Infographic: For World Water Day, Go Solar to Save Water

WWD

*Last Modified: June 18th, 2014
When people think about going solar, they’re usually thinking about their pocketbooks, not the planet. That’s reasonable, of course, since homeowners save an average of $84 a month with solar.

And when people do think about saving the planet with their solar panels, they’re probably thinking more often about the incredible amounts of carbon pollution they’ll be avoiding by switching to clean energy.

But a lesser-known fact about solar is that it also saves lots of water, and on World Water Day — and one that’s happening in the midst of a devastating drought in the West — which is an important fact to highlight.

The infographic below shows how our four of the most-common energy sources use water at every stage. In a nutshell, solar wins across the board.

 

World Water Day infographic

So this World Water Day, go solar — for your pocketbook and for the planet!

Minnesota Becomes First State to Put a Value on Home Solar Power

140317-minnesota

*Last Modified: June 19th, 2014
minnesota solar installationOn Wednesday, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted to become the first state in the nation to come up with a methodology for calculating the value of solar power generated by consumers — and not just how much that power is worth to the utility company and its customers, but to society and the global environment as a whole.

[Editor's note: This article, by Kiley Kroh, originally appeared on ThinkProgress, and is reprinted with permission.

As solar energy in particular skyrockets in the U.S., placing a dollar value on that power has been challenging and is often ignored, which makes Minnesota’s effort an even bigger step. “Minnesota has really set itself apart by determining a methodology to calculate the true value of solar to the electricity grid — a value that should include the full range of benefits as well as the costs,” said Mari Hernandez, energy research associate at the Center for American Progress. “This decision could influence other states as they evaluate how to move forward with their own solar-related policies.”

Why do we need to find the ‘value of solar?’

When customers install a solar system on their homes, it doesn’t just provide them with a good feeling that they’re boosting clean energy and cutting back on the electricity they get from fossil fuels. It also provides a clear value to utility companies. Solar generates during peak hours, when a utility has to provide electricity to more people than at other times during the day and energy costs are at their highest. Solar panels actually feed excess energy back to the grid, helping to alleviate the pressure during peak demand. In addition, because less electricity is being transmitted to customers through transmission lines, it saves utilities on the wear and tear to the lines and cost of replacing them with new ones.

The tricky piece of the equation, however, is determining how much that excess solar power produced by customers and sold back to the grid is worth.

Why is Minnesota’s calculation special?

Minnesota’s value of solar is particularly groundbreaking because the commission chose to look beyond the economic value of solar power to the utility and take into consideration the cost to society and the environment that comes from burning fossil fuels. The decision comes after “nearly two years of discussions among state officials, utility representatives and solar advocates,” prompted by a 2013 bill “requiring the state’s energy office to develop a formula that utilities may use to determine how it should compensate customers who generate electricity from solar panels,” Midwest Energy News reported.

In the end, at the urging of environmental groups and the state’s Department of Commerce, the commission voted to adopt the U.S. government’s social cost of carbon figure.

Put simply, the social cost of carbon is the government’s estimate of how much carbon emissions harm the economy — such as the cost to public health, agricultural output, sea-level rise and other damaging effects that stem from carbon pollution and climate change. Clean energy advocates argue that the cost of carbon doesn’t really get accounted for in the current energy economy; even when customers are compensated for generating solar power, that calculation typically doesn’t include the larger benefit that comes from decreasing the amount of carbon pollution that’s emitted into the atmosphere.

One of the dissenting votes in Minnesota’s decision came from Commissioner David Boyd, who argued that the government’s social cost of carbon figure hadn’t been adequately vetted. The U.S. government’s mid-range estimate for the cost of carbon in 2015 recently increased to $37 per ton of carbon dioxide, a number the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Institute for Policy Integrity argued was far too low in a report released Thursday.

As Jeff Spross explained on Climate Progress, estimates vary widely and “the relevant science has put together studies pegging the SCC at anything from $55 per ton, to $100 per ton, to as much as $900 per ton.”

While the social cost of carbon will likely be debated for some time, Minnesota’s decision to incorporate the federal government’s calculation is a significant milestone for states determining the true impact of clean energy.

How will it work?

“Investor-owned utilities will now have the voluntary option of applying to use the value-of-solar formula instead of the retail electricity rate when crediting customers for unused electricity they generate from solar panels,” according to Midwest Energy News.

Even though the new formula is optional, solar customers in Minnesota will be backed up by their current compensation structure, a policy called net metering. Hernandez notes that it’s worth pointing out the differences between this new voluntary tariff and the state’s current net metering policy. Through net metering, customers who generate their own renewable power, such as solar power, receive a credit for any excess electricity they produce beyond what they use on-site. Under a value of solar tariff — also considered a feed-in tariff — customers buy all of the electricity they use on-site from the utility, and then sell all of the solar power they produce to the utility. “Essentially, the state’s net metering policy values customer-generated renewable power used on-site and sent back to the grid at the retail electricity rate,” she explains, “while the voluntary tariff will be based on the state’s methodology, could eventually be set above or below the retail electricity rate, and would not differentiate between power used on-site or put back on the grid.” Rates under the new tariff structure in Minnesota will be set for a 25-year term and adjusted annually for inflation.

As solar establishes itself in several states across the U.S., clean energy advocates, consumers, and utilities are quickly finding themselves at odds over the value of solar power and how much it’s worth to all of the stakeholders involved, as well as to society and the environment as a whole. 43 states and the District of Columbia currently have net metering policies in place and several key solar states, such as Arizona and Colorado, have seenheated battles over the future of net metering. Last year, Arizona added what amounts to a $5 per month surcharge for solar customers and other states are considering similar measures.

Minnesota solar installation photo CC-licensed by Minnesota Solar Challenge on Flickr.

Solar Jobs: Solar Leads the Nation in Creating Jobs

140313-jobs

*Last Modified: June 19th, 2014
clean jobs reportThe last couple of weeks have seen a number of great stories published about the benefits that solar is bringing to the economy and the planet. Not only have we seen state rankings for solar potential from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a look back at the incredible solar boom of 2013, and a roadmap for reaching 100 percent renewables in every state by 2050 — we’ve also seen how veterans are benefiting from solar jobs in large numbers across the country.

A new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) adds more good news to the stack, showing that last year, more than 260 projects created more than 78,600 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in 2013. Over the past two years, since E2 has been tracking the data–clean energy and clean transportation has created more than 186,000 jobs in the U.S.

“Our report makes it clear. When we invest in clean energy and clean transportation, we put people to work in every corner of the country,” E2 Executive Director Judith Albert said in a statement. “Whether it’s a new wind farm in Iowa, an energy efficiency retrofit in Massachusetts, or a utility-scale solar array in Nevada, these projects require American ingenuity and labor. The sector is helping stimulate our economy.”

Through the report, solar shines as the biggest creator of new jobs: In total, solar more than 25,600 jobs in generation and manufacturing, far outstripping any other sector. Building energy efficiency claims over 12,500 jobs created in 2013, and public transportation, wind power and smart grid round out the top five job creators.

The chart below shows one of the regional breakouts for clean jobs in 2013 — in the Southeast, solar led the pack in job creation, but robust job growth also happened in energy efficiency, bioenergy and manufacturing.

1401313-jobs-fig1Download the full report from E2, available here [PDF].

SEIA Report Tracks Solar’s Incredible 2013, as the Boom Continues

140305-seia-report

*Last Modified: June 5th, 2014
seia reportQuick! Close your eyes and picture the future. Is it solar-powered? If you said no, it’s time to unplug your reality television.

Here’s some brighter programming. Solar Energy Industries Association’s 2013 report on U.S. capacity installations is in (PDF), and it’s beyond safe to say that solar is on fire. Although it should come as a surprise to no one who has been paying attention to the sector, or our wider global energy picture, the photovoltaic year that was increased 40 percent over 2012, installed 4,751 megawatts and booked $13.7 billion in market value.

“The U.S. solar market showed the first real glimpse of its path toward mainstream status,” the SEIA report explains. “The combination of rapid customer adoption, grassroots support for solar, improved financing terms, and public market successes indicated clear gains for solar in the eyes of both the general population and the investment community.”

Predictably, half of that came from California, which is acting like a state that takes disruptive climate change quite seriously. It reigned above the rest with 2,745 MW, the only quadruple-digit winner of the bunch. Perhaps having installation leader SolarCity and efficiency leader Sunpower, whose stock grew 431 percent(!) last year in Cali’s backyard had a little something to do with that. Or it could very well be that historically progressive California has usually embraced the future as others have clung to the past. To wit, as SEIA’s 2013 report infographic notes, “half of all capacity ever added in California was installed in 2013.”

Other states are catching up, however. Last year, 100 percent of new electrical capacity installed in Arizona, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Missouri, Vermont and even gridlocked D.C. came thanks to solar. Arizona came behind California with 700 MW installed last year, which would likely have been higher were it not for a turf battle between utilities and net metering, as SolarEnergy has noted before.

Nationally speaking, however, America is statistically speeding up. In 2013, the sunshine industry accounted for 29 percent of all new electricity generation capacity, a notable increase from 10 percent in 2012, as costs further cratered 15 percent. SEIA forecasts 26 percent growth in photovoltaic installations for this year, mostly in the residential market. It all looks good on paper and in practice.

But no one should break out the party hats. Solar is literally in a death race with so-called natural gas, which accounted for a whopping 46 percent of new electrical generation capacity installed last year, taking first place in the competition for our new energy normal. As coal fades into memory, at least in America, solar is going to have to work even harder to persuade consumers, industry and especially government that it is the only true renewable energy in the global marketplace. Let’s get back to work.

How L.A. is Implementing the Nation’s Largest Solar Feed-in Tariff

140228-la-solar-2

*Last Modified: June 5th, 2014
LA solar roofWhen it comes to rolling out solar across the rooftops, Los Angeles is the city to watch. With 100 MW of installed solar capacity to distribute among building owners who can sell back the energy to the grid, the city’s Department of Water and Power is currently implementing the largest solar feed-in tariff program in the U.S. How is the program progressing, and what sort of lessons has it learned that other cities can apply to their own initiatives?

[Editor's note: Cross-posted from SolarEnergy.net.]

A recently released evaluation of the first year of the feed-in tariff program (also known as Clean LA Solar) provides some insight. The study was commissioned by the Los Angeles Business Council Institute and conducted by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Public Affairs.

To get a handle on its performance in the first year of the estimated 3-year program, Luskin Center researchers J.R. DeShazo and Alex Turek interviewed Clean LA Solar administrators, solar developers and property owners about their experiences during the initial two phases. LA’s Department of Water and Power is tasked with deploying 20 MW during each six-month phase to qualified applicants.

What’s been going on

Since its launch and allocation of 40 MW of rooftop solar capacity (via 20-year contracts to each participant), Clean LA Solar is on track to meet its 100 MW goal by 2016, according to the evaluation, and has accomplished the following:

  • Jobs: Generated 862 job-years (one year of one job) as determined by job-years created in the manufacturing of the solar system’s components (excluding the PV cells), installation, grid connection, operation and management, as well as the utility’s work to upgrade the grid’s network and administration of the feed-in tariff program
  • Sufficient public interest: Received 226 applications for its small project category (up to 3 MW installed capacity for each) and large project (between 30 kW to 150 kW) categories — an “adequate” number, according to DeShazo and Turek
  • Direct investment in the City of Los Angeles: Approximately $122 million from the solar industry (assuming that the average cost of installed solar watt is $3.05)
  • Avoided greenhouse gas emissions: Saved 2.145 billion pounds of CO2 when compared to a coal-generated power plant, or allocated enough renewable energy equivalent to removing 200,000 cars from Los Angeles roadways
  • Solar-powered homes: Allocated enough renewable energy to power approximately 8,640 homes in a year

“Although the first and second tranches [phases] were successful, this study highlights an opportunity to make the process more user-friendly and cost-efficient in the future,” said LA city councilmember Mitchell Englander.

What could be done better?

Researchers identified opportunities for improvement. These include:

  • Monitor pricing to keep smaller projects competitive: Due to economies of scale, current price offerings may not be attractive for smaller project developers if the cost of solar components, capital, or installation rise
  • Enable applications to be rolled over to the next phase: Allow building owner applicants to be automatically considered for the next phase (rather than making them apply all over again if a phase’s 20 MW allocation has already been distributed). This helps meet a common challenge among solar developers to continue working with building owners who will host solar systems on site through the Clean LA Solar program
  • Establish a standardized acceptance and rejection timeframe for applicants: Applicants reported unclear expectations as to how quickly they would hear from Clean LA Solar as to whether they were accepted or not
  • Communications: Applicants would be more likely to understand how to comply with codes and regulations if the city’s building and safety department could develop a Clean LA Solar guide for building owners/program participants. The goals and benefits of the program appear to be poorly understood by the public and the participants, which can hinder program participation
  • Building out programs: Clean LA Solar’s 20-year contract period is not long enough for solar developers to know whether or not it’s worth continued investment for a permanent presence in the city. Policymakers should build out or build upon the program so that companies can make plans to expand their local workforce

Clean energy advocates such as Environment California‘s Michelle Kinman says the program’s success so far is reason to start looking ahead on how the city can commit to an even larger goal of adding on 500 MW to the program to reach a 600 MW of total installed capacity by 2020.

“We want to start now on ramping it up,” said Kinman, clean energy advocate for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization. “It’s just scratching the roof of LA’s full power potential.”

Echoing the evaluation’s findings, Kinman said that the city needs to send a signal to developers of a continued and expanded commitment to solar, otherwise they may feel compelled to invest elsewhere.

Environment California is working with the LA Business Council and a coalition of other organizations to get the city to source 20 percent of its power — 1200 MW — from solar by 2020. The timing couldn’t be better, as Los Angeles is currently considering its future energy mix, thanks to a resolution passed last April which commits to being coal-free by 2025, two years ahead of a state mandate.

But while Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, local and state officials and an array of organizations and community leaders have endorsed the call, the city has yet to formally sign on.

“Rooftops of office buildings, warehouses and apartments within the Los Angeles basin are proving to be outstanding sites for solar power plants,” said Brad Cox, chairman of the LA Business Council Institute. “With about 10,000 acres of rooftops in Los Angeles, we think the sky is the limit for the [Clean Solar LA] solar FiT program.”

Los Angeles solar roof photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Eric Richardson.

Coal is a Disease that Costs Us $60 Billion a Year

CoalWorkers

coal minersI’ll say it up front: We are clearly biased toward renewable energy, particularly home solar systems. That much is obvious. Why we believe renewables are the future of energy is I hope equally obvious, but it can’t hurt to underline the reasons.

In just the last two months, we’ve seen a series of disasters small and large that are a direct result of our continued reliance on dirty energy. Whether it’s coal ash fouling a North Carolina river or a little-known chemical used by the coal industry leaving 300,000 West Virginians without water, it’s clear that the price of dirty energy is much higher than we usually think.

Last week, clean energy visionary Jigar Shah — founder of SunEdison, founding CEO of the Carbon War Room, and more — detailed the healthcare costs of coal in a post on LinkedIn. The number is shocking: Shah writes that $60 billion of healthcare expenditures each year are directly attributable to mining, transporting and burning coal for energy.

That number is based on a 2009 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, so you can expect that number has shifted somewhat — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, between 2009 and 2011 coal production increased by almost 20 million tons, though we’re still 90 million tons below the all-time high for coal production set in 2008.

Nonetheless, we’re paying a hefty price for coal. Shah lays out a short list of additional costs from coal production:

  • Fossil fuels cause an estimated 30,100 premature deaths each year, as well as more than 5.1 million lost workdays
  • Coal-fired power plants need lots of water for heating and cooling, with as much as 41 percent of fresh-water use going to cool coal, gas and nuclear power plants;
  • Pollution from power plants is a major cause of asthma in people of every age, with childhood asthma alone costing as much as $2 billion per year
  • In coal-mining areas of Appalachia, 60,000 cases of cancer are directly linked to “mountaintop removal” mining practices.

The good news, as Shah has it, is that regulations put in place by forceful protests by concerned Americans ensure that the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants will be too expensive to run in just six years.

But what will be the replacement for this dirty energy? The powers that represent the status quo would have our power come from slightly-less-dirty energy in the form of natural gas and oil, produced in ever more invasive, destructive and polluting ways — and ever closer to population centers nationwide.

Shah argues that there is a better way: “Replacing old coal plants with clean energy solutions would represent the largest wealth creation opportunity available in the USA — $50B per year. Even without a plan and wide support, in 2013, the solar industry created more jobs than the coal mining industry.”

And he points us to The Solutions Project, which we just reported about on SolarEnergy.net yesterday: Scientists at Stanford have begun an ambitious project to map out a path to 100 percent renewable energy for each and every state in the U.S.

The project has already unveiled a roadmap for California’s clean energy future, as well as for Washington State and New York, and it will be interesting to see what the maps look like for coal country and other areas that are more heavily invested in fossil fuels.

In the meantime, check out Jigar Shah’s entire post and learn how you can take action to get us off dirty coal at The Solutions Project website. And while you’re at it, go solar if you haven’t already!

Matthew Wheeland is the editor of SolarEnergy.net, a sister publication to and .

Coal miners photo CC-licensed by the United Nations.

What It’s Like to Climb the World’s Second-Tallest Mountain

World's2ndTallest

*Last Modified: June 5th, 2014
aconcagua peak[Editor's note: When CEO Zbigniew Barwicz climbed Mt. Aconcagua for charity last month, we blogged about some of his adventures. In this excerpt of a longer article originally published in Chatelaine Magazine, he tells more of the story to Sarah Treleaven.]Last

Last month, Zbig Barwicz climbed Argentina’s Aconcagua mountain to help raise funds for the David Suzuki Foundation. His amazing adventures (and incredible pictures!) are chronicled in his blog, Climb for DSF. Here, Barwicz explains what it’s really like to climb one of the world’s highest mountains.

I climbed Aconcagua — the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas and one of the Seven Summits. It’s close to 23,000 feet and I achieved it in a guided expedition over 20 days. I went with the Alpine Ascent International group and our guide had climbed Mount Everest twice. We also had a sherpa from Nepal. There were 10 climbers from Canada, the United States and Australia. It can be challenging to share a tent with two or three people you don’t know —  none of whom can take a shower for three weeks. You have to work together to build the camp and get things done. It can be pretty intense, but we didn’t have any major drama.

Every day is different. It took three days just to walk to the mountain and get to base camp. You’re drinking four or five litres of water a day and eating at least 3,000 calories. You have to be very disciplined about eating and drinking every hour Packing up or unpacking camp takes longer and longer the higher you get because the altitude makes you do everything slower….

Read the rest at Chatelaine Magazine.

What are the Top 10 Solar Metro Areas in the U.S.?

140210-cities

*Last Modified: June 5th, 2014
solar cities mapBy Kristine Wong, originally published on our sister site, SolarEnergy.net.

With a solar system installed every four minutes in the U.S., keeping track of the bright spots on solar’s local landscape can be a tough job.

We wanted to know the answer to a simple (or simple-seeming) question: What are the hottest cities for solar in the U.S.? The first thing we found is that we were asking the wrong question — rather than individual cities, the metric we found is the installed solar capacity per capita of metropolitan areas (using cities as a unit is considered to be problematic, since large installations located near individual cities can skew the data). We were also curious to know what common factors contributed to solar’s success, and what were the individual standout factors contributing to just one metro area alone?

Thankfully, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the federal government’s innovation center for renewable energy research, keeps a tally of just the data we were looking for. It’s accessible to the public on its Open PV Database.

So who’s winning the solar horse race? The table below spells it out. (Note: for clarity’s sake, we truncated the names of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the list below; we hope you get the gist of where we’re talking about…)

 

Rank Top 15 Solar Metro Areas by Installed Solar Capacity per Capita* Watts per capita
1 Fresno, Calif. 182.92
2 Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz. 84.76
3 Las Vegas, Nev. 77.62
4 Sacramento-Yolo, Calif. 76.27
5 San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Calif. 62.99
6 San Diego, Calif. 51.34
7 Philadelphia, Penn., Wilmington, Del., Atlantic City, N.J. 51.11
8 New York City, Long Island, Northern New Jersey 35.96
9 Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, Calif. 35.49
10 San Antonio, Texas 35.4

Data source: NREL Open PV Project

Ken Johnson, a spokesperson for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C., noted that the estimates should be considered minimums for each metro area, since the NREL database only captures about two-thirds of the total installations.

Fresno, Calif.: the solar capital of the U.S.?

Johnson set the record straight. The more than twofold difference between No. 1 Fresno and No. 2 Phoenix, he said, had to do more with the peculiarities of the data, the size of the projects, and the Fresno area’s small population.

Since the area has more open space suitable for large-scale projects compared to others on the list, he said, many major solar projects (greater than 1 MW) have been installed in the Fresno metro area.

“When this is combined with Fresno’s relatively small population (just over a million in the metro area — roughly a quarter of the size of the Phoenix metro area), strong solar resources, proximity to thriving and mature solar economies (in San Francisco and Los Angeles), and strong state policy, it stands to reason that Fresno would be near the top of this list,” Johnson said.

Standout factors among the rest of the top 5

“Phoenix, Las Vegas and Sacramento to a lesser extent are situated near large swaths of open desert land, which tend to be prime locations for utility-scale solar projects,” Johnson said. “Northern California’s metro areas are ranked highly due to their strong distributed generation markets originating from strong state solar policies and solid solar resources.”

High local electricity costs also contributed to these standings, he added.

“San Francisco’s presence is driven primarily by its role as the headquarters for many of the country’s top players in the solar market,” he said. “Similarly, Phoenix plays a large role in the solar industry and sees much in the way of competition among companies.”

Residential solar

Though NREL’s installed capacity data does not distinguish between residential and non-residential installations, Johnson said that leaders for distributed generation solar are similar to the overall rankings.

With California as the runaway leader, the New York, Boston and Philadelphia metro areas are also leaders in installed distributed generation capacity — though “perhaps not in distributed generation capacity per capita,” Johnson said. “These areas have high electricity prices, fairly established markets (at least in New Jersey) and strong commitments to solar growth by state governments in Massachusetts, New York, and occasionally, New Jersey.”

Solar’s rising stars

Boston (currently ranked as the no. 8 by installed capacity per capita among major metropolitan areas) will grow, as a result of strong policy support in Massachusetts and the amount of companies moving into the area, Johnson predicted.

Due to its surging small utility market (1-5 MW), Johnson said he also likes North Carolina’s chances for increased installation capacity per capita.

“The Washington, D.C., area might be a place to watch as well — especially if proposed policy changes in Virginia come to fruition,” Johnson said.

Small-Scale Solar Has a Big Role to Play in the U.S. Energy Revolution

140207-factbook

*Last Modified: June 4th, 2014
solar panelsFor all the talk in recent years about Germany’s Energiewende — the Teutonic moniker for that country’s bold bid to replace its aging nuclear reactor fleet with renewables and efficiency — America is in the midst of its own energy revolution, finds a new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“A revolution is transforming how the U.S. produces, delivers, and consumes energy. The mix of supply is changing rapidly, with low-carbon sources gaining share, while consumption is declining, despite overall economic growth,” according to the 2014 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, commissioned by The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and released this week.

The report highlights the current big trends in energy efficiency, transportation and electricity generation and concludes that these have combined to put U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions “on a long-term downward trajectory.”

Among the key findings are that solar power’s contribution to the nation’s electricity portfolio is growing quickly and that small-scale solar electric systems have only just begun to unleash their “disruptive potential” upon the business-as-usual utility segment.

Fueled by falling prices for photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar-generated electricity, Bloomberg NEF forecasts that the record year for U.S. PV capacity additions in 2013 — including approximately 2,000 megawatts from centralized PV power plants and another some 2,000 megawatts from small-scale, distributed solar plants and rooftop systems — will repeat in record fashion in 2014.

“Prices of solar modules have declined by 99 percent since 1976 and by about 80 percent since 2008,” according to the data-rich report, which says that all-time-low solar electricity prices now have plummeted below 7 cents per kilowatt-hour for large-scale PV and helped to rally billions of dollars in investment for third-party-financed small-scale solar installations. Third-party financers, according to the report, raised $6.7 billion between 2008 and 2013 to build and lease small-scale solar systems — sized 1 MW in capacity and below — at U.S. homes and businesses.

Thanks in part to this expansion of innovative financing solutions that overcome the upfront cost barrier for many homeowners and business owners, “distributed generation emerged as a transformative phenomenon — if not yet in substance, then as a foreshadower of what’s to come,” said Bloomberg NEF.

Even though the vast majority of the country’s electricity continues to come from large-scale, centralized power plants, “the rise of distributed generation is ushering into the U.S. power industry new players and new business models, and testing the durability of old ones,” assessed the report, adding, “What lies ahead when it comes to distributed generation is more important than the current situation.”

In reference to the recent and ongoing disputes over net energy metering services for solar-powered utility customers in states like Arizona, California, Colorado and Hawaii, the report said that the “intense regulatory battles that played out across the country in 2013 over the relative costs and benefits of distributed PV” are a testament to how serious of a threat that small-scale solar has become.

Solar panel photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Chandra Marsono.

Colorado Gives the Public a Say on Net Metering, and You Can Help

ppl

colorado solar[Editor's note: This is a guest post from Annie Lappé of Vote Solar; it originally appeared on the Vote Solar blog and is reprinted with permission.]

Thanks to a tremendous outpouring of public solar support, yesterday the Colorado’s Public Utility Commission agreed to pull Xcel’s attacks on net metering out of the utility’s Renewable Energy Standard compliance plan and conduct a new, separate process to take a good look at this critically important solar program.

Net metering gives solar customers full retail credit on their energy bills for the excess power they contribute to the grid for the utility to resell nearby. Xcel issued a proposal to weaken the popular solar program as part of its 2014 Renewable Energy Standard Compliance Plan docket (Docket No. 13A-0836E). Today’s PUC decision removes all issues related to net metering to a new docket that will allow a more thorough discussion of the value and design of Colorado’s net metering program.

See what Colorado stakeholders – from veterans and the faith community to breweries and environmental groups – had to say in support of the decision here.

This is good progress, but the fight isn’t over. Xcel is already making moves to make sure they hold all the cards in this new process. Vote Solar will be working hard to counter their influence, and to make sure that the process established by the PUC is fair, open and transparent.

Specifically we are asking the PUC to consider the the following five recommendations in establishing and overseeing a process to evaluate net metering:

  1. Establish an informal workshop process instead of a litigated docket process. This is because in a litigated docket the parties are hamstrung by the discovery process, and cannot engage in a meaningful back and forth throughout the process.
  2. Engage the services of an independent facilitator with expertise in the area of renewable resources, and in particular distributed solar resources, to promote a collaborative dialogue and facilitate the sharing of information.
  3. Adopt the benefit/cost list in the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) ELab Report as a comprehensive list of costs/benefits that should be considered. Further we believe the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) A REGULATOR’S GUIDEBOOK: Calculating the Benefits and Costs of Distributed Solar Generation provides a great framework for calculating the list of costs and benefits presented by RMI.
  4. Focus on generator exports, as opposed to generation used onsite, as a basis for determining the cost and/or benefits of net metering.
  5. Clearly identify the intended outcomes of the process at the outset, e.g., how the results will be used. In this last regard, we recommend that a new docket begin with an informal meeting to discuss the goals of the PUC and the stakeholders.

Yesterday, when the Commissioners were discussing the scope and process for the investigation they specifically noted how interested they are in hearing from the public on this issue. Let’s not disappoint them.

If you live in Colorado, it’s more important than ever that you speak up for solar in person at next week’s Public Hearing:

RSVP & Details Here.

  • WHEN: February 3 from 4:30 p.m. until no later than 7:30 p.m.
  • WHERE: Public Utilities Commission Hearing Room, 1560 Broadway, Suite 250 Denver, Colorado.
  • WHAT: Come and speak out in support of Colorado’s net metering policy. Please thank the PUC and the Colorado Energy Office for their leadership thus far – and let them know that you won’t stand for anti-solar, anti-consumer shenanigans in the interest of protecting utility profits.

And if you can’t make it in person, we’ve made it easy for you to send in a comment through the Commission’s website. Click here to send an email.

Rooftop solar delivers tremendous ratepayer and societal benefits to Colorado. And our mission is to make sure the PUC considers this full range of benefits as part of their deeper investigation into net metering. We will keep you posted!