32,000 Nevada Solar Customers Can Breathe A Sigh Of Relief
The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) has unanimously approved a measure to grandfather in pre-existing solar customers under the state’s previous, more beneficial net energy metering (NEM) rules. The decision is a welcome win for the solar industry, which has been fighting Nevada’s notorious NEM revisions ever since the PUCN ruled to cut buyback rates and increase fees at the end of last year.
The grandfathering measure was an agreement reached between PUCN staff, utility NV Energy, SolarCity and the Bureau of Consumer Protection. Although solar companies and groups – and later, NV Energy – had been calling for a grandfather clause, the PUCN denied such requests up until this latest deal.
According to the Las Vegas Sun, the new compromise also came during the same week that a Nevada district court judge ruled on an appeal that Vote Solar and Earthjustice launched against the PUCN. The nonprofits didn’t win every aspect of their legal challenge, but the judge did rule that the PUCN used “unlawful procedure” when applying the revised NEM rules to pre-existing solar customers.
Following the court’s decision, the PUCN issued a statement saying it was “pleased” the court affirmed the commission’s NEM order on “all substantive issues,” adding the court found that the PUCN “acted lawfully and that the decision to protect non-NEM customers from unreasonable cost shifts was based on substantial evidence.”
However, the PUCN added that the court didn’t affirm the commission’s decision to apply the NEM changes to pre-existing customers, “for whom the court found that the commission did not provide sufficient notice.”
Despite the similar timing, the court ruling was separate from the PUCN’s agreement with NV Energy, SolarCity and the Bureau of Consumer Protection, as the commission noted in its statement that it was “incidentally” already poised to vote on the stipulation.
Under the now-approved stipulation, customers who either installed solar or applied for interconnection before Dec. 31, 2015, will be grandfathered in under the previous NEM rules for a period of 20 years. In other words, effective this December, those solar customers can once again profit from the NEM program they initially signed up for.
One battle, not the whole war
The measure is expected to benefit about 32,000 pre-existing solar customers; however, it does not affect future solar adopters, who will still receive rates under the newer NEM program.
In a statement, Jon Wellinghoff, former consumer advocate for the state of Nevada and current SolarCity chief policy officer, said, “On behalf of Nevada’s 32,000 rooftop solar customers, we thank the Public Utilities Commission for unanimously approving our agreement to grandfather existing solar customers.”
According to an Associated Press report, NV Energy President Paul Caudill said, “The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada’s decision today is fair for this set of existing net-metering customers and, at the same time, reinforces the clear path forward they established in February 2016 for those considering rooftop solar in the future.”
With the grandfathering issue behind them, though, solar advocates remain determined to revive rooftop solar in Nevada, whose market was hard hit by last year’s NEM changes. Some solar installers ceased their Nevada operations, and many projects were either canceled or halted.
Erin McCann, campaign manager of advocacy group Bring Back Solar, said in a statement, “This is a tremendous victory, not only for the solar customers whose investments will be protected, but also for the tens of thousands of Nevada solar supporters who have advocated tirelessly for solar since last year’s rate hike.” She continued, “Now, it is vital to restore all Nevadans’ ability to go solar affordably in the future.”
In a post, Jessica Scott, interior west regional director for Vote Solar, said, “While this decision rights a serious wrong for current customers, we urge the legislature to adopt sound energy policies in the upcoming session that will bring solar jobs and solar savings back to Nevada.”
Andy Maggi, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League Education Fund, added, “We still have work to do.”
Nevada solar advocates have turned their attention to rallying behind pro-solar proposals in the 2017 legislative session. In late September, Nevada’s New Energy Industry Task Force passed a number of recommendations that would promote solar in the state.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., had reconvened the task force earlier this year amid the NEM rules and charged the group with addressing myriad energy issues and coming up with policy proposals for the state. The task force, which consists of Nevada energy stakeholders, has submitted its recommendations to Sandoval for review. As of press time, the governor has not publicly decided which recommendations to push forward as bill draft requests in the 2017 legislative session.
Tom Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), has praised the recommendations and indicated SEIA will work to help get the proposals passed.
“Gov. Sandoval deserves great credit for his leadership in establishing a forward-looking task force, and we thank the task force members for keeping consumers at the forefront of this conversation,” said Kimbis in a statement.
“Specifically, SEIA supports the task force recommendations that would reinstate retail-rate net metering, providing a fair deal to solar customers through use of a minimum bill (until the PUCN finishes its ‘value of solar’ review); expand solar access by enabling novel community solar models to thrive throughout the state, allowing more Nevadans to choose solar; promote solar in new construction developments through inclusion of solar in the building code to create a world-class building stock in the state; and modernize Nevada’s electricity grid.”
Bring Back Solar’s McCann said, “We urge the legislature to quickly pass these proposals next session to provide certainty to consumers, the utility and the solar industry.”
– Joseph Bebon
Major Companies Make 100% Renewables Pledge
Bank of America, Apple, Wells Fargo & Co., and General Motors (GM) are some of the latest big-name companies to join RE100, a global collaborative initiative of businesses committed to using 100% renewable electricity. Most of the new members officially announced their commitments during the recent Climate Week NYC event.
During the opening ceremony, Bank of America revealed it will aim to become carbon neutral and purchase 100% renewable electricity for its operations by 2020. Furthermore, the bank says it will work to reduce location-based greenhouse-gas emissions by 50%, energy use by 40% and water use by 45% in its operations across the globe by the end of this decade. According to the company, these new commitments build on the success of the bank’s 2015 operations goals and the deployment of its $125 billion environmental business initiative.
“Addressing global issues like climate change and the transition to a sustainable and low-carbon future takes collaboration, innovation and investment,” said Anne Finucane, vice chairman of Bank of America. “The expansion of our operational goals to 2020, achieving carbon neutrality, and the purchase of 100 percent renewable electricity build on our existing environmental commitment and responsible growth strategy.”
Already an established leader in renewable energy, with 93% of its global operations in 23 countries running on renewable power last year, technology giant Apple announced it, too, is joining RE100 and is committed to reaching the 100% mark. The Climate Group, which leads RE100, says Apple is most interested in working with RE100 on pushing renewable energy into supply chains.
The Climate Group adds that, last year, Apple launched a clean energy program to help its manufacturing partners in China to lower their carbon footprint. It is now working with them to install more than 4 GW of new clean energy worldwide by 2020, and during Climate Week NYC, Apple announced that its plastics supplier Solvay SA and phone casing supplier Catcher Technology would both work to use 100% renewable energy by the end of 2018.
“Apple is committed to running on 100 percent renewable energy, and we’re happy to stand beside other companies that are working toward the same effort,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, during the opening ceremony. “We’re excited to share the industry-leading work we’ve been doing to drive renewable energy into the manufacturing supply chain and look forward to partnering with RE100 to advocate for clean energy policies around the world.”
Wells Fargo & Co. also joined RE100 during Climate Week NYC. Mary Wenzel, senior vice president and head of environmental affairs at Wells Fargo, said, “Learning from RE100 experts and other members is going to be critical as we work toward meeting our 2020 sustainability commitments, including our goal of powering 100 percent of our global operations with renewable electricity by 2017 and transitioning to long-term agreements that directly fund new renewable electricity projects by 2020.”
Prior to the Climate Week NYC event, GM also announced it was joining RE100, and the automaker plans to generate or source all electrical power for its 350 operations in 59 countries with 100% renewables by 2050. GM says its new RE100 pledge, along with the pursuit of electrified vehicles and efficient manufacturing, is part of the company’s overall approach to strengthening its business, improving communities and addressing climate change.
The company says it currently saves $5 million annually by using renewable energy – a number it anticipates will increase as more projects come online and the supply of renewable energy increases. According to GM, the company has 22 facilities with solar arrays, three sites using landfill gas and four facilities that will soon benefit from wind power. In addition, GM is in the process of adding 30 MW of solar arrays at two facilities in China.
Over 80 companies worldwide, including BMW, IKEA and Google, have joined RE100 so far, and the number of participants is expected to keep growing.
U.S. Solar Sector Poised For ‘Unprecedented’ Growth Spurt
Growing 43% year-over-year, the U.S. saw 2,051 MW of solar PV power installed in the second quarter of this year – marking the 11th consecutive quarter in which more than 1 GW of PV was installed, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report.
The report says utility-scale solar installations accounted for 53% of all installed PV in the first half of this year. In addition, more solar capacity – 7.8 GW – is expected to come online in the second half of this year than has ever come online in a single year.
“We’re seeing the beginning of an unprecedented wave of growth that will occur throughout the remainder of 2016, specifically within the utility PV segment,” said Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar research. “With more than 10 GW of utility PV currently under construction, the second half of this year and the first half of 2017 are on track to continue breaking records for solar capacity additions.”
According to the report, the residential market segment hit a major milestone earlier this year when it hit 1 million residential rooftop installations. The report notes that California’s solar market has experienced a bit of a slowdown, but other states’ markets, including Utah and Texas, have helped pick up the slack. In total, residential PV installations grew 1% over the first quarter of the year and 29% annually.
California exceeded expectations, however, in the non-residential market segment, where it represented an unprecedented 50% of the segment’s installations for the quarter. The non-residential market experienced some constraints in the second quarter of the year due to expiring incentives in the Northeast and growing net-metering debates nationwide, says the report, which adds that the U.S. non-residential market segment grew 5% over the first quarter and 50% year-over-year.
According to the report, the second half of 2016 will benefit from emerging project types and growing support of solar by states and utilities.
The report notes that by 2021, more than 30 states in the U.S. will have added more than 100 MW of annual capacity; in addition, 20 of those states are expected to be home to more than 1 GW of total operating solar PV.
Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president, said, “Solar works in all 50 states, and this report proves that what many would consider non-traditional markets are now firmly a part of the clean energy movement.”
Communities Designated ‘Open For Solar Business’
The SolSmart program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, has recognized 22 city and county communities across the country with gold, silver and bronze designations for encouraging solar market growth.
These 22 communities are the first to receive SolSmart designations since the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and The Solar Foundation launched the federally funded program in April. A SolSmart designation signals that a community is “open for solar business,” helping to attract solar industry investment and generate economic development and local jobs. SolSmart aims to designate 300 communities during the three-year program.
The 14 communities receiving SolSmart Gold designation include Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colo.; Columbia, Mo.; Fremont, Calif.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Gladstone, Mo.; Hartford, Conn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Minneapolis; San Carlos, Calif.; Santa Monica, Calif.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; and Satellite Beach, Fla.
The one community receiving SolSmart Silver designation is Boulder County, Colo.
The seven communities receiving SolSmart Bronze designation include Burlington, Vt.; Claremont, Calif.; Denver; Philadelphia; Redwood City, Calif.; Saint Paul, Minn.; and Somerville, Mass.
“The communities receiving SolSmart designation are now well positioned to attract new solar businesses and take advantage of the dramatic job growth we’ve seen in the industry,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation. “We hope many more cities and counties will be encouraged to join SolSmart and help even more homes and businesses go solar.”
“The good work that local governments undertake day-to-day often happens under the radar,” added ICMA Executive Director Robert J. O’Neill Jr. “It is wonderful to see the Department of Energy recognize the accomplishments of these outstanding communities.”
To achieve designation, cities and counties take steps to reduce solar “soft costs,” which are non-hardware costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. Examples of soft costs include planning and zoning; permitting; financing; customer acquisition; and installation labor.
Troy Schulte, city manager of Kansas City, said, “Expanding solar energy not only helps fight climate change, but also attracts more entrepreneurs to the city while creating new jobs. A SolSmart designation shows that our city is truly on the cutting edge of clean energy development nationwide.”
As part of the program, a team of national solar experts led by The Solar Foundation offers no-cost technical assistance to help participating cities and counties achieve designation.