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Xcel And Developers Clash On Gardens

Xcel Energy’s recent letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) seeking to firmly cap community solar garden (CSG) projects at 1 MW has drawn rapid and sharp criticism from solar developers and their representatives.

Xcel wants the PUC to allow it to not only prevent future projects that would exceed 1 MW, but also to give it the authority to force developers with previously approved larger projects to scale them back below 1 MW or to cancel them. In particular, the action is designed to block the co-location of individual 1 MW-scale projects in locations that essentially result in multi-megawatt facilities.

“Developers are proposing projects that look and act like utility-scale solar projects, and at the same time, the participant credit has been set at a value intended to facilitate the financing of much smaller community-based projects,” Xcel Energy writes in the letter.

Xcel further expresses an appreciation that larger solar projects have better economies of scale and, as a result, are more profitable for developers. However, the utility says the goal of its Solar*Rewards Community program is to provide for customers who want the benefits of solar but are unable to host a solar array themselves and to do so in such a way that would not impose undue costs on other customers.

“Based on the current volume of applications, the proposed community solar resource is equivalent to a large generating unit,” Xcel writes. “Typically when we add a resource of this size to our system, we engage in a robust regulatory process, and we undertake competitive bidding. The result is that we select the best bid, and customers receive the most cost-effective resource.”

The co-location issue seems to be the main point of contention.

“To be sure, Xcel Energy’s representative acknowledged during a public hearing on Aug. 7, 2014, that ‘the structure of the program does allow someone to find a large parcel of land and put several 1 MW projects next to each other,’” writes an attorney at Stoel Rives LLP in a petition addressed to the PUC on behalf of solar developer clients.

Moreover, the petition argues that a revision of the CSG program on the short timeline - 31 days - requested by Xcel Energy will result in significant harm to CSG developers that have invested millions of dollars and significant human resources in existing projects that could be downsized or sidelined.

Some developers have taken a wait-and-see attitude toward the dispute. Clean Energy Collective (CEC), which has developed numerous community solar projects across the U.S., including many in Xcel Energy’s service area in Colorado, is keeping its options open.

“CEC is watching this market and seeing how things shake out,” says Tim Braun, a spokesperson for CEC.

Other developers that have significant investments in Minnesota are more direct. Peter Teigland, vice president of MN Community Solar, which has some local projects fully subscribed and others in development, says he applauds Xcel Energy’s commitment to CSG programs but, at the same time, is disappointed that the utility would reopen an issue once considered settled.

“MN Community Solar is prepared to develop projects without co-locating 1 MW solar gardens,” Teigland says. “However, we stand firm with the rest of the solar industry and regulators that co-locating 1 MW community solar gardens is both good for customers and clearly allowed under the law.”

In an amendment filed with the PUC on May 5, Stoel Rives says Xcel Energy’s insistence on describing large CSG projects as “utility-scale” may be cause for legal action by developers because it interferes with their prospective economic advantages.


Military Veterans Should Be Front And Center In The U.S. Solar Campaign

As veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can tell you firsthand that nothing drives home the importance of energy security like serving in combat. We saw the resources needed to protect the fuel convoys that allowed our fellow service members to complete their missions. We witnessed the vulnerability of these convoys and the danger in which our comrades placed themselves to deliver critical fuel.

These experiences are common to our generation of veterans, many of whom are transitioning into other careers but would like to continue to serve their country. We decided to pursue careers in clean energy because we’ve seen the cost of fossil fuel reliance, and we believe in creating innovative jobs in the U.S. that can help move America toward energy independence.

Every month, highly trained, disciplined leaders complete their service and leave the ranks of our over 1.4 million uniformed military personnel. At the same time, clean energy industries in the U.S. are growing at unprecedented rates and adding scores of jobs each month. The solar sector alone is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.

According to The Solar Foundation, the number of workers in the solar sector could more than double from 119,000 in 2012 to 285,000 in 2016. And the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the wind industry has the potential to add 12,000 to 14,000 jobs annually. These job numbers don’t even include technologies such as fuel cells or industries such as clean energy financing that are also growing apace.

On April 3, President Obama announced a series of initiatives to bring more veterans into the clean energy workforce. The initiatives will deliver critical training for veterans and provide recruitment opportunities for companies that appreciate the value that military personnel bring to civilian jobs.

In March, a group of Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., graduated from a solar energy training program they had volunteered to complete during the last few months of their service. The program had built on the highly skilled work they did in uniform and taught them valuable solar professional skills, including how to install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid and understand building codes. Each of the program graduates was offered a job opportunity with a solar company.

Other industries are using the 21st century G.I. Bill to help returning veterans attend college or technical schools. Businesses are eager to help develop leaders who can finance energy deals, engineer microgrids or perform energy retrofits. We ourselves developed these skill sets. As veterans who work in the clean energy industry, we look for other veterans’ resumes because we know they have intangible leadership qualities that will help them thrive in this dynamic and fast-growing environment.

It can be difficult for a former platoon sergeant to translate his or her military resume into language that corporate America recognizes and appreciates. To corporate America, we say this: Consider the fact that a platoon sergeant may have led a team of 40 people and managed tens of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment. Personnel and inventory management are just two of the invaluable leadership skills this sergeant would bring to a civilian job. Couple that with training in skills such as fuel cell engineering, solar panel installation or clean energy financing, and you have a highly desirable candidate for one of the thousands of new U.S.-based jobs in clean energy.

Veterans are often diamonds in the rough. The president’s new initiatives will polish those diamonds.

Innovation is changing the way that we power the electricity grid. By 2030, 40% of our energy is expected to come from clean energy sources. Last year, the U.S. installed as much solar capacity every three weeks as it did in all of 2008. This progress is helping our nation become more energy-independent. With the right support, veterans who have fought for our freedom will be able to continue their mission here at home with good-paying jobs. Hire a veteran!

Jon Powers served as an officer in the U.S. Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom and is now the managing director of public-sector business development with Bloom Energy. Micah Myers served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now senior vice president of corporate development at Clean Power Finance.


California’s Energy Goals Will Make Solar Bloom

A report from Berkeley, Calif.-based Strategen Consulting says California Gov. Jerry Brown’s clean energy goals for 2030 are not only achievable and economically sound, but will generate significant job growth.

According to the report, Brown’s plan, which was announced in his inaugural address earlier this year, will create 1.2 million job-years in construction, manufacturing, sales, service and support related to California’s new domestic energy infrastructure, as well as through the economic activity resulting from energy savings. The associated reduction in pollution will save lives, reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of life, Strategen says.

California is already on track to generate 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Meeting the 50% renewables target set out for 2030 will require the continuation of solar and wind installations at similar rates for another 10 years, while adding complementary resources - such as energy storage - to assist with renewable resource integration.

The report says benefits derived from Brown’s plan include the following:

The report says that a consistent and predictable policy environment is also needed to attract the private investment that will enable California to implement its ambitious future energy infrastructure.

“This analysis describes in clear, quantitative terms how Gov. Brown’s vision will translate to an enormous benefit in so many areas critical to public health, economic stability, energy security and quality of life,” says Janice Lin, founder and managing partner of Strategen Consulting.


Hawaii Poised To Set 100% RPS

After a vote of 74-2 in May, Hawaii legislators sent Gov. David Y. Ige, D-Hawaii, legislation that would require state utilities to procure all of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2045. If passed, Hawaii would become the first U.S. state to require such a mandate.

H.B.623, “Relating To Renewable Standards,” will increase Hawaii’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 30% by 2020; 70% by 2040; and 100% by 2045. The bill was introduced in January by Rep. Chris Lee, D-District 51, and chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection committee.

As mandated by the state of Hawaii, every bill sent to the governor undergoes legal review. According to the governor’s office, Ige has until June 29 to alert the legislature if he intends to veto legislation. The deadline for bill signature is July 14. Ige, who received the bill on May 7, is expected to sign the bill.

“As the first state to move toward 100 percent renewable energy, Hawaii is raising the bar for the rest of the country,” Lee says. “Local renewable projects are already cheaper than liquid natural gas and oil, and our progress toward meeting our renewable energy standards has already saved local residents hundreds of millions on their electric bills.”


Georgia Enacts Solar Finance Law

Gov. Nathan Deal, R-Georgia, has signed into law legislation that clears the way for homeowners and building owners to install rooftop photovoltaic power systems.

The Solar Power Free Market Financing Act (H.B.57) formally enables a range of financing and power purchase arrangements to promote the installation of PV generation systems, including third-party ownership. The law covers residential systems of 10 kW or less and commercial systems that do not exceed 125% of the host’s annual peak demand.

The legislation also restricts the ability of utilities and electric service providers to prevent or otherwise interfere with the installation, subject to applicable codes, safety standards and interconnection requirements.

Calling the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act “an important victory for property rights supporters, as well as solar advocates,” the Solar Electric Industries Association welcomed this action.


Northeast Group To Coordinate State Policies

State-based solar energy organizations and the Pace Energy and Climate Center (PECC) have formed the Northeast Solar Energy Market Coalition (NESEMC) in an effort to improve market conditions in the region.

The group claims to represent more than 500 solar product makers, suppliers, installers and other solar-related businesses in the region. Their common goal is to synchronize state-level solar permitting, inspections, net metering, interconnection, value of solar and other solar policies that are important to consumers and the industry alike.

The PECC, part of the Pace University School of Law in White Plains, N.Y., has received a $600,000 cooperative award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to support its NESEMC work. The PECC and NESEMC solar business groups will also team up with solar policy experts at the State University of New York-Albany’s Atmospheric Science Research Center.

Included in the NESEMC roster of state-based solar business associations are groups from Connecticut (SolarConnecticut), Massachusetts (Solar Energy Business Association of New England), New Hampshire (New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industry Association), New York (New York Solar Energy Industry Association), Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Solar Energy Industry Association) and Vermont (Renewable Energy Vermont). Solar industry representatives from Maine and Rhode Island have also agreed to participate.

“When solar was still a fledgling industry and limited to only a few states around the country, it was entirely appropriate for states to develop their own solar policies,” says Michael Trahan, executive director of SolarConnecticut and project co-leader of the NESEMC. “But now that every state in the Northeast is pursuing solar, it is time to consider the benefits of a coordinated, regional policy effort.”

Karl R. Rabago, executive director at the PECC and co-lead on the NESEMC project, says that the group will identify and address those factors that are amenable to policy and regulatory change and that will improve the market environment.

“We will focus on addressing the problems resulting from widely divergent policy and lack of effective cooperation between solar market stakeholders,” Rabago says. “NESEMC will educate and inform policy and market leaders throughout the region about ways to grow an integrated, vibrant and self-sustaining solar market. We will work with policymakers, utilities, government officials and other regionally focused organizations.” S

Policy Watch

Xcel And Developers Clash On Gardens




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