Big steel goes big solar in Colorado; Why not in Indiana?

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   August 20, 2018  /   Posted in Net Metering, solar  /   No Comments

Big steel goes big solar

Jasper County (IN) Group to propose change to wind turbine zoning ordinance

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   August 14, 2018  /   Posted in wind  /   No Comments

stock

Group to propose change to wind turbine zoning ordinance

by Nick Fiala

 

Dear Editor,

On behalf of the many concerned citizens of Jasper County, we would like to clarify our position on some of the issues associated with the wind turbine debate. We feel that the current Jasper County wind turbine zoning ordinance falls short of offering adequate protection to those who choose not to participate in the White Post Wind Project. We are not trying to tell anyone what they can or cannot do with their own property as long as what they can or cannot do with their own property rights. The benefits of wind turbines to participating landowners and the wind development companies are obvious — They make more money. Non-participants, however, fall way short on any benefits and, in fact, would likely have to experience all the ill effects of living in a wind turbine area.

We have made a new comprehensive proposal to change the current wind turbine zoning ordinance in Jasper County. This will help address the concerns of our friends and neighbors. The Jasper County Commissioners and the Plan Commission members have this proposal, and it will be discussed at the next Jasper County Plan Commission meeting on Monday, Aug. 27 at the Jasper County Fairgrounds at 7 p.m. Central Time.

Some have mentioned that we are being influenced by the outsiders who are part of a national anti-wind movement. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This group is as homegrown as it gets. We are made up of farmers, homeowners and landowners, large and small. Most of us work and/or live in east central Jasper County. The majority of the landowners in this area have decided not to participate in this project and have legitimate concerns should any of their neighbors decide to install a wind turbine. Our opposition is based on the concern for our property rights and is in no way influenced by outsiders. The only outside influence we see in this county right now are the land agents and representatives who work for the following wind development companies: RES, EDP and NEXTERA and any other turbine development company currently trying to infiltrate Jasper County. RES, EDP and NEXTERA are headquartered in England, Spain and Juno Beach, FL respectively.

Our zoning proposal will address the following issues:

1. Set back distance of the turbines from property lines, not foundations.

2. Turbine noise levels.

3. Turbine shadow flicker.

4. Liklihood of property value declines.

5. Drainage and road repair.

6. Turbine decommissioning.

7. Wildlife threat.

The White Post Wind Project would be the most abrupt and invasive change to our area since the land was drained and converted to agriculture. Wind turbines don’t have anything to do with agriculture. They are industrial. The recent KV Post/Rensselaer Republican survey indicated that 84 percent of respondents don’t wish to have wind turbines in Jasper County. They have legitimate concerns for their health, safety and welfare. We look forward to the Jasper County Plan Commission considering these changes on Aug. 27.

Concerned for the citizens of Jasper County,

Gerrett Dobson

Scott Green

Steve Molenaar

Fossil interests, utilities spend almost 10x more than renewables industries on lobbying

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   August 14, 2018  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Public Domain, "The Bosses of the Senate", by Joseph Keppler, 1889

Fossil interests, utilities spend almost 10x more than renewables industries on lobbying

Oklahoma AG opinion on third party PPAs and leases

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   August 13, 2018  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Oklahoma AG Office logo

Oklahoma attorney general opinion energizes solar enthusiasts

by JACK MONEY, Published: Sun, August 12, 2018 5:00 AM

A crew installs solar panels on the roof of Mayflower Congregational Church UCC in Oklahoma City in 2016. State officials are working on issues that could expand the technology's use within Oklahoma. [hoto by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives]
A crew installs solar panels on the roof of Mayflower Congregational Church UCC in Oklahoma City in 2016. State officials are working on issues that could expand the technology's use within Oklahoma. [hoto by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman Archives]

Sustainable energy enthusiasts are energized by an Oklahoma attorney general's opinion that sheds additional light on regulatory issues involving rooftop solar systems installed on homes and businesses in the state.

They believe Oklahomans finally could have an opportunity to join other people across the nation who are able to economically obtain the systems using power purchase agreements that include lease-to-own terms.

They and Mike Teague, Oklahoma's Secretary of Energy and Environment, note such deals are extremely popular on the nation's West Coast and in parts of the Northeast, where retail electricity rates offered by utilities are quite high.

But because the questions the opinion addresses are quite technical in nature, it might be a while before similar agreements are offered here.

Nevertheless, local solar enthusiasts are juiced.

"It has been viewed forever and ever that you couldn't offer (those types of agreements) in Oklahoma," said Tyson R. Taussig, president of the Oklahoma Renewable Energy Council.

"I view it as casting a glimmer of sunlight on this issue," Taussig said. "If the opinion gets backed up, it will be a huge development because it will allow motivated, creditworthy individuals in our state to buy their own rooftop solar systems at a really reasonable price. It would open up a whole new market."

In other states

Questions addressed by the attorney general's opinion specifically dealt with the legality of third-party ownership of power production.

That's because in most other states where rooftop solar has thrived, electricity and its retail costs effectively have served as the metric owners of homes and businesses evaluate before choosing whether or not to invest in the technology.

"The electricity cost is the currency of the agreement," Teague explained.

Typically, agreements elsewhere between property owners and solar companies are power purchase agreements that include lease-to-own arrangements with long-enough terms to keep monthly payments lower than what the property owner had been paying to buy their grid-delivered power.

As part of the deal, the solar installer becomes the property owner's power provider. The solar installer also typically is paid by the utility for any excess power the system generates that is put back on to the grid, usually at the retail rate other customers pay for the energy.

Taussig said the property owner, meanwhile, gets power from the rooftop system he is buying at a savings.

"So you end up being net cash positive," Taussig said.

Jim Roth, an attorney who is the dean of Oklahoma City University's School of Law and a former member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, agrees that the business model thrives in other parts of the nation.

About 72 percent of the rooftop solar panels installed across America last year involved third-party power purchase agreements with lease-to-own terms, he noted.

"And you have got these developers now who are providing warranties that last the life of the lease, so they really have removed a lot of the homeowner's risk."

In Oklahoma

Here in the Sooner State, the business hasn't yet truly emerged from the shadows.

 Clark Wheeler, the general counsel of Francis Renewable Energy, a firm that sells and installs rooftop solar systems in Oklahoma and Texas, said the opinion helps.

At issue is existing state law and other rules and regulations.

First, power providers in Oklahoma that are regulated either by the Corporation Commission or Legislature have statute-certified monopolistic service territories.

Would power purchase agreements with lease-to-own provisions violate that law?

Second, would the solar installers have to be regulated as a utility?

The opinion states such agreements couldn't be executed in electric cooperatives' service territories, but would be permissible within incorporated areas of the state.

It also states that solar companies wouldn't have to be regulated by the Corporation Commission as a third-party power provider.

The opinion does not, however, address Oklahoma's existing rules that involve excess power generated by renewable sources such as a rooftop solar system that gets put back into the power grid.

Currently, a property owner who uses rooftop solar in Oklahoma gets compensated for that additional power, but only up to a point to where his costs for a given billing period are zeroed out.

The property owner isn't compensated for extra power beyond that amount that's fed back into the grid, and he can't carry a credit for that extra generated power from one billing period to the next.

As for market costs for such systems, Wheeler said rooftop solar systems start at under $10,000 for people who buy their systems outright.

Under power purchase agreements involving lease-to-own arrangements executed elsewhere, a typical homeowner enters into agreements covering 20 to 25 years that enables the person to replace their utility payments with lower loan/lease payments as a hedge against future increases in retail rates for electricity.At the end of that period, the system belongs to the homeowner.

"Ambiguity has been something that has held back the solar business in Oklahoma, because a lot of customers don't have the cash up front to buy a solar electric system for their home or office building," Wheeler said.

Still, "it is an advisory opinion that provides a pretty clear cut legal analysis," he continued.

"In any incorporated area, it states it is legal to engage in that business and not contravene the utilities' territories, and it states solar leasing companies can't be regulated as a utility. It significantly frees up that line of business," he said.

More work needed

Under Teague's leadership, a task force involving regulated power providers, solar installers and other interested parties has been evaluating these issues, and more.

Teague said the group seeks to implement the technology and its potential benefits in the right way, noting that other states that have allowed it have been grappling with resulting problems involving utilities and homeowners.

Utilities, he said, have lost money elsewhere because of reduced sales and increased costs (having to buy excess power at retail rates), while homeowners in some states have seen their agreements shattered by changed regulatory rules.

He and others noted any Oklahoman who desires a rooftop solar system using a power purchase agreement with a lease-to-own provision might have difficulty finding such a deal.

In part, he said that's because solar companies wouldn't see the attractiveness in deals where they couldn't get paid for the excess power generated by the systems they sold.

Also, "the thing that holds it back more than anything is, our electricity is really, really cheap," Teague said. "That means it would take you a long time to pay your system off."

Beyond that, consumer protection issues need addressed. Should building codes and insurance requirements be updated, or should solar installers be required to be certified?

And, what should the state do to help train firefighters and other emergency officials on how to deal with rooftop solar installations when they respond to locations where it is used?

"Our goal is to find the right ways to do this," Teague said, adding that the task force deliberately includes all interested parties in an attempt to avoid future legal entanglements or other issues. He said he expects its work to continue for years.

"This is how you get progress without turning it into a fight, and I think that is what we need," he said.


 Download a copy of the Oklahoma AG Opinion HERE:

Solar does work within HOAs, but installers have to stay vigilant

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   August 13, 2018  /   Posted in 2018 Indiana General Assembly, solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Solar Power World logo

Solar does work within HOAs, but installers have to stay vigilant

According to the resource website HOA-USA, there are over 351,000 homeowner associations (HOAs) in the United States, representing over 40 million households or 53% of owner-occupied households. That means the large majority of residential solar installers have had to deal with HOA rules concerning solar on certain homes.

And boy, do those rules vary. Only about half of the 50 states have laws preventing HOAs from denying solar applications for aesthetic reasons. How a HOA will react to solar requests in the other states is a toss-up.

HOAs are organizations in neighborhoods that make and enforce rules for the houses or condominiums within their jurisdiction. Those living within these established communities pay fees that go toward having and maintaining common areas. A major directive of the HOA is neighborhood uniformity and/or a high standard of appearance for each property—which is why so many HOAs choose to deny a homeowner’s right to go solar.

Indiana made headlines this year for its solar HOA problem. Many central Indiana residents wanted to go solar, but severely outdated HOA bylaws that forbid “solar heat panels” often led to solar PV application denials. When solar was approved, it was usually restricted to the back of a home—a common “compromise” HOAs make throughout the country—regardless as to whether that’s the best location for solar generation.

“The HOA solar problem tends to be more subjective rather than objective,” said Laura Ann Arnold, president of the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance (IndianaDG), a group working to promote renewable energy and distributed generation. “Some HOA boards just don’t seem to understand that installing solar panels away from the street but on the north side of the home is not a reasonable solution and is just not cost effective. There is a lack of understanding about the technology and the economics.”

Indiana legislators stepped up, and a solar bill to give homeowners in HOAs more solar rights passed the state Senate but ultimately died in the House last year. IndianaDG is working with Republican Rep. Woody Burton to introduce new legislation during the next session to address the issues HOAs have with solar.

A Boulder, Colorado, neighborhood. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL)

“The bill will prohibit HOAs from enacting absolute prohibitions on solar panels and will also prevent HOAs from limiting the intended maximum efficiency of solar panel systems by dictating where solar panels should be installed on a roof,” Arnold said.

Many states (like California, Texas and Oregon) have already passed specific legislation—called solar access laws—preventing HOAs from prohibiting solar installations. In states with these laws, HOAs cannot prevent homes from going solar, but they can make certain requests, like no ground-mounts in front yards, as long as these requests do not make the proposed solar system less effective or more expensive. Solar easements, a different kind of pro-solar document, are legal contracts solar owners work out with neighboring properties to guarantee adequate sunlight exposure to their systems. This is where requirements are written down, like making sure a neighbor’s trees don’t shade the array.

There was once a national effort to get supportive solar laws on the books. The Solar Opportunity and Local Access Rights (SOLAR) Act was introduced to the House in 2011 but wasn’t passed. The act would have required each state to adopt a net-metering standard and prohibited “any restriction impairing the ability of the owner or lessee of a one-family residential structure to install or use a solar energy system upon such property,” among other things.

Arnold said a good federal solution for the solar industry would be similar to what was enacted for satellite dish installation. The FCC rules for satellite dishes (passed in 1996) protect a property owner’s right to install, maintain or use an antenna.

Until more cohesive solar access laws are passed, solar installers have to get comfortable working around dated HOA bylaws. Although Texas does have supportive solar laws, local installer Victory Solar still had to jump through many hoops for a San Antonio homeowner wanting to go solar.

Victory Solar was the fourth solar company to give the homeowner a quote on a system. The house had a Spanish tile roof and working with the HOA was proving to be difficult. The homeowner said other solar companies had presented ground-mount systems, but the HOA still wouldn’t give approval. So Victory Solar suggested a ballasted system.

“I showed them one below the fence line, and it got approved,” said Victory president Mike Busby. “We put up a black mesh fence screen, so the neighbors couldn’t see it. We took out all the grass, put in white rock. It’s a flat roof commercial system but on the ground. If we did a normal ground-mount it stuck above the fence.”

Busby said the company deals with HOAs on about 90% of its projects. Many have stipulations—like an array can’t be street-facing—but Victory Solar has never been denied on an application. Busby said Victory Solar has a process down after many years dealing with HOAs.

“We’ve put an emphasis on the beginning that paperwork is the most important,” he said. “The paperwork has to be precise and on-point, iron-clad at all times. It’s become very streamlined with us, dealing with [HOAs]. We know exactly what they’re looking for. We probably send them too much paperwork—they want to know the color of the modules, the racking, what it will look like on the roof. So we send them the whole design packet.”

Arnold said the best way for solar installers to be proactive with HOAs is to have proof of other successful projects and data that shows solar is good for a community.

“Solar installers need to provide examples of installations done that mirror the home types in that neighborhood and also show that solar panels increase property values,” she said. “Solar installers should explain that this is just strictly about solar panels and that an HOA board should not infer that approving a request for solar panels would lead homeowners asking for other things that may be prohibited in the covenants.”

IndianaDG has found in its research that while HOA boards may deny solar applications “for the good of the community,” the majority of homeowners approve of solar. HOAs fear that if solar is approved, residents will request other prohibited items, like chain-link fences or above-ground pools—the “slippery slope” logical fallacy—when that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The solar industry as a whole needs to stay vigilant on HOA issues and work to educate the public as more people want to go solar, Arnold said.

“Unfortunately, many homeowners are totally unaware of their HOA’s prohibitions or restrictions on solar,” she said. “The solar industry needs to be proactive to educate prospective homeowners to ask questions about solar prohibitions and restrictions before they buy a new home.”

About the Author

Kelly Pickerel

Kelly Pickerel is editor in chief of Solar Power World.

Copyright 2013 IndianaDG