CA solar plans snarled by controversy

Solar panel installationIn the California desert and in solar-paneled neighborhoods around the state, a new conflict over alternative energy has broken out. Pitting lawmakers, regulators, customers and the solar power industry against one another, the dispute centered around how much solar users ought to be charged — and how much solar power ought to be incentivized.

Heated argument

At the regulatory level, Sacramento has made a substantial investment of time and energy in a long-term plan to use California’s southern desert as a hotbed of solar power. Earlier this month, working with state Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel released the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. The document “outlines a 25-year blueprint for the development and management of 10 million acres of federal public lands in the California desert, currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management,” according to CleanTechnica. Envisioned as “part of a much larger and more comprehensive effort to develop a total of 22 million acres in California’s desert,” the site added, advocates claimed the plan could contribute to the production of some 20,000 megawatts of alternative energy, meeting federal and state benchmarks “through to 2040.”

But solar development in desert communities has not met with universal acclaim. “California’s rooftop solar industry is at war with the state’s major utilities over a program known as net metering, which determines how much money solar customers are paid for the electricity they generate,” as the Desert Sun explained. “Utility companies want to slash those payments and charge solar customers special monthly fees, while solar companies want things to stay the way they are, at least for the next few years. The public utilities commission is expected to make a decision next month.”

Pricing problems

The conflict has drawn in consumer groups, which agree with the utilities that solar customers aren’t being charged enough “to keep the electric grid running. As a result, they say, non-solar customers are increasingly shouldering the burden of higher rates. That claim is partly supported by independent research, although most academic experts say many more people need to go solar before the ‘cost shift’ becomes a serious problem,” the Sun noted. Ironically, however, solar industry advocates have insisted that rates should be kept low enough to encourage large numbers of people to consider the switch to solar.

In casting blame, advocates have pointed the finger at Sacramento. “The California Legislature has raised the cap on net metering several times,” said Brad Heavner, policy director at influential solar energy association CALSEIA, in an interview with CleanTechnica. The CPUC, he explained, was recently directed by lawmakers to consider “whether the net metering structure needs to be changed before removing the cap altogether” — set at 5 percent of combined peak demand among customers. “So the timing is somewhat arbitrary and is potentially disastrous because it coincides with the scheduled changes to the federal Investment Tax Credit.” Analysts like Heavner worry that if California solar customers lose tax credits while having their rates raised, the critical mass of users the solar industry needs will swiftly dissipate.

Unintended consequences

In an added twist, the same regulations responsible for utility ratepayers bearing a disproportionate share of costs have excluded solar owners from clean-energy subsidies that utilities and some developers have cashed in on. “If a home or business has a rooftop solar system, most of the wattage isn’t included in the ambitious requirement to generate half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030, part of legislation signed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown,” as the Los Angeles Times observed. “That means rooftop solar owners are missing out on a potentially lucrative subsidy that is paid to utilities and developers of big power projects. It also means that utility ratepayers could end up overpaying for clean electricity to meet the state’s benchmark because lawmakers, by excluding rooftop solar, left out the source of more than a third of the state’s solar power.”

6 comments

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  1. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 4 December, 2015, 07:18

    Its always amazing to see the nature freaks at each others throats like this over such ideas as wind and solar energy and Hanoi Jane the hollyweed crowd and the Greenfreaks opposing nucular energy over this China Syndrome poppycock

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  2. Dork
    Dork 4 December, 2015, 07:54

    develop a total of 22 million acres in California’s desert,” the site added, advocates claimed the plan could contribute to the production of some 20,000 megawatts of alternative energy

    What a Boondoggle, just put up some nuclear plants:

    As of December 1, 2015, there were 99 operating nuclear reactors at 61 nuclear power plants in the United States. The Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska has one reactor with the smallest generating capacity1 of 479 megawatts (MW). The Palo Verde plant in Arizona has three reactors and has the largest combined generating capacity1 of about 3,937 MW.

    The amount of electricity that a nuclear reactor or power plant generates depends on the amount of time it operates at a specific capacity. For example, if the Fort Calhoun reactor operates at 479 MW capacity for 24 hours, it will generate 11,496 megawatthours (MWh). Most power plants do not operate a full capacity every hour of every day of the year.

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  3. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 4 December, 2015, 09:14

    Biggest fraud in history. Junk parts. Payback poor. Repair people no warrant work. Obsolete within one year. Companies BK regular so warranties are useless.

    Reply this comment
  4. Just Another Disgruntled Citizen
    Just Another Disgruntled Citizen 4 December, 2015, 12:20

    First, that is taxpayers’ money being “invested” in new energy technologies that have so far not shown any sign of being competitive or “clean” in the strictest sense of the word. These investments are government subsidies that benefit one set of citizens at the expense of another set, thereby creating two or three separate classes of citizens. This is not free market or Equality under the Law and it isn’t solving the problems that need to be solved;
    Second, there is no reason we have to destroy California’s beautiful deserts and other places to save the planet. For too long, far too many people have been laboring under the delusion that America’s undeveloped wilderness is “wasteland” that should be put to some “use” of “benefit” to society, meaning it is in some way contributing to our Gross National Product and generating revenue for the public treasury–AS IF THE BEAUTY AND EXISTENCE OF NATURAL UNSPOILED PLACES HAVE NO INTRINSIC VALUE OF THEIR OWN. A people who do not value the natural world for its own sake are not really civilized;
    Third, there are an awful lot of rooftops in California, both public and private, and more than enough are quite suitable for solar panels. If our fearless leaders in Sacramento and Washington would stop thinking with their prejudices, we could use solar panels owned by whoever has title to the roof as an off-the-grid energy source to power the seasonal use of air conditioners, electric heaters, pool-heaters and so forth–the kind of uses that fluctuate and cost a lot of money. Independent closed-systems. That would save the countryside from being destroyed by ugly, polluting, publically-funded solar projects and money for whoever wants solar on their rooftop (including government buildings);
    Fourth, our so-called “energy policy” is a construct of wishful thinking and self-serving assumptions that at best might just be a boondoggle, but at worst might just be catastrophic;
    Fifth, even though I am not an advocate of current energy policy, I don’t think people who signed onto the rooftop solar program with assurances from both the government and solar-panel producers that they would be given credit for the electricity they contributed to the grid have a legitimate gripe. It is their own equipment (nobody got it for free even if taxpayers did subsidize it like the Chrysler bail-outs). The energy generated by that equipment should belong to them. If the program was set up so that the utilities or solar companies own the equipment or the electricity, however, they are victims of a bait-and-switch operation. Theft is theft. It doesn’t matter if nobody could foresee what is happening now. I think the utilities or solar companies, whoever thinks they are entitled, should buy back all the equipment or pay for the energy generated by it. Period.
    “Without wisdom, a people perish.”
    Psalms

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