Another demand charge bites the dust: El Paso Electric settlement approved

Texas solar demand charges

The Texas Public Utilities Commission approved a settlement supported by El Paso Electric, the Office of Public Utility Counsel, Energy Freedom Coalition of America, SEIA, Eco El Paso, and Sunrun to drop a demand charge targeted at customers who invest in rooftop solar.

El Paso Electric, which serves 300,000 customers in Texas, had proposed adding a demand charge and a $15 monthly customer charge for customers with rooftop solar. The settlement rejects both the solar demand charge and the solar fixed charge.

Demand charges are based off of the single period during a month when customers use the most energy. It is impossible for customers to predict when they will trigger these charges, and once a peak demand has been hit, a customer has no ability to lower that charge with behavior changes throughout the rest of the month. In addition, these confusing and unpredictable charges prohibit solar growth.

The settlement with El Paso Electric to drop the solar-specific demand charge is part of a growing trend across the country. In the past two years and across 10 states, all proposals by investor-owned utilities to implement mandatory demand charges on residential or solar customers have failed. Recently, local and national solar groups and ratepayer advocates worked with AEP utility subsidiaries in Tennessee and Oklahoma to dismiss or withdraw proposed demand charges. And earlier this week, over 20 stakeholders in Colorado collaborated to file a settlement that removes a confusing grid usage charge, which would have been a precursor to demand charges, in Xcel’s general rate case. Instead, parties agreed to test consumer-friendly time-of-use rates for homeowners.

In one of the few places where a municipal utility board outside the purview of a state utility commission has enacted residential demand charges, state leaders are now seeking to undo them. In Kentucky, the Attorney General is seeking to involve three U.S. congressmen and Tennessee Valley Authority in an effort to revise residential demand charges adopted by Glasgow Electric Plant Board. The Attorney General’s office stated they are intervening in order to “help alleviate the unfair burden imposed upon the Glasgow residents,” local media reported.

— Solar Builder magazine

Check out Austin’s largest rooftop solar array (via Freedom Solar)

Austin Freedom solar rooftop

Freedom Solar Power inaugurated the largest rooftop solar installation in Central Texas at the Strictly Pediatrics Surgery Center in Mueller at a festive celebration June 18.

Comprised of nearly 2,500 high-efficiency solar panels from SunPower, the 812-kW system designed and installed by Freedom Solar Power includes two solar canopy structures on the parking garage, a roof-mounted solar array on the building, and an in-lobby monitoring system that shows the energy savings in real time.

Because medical centers operate 24 hours per day every day and much of their equipment runs on electrical power, they are some of the largest users of electricity in their communities. The solar installation is expected to generate more than 1.2 million kWh of electricity per year, enough to offset 50 percent of Strictly Pediatrics’ energy needs. Strictly Pediatrics will not own the renewable energy credits associated with the system.


Freedom Solar Power is a SunPower Master Dealer, the only company with that distinction in Texas.

“We have been looking for innovative ways to strategically manage our energy and help the environment,” says Dr. Mark Smith, founder of Strictly Pediatrics. “As health care professionals, we strive to promote good health and a healthy environment in the community. We’re thrilled with the addition of alternative energy to our facility, and we couldn’t be happier with Freedom Solar Power’s work and service on this project from start through completion.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Toyota’s new U.S. headquarters to feature 7.75-MW solar system from SunPower

SunPower will be designing and constructing a 7.75-MW solar power system at Toyota’s new North American headquarters in Plano, Texas, which the auto maker plans to occupy next year. Expected to generate 25 percent of the headquarters’ total electricity demand, the system is anticipated to be the largest corporate office onsite solar installation among non-utility companies in the state of Texas.

SunpowerThe project will be comprised of three solar carport structures using high efficiency SunPower solar panels. Two of the carports will each have a 2.45-MW capacity, and are planned to be operational mid-year 2017. The third, 2.83-MW solar carport is expected to be delivering power for the Toyota campus by end-of-year 2017.

Compared to conventional solar panels, SunPower says its solar panels produce 45 percent more power from the same space in the first year of operation, which will allow Toyota to maximize the clean, renewable solar power generated on site.


SunPower solar power systems are currently operating a number of Toyota facilities in the U.S.:

• In 2008, at the Toyota North American parts center in Ontario, Calif., SunPower installed a 2.3-MW system that produces more than 3.7 million kWh per year, providing up to 58 percent of the electricity needed at the facility. At the time of completion, it was the second largest single-rooftop solar array in North America.

• Toyota’s South Campus headquarters building in Torrance, Calif., was one of the largest privately funded systems of its kind when it opened in 2003. Also built by SunPower, the system covers 53,000 square feet of rooftop.

• Since 2009, a 1.5-MW SunPower solar power system has been operating at Toyota’s facility in West Caldwell, N.J.

— Solar Builder magazine

PCI Solar awarded contract by Austin Independent School District (592 kW)

PCI Solar has been awarded the contract to build solar arrays on four schools for the Austin Independent School District. The award was decided through a competitive RFP process and construction is slated to begin in the second half of 2016.

PCI SolarThe RFP called for a total of 592.8 kW at four separate schools around the city. The four schools and array size included in the RFP are:

1. Austin High School – 222.3 kW
2. Lanier High School – 148.2 kW
3. Metz Elementary School – 123.5 kW
4. Uphaus Early Childhood Center – 98.8 kW

The roof-mounted arrays include SolarWorld 325 watt panels, SMA inverters and either EcoFoot or Unirac racking systems. Additionally, each array includes monitoring by SMA and weather stations to help track system performance and proactively identify any system issues.

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

AISD included an educational component to its solar RFP to facilitate a solar-centric learning environment for students and staff. To support this goal, PCI Solar will provide teacher and faculty a full day training class that instructs them how to leverage the monitoring and weather data systems from the array in their curriculum. Furthermore, PCI Solar will be providing internship/apprentice opportunities to AISD students in the construction technology and science programs.

PCI Solar is a division of Performance Contracting Group, a specialty building contractor with over $1 Billion in annual revenues. The PCI Solar team serves commercial, government, and channel partner customers across the United States on a broad range of project sizes and types, including ground mount, roof mount, solar carport and solar shade canopies.

— Solar Builder magazine

New SolSmart program to cut ‘red tape’ for communities looking to boost solar installs

solar community program

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and The Solar Foundation (TSF) just launched a new designation program that will recognize leading solar cities and counties as well as empower new communities to advance through no-cost technical assistance. A core component of the technical assistance program — named SolSmart — are its Advisors. These Advisors are fully-funded temporary staff embedded in up to 40 communities to help each achieve designation.

SolSmart is funded by the U.S Department of Energy SunShot Initiative through the Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities (SPARC) funding opportunity. Over the three-year, federally-funded portion of the program, SolSmart will recognize more than 300 communities that cut red tape around going solar and make it possible for more American homes and businesses to use solar energy to meet their electricity needs.

SolSmart national designation will signal that a community is “open for [solar] business,” helping to attract local economic development and create solar jobs. Attracting new solar businesses can help communities deliver cost savings for solar customers and local governments while new solar installations can help communities achieve their climate goals.

RELATED: Project of the Year Awards 2016 – Let the nominations begin! 

“Our city has worked hard to make solar more affordable and easier for our residents and small businesses to install,” said City Manager Scott Wingerson of Gladstone, Missouri. “We have seen firsthand how our actions have led to considerable social and economic benefits locally. The solar panels that have been installed at our water treatment plant have served to partially offset the annual utility costs at this facility. Solar gives us another tool to help manage operational costs. SolSmart presents cities and counties nationwide with an opportunity to realize similar benefits and I encourage every community to join Gladstone and get involved.”

The SolSmart program seeks to address solar “soft costs,” which are business processes or administrative costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. Local governments are in a unique position to both reduce these costs and to promote the use of solar in their jurisdictions.

SolSmart offers three levels of designation – Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Communities can earn points to achieve designation tiers by taking action across eight categories. To achieve designation, communities must meet minimum requirements pertaining to two main categories: permitting, as well as planning, zoning, and development regulations. SolSmart communities then have flexibility in achieving the remaining points toward designation in six special-focus categories.

Communities interested in pursuing SolSmart designation, receiving technical assistance, and applying to host an Advisor can learn more and take action at

ICMA will lead the effort to designate communities under SolSmart by reviewing applications and determining whether a community meets the criteria for designation. Communities that apply and do not reach the base designation level will be referred to TSF and their team to receive no-cost technical assistance to help the community qualify for designation.

“The Solar Foundation and its technical assistance partners have extensive experience working with communities to implement best practices,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. “We look forward to collaborating with local governments on SolSmart to tackle soft cost barriers and establish robust solar markets. Additionally, we are excited to roll out the SolSmart Advisors program, and encourage all communities pursuing designation to apply to host an Advisor by mid-June.”

Further Reading: Solar energy is the only thing that bridges the partisan divide (Senate passes big energy bill) 

— Solar Builder magazine