SEIA: Massachusetts net metering cap stalls $78 million in potential solar projects

SEIA

More than $78 million in solar projects are on hold in Massachusetts, according to new analysis from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). SEIA and Massachusetts partner organizations convened at the State Capitol on Oct. 3 to testify in support of two bills that would raise the net metering caps. The waiting list totals 124 projects, which have a capacity of 51.2 megawatts (MW) and could power nearly 5,400 homes.

“Massachusetts has been one of our nation’s clean energy leaders, but one of its fastest-growing industries is being stifled by delayed action on net metering,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “With projects now on hold in more than half the state, the Legislature should raise the net metering caps this year. Doing so will ensure significant investment in the Commonwealth, create new jobs, protect thousands more, and help meet the Governor’s clean energy goals.”

The counties with the largest stranded investment include Berkshire County ($28.1 million), Worcester County ($12.8 million) and Hampshire County ($9.1 million). Three of the state’s utilities, including National Grid, WMECO, and Unitil have reached net metering caps in their service territories.

Under Massachusetts’ current policy, only a certain percentage of a utility’s total distribution load can use net metering, a policy that allows businesses and other end-users to get credit for the electricity they generate and send to the power grid. They are only billed for their “net” energy use. The Massachusetts net metering caps apply to commercial, industrial, public and community solar projects. This means entities such as school districts, municipal buildings, and small and large businesses that want to adopt solar and take advantage of its benefits are unable to do so when the caps have been met.

To provide the long-term certainty needed for businesses to grow, SEIA, on behalf of its more than 45 member companies in Massachusetts, is proposing raising the statewide net metering cap by 5 percent for public and private projects, the same level proposed in the bills S. 1824/H. 2712.

This cap increase, in conjunction with the state’s solar incentive program, SMART, would help solar companies install more than 1,000 MW of solar by 2022, which is necessary to meet Governor Baker’s goal of doubling the size of Massachusetts’ solar market, which today ranks sixth in the nation with 1,743 MW of installed solar capacity.

— Solar Builder magazine

Study shows where solar industry diversity falls short

solar jobs

Not a newsflash: White guys have it better than women and people of color when it comes to job opportunities and pay. What is noteworthy is the new research from The Solar Foundation in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Women’s Empowerment Committee that provides statistically significant evidence of the hurdles that still need to be overcome, even in an industry as seemingly progressive as solar.

The 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study is the first comprehensive study on diversity of the U.S. solar energy industry. Findings show that racial diversity within the industry has remained relatively stagnant over recent years, and that all people of color, particularly women, are at risk of being left behind as the solar workforce continues its rapid growth trajectory. Of the major findings, only 8 percent of African American respondents reported that they have successfully moved up the career ladder, and 50 percent think they have not been successful in moving up in their careers and feel “stuck” in their current positions.

Men are significantly more likely to earn wages that fall in the highest wage bracket of $75 or more per hour. 36% of white male respondents earn salaries in this wage bracket, compared to 28% of men of color, 21% of white women, and only 4% of women of color.

Among other findings, just over a quarter of solar employers formally track employee demographics and diversity and just over 1 in 10 companies (11.5 percent) has implemented a strategy to increase the representation of veterans at their firms. Meanwhile, 14 percent of companies have a strategy in place to increase female workforce representation, and 7 percent have a strategy in place to increase representation of non-white communities.

As Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, noted during the opening session of Solar Power International, this isn’t just some push for inclusiveness because it’s a nice thing to do (which would be a perfectly fine reason) but also because stats back up a more diverse work place being more successful and productive.

“We know from decades of research that diversity is strongly correlated with financial performance across businesses. In the face of tremendous workforce growth, it is critical to create a solar culture that welcomes, encourages, and advances equity and inclusion. The opportunity cost is too great,” said Kristen Graf, Executive Director of WRISE: Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy. “We need as many diverse ideas, minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and talents as we can get at all levels across the industry. This study has shown clearly that we are falling short, especially with women of color. Now that we have this important starting point, we can and must do better.”

The path forward

The 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study underscores the importance of diversity for employee well-being, strength of the workforce, and a company’s bottom line. The report also identifies a broad set of recommendations that solar companies can adopt to improve diversity. The action steps for solar companies include creating company-wide diversity pledges, establishing a formal diversity tracking and measurement tool, broadening recruitment efforts, implementing a “blind” job application process, and establishing diversity training programs.

“Just like having a diverse portfolio of energy resources is critical to our nation, so is having a diverse workforce,” said Julia Hamm, Smart Electric Power Alliance President and CEO. “The path towards a clean energy future can be best met when the industry reflects all of the customers it serves. The Solar Foundation’s Solar Industry Diversity Study provides a baseline, and now it’s on the rest of us to attract and retain the best possible ideas and talent by seeking out women and minorities for employment and advancement throughout our organizations.”

Props to the solar industry for producing such a study and holding itself accountable.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar industry sees best second quarter yet, up 8 percent year over year

solar capacity increase

As the solar industry awaits its uncertain ITC future, its present remains prosperous. The U.S. solar market continued its years-long expansion in the second quarter of 2017 as the industry installed 2,387 MW of solar photovoltaics (PV), the largest total in a second quarter to date. This tops Q1’s total and represents an 8 percent year-over-year gain, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said in the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report.

“This report shows once again that solar is on the rise and will continue to add to its share of electricity generation,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Last year, solar companies added jobs 17 times faster than the rest of the economy and increased our GDP by billions of dollars. We are going to continue to fight for policies that allow the industry to continue this phenomenal growth.”

All three U.S. solar market segments – commercial, residential and utility-scale – experienced quarter-over-quarter growth in Q2. The U.S. installed 2,044 MW of capacity in Q1. The non-residential and utility-scale market segments also posted year-over-year growth.

FIGURE: U.S. Quarterly PV Installations Q1 2012-Q2 2017

solar power installation capacity stats

The non-residential market grew a robust 31 percent year-over-year, with 437 MW installed. That was driven in large part by favorable time-of-use rates in California, expiring incentives in Massachusetts, and a record-breaking quarter in New York, where a number of remote, net metered projects were completed.

Joining those states in the top 10 for additions in Q2 were long-time solar leaders such as Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina, as well as surprises like Minnesota and Mississippi, which had the 5th and 9th largest markets in the quarter, respectively. Texas, which is projected to be the second largest state solar market over the next five years, had its strongest quarter ever, adding 378 MW in Q2, placing it 2nd among states this quarter.

The utility-scale segment represented 58 percent of the PV capacity installed in the quarter. In fact, Q2 marked the seventh straight quarter in which the U.S. added more than a gigawatt (GW) of utility-scale solar.

According to the report, 563 MW of residential solar PV was installed in the U.S. in the second quarter of the year. While this is a slight uptick over the first quarter, it represents a 17 percent decline year-over-year.

Vote here for the 2017 Solar Builder Project of the Year

“Slowdown in residential solar is largely a function of national installers scaling back operations in major state markets as they prioritize profitability over growth,” explained GTM Research Solar Analyst Austin Perea. “While California was the first major market to exhibit signs of slow-down in Q1, many major Northeast markets began to feel the impact of national installer pull-back in Q2 despite a stable policy environment and strong market fundamentals.”

The report forecast that the solar industry will add 12.4 GW of new capacity this year, down slightly from GTM Research’s previous forecast of 12.6 GW.

The report did not change its forecast that the American solar industry would triple cumulative capacity over the next five years.

However, trade relief, which is being considered by the U.S. International Trade Commission, could radically affect the solar outlook and “would result in a substantial downside revision to our forecast for all three segments,” the analysis said.

In a June report, GTM Research said that the requested floor price, if approved, would cut cumulative demand in half over the next five years. SEIA says the petition could cause the solar industry to shed 88,000 jobs just in 2018. Last year, U.S. solar companies added 51,000 workers.

Key Findings

• In Q2 2017, the U.S. market installed 2,387 MWdc of solar PV, an 8% increase year-over-year and the largest second quarter ever.

• Through the first half of 2017, 22% of all new electric capacity brought online in the U.S. has come from solar, ranking second over that time period to natural gas.

• Suniva’s filing of a Section 201 petition to impose trade remedies on foreign-manufactured cells and modules threatens to significantly reduce PV installations across all segments if accepted in its current form.

• The residential sector grew 1% quarter-over-quarter. The slow growth rate is caused by relative weakness in the California market and a slowdown in Northeast markets, which are feeling the impact of the pull-back from national providers.

• In contrast to residential PV, the non-residential sector grew 31% year-over-year primarily driven by regulatory demand pull-in from policy deadlines in California and Massachusetts.

• Voluntary procurement has emerged as the primary driver of new utility PV procurement, accounting for 59% of new procurement through H1 2017.

• Installed system prices remain low across all market segments, with fixed-tilt utility-scale systems remaining under the $1/watt barrier for the second consecutive quarter.

• GTM Research forecasts that 12.4 GWdc of new PV installations will come on-line in 2017.

• Total installed U.S. solar PV capacity is expected to nearly triple over the next five years. By 2022, 31 states will have more than 100 MW annual solar markets – with 25 states being home to more than 1 GW of capacity – and more than 16 GW of solar PV capacity will be installed annually.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar industry groups criticize the California Public Utilities Commission rate case decision

california public utility rates

The California Public Utilities Commission voted to adopt San Diego’s General Rate Case after revising the decision earlier this month, and the decision did not please the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA). Both solar advocacy groups criticized the decision as being unsupported by the facts in the case, inconsistent with the state’s policies, and detrimental to solar customers.

The vote is the first in a series of changes to time-of-use (TOU) rates set to take place statewide over the next two years. Under TOU, rates are higher at periods of peak demand and lower off-peak. Experience in California and elsewhere has shown that customers can understand TOU rates and can respond – by e.g. waiting to run the dishwasher until the off-peak period – in ways that benefit the grid. These rates are important for sending customers accurate incentives to reduce energy when the grid is most strained. TOU rates also impact the economics of customers’ rooftop solar systems.

Details of the proposal

Utilities in California are proposing to move the highest-priced “peak” periods into the evening (4-9 pm or 5-10 pm) from today’s afternoon (e.g., noon-6 pm) peak. Some utility proposals would create super off-peak rates in the middle of the day in spring months, ostensibly to help manage spring hydro runoff and abundant solar production. Lower rates in the daytime would reduce the relative benefit of going solar.

The San Diego decision adopts a 4-9 pm peak for vague “policy reasons” despite the judge in the case originally proposing an earlier period based on the Commission’s TOU methodology, which was established in January of this year.

“The Commission spent more than a year examining how to develop time-of-use rates for the very purpose of ensuring that this once-in-a-generation change to new periods was based on facts,” said Brandon Smithwood, director of California state affairs at SEIA. “Earlier time periods would also help reduce consumption during hours of declining solar generation when the California system operator (CAISO) needs to ramp up gas plants to meet energy needs.”

How to find the perfect solar + storage projects (start by looking at the rates)

Solar parties expect a more thorough analysis of data in the forthcoming TOU decisions for SCE and PG&E. The Commission may have to move SDG&E’s TOU periods earlier in the day once it follows the methodology in its next rate case when the utility’s application must take all of the required data into account. The next General Rate Case for SDG&E will be filed next year and decided less than three years from now.

“The Commission has decided not to apply its new TOU methodology in this rate case,” said Brad Heavner, policy director for CALSEIA. “It is shocking that the Commission purposefully avoided considering data that was solidly on the record.”

The decision dampens a market already depressed by uncertainty about the changing TOU periods. A decision earlier this year set a deadline of Jul. 31 for most new solar projects to connect under the old time-of-use periods. Projects under development and new project development have slowed dramatically. Both SEIA and CALSEIA are seeking a change to the “grandfathering” rules so that project development can continue as rate cases are decided. The decision extends the deadline for schools to Aug. 2018.

— Solar Builder magazine

Bipartisan group of lawmakers urge ITC to oppose solar tariffs

solar tariffs

A bipartisan group of 16 senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives sent open letters to U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) Chairman Rhonda Schmidtlein urging the ITC to reject a petition that would slap tariffs on imported solar panels and cells.

“Solar companies in our states believe the requested trade protection would double the price of solar panels,” the Senate letter to the ITC said. “Increasing costs will stop solar growth dead in its tracks, threatening tens of thousands of American workers in the solar industry and jeopardizing billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country.”

The ITC is evaluating a petition that Chinese-owned solar company, Suniva, filed with the agency in April shortly after declaring bankruptcy. It was later joined by German-owned SolarWorld, also in bankruptcy. The agency is considering whether these two companies out of more than 8,000 across the U.S. solar industry deserve tariff relief that would impact the entire market.

The letters come just days before the ITC holds its first public hearing on the petition on Aug. 15. Hundreds of solar workers from all over the country, including California, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia, will converge in Washington to explain the personal impact this case could have on their livelihoods.

The American solar industry is growing 17 times faster than the rest of the economy, and created 1 out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. last year. Implementing trade barriers would double solar prices, grinding growth to a halt and forcing 88,000 Americans — one-third of the U.S. solar workforce today — to lose their jobs just next year.

SEIA submits prehearing brief on Suniva petition to ITC — read the summary here

Lawmakers who led the letter effort to the ITC include: Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Representatives Mark Sanford (R-SC), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Pat Meehan (R-PA) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA).

“This letter shows that trade tariffs are not a red or blue state issue,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “If these barriers are implemented, one of the fastest growing U.S. industries will be halted in its tracks, thousands of Americans will lose their jobs and billions of dollars of private investment will dry up.”

“We are thankful these lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol, recognize the solar industry’s massive impact on their states’ economies, and the irreparable harm this case could bring to families and businesses across our country,” Hopper said.

— Solar Builder magazine