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10.22.15 Solar Media Update

October 22, 2015

By Clara Schopf, Incentive Coordinator, SoCore Energy

NY Regulators Lift Solar Net Metering Caps Until REV Docket Sets DER Values

  • The New York Public Service Commission has suspended all caps on retail rate net metering for rooftop solar until the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision proceedings set values for distributed energy resources.
  • Until the completion of that valuation process (slated for the end of 2016), owners of distributed generation will continue to receive retail rate remuneration for electricity sent to New York’s grid.
  • The ruling came in response to an Orange and Rockland Utilities petition for permission to suspend DER interconnections because they had reached the 62 MW, or 6% of load, cap on net metered systems.
    • The ruling (15-E-0407) applies to all six New York investor-owned utilities and requires them to file NEM tariff revisions by Oct. 30, to be effective Nov. 6.
    • The PSC rejected ORU’s proposal to replace the existing NEM remuneration with a plan in which DG owners sell their system’s output at a wholesale rate, but buy their electricity from the grid at the retail rate.
  • Comments on track two of the REV docket, which aims to iron out many of the details associated with converting utilities into DSPs, are due on Oct. 26.

Will CPUC Update SGIP to Reflect New 50% RPS?

  • California’s SGIP is a generous subsidy ($83 million per year) intended to spur development of low-emissions distributed generation with upfront and performance-based incentives for eligible behind-the-meter generation technologies.
  • The CPUC has to decide what “low emissions” actually means now that the state has a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2030, as per California SB 350.
    • Just what qualifies as “low emissions” has been the subject of debate and regulatory folk from the solar, fuel-cell and natural-gas industries have weighed in with their own calculations in letters to the CPUC.
  • California SB 861 reauthorized the incentive and requires the CPUC to update the factor for avoided greenhouse gases in consideration of the effects of the California RPS, which was the now-outdated 33 percent RPS.
  • The new SGIP GHG Eligibility Factor as defined in the proposed decision of Commissioner Picker “updates the greenhouse-gas emission factor that determines eligibility to participate” in the SGIP from 379 kg CO2/MWh to 360 kg CO2/MWh.
    • SolarCity and CalSEIA contended at the time that the proposed decision “does not appropriately apply the 33 percent RPS adjustment and will ultimately allow SGIP funds to be spent on resources that will increase, potentially significantly, GHG emissions in California.” SolarCity and CalSEIA suggest the figure should be 282 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt-hour.
    • In August, the CA legislature weighed in with a pointed letter directed to Commissioner Picker that emphasized the intent of SB 861, “the decision appears to be skewed to maintain eligibility for existing technologies operating on 100 percent conventional natural gas,” adding, “If your decision is adopted, SGIP will continue the increasingly absurd practice of subsidizing natural gas consumption, supporting existing technologies that have already taken hundreds of millions of dollars from SGIP…without producing substantial efficiency improvements, cost reductions, or general benefits for taxpayers, squandering the $415 million ratepayer investment authorized by SB 861 and undermining our collective efforts to clean the grid and transition away from fossil fuels.”
  • A vote is scheduled at this Thursday’s meeting of the CPUC. That decision will help determine the grid-edge technology mix funded by $300 million of California ratepayer cash over the next few years.

Amid ITC Concerns, Austin Energy Approved for 450 MW of Solar by 2019

  • The Austin, Texas, City Council approved a compromise solar procurement of up to 450 MW by 2019 for its municipal utility, Austin Energy, while utility executives consider developing utility-scale solar projects rather than contracting with independent developers.
  • Some Austin leaders called for a doubling of the current 300 MW procurement target set to be completed by 2017 to take advantage of the 30% federal investment tax credit before it reverts to 10% at the end of 2016.
  • Documentation for the Council’s decision puts the authorized annual cost of procuring up to 450MW at $17 million and the authorized total expenditure at $425 million.
  • The installed cost of utility scale solar has fallen so significantly that Austin Energy leaders believe the reversion of the ITC would not seriously compromise the economics of project development.

Duke Launches Solar Rebate Program in South Carolina

  • After facing heavy criticism for its stance on solar, Duke Energy has announced a solar rebate program that will lower costs for by up to 33% for customers installing solar panels.
  • Duke’s distributed resource program could boost the its renewable footprint in the state from just 2 MW to up to 170 MW by 2021, helped by the $1-per-watt rebates.
  • The utility announced the rebates on Wednesday, October 14th, two days ahead of a report from green advocates Environmental NC, expected to be critical of its solar policies.

In Other News…

A new poll indicates that 80% of Californians are against proposals from utilities to roll back the state’s solar net metering program, which compensates residential rooftop owners for the surplus energy they export back into the grid. See article here

According to a report by the NRDC, the U.S. energy sector had lower emissions than in 1996, including a 10% reduction in carbon pollution in the last decade. See article here

Last week, Dyson announced it was acquiring advanced lithium-ion battery producer Sakti3 for $90 million and confirmed it will use the Sakti3 technology for home appliances, rather than grid or vehicle applications (for now, anyway). See article here

The Virginia State Corporation Commission has declined to approve a Dominion subsidiary request to develop a 20 MW solar project in Northern Virginia, saying the company must first explore third-party alternatives via a solar request for proposals. See article here

Panasonic representative has said the company refuses to back down in the latest “record PV module efficiency” race, which has pitted it against a similar recent claim fromSolarCity. See article here

By the end of 2016, SolarCity will install about 8,500 solar panels on about 10 acres in the eastern portion of the Tonawanda Landfill in New York, which closed in the late 1980s. See article here

A study released by the Carnegie Institution of Science highlights concerns voiced for years by conservationists that California’s boom in large-scale solar energy plants may be carving up desert landscapes in haphazard ways that compromise wildlife habitats and reduce arable land. See article here

General Motors and DTE Energy will soon break ground on a 800-kilowatt solar array at the automaker’s Warren Transmission plant. See article here

An attempt by El Paso Electric to create a new rate class for customers with rooftop solar systems suffered a major setback this week when the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission ruled that such a change would violate a PRC regulation. See article here

New From BNEF

Nonprofit Seeks to Match Renewable Projects With $1.2 Billion: A nonprofit group is seeking to match clean-energy and sustainability initiatives in need of funding with $1.2 billion in capital from pension funds and other long-term investors that are not typically approached for such projects.

Batterymakers See a Big Break Coming — No, Seriously This Time: Energy storage developers have been saying for a decade that the industry’s on the verge of a big breakthrough that will finally turn the battery into a major player in the power market.

Long Island Power Authority Seeks Lift From $1 Billion Sale: The finances of the Long Island Power Authority, which has a lower credit rating than any other major U.S. public power provider, will get a boost from refinancing $1 billion of higher cost debt.

Power-Plant Subsidy Clash Gets Hearing at U.S. Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to use a Maryland case to review the extent to which states may subsidize the construction of new power plants.

White House Pledge Says Climate Action Delay Would Cost Economy: Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co., Cargill Inc., General Electric Co. and General Motors Co. are among the 81 companies signing a White House climate pledge that says “we support the conclusion of a climate change agreement in Paris that takes a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future.”

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