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  • TODAY AT NewEnergyNews, April 25:

  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: Why Utilities Need To Respond Now To The EV Boom
  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: Transmission Developers Power Forward In West While California Stalls

    Friday, August 28, 2009


    Taking a Dim View of Solar Energy; Who could possibly be against homeowners using solar panels to power their homes? Utility companies.
    Matthew Phillips, August 25, 2009 (Newsweek)

    "…[T]he rooftop-solar industry is booming, as Americans become increasingly intrigued by the idea of turning their roofs into mini power plants and cutting their electric bills. In 2008, 33,500 rooftop solar systems were installed in the United States, a 63 percent increase over the amount of capacity installed in 2007. In California, the solar capital of country, the increase was 95 percent.

    "…[T]he outlook for the other side of the solar industry—the large, centralized power plants—isn't so sunny…[M]egaprojects…sending electricity through transmission lines…controlled mostly by utility companies that have had a monopoly over the country’s electricity grid since the turn of the last century, were supposed to be the key to the future of the solar industry…[but in 2006-thru-08] consumers added 522 megawatts to the grid; whereas utility generated sites added just 96 megawatts."

    It could be this story's reporter missed some of the facts. (From the Solar Electric Power Association - click to enlarge)

    "The disparity has utilities worried about loosing their grip on the country's energy industry, and the $130 billion residential electricity market. In some cases, utilities are actually taking direct steps to thwart rooftop solar. Two weeks ago in Colorado, the state's biggest utility, Xcel, tried passing a surcharge on homes and businesses using rooftop solar power. The rate hike would've generated $180 million, $55 million of which was slated to help fund Xcel's newest coal-fired power plant, the Comanche Unit 3, due to come online this fall. The public went ballistic, and with pressure from Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, the proposal was eventually shelved. In early July, New Mexico's biggest utility, PNM, filed an official request to dramatically reduce incentives for businesses and homeowners to install solar panels, and is now fighting with state lawmakers over whether it has the right to exclusively own solar panels systems hooked up to its grid. During California's last legislative session, Southern California Edison, which serves 13 million residents, pressured a Palm Springs assemblyman to pull a bill he'd introduced that would allow the city of Palm Desert to pay solar users for the excess power they generate…

    "It's not hard to understand why a big utility might not like the idea of homes, businesses, schools, and even government buildings being covered in solar panels. If every building in America is generating its own solar energy, that throws a big wrench into their business model. It's why utilities have historically been opposed to solar power, say solar's advocates. But as most states have passed renewable-energy standards recently, mandating that a certain percentage of their energy come from renewable sources, utilities have become reluctant players…[T]hey have no choice. Rather than get on board with rooftop solar, though, utilities decided to do what they do best: build a centralized system of large power plants, and make money by charging customers for taking power off the grid. While large-scale utility projects do hold the promise of generating massive amounts of electricity, so far they've delivered precious few new sources of electricity, as dozens of proposed projects are languishing in the application process. Building the thousands of miles of new transmission lines these projects require not only costs millions, it's fraught with red tape: zoning and permitting regulations, and issues like eminent domain, as lines are strung across both public and private property."

    Doesn't sound like a hostile attitude, does it? (From the Solar Electric Power Association - click to enlarge)

    "The Energy Policy Act of 2005 called for the addition of 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2015, much of which was thought to be provided by big solar plants. But four years in, things are barely off the ground. The two biggest solar projects in the U.S., which are both in the Nevada desert and came online in 2007, combine to produce just 78 megawatts, 14 of which are used solely to power Nellis Air Force Base. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says that by 2010, 13 utility projects will be under construction on public land in the Southwest, but that's still years away from generating electricity. California has the country's most aggressive renewable goal, mandating that 20 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by the end of 2010. Lawmakers are now pushing that to 33 percent by 2020. But…None of Southern California's four biggest utilities, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric, Pacific Gas and Electric, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, are on target largely, critics say, because they're too focused on trying to make money off big centralized plants.

    "…[Distributed generation advocates believe] the country's entire renewable portfolio can be achieved through rooftop solar alone. That may be possible from a sheer megawatts perspective, but from a practical standpoint, it's way over-ambitious. With no centralized source, how do you run traffic or street lights? What if it rains for a week? We still don't have foolproof means to store solar power, so for now, distributed generation needs the grid as a backup…[Nevertheless, in] 2008, rooftop solar added more than 10 times the amount of power to the country's grid than utilities did…Sun Edison, the country's biggest installer of solar panels in the retail market, added more electricity to the grid last year, 25 megawatts, than did the entire utility industry. San Francisco-based SunRun has come up with a way to let homeowners make a down payment, usually about $1,500, on what is typically a $30,000 solar-panel system, lock in a below-market fixed rate for their electricity, then use the savings to help pay off the cost of the system…This is all possible thanks to state and federal government subsidies, and the declining cost of producing electricity from solar panels, down to $6 per watt from about $9 per watt in 2006…"


    At 1:02 PM, Blogger ECD Fan said...

    Who are those "distributed generation advocates" that believe the country's entire renewable portfolio can be achieved through rooftop solar alone? They better get their heads examined.

    Take a look at figure 60 here:

    Do you see how much solar electricity generation will be in 2030 relative to other (nonhydro) renewable sources (and that’s a very optimistic projection!) Of course, hydro will always dominate "renewable" generation.

    Cumulative PV capacity in the US is less than 1GW right now. That generates less than 2 billion KWHs a year. US will consume over 4,000 billion kilowatthours in 2009. So, increasing PV solar capacity 100x fold (an impossible task!), will bring solar to just 5% of US electricity needs. Do you now understand why solar (either rooftop or ground-mounted) won’t be the power of the future? PV solar is an expensive source of electricity generation, one that does not function at night when people need light (and barely functions for most of the day, in most locations).

    Good luck spreading misinformation!

    At 2:06 PM, Blogger put_a_lid_on_it said...

    Solar Parking Lots........ Greensboro NC alone (paved parking covered with pv) will get rid of at least one entire coal plant........

    At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Vanessa McGrady, Media Relations, Southern California Edison said...

    Here is an excerpt from Southern California Edison's response to the original Newsweek story to help Newsweek's writers and readers fully understand our deep, long-standing commitment to solar.

    "Your article referred to our opposition of AB 432, which was a bill designed to establish a solar feed-in tariff pilot program for only the City of Palm Desert. We opposed that bill for two primary reasons. First, we opposed the bill because Southern California Edison (SCE) already offers a tariff that pays market pricing for energy generated by any eligible renewable resource under 1.5 megawatt in size. This statewide program is offered by California’s investor-owned utilities. Under this program, generators can receive payment for every kilowatt hour delivered. SCE also offers customers with solar systems the opportunity to sign up for net energy metering, which provides credit for electricity at times when the home system produces more than the customer consumes. These programs clearly provide opportunity for payment to customers who wish to use their homes to generate electricity for economic reasons. Second, we opposed AB 432 because it would have required only SCE, and no other utility, to accept contracts under Palm Desert’s solar feed-in tariff pilot program. This means that only SCE’s customers throughout California would have had to shoulder the burden of a program designed to benefit Palm Desert. On the principle that all who benefit from a resource should share in its benefits and contribute to its costs, SCE opposes feed-in tariffs that seek to set up specific tariffs for a single city or jurisdiction. Abiding by this principle protects our customers from subsidizing special projects with limited benefit to them. Because of these principles we conclude and advocate for the careful design of feed-in tariffs.

    "SCE opposes bills that set up specific tariffs for any one city or other jurisdiction. We have an obligation to serve all customers as fairly as possible, and serve more than 200 cities and jurisdictions, so we could not possibly deal fairly or cost-effectively with hundreds of different tariffs in individual cities.

    "SCE is one of the country’s major solar enablers – for our customers, and for the industry. Here are just a few reasons why:
    • SCE has been buying renewable energy for the past 20 years, and today we are the nation’s leading utility in this area. In 2008, we delivered 12.6 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable power, about 16 percent of our total power portfolio. We buy 65 percent of all the solar power produced. In 2009 alone, SCE has executed contracts with Solar companies for the potential addition of over 2,500 megawatts of new capacity.
    • One major solar project underway and already delivering is for 500 megawatts on rooftops of large industrial and commercial buildings.
    • We recently signed a contract for one of the largest PV farms in the nation – 550 megawatts. Another one, in June, called for up to 726 megawatts of solar power from utility-scale power-tower technologies.
    • SEPA, the Solar Electric Power Association recently named us –for the second time – “the most solar-integrated utility in the United States.”
    • The California Solar Initiative has more than 6,000 customers enrolled, with hundreds more joining every month. This result is more than 120 megawatts of customer-owned solar systems in our SCE program

    "What your article also did not make clear is the issue of earnings decoupling – 'If every building in America is generating its own solar energy, that throws a big wrench into their business model. It's why utilities have historically been opposed to solar power, say solar's advocates.' Our parent company and shareholders are rewarded for a number of utility performance measures, including energy efficiency measures, and investment in new energy infrastructure, but not for selling more kilowatt-hours of electricity. Our rates are set by the California Public Utilities Commission, and we do not make a profit based upon the volume of power that we sell."


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