Solar power sparks resistance from Ohio utilities including FirstEnergy and AEP

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   July 31, 2015  /   Posted in American Electric Power (AEP), Net Metering, solar  /   No Comments

 Solarize Cleveland

Home solar panels going up across Ohio and the nation like this one are beginning to disturb electric utility executives who must absorb and pay for the extra power these systems generate. Utilities are fighting back, trying to limit how much power they must buy.

Solar power sparks resistance from Ohio utilities

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer
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on July 29, 2015 at 10:15 AM, updated July 29, 2015 at 2:46 PM

CLEVELAND — There are nearly 1,600 solar arrays now generating power in Ohio, and the state’s two biggest utilities think that is a problem.

FirstEnergy and Columbus-based American Electric Power have already taken the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to the Ohio Supreme Court over how much they must pay solar owners for excess power and how much excess power they are required to buy.

The court has not ruled on either case, however the commission is now considering further revisions to its January 2014 ruling.

That has drawn the attention of the solar industry as well as environmental groups that see the utilities standing in the way of a new technology because it threatens their bottom lines.

For consumers and businesses thinking about buying solar, the issue is critical to their ability to pay for a solar array, even at today’s lower prices.

The issue is called net metering. The PUCO has been trying to figure out an equitable policy for three years.

Net metering is what allows solar owners to hook into the local utility grid and sell any excess power they generate back to the local power company.

There are three major issues for the utilities: How much power the companies must buy from the solar owners, at what rate they have to pay for it, and what customers can even ask to be reimbursed.

In a January 2014 decision, the  commission limited the “excess” electricity a customer can ship back into a power company’s local grid to 120 percent of that customer’s average monthly demand over the previous three years.

Utilities argued that anything above 100 percent was unfair. They took the case to the high court, which has yet to rule on the matter because the commission has indicated it is reviewing its original decision.

The utilities want the commission to limit the amount of power they have to buy from owners of solar systems to the average amount of power the customers bought from the utilities in the three years before they began generating power with solar panels.

Also, the companies don’t want to reimburse customers at the same rate the utility charges, now about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, because that rate includes two parts. The largest portion is the cost of the energy itself; the remainder, usually about 6-to-10 percent of the total price, is called a capacity charge and reflects the cost to keep power plants operating.

The utilities want to pay solar owners just the energy price.

And they don’t want to reimburse a customer with solar who also happens to be buying power from another company and having it delivered through the local utility.  They argue that there are no arrangements for the local utility to in turn be reimbursed by the out-of-town power supplier.

The companies don’t immediately write a monthly check to solar system owners  but do have to credit these consumers on their the next month’s bills. That can reduce or even eliminate the customer’s debt to the utilities in the following months.

If a solar system generates more power annually than the solar owner’s average consumption over the preceding three years, the company is required to issue a refund check.

“The approach proposed by AEP and FirstEnergy falsely presumes solar has no value,”

The companies also argue that customers with solar systems are not paying their “fair share” to maintain the power lines that bring electricity to their neighborhoods.

That’s because delivery charges — which pay for construction and upkeep of the delivery system – are based on how much electricity a customer buys monthly from the utility.  Customers that are able to lower their net purchases aren’t paying as much as customers who must buy all of their power from the utility.

From that perspective, the cost of the delivery system is pushed onto the backs of those customers who cannot afford solar.

“AEP Ohio supports,” said spokeswoman Terri Flora, “but we need to make sure regulatory policies allow for recovery of grid costs without transferring the burden unfairly to non-solar customers.”

FirstEnergy, which has been at odds with AEP over many issues, is a comrade in arms on this one.

“FirstEnergy is not opposed to the concept of net metering,” said Jennifer Young, spokeswoman. “We support rules that ensure net metering is implemented in a way that fairly compensates customers and utilities for their participation.”

But so far, the PUCO has not come up with a new way, and the case has drawn the attention of the solar industry, which sees the fight in Ohio as typical push-back.

“Certainly there is a national play book to eliminate rooftop solar,” said Amy Heart, speaking for the Alliance for Solar Choice, an industry trade group.

She said utilities are trying to upend net metering policies in more than 40 states, some of which have been on the books for three decades.

“The challenges have come through legislation and in rate cases,” she said, but predicted that solar will eventually win because it has broad political, economic and environmental support. And the price of quickly evolving solar technology is dropping.

In testimony she gave to the PUCO in May, Heart said cost-benefit analyses of solar’s value in other states consistently shows that it helps utilities reduce the need to build more power plants or transmission lines and even decreases electric rates.

One attorney for a national environmental policy group involved in the case says the issue is how to determine the true value of solar to society.

“it’s vital that the PUCO ensure that solar customers are fairly compensated for the value they provide,” said Madeline Fleisher an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Columbus.

“On hot summer days like we’re expecting Tuesday, both demand for power and the productivity of solar panels go up,” she said.

“The approach proposed by AEP and FirstEnergy falsely presumes solar has no value in replacing generation from other, often dirtier, power sources on such peak demand days. If the PUCO adopts this perspective, solar projects that would provide a net benefit to all Ohioans won’t be built here, they’ll be built in states that value solar.”

This story was edited by the author to correct the error that the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the PUCO to reconsider its January 2014  ruling after AEP and FirstEnergy appealed the ruling to the court. The court stayed activity in the case after the commission indicated it would consider furthering revisions to its ruling. 

Wyldon King Fishman: Community Solar Passes the NY Public Service Commission

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   July 31, 2015  /   Posted in Net Metering, solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Wyldon King Fishman

Wyldon King Fishman is the Founder and President of the New York Solar Energy Society.

Community Solar Passes the NY Public Service Commission

July 17, 2015
By Wyldon King Fishman

If you live or work in a shady location, summertime temperatures can be a little cooler around your home or business. Shade is a wonderful thing and it’s smart to have shade even if it’s only an awning. But, you may have figured out you can’t have solar modules without sun. Welcome to Community Solar!

Low-income renters, multifamily buildings, schools, municipal governments, residential and commercial customers can now band together and finance a solar system located nearby in a field or on a big, sunny warehouse rooftop. How to? First, find 10 or more “families” or businesses and a leader who will be the point person/supervisor of the whole project. Everyone needs to be located fairly close to one another. Everyone shares a piece of the system pie. Every month every member’s utility bill reflects the “net metering credit” of your portion of the system. Not keen to handle the job? Contact solar installation consultants and contractors. Listening to the professionals will help your group understand the ins and outs of financing, locations, and utility hook ups for access to transmission lines. They’ll educate you and then turn around and come out and bid on your project. You’ll have decisions to make about land acquisition, site surveys, engineering studies and fees to pay for permits. (And, later, “cut over” party to plan!)

A solar electricity generation system needs full sun to produce lots of electricity. If the system is shaded even a little bit, the rebates are unattainable. If you have a sunny spot away from your building, you can use it. If not, why not join together with others and buy a Shared Renewable Energy System?

Local solar, wind and “other” renewable energy projects qualify. Perhaps heat and cooling from geothermal ground sources and concentrating solar thermal will be included.


First Phase October 19, 2015: 1. Limited to benefitting low-income customers with high demand for power not easily met by the current utility grid. 2. Supporting economically distressed communities by ensuring at least 20% of the participants are low and moderate income customers.

Second Phase May 1, 2016: All can participate in all utility territories.

Colorado was the first state to allow what was then called Solar Gardens. They were limited by caps. Overnight they caps were filled to capacity. The utilities complained about transmission line usage. Over time some utilities began to see the advantage of Solar Gardens where the electric load was very high and the service was not dependable. The New York Solar Energy Society got a call from the staff in the Budget and Taxation Department asking why this wasn’t happening in NY. Our response had a lot to do with getting a farm or a camp with utility service from different utilities. The barn over on the other side of the road got electricity from a pole nearby that was not serviced by the same utility the house was. A camp had a sunny field next to the pole from a utility that didn’t service the main kitchen. Different utilities didn’t have to cooperate, share transmission lines and take care of the extra billing. Now we shall see if progress has been made. The details have not been finalized.

After six years of working with the energy committees of the legislature we never got the bill we needed. Over the past year Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through the Shared Renewable Initiative or Community Net Metering as part of his Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) Initiative. This is a surprise win-win for all New Yorkers seeking clean, affordable energy. Local Energy production can withstand storms better with shorter transmission lines. Long distance transmission lines lose 8 – 18% of the electricity generated at the power plant! With power generation nearby every electron can be used. Eliminate the cost of extraction and transportation and expensive transmission line and benefit from lower costs and healthy clean air and water.

Equal access to renewable energy has come to New York. NYState’s Public Service Commission voted and has issued a final order telling the utilities the time has come to allow any group to buy a solar energy generation system, hook it up to the grid and credit the members of the group every month. The future is bright for locals to design and implement a grid for your community. Along with the Community Solar announcement came more than 80 microgrid research grants winners. Your community solar farm can be joined by wind and combined with battery backup for uninterruptable power supply. Stay tuned and prepare now to find a group interested in free fuel from the sun and wind powering your community.

More information?

IndianaDG Editor’s Note:  Wanna read the actual NY PSC Order? Download it HERE.

 NYPSC Community DG Program Order_{76520435-25ED-4B84-8477-6433CE88DA86}

Also see next post for more information.


Utility Dive: ConEd will enter NY rooftop solar market through unregulated subsidiary

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   July 30, 2015  /   Posted in solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

ConEd will enter NY rooftop solar market through unregulated subsidiary

 By | July 30, 2015

FirstEnergy wants Ohio to end deregulation, return to state-controlled rates; Good or bad idea?

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   July 29, 2015  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

FirstEnergy to face angry investors

Sammis is FirstEnergy’s last Ohio coal-fired plant and its closing could force the company to build more long-distance transmission lines — paid for by customers — to bring power here from Pennsylvania and other states.

FirstEnergy wants Ohio to end deregulation, return to state-controlled rates

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer
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on July 28, 2015 at 5:11 PM, updated July 28, 2015 at 8:37 PM

AKRON — FirstEnergy Corp. wants Ohio to re-regulate the electric utility industry, hoping to end an era the company itself fought for just seven years ago, in which electricity rates were set by wholesale markets without interference from the state.

“I would do it in a heartbeat,” said Chuck Jones, CEO since January, in an interview with The Plain Dealer’s editorial board.  “I think it makes sense.  I am trying to save a company.”

Jones said FirstEnergy’s future is at risk if it cannot convince the state’s Public Utilities Commission to force ratepayers to cover the full cost of electricity from two of its huge coal and nuclear plants, even if other sources of electricity, such as natural gas, would be cheaper for consumers.

At the time of the last big battle over deregulation, in 2008, the company seemed likely to prosper because its coal-fired plants were among the cheapest sources of electricity in the state.

Since then, the development of horizontally drilled and hydraulic fractured gas wells has helped push down the price of a thousand cubic feet of natural gas, from more than $10 in the spring of 2008 to about $2.80 today. FirstEnergy’s stock price tumbled from a high of more than $82 on June 1, 2008, to $32.80 at the end of trading on Tuesday.

Jones said the company is not currently working with any lawmakers to write a re-regulation bill, but added that the first step toward returning to regulation is for the Public Utilities Commission to approve the company’s pending rate case.

That case includes a 15-year power purchase agreement to have FirstEnergy’s local distribution companies Ohio Edison, the Illuminating Co. and Toledo Edison buy all of the power generated by the Davis-Besse nuclear plant and the coal-fired H.R. Sammis plant, at whatever it cost to generate.

Those generating costs are currently higher than the wholesale price of power on the grid, where gas-fired power plants are the low-cost producers.  The company admits the deal would cost customers money in the first three years but argues that over the 15-year lifetime of the contracts, it would save about $2 billion because natural gas won’t remain at today’s rock bottom prices.

Critics of the plan, including the Ohio Consumers Counsel and the Northeast Ohio Public Utilities Council, or NOPEC, argue the deal would cost customers an extra $3 billion.

However long-term prices play out, the plan would ensure that the company would not lose money by operating the plants. In filings before the PUCO, the company’s experts have argued that without the special power purchase contract the company may be forced to close them.

Sammis is the company’s last Ohio coal-fired plant, said Jones, and its closing would force the company to build more long-distance transmission lines — paid for by customers — to bring power here from Pennsylvania and other states.

Jones said he has talked to Gov. John Kasich about the company’s current situation. “We talked very frankly about the the kind of tenuous position FirstEnergy is in and he asked me four times what can they do to help.

“I am trying to save a company.”

“My answer four times was it’s not your problem. It’s my problem. The only thing I will ever ask you for is a fair chance to tell our story, a fair chance to have our case heard. And if we can’t do it in a convincing manner, then shame on us.

“I am not asking the state for anything,” he said.

But, apart from the rate-settting case, the company did ask for something from the state just a year ago.

It convinced legislators to remove the state mandate, in place since 2009, that forced power companies to help their customers use less power annually by buying energy efficiency technologies, and a parallel rule requiring power companies to sell an increasing percentage of “green power” annually.

Senate Bill 310, which Kasich signed into law in June 2014, froze those mandates for two years while lawmakers decided what to do next.

A special committee recently said it does not want to permanently freeze the mandates.

Jones said the energy efficiency programs FirstEnergy was forced to put in place were paid for by customers through higher rates, but benefited only those companies and consumers who could afford to buy new energy efficient products — everything from new production line motors to new home appliances.

He said another way has to be developed to pay for energy efficiency programs, but did not offer any specific plan.

He said FirstEnergy is not opposed to renewable energy but believes that it must be “feathered in” slowly because wind and solar power production is not constant and therefore cannot be counted on.

And building solar arrays on buildings and homes is the least efficient way to add solar, he said.

“If you want solar energy the most efficient way to get solar energy is to have the utility build it for you,” he said. “And build it in 200-300-400 megawatt solar farms.”

A regulated power company could do that, Jones said, because it could add the costs to its rate base, just as the industry did for the first 85 years of its existence.

Grand Rapids (MI) to explore solar power for waste water facility

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   July 29, 2015  /   Posted in solar  /   No Comments

Grand Rapids to explore solar power for waste water facility

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