA. “We thank the members of the Missouri Senate for doing the right thing and putting the brakes on this anti-business and anti-consumer bill.”

HB 340 would have allowed utilities to impose additional fees on Missourians who produce their own renewable solar power — on top of the customer charge consumers already pay — increasing the fixed price of their utility bills by 75 percent. This new energy tax would have had a devastating impact. HB 340 would have resulted in the loss of 2,000 solar jobs, $200 million in solar company revenue, $50 million in sales tax revenue, and $15 million in payroll taxes.

Winning the Midwest: We look at how a new solar market is forming in the Midwest

“Missourians deserve clean, reliable, affordable energy — not backdoor tax hikes to line the pockets of big utility companies,” said PJ Wilson, Executive Director of Renew Missouri. “The failure of this bill is a victory for families, businesses and our entire economy, and we thank the lawmakers who opposed it. These lawmakers listened to their constituents and the thousands of Missourians who contacted their representatives in opposition to this bill. Moving forward, rather than gouging renewable energy users with new taxes and fees, state leaders should help families and businesses by working to make solar energy even more affordable and accessible.”

This bill specifically targeted consumers who use net metering. In Missouri, homeowners and businesses receive a 1-for-1 bill credit for each kWh they put back onto the grid.

With 40 solar companies and 112 suppliers across the state, the solar industry supported 3,148 Missouri jobs in 2016. Solar employment opportunities are currently growing 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

— Solar Builder magazine

Minnesota governor vetoes anti-solar net metering bill

veto solar bill

The state legislature of Minnesota passed a bill that sought to make state utilities exempt from regulation by the Public Utilities Commission. The purpose here was to get them out of the current net metering rates and be able to impose fees that would harm the residential solar industry in the state.

Governor Mark Dayton vetoed this bill on Monday, maintaining the authority of the PUC in rate settlement and preserving the now maturing residential solar industry in the state.

“SEIA and the solar industry commend Governor Dayton for vetoing legislation that would have stripped rural Minnesota residents of critical consumer protection and hindered solar’s growth in the state,” stated Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “In doing so, Dayton stood up for both consumers and economic growth. Due to policies championed by the Governor, Minnesota emerged as a national leader in solar energy last year. The state installed more community solar than any other state in the country. The Governor’s decision ensures that more Minnesotans can access solar energy and that clean energy jobs continue to grow.”

Passing a such a bill would seem odd considering the state’s leadership in the Midwest on the renewable energy front, including its recently announced goals for raising its RPS goals to 50 percent.

— Solar Builder magazine

Georgia solar boom: Atlanta eases solar permitting process

solar atlanta

This is Atlanta.

Solar installation soft costs are real drivers of project economics, so the more streamlined permitting process become, the better outcome for prospective solar customers. Down in Georgia, Don Moreland, chair of the Georgia Solar Energy Association (GA Solar), says the City of Atlanta is doing its part by adopting a new, streamlined solar permitting process.

Moreland worked closely with the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and members of the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association (GA SEIA) to develop the process, which will make solar installation easier for city property owners. This process offers a template that other cities and counties can use to expedite their own solar installation in communities statewide.

“On behalf of the GA Solar Board of Directors, I congratulate Mayor Kasim Reed and his expert staff in the Office of Sustainability for their leadership with policies that encourage and facilitate solar adoption,” Moreland said. “We hope that other Georgia cities and counties will see the economic and environmental benefits this brings and create their own permitting process.”

Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, director of the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, said the new solar permitting process is an important part of Mayor Reed’s goal to make Atlanta the most sustainable city in the U.S.

“As solar installation becomes more prevalent and more attractive to property owners, the City of Atlanta wants to be sure we’re doing our part to make the permitting process as streamlined and efficient as possible, without sacrificing best standards and practices,” Benfield said. “The rise of solar in Atlanta leads to a brighter and cleaner today, tomorrow and beyond.”

Here are the details of Atlanta’s new solar permitting process.

— Solar Builder magazine

Department of Energy to fund projects to reduce soft costs of solar installs

department of energy funding

Discussions on further large reductions in solar installation prices start with soft costs. Knowing this, the Energy Department is pumping $21.4 million in funding for 17 new projects to help reduce these soft costs, such as installation, permitting and connecting to the grid.

“Soft costs have been a pervasive barrier to widespread solar energy in the United States,” said Dr. Charlie Gay, Director of the Solar Energy Technologies Office. “Finding new ways to cut these costs remains critical in accelerating solar deployment nationwide and making solar affordable for all Americans.”

Nine of the awards will focus on how the solar industry can sustain and accelerate its growth by understanding the motivations and factors that influence the technology adoption process, particularly in low- and moderate-income communities. The other eight awards will focus on tackling solar market challenges at the state and regional levels through better strategic energy and economic planning.

Here are the two broad areas of focus:

Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies (SEEDS)

The SEEDS program leverages decisions based on science and solar datasets to improve our understanding of how and why homeowners and businesses choose solar energy.

Nine of the 17 projects will partner researchers with data and energy practitioners to create, analyze, and use solar data and other information in order to examine how solar technologies, the electric grid system, and the institutions that create the solar business marketplace support or inhibit the evolution and diffusion of solar technologies.

RELATED: Obama wants to give your community $100,000 to build community solar 

This second round of funding under SEEDS introduces two new areas of research interest: low- and moderate-income (LMI) solar adoption and institutional decision-making.

Projects focusing on LMI communities will focus on identifying solar adoption barriers other than cost, while identifying ways to more effectively engage these communities in the growing solar marketplace. Projects examining institutional decision-making aim to reveal the factors driving change within institutions as they relate to solar, and how institutions within a given system—for example, one university within a state university system—can influence such change. View the list of awardees.

State Energy Strategies (SES)

Through SunShot’s SES work, project teams from state energy offices, regional energy providers and their partners have the opportunity to gain the planning insights that can support their individual goals to maximize solar’s benefits within their various communities. Eight new projects announced today will help to better inform states how to more effectively adopt solar by providing technical and analytical assistance to help them meet their renewable energy goals.

These projects will benefit states at two phases in the solar energy planning process: during the creation of solar deployment targets and identification of strategies to achieve these goals, and then during the implementation of these strategies. For instance, teams may seek technical and informational assistance from DOE to better understand system performance projections, transmission and distribution constraints, or the economic and environmental benefits of various solar programs and projects.

Teams participating in this program will work to support solar planning efforts in 17 states plus the District of Columbia: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. View the list of awardees.

— Solar Builder magazine

California regulators say they deny all legal challenges to their net metering rules

california net energy metering rules

The utilities have the option to appeal to state court, but it is unlikely they will do so because the chances for success are extremely low.

All states seem to have a problem with net metering except the one that has the biggest and best solar industry going — California. This commitment continues after the California Public Utilities Commission approved a resolution to deny all legal challenges to recently adopted net metering rules for solar customers.

In January, the CPUC issued a decision to create the net metering “successor tariff,” which did not accept the new fees and low compensation rates proposed by the utilities. The decision made significant changes, with increased assessment of non-bypassable charges and mandatory TOU rates for residential customers, but it left in place the fundamental structure of NEM.

The utilities responded by filing “applications for rehearing,” which allege that the decision contained legal error by ignoring many of the utilities’ arguments. PG&E’s application challenged the decision as a whole. The application from SCE and SDG&E challenged certain aspects. A ratepayer group, TURN, and a coalition of utility unions also challenged parts of the decision.

RELATED: U.S. solar policy update: 42 states take action (24 involving net metering) 

The CPUC resolution rejects those legal challenges. It made two minor tweaks to the language of the decision but did not change any elements of the order.

“This was a frivolous legal maneuver by utilities, paid for by ratepayers, and the Commission has put an end to it,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association.

The utilities have the option to appeal to state court, but it is unlikely they will do so because the chances for success are extremely low.

“Hopefully the utility harassment of the CPUC is over,” said Del Chiaro added. “They didn’t get everything they wanted and it’s time to move on.”

Attention is now focused on the precursor activity to creating the next version of net metering. The CPUC has again hired the E3 consulting firm to build the next version of a solar cost-benefit model. The methodology will likely be debated for two years. The main question at issue is the extent to which utilities can incorporate distributed generation into their forecasting and spend less money on the distribution grid. The CPUC will take up NEM again in 2019.

— Solar Builder magazine