Energy Matters – November 2015

Article written by Mark Becker for Danville/Alamo/Lafayette Today, November 2015.

November 11th marks Veteran’s Day. Throughout history, those who were drafted or volunteered answered the call of a nation in need, perhaps to fight a war they may not have personally agreed with. Veterans’ from all segments of our society served with distinction, many died serving our nation. Our military follows the orders of our elected leaders. For the duration of an enlistment those we elect guide a service member’s fate. Keep this in mind when you vote.
The continued growth of the solar industry is in jeopardy because of the legislated Dec 31, 2016 expiration of the 30% Federal Tax Credit (FTC) for residential and commercial solar projects. The fossil fuel industry is much more heavily subsidized than the solar and energy efficiency industry. Job growth in the solar industry has proven more resilient. Those of you who don’t believe in tax credits in any capacity should consider this: The home mortgage Interest deduction (which we all take for granted) incentivizes home ownership and drives the real estate industry. It’s identical in principle to the tax credit for energy efficiency.
A “marketplace” is defined as the arena of competitive or commercial dealings in the world of trade. A “monopoly” is defined as the exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service. Your electric utility, PGE, is your sole choice in electric and gas supply and continues to be opposed to market choice. One of the only reasonably cost effective competitors to the lack of market choice to PGE is solar photovoltaics: Solar panels which convert solar energy into electricity.
As previously discussed in this forum, currently the utilities of California are petitioning the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission, their overseer) to radically change how solar PV integrates and interacts with our electric grid infrastructure. With no competitors in the market, (and trying to push solar out) PGE can capture more customers and enjoy higher margins.
Solar combined with energy storage and incentives binding them is an expected outcome for proposed California regulations; metering regulations will change for new solar installations beyond July 17, 2017. There is also a solar penetration “cap” that if met before this date, will trigger these new regulations. Solar PV in PGE territory is 7/10’s of the way to exceeding this cap. Solar projects installed before one of these triggers will be grandfathered into the current regulations for 20+ years. The new regulations will be approved by December 2015 and are likely to be less beneficial than the current regulations.
Tesla Motors and Tesla Energy have disrupted the auto and energy storage industry with innovation. It appears likely that Tesla’s big bet on energy storage with their Gigafactory will pay off. Hawaii, currently ahead of most states on energy efficiency, is leaning towards eradication of net metering and incentivizing battery energy storage instead. Due to extremely high electric rates (sound familiar?) Hawaii’s new proposed regulations mean that batteries charged by solar by day and discharged at night to the home or business will be incentivized to reduce or eliminate a home or businesses electric load. Two rate options are planned to be available. First option: Sell extra battery power back to the grid, and pay less for any kWh you may use from the utility. The other option is to simply be “off-grid” and be self-reliant for all of your electric needs. Energy storage is required for both options. Grid power will be available if required. The energy storage piece will help stabilize the Hawaiian electric grid and have power reserves to support it when necessary.
The end of the year rush to capture the 30% FTC for tax year 2015 has required GoSimpleSolar to repeat all too often the phrase “Sorry, we cannot accommodate your desire for project completion by the end of this year”. Please plan your solar project far enough in advance or you may miss the opportunity to capture the 30% tax credit entirely. You may also miss getting your solar interconnected under the current and more beneficial net metering regulations.
In California, due to our very high electric costs, the solar industry, in certain markets, will continue to thrive if the FTC expires. In other parts of the country, with much lower electric rates, the solar industry will be decimated and jobs will be lost. Coal and the utilities will win. Is that ultimately a good long-term outcome for our marketplace? It certainly won’t be beneficial for the job sector, especially our veterans: The solar industry currently employs over 20,000 post-9/11 Veterans.
Mark Becker is the President and business owner of GoSimpleSolar, by Semper Fidelis Construction Inc, CSLB 948715. GoSimpleSolar is one of the very few (and proud) solar PV installers utilizing both licensed roofers and licensed electricians for installation work, project managed by a solar PV NABCEP professional. For questions or comments email or call 925-331-8011.