Grant Smith for CAC: SB 309 a consumer cost and choice issue

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 18, 2017  /   Posted in 2017 Indiana General Assembly, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Net Metering, solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

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In response to Governor Holcomb signing Senate Bill 309 (rooftop solar), I understand that utility companies will continue to invest in solar and that jobs will be created in the state.  But the recent debate at the State House is really a consumer cost issue. Why can’t you have both –utility sponsored solar, as well as a competitive marketplace providing consumer choice?  As it stands now, the utilities are moving quickly to control their side and the ratepayer side of the electric meter: the State House killed energy efficiency goals requiring utilities to save energy, the IURC keeps approving increases in the flat monthly charge on our bills, and 309 allows for additional charges to solar customers.  Utility sponsored solar programs - although necessary - will be more expensive given their high rates of return and charging for depreciation and maintenance.  For individuals who want to net meter, taking out a loan at 4% interest is a lot cheaper than being charged 11% (standard Indiana utility return on equity).  Moreover, a competitive marketplace for community solar would tend to keep costs under control rather than having a monopoly with no competition charging essentially extortionist rates. (The IURC has done little to prevent utilities from doing what they want.) As such, the state should be supporting third party financing (meaning no money down for the ratepayer) with competitive bidding processes, along with utility-sponsored solar programs (particularly in low-income areas with ratepayer support). Once Indiana's electric utilities are finished with their attack on ratepayer control of their own utility bills, there will be little customer benefit for solar (or energy efficiency measures for that matter), eliminating ratepayer incentive to do these things.  No matter what actions ratepayers take, electric utilities will simply charge us more in some other area, eliminating any savings we may have realized.  This goes for small and large commercial and industrial facilities as well.

Indiana will have solar power. The question is who will benefit and why do we have to do everything under the monopoly utilities’ thumbs?  From a cost perspective as state policy stands now, the utilities will benefit by far the most with the passage of Senate Bill  309.  We should allow both utilities and the market to work here, not just the monopoly utility industry.  Ratepayers should have a chance to save money by reducing their electric usage, not be punished every time we decide to invest in our homes and businesses to reduce our electric demand - which, incidentally, also benefits the electric system as a whole, i.e. all ratepayers.

The unspoken energy policy in Indiana seems to be: Ratepayers aren’t allowed to reduce their utility bills, and utility companies can extract as much wealth as they possibly can from Hoosiers regardless of the consequences.

We need an electric system that serves the economy; not an economy that serves the utility industry.

 

Sincerely,

 

Grant Smith

Board Chair, Citizens Action Coalition

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IndianaDG Note: This has been submitted to numerous newspapers in Indiana.

As utility solar grows in Virginia, so do tensions with rooftop installers

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 18, 2017  /   Posted in Net Metering, solar, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Uncategorized  /   No Comments

As utility solar grows in Virginia, so do tensions with rooftop installers

Advocates for small solar say Virginia’s progress on utility scale solar has been largely at the expense of rooftop and community-owned installations.

While Dominion Energy is moving to boost its solar installations, which its independent contractors can also profit from, small solar advocates contend very little is being done for consumers by either the utility or state policymakers.

“Every bit of solar is good. But what we’re starting to hear from people we work with is that utility-scale solar is growing at the expense of rooftop solar,” said Aaron Sutch, who heads the VA-SUN chapter of the Community Power Network.

Sutch says the lack of progress on rooftop solar shows that Dominion is not respecting what he argues should be the responsibilities that come with being a monopoly electricity provider.

Irene Leach, a professor of consumer studies at Virginia Tech, says beyond a narrow pilot program, utilities in Virginia “have been promised (by lawmakers) they won’t have to address” boosting small solar.

In fact, there are growing concerns within the industry that their position will be further weakened.

At an April 5 meeting of the Virginia Renewable Energy Alliance (VA-REA), Francis Hodsoll of SolUnesco, a project developer who markets projects to Dominion, suggested there are dilutions looming in 2018 to Dominion’s net metering policy, which benefits small system owners.

“Utilities are 100% committed to making changes on net metering,” he said.

‘We’re trying to make both work’

Net metering credits owners of small solar systems interconnected with utilities at the retail rate for any electricity they don’t use. Those kilowatts are pushed out to the local distribution grid and help meet the electricity needs of nearby ratepayers.

Sutch vowed to deploy VA-SUN’s and other networks to defend the current net metering benefit.

Hodsoll is credited by many for being among the few solar advocates responsible for getting Dominion to participate in a consensus-building group approach moderated by Mark Rubin of Virginia Commonwealth University. While Dominion agreed to a few provisions to boost multi-megawatt systems it could buy and profit from, it has stood firm in the group’s deliberations against community solar, rooftop solar and most other forms of distributed generation.

“Last year we discovered some things that weren’t going to work (including proposals for rooftop solar),” Hodsoll said. “We’re approaching the two markets separately. We’re not going to trade one for the other. We’re trying to make both work.”

At a presentation Hodsoll gave May 11 at the Solar Power Southeast conference in Atlanta, he appealed to all solar advocates: “We’re so much better off unified than divided. We in the industry need to overcome these differences.”

‘We don’t exist to serve a corporate monopoly’

The bleak outlook for distributed generation is leading many small solar advocates to retool their outreach programs and beef up grassroots support from their networks.

One such step is the recasting of a loose-knit collaborative effort into the “Distributed Solar Alliance,” whose lead organizer is Secure Futures LLC in Staunton. Secure Futures plans on reaching out to the networks maintained by VA-SUN, the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network to continue growing support.

Sutch and other advocates say the job-creating benefit of installing small solar systems (compared to utility-scale projects) has not been embraced by the Rubin group, Dominion and Virginia’s General Assembly.

“Our electric utilities exist to serve us. We don’t exist to serve a corporate monopoly as if they were our overlords,” Sutch said. “Rooftop solar benefits all Virginians by creating local jobs and allowing consumers to control and choose how they get their energy.”

The National Solar Jobs Census 2016 found of the 260,077 solar jobs in 2016, approximately 69 percent focused primarily on the residential and commercial markets segment, while 31 percent were focused on utility-scale development.

Another participant in the Rubin group is Karen Schaufeld, a wealthy farmer in Leesburg, Virginia who owns a 466-kilowatt solar system. Along with a lobbyist, she helped convince the group to persuade this year’s General Assembly to pass legislation authorizing wineries and farms such as hers to build sizable solar systems that can earn net metering credits. Owners also earn a credit for the additional capacity they make available to Dominion.

The Rubin group also secured support and ultimately the passage of a first-ever pilot program for utility-run community solar systems. Clean energy advocates are quick to criticize that real “community solar” systems deserved to be owned by homeowners and small businesses that join it, not by utilities.

Schaufeld defended the Rubin group’s work for enabling more renewables generally. In the group’s first year, that meant identifying economic models for market segments that Dominion would support.

“We’re in for a long-haul process,” Schaufeld said. “There were certain things that we felt we could get and break the logjam  … to get solar and renewable energy a larger share of the energy picture in Virginia. It’s not like we care more about one versus the other.”

Distributed Solar Alliance

Hodsoll, who represents the regional chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) at Rubin group meetings, said the group held a combined 56 in-person meetings and conference calls in 2016 to draft proposals for this year’s six-week General Assembly, which ended in late February.

Each of the Rubin group participants has signed a non-disclosure agreement; while critics have called for more transparency from the group.

Karen Torrent, who recently joined Secure Futures to help develop projects financed by power purchase agreements, agreed that any effort to grow solar generally represents a step forward. But the Rubin group’s closed-door approach with Dominion riles her and other leaders of the emerging Distributed Solar Alliance.

The Alliance plans to formally launch its outreach efforts on or around May 23 in Richmond. On the same day, utility-scale developers from around the country are meeting, also in Richmond, to discuss building on their recent gains.

“Seventy percent, maybe 90 percent, of distributed solar energy (providers) in Virginia are either renouncing their (MDV-SEIA) membership or are on their way to,” Torrent said, adding that she’s “not picking a fight” with them, just capturing the will of the Virginia members.

Hodsoll acknowledged “We have not done a great job in the past (for distributed energy). Hopefully (the new Distributed Solar Alliance) will be helpful going forward.”

Short of issuing a request for proposals for a single, large solar system, virtually all large- and small-scale renewable energy advocates agree that Dominion has done very little on its own to deploy solar energy. If Dominion’s corporate customers, such as Microsoft, hadn’t demanded wind-or solar-generated electricity in 2016, the utility scale solar market would still be facing a bleak outlook.

Hodsoll said Dominion has “bought up (solar) projects to protect themselves. They agreed to pursue (the initial) 500 megawatts of solar in the public interest because they were forced (by lawmakers) to agree to that.”

As for the future for distributed energy, that’s tough to predict, Hodsoll said. “Utilities don’t really want it. You’ve got Southeast states that are keeping tight control over the utility franchises. But a lot of people do want it. How that all plays out, stay tuned.”

 

 

Goshen (IN) tables lease for Solscient Energy solar project

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 17, 2017  /   Posted in Feed-in Tariffs (FiT), Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), solar  /   No Comments

Council tables land lease request by solar energy generation company

By JOHN KLINE john.kline@goshennews.com

GOSHEN — City residents will have to a wait a few weeks to find out if a new solar energy-generation facility could be headed to the city’s north side.

During their meeting Tuesday evening, Goshen City Council members voted to table a lease agreement with Toledo, Ohio-based Solscient Energy LLC, involving approximately 54,400 square feet of city-owned property located at 1000 W. Wilden Ave.

Central to the lease agreement is the proposal by Solscient to use the property as the site of a new 1,007-panel solar energy generation system for the purposes of generating electricity for sale to Northern Indiana Public Service Company under NIPSCO’s Rate 665 Feed-In-Tariff program.

 According to the agreement, Solscient Energy is seeking to lease the property from the city for a term of 15 years at a cost of $4,200 per year, with periodic adjustments for inflation.

Several issues were raised by council members while discussing the proposal Tuesday, one of which involved concerns about the city leasing the property to a private, for-profit company, but not requiring that company to pay property taxes, as the land would still be owned by the city and thus be tax exempt.

Along those lines, Councilman Adam Scharf suggested one solution might be to sell the property to the company, rather than lease it, and thus eliminate the issue of the city's tax exempt status. Other suggestions for tackling the property tax issue included having the county waive the city’s tax exempt status for that portion of property for the length of the lease agreement, or possibly increasing the yearly lease fee in order to make up for the lost property taxes at the site.

Scharf also took issue with the fact that such large solar projects are currently not legally available to the general public without getting certain approvals and variances through the planning and zoning process. Such rules do not apply to city-owned land. He then suggested the council look into the possibility of having those rules amended to allow for greater accessibility to such projects by Goshen residents.

Also raised as a question Tuesday was whether the city should forgo the contract with Solscient altogether and look into possibly creating its own solar energy-generation facility.

Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, who has long been a strong proponent of increasing Goshen’s green-energy footprint, said he would love to see such a project happen, though he is unsure at this point where the money for such a project would come from.

Given that issue, Stutsman urged the council to consider moving forward with the Solscient project as a stepping stone to begin boosting Goshen’s green footprint, and then look at the possibility of establishing the city’s own solar facility sometime in the near future.

“I just don’t know where we come up with the money to install this ourselves with the other projects that we have on our list,” Stutsman said of the suggestion. “I would love to do that. And if there’s a good idea from the council on how to get the money I’d be all over it.

“My main goal is, I want to see green energy produced in Goshen, which is better for our environment,” he added. “If the city of Goshen can find a way to tap into that so that we’re seeing some cost savings in our utilities, that’s even better. But I guess I don’t know the path to get there.”

Given the many questions and concerns raised regarding the proposal Tuesday, the council ultimately voted to table the request until the board’s upcoming June 6 meeting in order to allow for some additional research and discussion on the matter before a final decision is made.

I&M Seeking 17% Rate Increase in Michigan

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 17, 2017  /   Posted in American Electric Power (AEP), Indiana Michigan Power Company (I&M)  /   No Comments

I&M Seeking 17% Rate Increase

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