When the state of Nevada decided to lower its net metering rate last year, the solar industry was understandably unhappy, but the biggest uproar was over the decision to retroactively alter the rates of early adopters, who installed solar (at the government’s encouraging) under the premise of a different rate structure. Luckily for those customers, the Public Utilities Commission just decided to push the rug back underneath their feet and grandfather those 32,000 rooftop solar customers in under the original retail net metering rates over a period of 20 years. The settlement applies to customers who applied or installed a rooftop solar system before Dec. 31, 2015.
In response to the decision, Jon Wellinghoff, former Consumer Advocate for the State of Nevada and current SolarCity Chief Policy Officer, issued the following statement:
“On behalf of Nevada’s 32,000 rooftop solar customers, we thank the Public Utilities Commission for unanimously approving our agreement to grandfather existing solar customers.
The Public Utilities Commission’s decision to grandfather existing solar customers is an important step forward for Nevada, to protect the investments thousands of Nevadans have made in our clean energy economy, and affirms that grandfathering should be the law of the land.”
This order does not reverse the higher fees and charges on Nevadans who wish to go solar in the future. SolarCity intends to work with the Public Utilities Commission, legislators, and stakeholders to find a long-term solution that gives all Nevadans the freedom to install rooftop solar without being punished with higher charges.
— Solar Builder magazine
Approximately half of U.S. households and businesses are unable to install private solar systems due to space limitations or insufficient sun exposure. To combat this, earlier this year, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) launched its Solar Choice program to extend the option for solar power to customers regardless of their location or ability to physically install private solar systems. The program allows residential and business customers to enroll with PG&E to support the development of new solar projects located within Northern and Central California. But wait, there is more. Starting now, PG&E customers have another clean energy option, and PG&E has announced a call for proposals for renewable energy developers to build projects for this program.
The new Regional Renewable Choice program will expand renewable energy access by enabling customers to work directly with developers of new renewable projects. Through the program, customers will have the option to work with developers and subscribe to the output from a new renewable project equaling between 25 and 100 percent of their electricity use. Participating customers will pay the developers for the new energy directly, and receive a bill credit from PG&E on their monthly energy statement.
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PG&E is seeking proposals from local renewable energy developers across Northern and Central California to build small- and mid-sized renewable projects ranging from 0.5 to 20 MW for the Regional Renewable Choice program. The energy for these new projects can be from renewable resources including but not limited to solar, wind or biomass.
This program milestone offers renewable energy developers their first chance to submit proposals starting August 31, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2016. Developers will be chosen through a competitive bidding process and are expected to be chosen by December 2016. This request for proposals calls for a development target of 75 MW of renewable resources.
To submit a proposal, renewable energy developers can visit this website. In 2017, PG&E expects to issue two additional requests for offers for renewable energy developers, with the next solicitation occurring in spring 2017.
“The new Regional Renewable Choice program is part of our ongoing commitment to support the growth of solar and other renewable energy sources in California. Building on PG&E’s Solar Choice program launched earlier this year, this new program enables our customers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their electricity usage and allows them to directly be a part of California’s clean energy future. This is a win for our customers and for California,” said PG&E Vice President of Customer Energy Solutions Aaron Johnson.
PG&E has already connected more than 250,000 solar customers to the grid. Through its two new clean energy programs – PG&E’s Solar Choice and Regional Renewable Choice – the company aims to extend access to renewable energy to tens of thousands of additional homes and businesses in its service area.
— Solar Builder magazine
Colorado continues the progressive energy initiatives. Thanks to the Colorado Energy Office (CEO), Energy Resource Center (ERC), and Colorado Springs Utilities, the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has been updated to include the installation of a 2-kW rooftop solar array as part of the package. The CEO WAP provides free, cost-effective energy efficiency measures to income-eligible households in all of the state’s 64 counties.
Historically, the WAP has only allowed energy efficiency measures, but the Department of Energy recently authorized CEO to be the first state to integrate rooftop solar into weatherization services. This project with ERC and Colorado Springs Utilities will demonstrate the feasibility of combining energy efficiency measures with rooftop solar offerings to help reduce utility bills for residents most in need — those paying more than 4 percent of household income on energy costs.
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“The impact of this project is threefold: it addresses energy burdens by reducing both home heating and electric costs; it enhances opportunities for distributed generation; and it demonstrates the viability of rooftop solar offerings for low-income households,” said Joseph Pereira, Director of Low-Income Energy Services for the Colorado Energy Office. “We appreciate the Department of Energy’s receptiveness to this innovation in the program and the forward-thinking efforts of our partners at Energy Resource Center and Colorado Springs Utilities as we explore the best use of solar to assist those in need.”
CEO partners with eight local agencies throughout the state to provide WAP services including ERC, which serves the counties of Denver, Jefferson, Douglas, Elbert, Teller, El Paso, Fremont, Saguache, Mineral, Rio Grande, Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla. ERC is the first weatherization agency in the state to pilot the installation of rooftop panels as part of its site-specific weatherization services. In addition to rooftop solar panels, the project home will receive insulation, storm windows, low-flow showerheads, LED bulbs and a refrigerator. These integrated measures will save an estimated $600 annually in energy costs.
“This family has struggled to pay high energy bills due to low household income,” said Howard Brooks, Executive Director of Energy Resource Center. “These improvements to their home are a game-changer; it allows the family to be safer, more comfortable, and more able to afford other necessities.”
— Solar Builder magazine
Across the country, the solar industry is often depicted as being in “battle” with utilities due to the often contentious arguments that take place between the two sides – utilities looking for what they feel is fair compensation for the grid services they provide; solar adopters and installers looking for the value of distributed generation to be better understood (and compensated). Compromises feel rare, but it doesn’t have to be this way, if both sides looked for alternative solutions, which is what just happened in Colorado. Did we just find a model for future solar/grid arrangements?
Here’s the deal: Colorado utility Xcel Energy was proposing a fixed grid-use charge to all customers bills and a lower price for each kW consumed to try and make the fixed charge palatable. Most stakeholders outside the walls of Xcel Energy in Colorado thought this was uncool – solar people felt penalized and devalued, environmental groups thought it incentivized consumption and large commercial users were upset about the big cost shifts coming their way (there was a higher charge for larger electricity consumers).
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So all of those stakeholders (22 parties in total) came together, discussed options with Xcel Energy and jointly filed a settlement. The grid-use charge is being dropped in favor of two pilot programs that are intended to put a proper value on electricity production when it is most valuable. A hearing on the settlement is scheduled for October.
“Instead of the damaging fixed charges initially proposed for everyone’s bills, we endorsed a move toward progressive electricity rates. These rates will reward residents and businesses who choose to go solar by putting a proper value on electricity produced when it is most valuable,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, in a statement.
Xcel Energy will test the two different pricing models for residential customers starting next year. One is a time-of-use pilot divided into summer and winter seasons and peak, shoulder and off-peak rate periods. The second program charges higher rates when large amounts of power are consumed in a short period, no matter the time. The PUC would make the final call in 2020 on whether the programs should be adopted for all 1.2 million of the company’s residential customers.
“This settlement, signed by more than 20 parties, represents a turning point in Colorado’s energy future. It was a massive undertaking and Xcel Energy should be praised for their leadership,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “We applaud our fellow stakeholders who participated in lengthy negotiations and helped remove proposals that would have penalized the state’s solar customers for years to come. Instead, this settlement expands solar access to low-income customers. It significantly increases the state’s capacity for clean, reliable, affordable solar energy, including more than doubling the solar capacity for commercial and industrial customers through the Solar*Rewards program. Without a doubt, this will support more well-paying solar jobs in the state.
— Solar Builder magazine
Arizona’s solar industry won a victory last week, but how big of a victory remains to be seen.
First, the good news: The Arizona Corporate Commission rejected a request from UniSource Energy Services to get rid of net metering and impose demand charges on new residential solar customers. Following this decision, Arizona solar consumers will continue to receive retail rate on their net metering, but will see a slight increase in fixed charges that will be applied to all customers.
The utility, UNS Electric, serves only 93,000 customers in southern Arizona, but the victory for solar was seen as an important one, largely because the Salt River Project, one of Arizona’s largest utilities, succeeded in a bid in late 2014 to put a $50 fee on solar customers. The new rate sent a jolt through the state’s solar industry, which lost a quarter of its jobs in less than a year.
After failing to get a similar rate hike approved in 2013, the state’s largest utility, APS, has continued to fight for fees on solar customers. Negotiations recently broke down between the utility and the solar industry. Any rate changes must be approved by the commission.
So it was greeted with a sigh of relief when the commission did not grant UNS Electric a similar decision.
But this decision doesn’t end the debate over net metering or demand charges. The ACC opened a value of solar docket last year to better understand this cost-shifting debate between utilities and the solar industry to inform a final decision. That will be concluded in October, and you can expect a more definitive answer regarding solar remuneration rates in the state after that concludes.
Further Reading: U.S. solar policy update: 42 states take action (24 involving net metering)
— Solar Builder magazine