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California organisations warn of ‘ill-informed changes’ to net metering policy

Jules Scully, PV-TECH

A coalition of 347 organisations has warned that potential changes to California’s policy support for rooftop solar could set back climate change progress and harm low-income residents’ access to solar energy.

An open later sent by campaign group Save California Solar to state Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) calls on policymakers to keep solar affordable as the Newsom Administration considers changes to net energy metering (NEM), a policy that defines how solar users send energy back to and interact with the grid.

NEM allows customers with rooftop PV systems to receive a financial credit on their electric bills for any surplus energy fed back to their utility.

According to the coalition, proposals by California utilities “would drastically reduce the credit solar consumers receive for the excess energy they produce”. The group said: “We are concerned that ill-informed changes to net metering, such as slashing solar bill savings or imposing new fees on solar users, will set back California’s climate change and environmental justice goals.”

Read more at https://www.pv-tech.org/california-organisations-warn-of-ill-informed-changes-to-net-metering-policy/

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Can rooftop solar save California’s open space?

Hayley Davis, BAY NATURE

This spring, Alameda County approved of the Aramis Renewable Energy Project, dividing East Bay environmentalists who disagree about whether the undeveloped North Livermore Valley should remain open ranchland and wildlife habitat, or whether part of the flat, sunny valley would be put to better use as a solar farm to help the Bay Area transition away from fossil fuels.

All around California, the development of open space to produce renewable energy has put climate and biodiversity goals at odds. To meet the state’s 2045 goal of 100 percent renewable energy will require between 1.6 and 3.1 million acres of wind and solar, according to projections from The Nature Conservancy, and much of that land, like the North Livermore Valley, has wildlife living on it. The debate has become acrimonious, framed as a choice between stopping the extinction of the desert tortoise or the extreme heat killing people in the Pacific Northwest.

But some scientists and activists say there’s another way: the deployment of distributed solar systems, such as those on rooftops and over parking lots. After federally threatened desert tortoises died as a result of the Yellow Pine Solar Project in the Mojave Desert, Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch, wrote, “Does using renewable energy mean we have to push species toward extinction? No, these solar panels can easily go on rooftops and brownfields.” Already over a million homes in California have rooftop panels, and more residential rooftop solar is installed here each year than any other state by far.

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/07/15/can-rooftop-solar-save-californias-open-space/?

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Op-Ed: How PG&E and other California utilities are trying to kill rooftop solar

Ken Cook, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

A high-stakes battle is under way over the future of rooftop solar energy in California. On one side: Current and future rooftop solar consumers in the nation’s leading solar state. On the other, the state’s big three investor-owned utilities — PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The utilities have petitioned the state Public Utilities Commission to slash by more than half the credit they must pay customers for excess energy generated by rooftop solar panels. They also want to charge new rooftop solar customers nearly $70 a month just to hook up to the grid.

The PUC will hold hearings on this petition beginning July 26. The final decision, due by the end of the year, could cost solar ratepayers millions, essentially destroying the rooftop solar market in California.

Instead of considering penalties for rooftop solar customers, PUC commissioners should be asking why we still need a regressive utility model.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: How PG&E and other California utilities are trying to kill rooftop solar”

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Op-Ed: Public utilities commission is working against California’s climate goals

Laura Neish, CALMATTERS

Rooftop and other small solar projects are an important part of the state’s future energy grid, not just benefiting their owners, but providing stability, resilience and key services to everyone. Given rooftop solar’s importance to us all, it is extremely disappointing that the California Public Utilities Commission unanimously voted last month to significantly reduce the value small-solar owners are credited for their energy contributions to the grid.

The decision will discourage — or even destroy the market for — rooftop solar on existing roofs. It also raises the question of whether it will keep the state’s electric grid from reaching its goal of distributing 100% clean (nonfossil fuel) energy by 2045, as required by law.

The commission maintains an incentive structure that pays Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to do the wrong thing. The commission needs to rethink what is best for California and encourage more rooftop installations, which provide essential benefits, such as keeping energy flowing locally during outages. They are the fastest route to 100% clean energy in the state.

These millions of rooftop systems can act in concert to supply energy during peak demand, eliminating the need to power up or build new, inefficient, “peaker” electric generation plants. Less dramatically, rooftop systems allow solar owners to reduce their own grid use during high electric demand.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/commentary/2021/06/public-utilities-commission-is-working-against-californias-climate-goals/

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CPUC votes in favor of utility-developed solar despite rooftop market’s opposition

Billy Ludt, SOLAR POWER WORLD

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously to approve major modifications to the “Avoided Cost Calculator” (ACC) that deeply undercuts the value of rooftop solar on Thursday. The vote came after over 7,000 public comments were submitted to the commissioners protesting the modifications and after dozens of members of the public called to testify at the commission meeting.

The ACC is a model developed by E3, a consulting firm regularly used by utilities to put out research products biased against distributed energy generation, that is also under contract with the CPUC. The ACC measures utility avoided costs from customer solar — how much utility costs go down for every solar roof built in California. It is the state’s official “value of solar” calculator.

This year E3 and CPUC included major revisions that cut the value of rooftop solar in the 2021 calculator by about one-third the value in the 2020 version. The calculator has an additional 30 GW of utility-scale solar and storage going online by 2025.

“Rooftop solar is essentially crowded out by these new resources and its value is measured to be lower,” industry advocacy group Save California Solar stated in a press release. “The idea of 30 GW of utility-scale solar and storage being installed over the next four years is wildly out of step with reality.”
Continue reading “CPUC votes in favor of utility-developed solar despite rooftop market’s opposition”

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Rooftop solar and home batteries make a clean grid vastly more affordable

David Roberts, VOLTS

A New Roadmap for the Lowest Cost Grid

Energy nerds love arguing over the value of distributed energy resources (DERs), the rooftop solar panels and customer-owned batteries that are growing more popular by the day. There’s a fight in California right now over the value of energy from rooftop solar, just the latest skirmish in a long war that has ranged over numerous states.

The conventional wisdom in wonk circles is that the value provided by DERs is not sufficient to overcome the fact that the energy they produce is, on a per-kWh basis, much more expensive than that produced by utility-scale solar, wind, and batteries (residential solar is roughly 2.5 times as expensive as utility-scale solar, according to NREL).

For that reason, many wonks view DERs as a kind of boutique energy and argue that public funds are better spent on utility-scale energy.

Turns out: no, that’s wrong. Some groundbreaking new modeling demonstrates that the value of DERs to the overall electricity system is far greater than has typically been appreciated.

Read more at https://www.volts.wtf/p/rooftop-solar-and-home-batteries?

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California’s solar mandate to allow homes without solar

Cuneyt Dil, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Over the objections of environmentalists, California regulators approved a proposal Thursday to allow builders to construct homes without solar panels, a decision critics said undercuts California’s seven-week-old law that all new houses have their own solar power.

At a passionate hearing, the California Energy Commission unanimously approved the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s plan to build its own large-scale solar site that homeowners can tap into, forgoing the need for solar on each new home.

Environmentalists said it guts the state’s new landmark mandate and will lead to other statewide proposals copying Sacramento’s utility, which serves 1.5 million residents. But regulators backed the proposal after support from home builders and lawmakers who said it provides clean energy without raising home prices in a state facing a housing crisis.

“This is something that is bold and cutting edge,” Commissioner Janea Scott said of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s application.

The mandate that took effect Jan. 1 calls for new single-family houses or low-rise apartments to install solar panels. Alternately, utilities and organizations can apply to the California Energy Commission to build an offsite “community shared solar” site for buildings to draw from.

Using the latter option, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s plan sets a blueprint for private and public entities to seek their own large solar sites to meet the mandate, watchers say. The largest public utility in the U.S. — the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power — endorsed the idea in filings to the commission.

Public testimony ran for two hours at the commission meeting Thursday. Environmentalists and some homeowners said the move means fewer homes will be built with solar panels included. Solar advocates said consumers would save more money with their own solar panels rather than the savings from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s proposed plan.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10734660-181/californias-solar-mandate-to-allow

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More residents turn to solar power as North Coast faces growing threat of wildfires, blackouts

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Rick Mead and Mark Marion finally flip the switch on the solar array atop their rural Sebastopol home, their $300 monthly electric bill will drop to $25 — the cost of maintaining a connection to PG&E’s power grid.

A 30% federal tax credit, which declines next year to 26%, on the cost of the solar energy system made the investment a good idea, Mead said.

“It no longer made sense not to go with solar,” he said. “PG&E rates will increase in the coming years — in the long run, the estimate is that our system will pay for itself in seven years.”

But it wasn’t just economics that motivated Mead and Marion. The idea of powering their home on renewable energy was the right thing to do, Mead said, at a time when many people are troubled by the fallout of climate change, such as increasingly deadly and destructive wildfires in Northern California.

“It’s a great investment in ourselves, our community and our planet,” he said.

Jeff Mathias, owner and chief financial officer of Sebastopol-based Synergy Solar, which installed Mead and Marion’s solar system, said recent wildfires — which many argue have been exacerbated and supercharged by climate change — are bringing more attention to rooftop solar systems.

The increasing threat of fires and public safety efforts to prevent them that include potential blackouts are bringing more attention to residential solar energy systems that are environmentally friendly. Until recently, solar power mainly had been used by home and business owners to reduce electric bills.

A big concern among Sonoma County residents is a PG&E wildfire-prevention measure to temporarily turn off power to certain customers and entire communities, if necessary, threatened by a blaze, Mathias said.

“When power goes out, the system disconnects from PG&E and allows that home to continue to operate,” Mathias said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10028338-181/more-residents-turn-to-solar

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Windsor approves $100 million apartment complex featuring advanced energy efficiency

Alexandria Bordas, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After five years of planning, Windsor officials have approved construction of an apartment complex that will be the town’s most eco-friendly housing community.

Called The Mill, it will include 360 apartments built over the next two years with all electric mechanicals such as heat pumps for water and cooling and appliances powered by solar panels installed throughout the 20-acre property. Also, residents will have electric vehicle charging stations and the ability to store excess solar energy, among other amenities. There will be no gas lines anywhere in the apartment community.

Town leaders touted the $100 million housing development as being zero-net energy, meaning energy used by apartment tenants on an annual basis will be renewable and generated on-site. It is believed to be the largest apartment project with such aggressive energy efficiency set for construction in Sonoma County, said Peter Stanley, a project manager with ArchiLOGIX, a Santa Rosa design and consulting firm.

Stanley is working with Bob Bisno, a Southern California developer that recently got the go-ahead from Windsor Town Council to build the housing project on the south end of Windsor River Road.

It will be walking distance from the planned Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station.

The development represents another key piece of the town’s leaders renewable energy agenda to contend with climate change. Last month, Windsor officials said the town will use solar energy to power its water facilities, by teaming with a French company that’s installing floating solar panels this summer across a large pond on the town’s public works property.

The town council approved The Mill in hopes Windsor will get ahead of a California state law that will require all building permits issued for most new homes and multifamily residences after Jan. 1, 2020 to include rooftop solar panels. Also, state officials last year announced a goal of having all new commercial construction achieving zero net energy by 2030.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9780974-181/windsor-approves-100-million-apartment

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Sutter Health solar project at Santa Rosa hospital can power over 200 homes a year

Cheryl Sarfaty, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital on Monday will formally “flip the switch” on its new carport solar panels that have been installed over its main parking lot and on the rooftop of Shea House, which houses families of hospitalized children.

The 4,627 solar modules covering approximately 565 parking spaces will support 40% of the main hospital’s electricity, according to Shaun Ralston, regional manager at Sutter Health.

The new carport solar panels are expected to generate 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually, which would be equivalent to powering 206 homes in one year, according to Sutter.

Shea House, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in the October 2017 wildfires, had 10 solar panels installed on its rooftop, supporting 89% of needed electricity on the site, Ralston said.

“Sutter started looking at these solar projects in (early) 2017,” Ralston said. “We were planning this before the fires … but now we really don’t want to be dependent on the grid.”

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital already generates 45% of its electric power with fuel-cell technology. By adding the solar panels, the hospital is now generating 85% of its power on-site, purchasing the rest from PG&E, Ralston said.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/9695962-181/sutter-health-santa-rosa-solar