Nearly a decade ago, Sonoma County became the first county in the nation to offer an innovative financing option to encourage homeowners to invest in projects that reduced energy consumption and provided for a cleaner environment. Known as PACE, for property-assessed clean energy, the program made it easier to pay for renewable and energy-efficient upgrades by allowing homeowners to finance these projects through their property taxes. This program was designed to provide a vehicle for promoting important public policy initiatives, without using tax dollars or tax credits.
The Sonoma County program, known as SCEIP, was launched after California passed the most comprehensive legislation in the country to address climate change, with the goal of improving the environment while maintaining a robust economy. The fact that these pioneering programs were birthed in California was no accident.
The Golden State has long been a leader in addressing climate change, one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Residential PACE programs have now been approved in more than 50 California counties and have spread to Florida and Missouri. In California, the program has been expanded to support other public policy initiatives, including water conversation and seismic retrofits.
But now this program is in jeopardy of collapsing under the weight of new regulations. Losing PACE would have the unfortunate effect of eliminating strong economic and environmental benefits for our region.
The California Energy Commission’s new mandate receives mixed reviews.
The recent decision of the California Energy Commission to require the inclusion of rooftop solar photovoltaics on most new homes has engendered praise from some quarters, and criticism from others. Some see this new policy as a positive force, helping to reduce the cost of solar and contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Others despair policy makers’ tendency to choose technology winners and losers, and argue that the least cost choices are usually the best.
There is no disputing that the state’s new policy is a landmark event that may or may not set the stage for broader solar adoption across the country. Regardless of where you might find yourselves in the cheering section, allow me to offer several red flags to watch for, when considering critical perspectives on the topic of requiring rooftop solar:
1. When someone argues that rooftop solar is foolish because central station solar is cheaper, they are ignoring, or at least minimizing the import of, the difficulty in siting central station solar, the decade-long process of making such a project happen, the direct land use impacts of that technology, the need for more transmission lines and all of the related land-use impacts, the reduced reliability resulting from concentrating so much solar generation in one area as clouds roll by and nighttime falls, the potential of local grid benefits from local generation, and the way onsite generation can contribute to a broader strategy to make the use of energy more efficient and less impactful.
Jumping out ahead of the rest of the country, California on Wednesday moved to require solar panels on all new homes and low-rise apartment buildings starting in 2020.
The new building standard — unanimously approved by the five-member California Energy Commission — would be the first such statewide mandate in the nation. It represents the state’s latest step to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Robert Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, called it a “quantum leap.”
“You can bet every other of the 49 states will be watching closely to see what happens,” he said.
The commission endorsed the requirement after representatives of builders, utilities and solar manufacturers voiced support. It needs final approval from California’s Building Standards Commission, which typically adopts the energy panel’s recommendations when updating the state’s building codes.
The requirement would apply only to newly constructed homes, although many homeowners are choosing to install rooftop solar panels with the help of rebate programs.
The level of solar penetration varies quite a bit between the cities and towns in western Sonoma County. At the highest level, 6.83 percent of homes in Sebastopol have installed solar. This is notably more than Healdsburg, where only 3.02 percent of residents have installed solar.
Have you ever wondered how green western Sonoma County is and how we are contributing to protecting the environment and combating climate change? One major way we do this is by changing the way we produce electricity.
Household electricity consumption accounts for about one-third of all energy use, so by reducing or eliminating fossil fuels in electricity production, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint as individuals and as part of the towns where we live.
Installing solar panels is the easiest and more effective way to make electricity more sustainable. We know that more western Sonoma County residents each year are installing solar panels on their rooftops.
But we were were curious — just how many rooftops have solar and how much electricity gets generated from them in Sebastopol, Windsor, Healdsburg, Cloverdale? If every rooftop in these four towns had solar panels, how much electricity would this generate? Finally, how much carbon emissions would be saved by all of this?
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa has begun installing nearly a thousand solar panels atop four city parking garages, modules that will both shade vehicles from the sun and reduce the city’s energy costs.
“I’m excited to see a much smaller PG&E bill,” said Luke Morse, the city’s parking supervisor as he helped organize the delivery of the panels on Tuesday.
A huge crane began hoisting the photovoltaic panels and the steel canopies that will support them onto garage roofs Tuesday morning.
If all goes well, the installations should take about a month per garage, with the project completed in a few months.
The city estimates the $1.4 million project will pay for itself in about 11 years and save $1.4 million in power costs over the 25-year life of the arrays.
That should help the city achieve about 10 percent of its 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction target, said Kim Nadaeu, parking district manager.
Read more at: Santa Rosa begins installing solar panels on parking garage roofs | The Press Democrat
Some of the slowdown in smaller-scale rooftop solar has come in maturing markets in states like California, where rooftop solar companies are having trouble expanding their customer base beyond early adopters.
Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900 percent by one estimate.
That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2 percent, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.
But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.
Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
New opportunities are expected to shine soon on the world’s solar industry, and Petaluma’s Enphase Energy is striving to survive long enough to enjoy them.
The energy tech company with 350 employees has reported annual losses every year since it went public in 2012, including nearly $67.5 million worth of red ink last year. Since September, it has gone through two rounds of layoffs and raised about $26 million by issuing new stock and bringing in two major investors.
Enphase officials say with confidence that a turnaround is underway and the company is on track to make a profit in the second half of 2017. Its employees have worked to significantly cut the cost of producing its signature devices, microinverters that take DC, or direct current, power from solar panels and transform it into AC, or alternating current, power for homes.
And one of its recent products, an encased home battery system, is making its U.S. debut just as the rules governing solar energy rates are changing in California, home to half the nation’s solar production.
Due to the rate change, new rooftop solar owners are expected to make less money than their predecessors for the power they sell to utilities in the Golden State. As such, energy storage systems and rate-savvy monitoring technology could one day help future solar owners take advantage of the best times to buy, sell and store power.“
The way people are approaching the solar business today will look antiquated in just a couple of years from now,” said Enphase President and CEO Paul Nahi.
Residents won’t simply buy solar panels, but complete energy packages that include storage and operating systems managed in the cloud, he said. And Enphase has the products and software technology to maximize efficiency.
Read more at: Petaluma’s Enphase Energy strives to survive as solar industry transforms | The Press Democrat
NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
The federal government has announced new guidelines that will make it easier for the sale and financing of homes with existing property-assessed clean energy (PACE) loans, through the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Veterans’ Administration (VA).
Seniority has been a sticking point for PACE loans since California enacted Assembly Bill 811 of 2008, allowing such financing, and the pioneering Sonoma County Energy Independence Program launched in March 2009.
“This guidance provides resolution on how PACE financings will be handled in the event of a property’s sale, refinance or foreclosure and upholds PACE’s senior lien position,” said Stacey Lawson, CEO and president of Ygrene Energy Fund, a Santa Rosa-based PACE financing provider. “This is confirmation for the homeowners and local governments that have realized enormous, positive benefits of PACE financing for energy and water-related improvements.”
PACE programs enable homeowners to finance up to 20 years water and energy-efficiency projects, paying for the improvements along with their property taxes.
The new guidelines say that a senior PACE lien can be secured to a property with an FHA-insured mortgage in a manner consistent with traditional special property-tax assessments. Additionally, the announcement reinforces lien transferability by stating that in the event of a sale — including a foreclosure sale — that the outstanding PACE obligation will remain with the property and the new homeowner will be responsible for the balance.
The Obama administration, in collaboration with state agencies, also announced a new goal to bring 1 gigawatt of solar — enough to power roughly 700,000 homes — to low- and moderate- income families by 2020. The Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative is a joint partnership between the department of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Veteran’s Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Source: Feds ease rules on homes with PACE green-upgrade loans | The North Bay Business Journal
… Councilman Sam Salmon, the lone dissenting vote, said he was still troubled over the removal of trees and that the original low-income units proposed were dropped.
It’s the biggest housing development to get approval since Windsor incorporated and it will go a long way toward providing badly needed rental housing.
That was the consensus of the Town Council members Wednesday as they voted 4-1 to approve a revised development plan for the 387-unit Vintage Oaks on the Town Green, the once controversial project planned for the site of the former Windsorland mobile home and trailer park.“This is a great day for Sonoma County,” said Mayor Mark Millan, adding that it will provide new housing choices for both young and old.
“It’s sorely needed,” he said.
It’s a huge complement to the downtown and the new Bell Village center,” Councilwoman Deb Fudge said in reference to the site it will occupy just to the north of the new Oliver’s Market and shopping center.
She and other council members touted the ability residents will have to walk to the nearby station to ride SMART commuter trains, which Fudge said could be in service in Windsor by the summer of 2018, if grant funding comes through to extend the line beyond its current terminus just north of Santa Rosa.
Developers hope to begin building the first half of Vintage Oaks as early as next month and be ready to rent units out by the summer of 2017, according to project manager Peter Stanley, a principal in Santa Rosa-based ArchiLOGIX.
Southern California developer Bob Bisno said he and his partners expect to spend as much as $135 million to build the combination of apartments and townhomes, which will feature rooftop solar panels and a dozen electric vehicle charging stations initially, with potential to add more.
Read more at: Windsor approves Vintage Oaks on the Town Green housing project
Geoffrey Smith, CENTER FOR CLIMATE PROTECTION
The fate of rooftop solar has been a cliffhanger for the last few months.
On January 28, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted on the future of Net Energy Metering (NEM) and its impacts on rooftop solar in California.
The consequences of a ‘bad’ CPUC decision are proven. We need only look at rate decisions recently made in Nevada and Hawaii, which devastated the rooftop solar industry. Would California go the way of Nevada? Thankfully, that was not the outcome.
In a 3-2 vote, the CPUC helped secure a future of growth for rooftop solar by adopting a NEM successor tariff largely resembling the original tariff (or “rate structure”), that governs how rooftop solar generators are compensated for the energy they produce.
What does this mean for you, the rooftop solar generator? First and foremost, it means you will continue to be paid full retail rate (rather than a lower wholesale rate proposed by the utilities) for all of the power you produce and send to the grid. Additionally, no monthly fixed or transmission access charges were imposed, and only a ‘reasonable’ one-time fee will be charged for connection to the grid. Overall, the outcome was a big win for rooftop solar.
The Center for Climate Protection attended the CPUC session to show our support and bring to you a report of the day’s events.
Despite months – years, in fact – of aggressive lobbying and grassroots organizing from the solar industry and climate activists, the prevailing sentiment on January 28 was one of tension and uncertainty.
More than twenty audience members presented public comments from a variety of perspectives, almost all supporting strong NEM rules favoring rooftop solar. Only one spoke against such rule-making: The California Chamber of Commerce.
At the close of the public comment period, CPUC President Michael Picker opened the discussion among the commissioners. He noted that the proposed decision (PD) from December to extend NEM would give customers more choice as well as responsibility, and that the PD was moving in the right direction. He voted YES (1-0).
Commissioner Liane Randolph also spoke in defense of NEM, saying that the PD strikes the right balance in a complicated process. She voted YES (2-0).
Commissioner Catherine Sandoval had enthusiastically supported the PD leading up to the previous day’s amended proposal in which transmission access charges were removed. She said she could not support the proposal without those charges in place. She voted NO (2-1).
Commissioner Michael Florio largely echoed Sandoval’s comments, and voted NO (2-2). The tension in the room escalated as the 2-2 vote and ultimate decision moved to the last commissioner. ‘What if’ scenarios were playing out in everyone’s minds.
Commissioner Carla Peterman opened her remarks by acknowledging the wide range of views on the matter and endorsed the PD as moving in the right direction. She said she looked forward to working on the future of NEM, which the CPUC takes up again in 2019. And then she cast a YES vote for the 3-2 final vote in favor of NEM.
Rooftop solar lives to power our communities for another day! The mood in the room as the (mostly) rooftop solar supporters stood to leave the chamber was one of relief. This was a hard-fought battle over a complex set of issues governing an individual’s right to choose how they power their lives. But the real winner was the climate. With new certainty now established around rooftop solar rates, greenhouse gas reductions will accelerate. Go solar!