Solar Policy News – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Wed, 16 Oct 2019 14:07:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.1 Climate Change Policy Measures: Identifying Priorities, Particularly Outside of the Usual Suspects https://solartribune.com/climate-change-policy-measures-identifying-priorities-particularly-outside-of-the-usual-suspects/ Wed, 16 Oct 2019 14:07:38 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=66390 With the 2020 Presidential race already heating up, issues surrounding climate change, clean energy, and what policy mechanisms are the most critical ones for the federal government to employ are getting more of a spotlight than ever before. While ideas like research & development, tax credits, and carbon prices are among the first policy levers […]

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With the 2020 Presidential race already heating up, issues surrounding climate change, clean energy, and what policy mechanisms are the most critical ones for the federal government to employ are getting more of a spotlight than ever before. While ideas like research & development, tax credits, and carbon prices are among the first policy levers candidates and pundits may look to pull, many are starting to advocate for new, creative, and even niche policies.

Decades after climate scientists first started sounding the alarm on climate change and a full 12 years after Vice President Al Gore stood on stage to warn us about climate change’s Inconvenient Truth, the Sunrise Movement and the policy package that came to be known as the Green New Deal finally seemed to bring desire for action to the United States federal government. While the complete package of a Green New Deal looks to be a long shot – at least at this point in time – to be passed, it succeeded in bringing the conversation about climate action to the forefront of American politics.

For example, whereas in previous elections it was simple enough to separate potential Presidential candidates by those who prioritized climate action and those who did not, the field of 2020 Democratic candidates are now forced to bring their actionable climate plans to voters and defend not just that climate action is necessary but that their particular plan is the one that will get the job done in time. While of course the question of how high on each candidate’s priority list energy and climate lie is up for debate, voters (and donors) are paying more attention than ever before and the seven-hour town hall on climate change that CNN hosted with the prospective candidates demonstrated the level of detail at which voters are now looking.

Photo source: CNN.com

All that is set up to say: what are the right policy measures that should be utilized by the U.S. government? The clean energy community certainly doesn’t speak with a singular voice, and you’ll have portions of the climate advocacy population ardently defending carbon taxes vs. renewable portfolio standards; investment tax credits vs. deregulating electricity markets; policies for transportation emissions vs. industrial emissions; and many more. This segmentation can be damaging in the short-term because those fighting against spending money on climate action or for placing regulations on corporations tend to be unified, but in the long run, it’s critical that the federal government’s role in climate action be chosen deliberately, carefully, and with all the facts. Germany’s progress towards emissions reductions, for example, was delayed a damaging amount due to acting too quickly and going down arguably the wrong path. So, while inaction is wasting time, going down the wrong pathway (pouring time and resources into the non-ideal solutions) can be just as damaging towards the ultimate goal.

That conversation about which policies are the most critical is the basis of Solar Tribune’s Climate Policy Primer. In this ongoing project, we’re connecting with stakeholders across industries, regions, and positions to ask them about which climate change policies are the most singularly important in their opinion. These conversations we’re continuing to have are informing and growing this living document (and if you’d like to share your two cents, please don’t hesitate to reach out!), so I’d encourage you to refer to that page to see about some of the identified priorities in climate policy, the very issue that’s being debated on the federal and electoral stages today.

While this is a process that is of course still ongoing, a number of interesting trends have been popping up. One intriguing occurrence I noticed quickly was how many people, when narrowed down to a single policy to discuss, advocate for those that were not in the list of usual suspects like carbon pricing, tax credits, or mandatory renewable energy goals. Rather, these advocates were passionate about first and foremost identifying and bringing up climate change policy measures that are less likely to be discussed in the soundbites from the campaign trail. This trend could identify an opportunity for the innovative and forward-looking candidates to blaze a new trail and connect with climate-concerned voters in new ways, but more importantly, these experts in their fields simply saw the measures as being too critical to land anywhere other than the top of the priority list.

A few examples of these less commonly discussed climate policy options include the following…

Land Use Policies

Solar Tribune connected with Protect Our Winters about the climate policy question. This organization was founded by a professional snowboarder who inherently treasured the natural landscapes on Earth and saw the dangers that climate change had begun posing to all outdoor spaces. The concern for areas to hike, to snowboard, and to enjoy nature are naturally paired with all of the questions of climate change. From the mission statement of Protect Our Winters, the organization notes:

“Right now, we have the luxury of worrying about how climate change might impact the outdoor industry. Right now, we get to help dictate the outcome rather than react to a foregone conclusion. If we sit on our hands for the next two decades, we won’t be worried about powder days, tourism or having fun. We’ll be worried about the stability of our environment, our jobs, and our economy.”

Inherent to this inclination to protect nature comes the unique perspective on what climate change approaches are most important.  When I talked to Lindsay Bourgoine, Director of Policy & Advocacy of Protect Our Winters, she shared the following sentiment:

“Public lands not only enhance carbon sequestration, but their protection often removes them as a fossil fuel development opportunity. As an example, on the Arctic Refuge, not only do we oppose the drilling of this land because of the human rights issues and conservation issues, but also because the indirect emissions that would come from such drilling would be equivalent to about a million new cars on the road. Protecting public lands is protecting the climate.”

While many of the most commonly shared ideas on fighting climate change focus on the need to minimize the man-made CO2 emissions emitted into the atmosphere, the focus on land use policies instead prioritize maximizing Earth’s natural tendencies to be able to regulate and capture carbon. But when we increase greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously reducing the environment’s capacity to regulate those same emissions, that’s when the climate death spiral comes into play.

LEAF Asia

Focusing on a Just Transition

Another area of focus outside the top-discussed federal roles in climate policy came from Solar Tribune’s discussion with Eban Goodstein, Director of Graduate Programs in Sustainability at Bard College. When talking to Eban, he noted that federal energy policies had already largely done their role in the traditional routes of tax subsidies, R&D dollars, and the like. Given that renewables like solar and wind were already cost-competitive, or already more affordable to build than new fossil generation, two routes for climate policy were necessary. For the role of continuing to bolster renewable energy generation, Goodstein saw that as the responsibility of state and local governments. Each more localized government would be able to assess the hurdles that still remained in their region and which policies were the best fit for their situation, rather than look at a one-size-fits-all policy for the entire country. These state and local initiatives are the basis of Bard’s upcoming Solve Climate By 2030 initiative over the coming year.

While deferring to state and local governments for solutions is not entirely outside of the usual suspects of climate solutions, what is more unique in Goodstein’s perspective is where the federal role is given the above. While the more regional governments should be charged with increasing renewable deployment, Goodstein sees the federal government’s role to be one that oversees this energy transition and ensure it’s completed in a fair and just manner. As Goodstein and his co-author, L. Hunter Lovins, noted in a paper:

“Green New Deal type policies that focus on employment and on fair and reliable access to power and transportation will be central to ensuring that the social benefits of a rapid transition to clean energy are widely spread and that the transition is not cut short due to policy opposition.”

The idea behind this push is that the nation has already reached a part where the clean energy transition will be taking place in one way or another, but if that plays out naturally there are risks that certain populations will benefit more from the change than others. Whether that’s certain disadvantaged communities not receiving the economic benefits of renewable energy, regional disparity in how the jobs market changes (e.g., coal country getting hit harder than others in economic consequences), or another way, the federal government has a role to play in ensuring that the energy transition is equitable, accessible to all populations, and doesn’t play favorites with different populations.

Photo source: Shepherd Express

Allowing Geothermal, Hydro, and Biomass Parity to Achieve with Other Renewables

When the clean energy transition is discussed in popular media, most people recognize that conversation to strictly deal with wind power and solar energy. However, a host of other renewable energy generation sources are critical to the U.S. energy mix today and in the future, including geothermal, hydropower, and biomass. When discussing the climate policy primer with The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), the non-profit organization highlighted to Solar Tribune the need for federal policies to include these secondary forms of renewable energy as well:

“Wind and solar will need to be complemented by geothermal energy, hydropower, and biomass energy. This can be incentivized by modifying the current tax credit structure that currently favors solar and wind power. Despite unequal access to tax incentives, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass are valuable because they provide baseload power and are located in geographically diverse areas.”

Renewable energy and climate change policies must not blindly support just one or two technology types, and despite solar and wind being the most commonly considered renewable energy sources, they are not alone the solution. In fact, until 2018 hydropower was the most common source of renewable energy generation in the United States, only recently being overtaken by wind. Because of the flexibility these non-wind and non-solar renewables provide based on local geography, resources, and economics, EESI is smartly beating the drum of these alternatives. While of course that does not mean they don’t see wind and solar as key parts of the solution, but any climate change policy that includes tax credits or other economic incentives must also account for the value provided by the renewable energy sources less often placed on the podium.

Photo source: Better World Solutions

Conclusion

The takeaway here is that voters and citizens who care about the government following the right policy pathways when it comes to climate change need not be so narrowly focused. While many groups may have coalesced around a handful of key ideas, a successful fight against climate change will tap into the full toolbox of solutions. So, the above (and other) options outside the usual suspects remain critical to investigate and about which to ask questions. As Solar Tribune continues connecting with advocates and thought leaders about the Climate Policy Primer, don’t be surprised if more new areas of focus arise that might seem out of left field. But just because they’re not the standard, sound-bite proven answers to the climate change questions does not mean they are not appropriate and effective real-life solutions.

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Orlando, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates the Chester Energy and Policy blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.

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Top Priority Policy Planks for a Green New Deal https://solartribune.com/top-priority-policy-planks-for-a-green-new-deal/ Wed, 07 Aug 2019 14:00:02 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=14797 The Environmental and Energy Study Institute is a non-profit organization located in Washington DC whose mission is “to accelerate the transition to a new, low-emissions economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy.” The organization works towards these goals through their briefings on Capitol Hill (as well as webcasts, papers, and more) to educate policymakers […]

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The Environmental and Energy Study Institute is a non-profit organization located in Washington DC whose mission is “to accelerate the transition to a new, low-emissions economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy.” The organization works towards these goals through their briefings on Capitol Hill (as well as webcasts, papers, and more) to educate policymakers and other stakeholders on important energy and environment issues, coalition-building among diverse stakeholders, direct policy development assistance, and technical assistance.

Solar Tribune approached EESI to ask us what the most important and critical policy planks for the Green New Deal– or any other comprehensive climate change and clean energy legislative package– would be. Here is our response to that prompt:

 

Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency is a central tool for decarbonizing the economy and the cheapest, fastest, and simplest way to address our energy and environmental goals. When something is energy efficient– whether it is a light bulb or a building– it is able to perform the same function with less energy. For example, a light-emitting diode (LED) light bulb requires less energy (fewer watts) than an incandescent light bulb to produce the same amount of light.

Increases in energy efficiency can significantly reduce the amount of energy necessary for transportation and to heat and cool homes and commercial buildings. This decrease in demand makes it easier to meet energy needs with renewable energy sources. Energy efficiency has significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector and has the potential to transform other sectors as well, including buildings, manufacturing, and transportation.

The building sector alone represents a huge opportunity for energy savings. Residential and commercial buildings account for about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and currently 75 percent of this energy is from fossil fuel sources. Proven strategies, materials, and technologies are available to significantly improve building energy efficiency, which in turn reduces operational costs, makes housing more affordable, reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and creates jobs.

Photo Source: Wikimedia

Programs such as the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP), a funding opportunity through the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Rural Utility Service, provides zero-interest loans for rural electric co-ops and other rural utilities. Utilities can re-loan the funds to members to upgrade their homes and businesses with energy efficiency and renewable energy. Initially authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill (and reauthorized in 2018 through 2022), RESP leverages USDA funds through a credit subsidy, which must be appropriated by Congress annually. Eligible RESP measures include: on- and off-grid renewable energy systems, energy efficiency retrofits, permanently-installed battery storage devices, electric vehicle charging stations, and replacement of inefficient manufactured homes. This program is particularly critical for low-income households, who spend a higher than average proportion of their income on utility bills. Appropriating additional funds to these programs would provide broader access for energy efficiency and clean energy projects across the country. EESI’s recent briefing on RESP and rural electric cooperatives provides more information about this program.

The urgent need for new and modernized infrastructure, including energy and water systems, public buildings, and transportation projects that receive federal funding, is an opportunity to ensure sustainability and climate resilience from the beginning. Each stage in the process– from planning and siting, to design, materials selection, construction, and operation– is an opportunity to maximize energy efficiency. Efficiency as well as low-carbon fuels may also reduce the long-term burden on infrastructure utility expenses. Indeed, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has included a Climate Title in its new transportation bill for the first time.

 

Renewable Energy Parity: To transition the United States to renewable energy, wind and solar will need to be complemented by geothermal energy, hydropower, and biomass energy. This can be incentivized by modifying the current tax credit structure that currently favors solar (Business Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC)) and wind power (Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit). Despite unequal access to tax incentives, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass are valuable energy sources because they provide baseload power and are located in geographically diverse areas, allowing a greater number of communities to take advantage of their natural assets. Ensuring tax parity for these energy sources would increase private investment to develop and deploy these technologies, providing more renewable options to meet the country’s overall energy demand. Fossil fuel subsidies should also be eliminated to make renewable energy technologies more competitive and the remove perverse incentives.

The EPA has untapped avenues to support the development of commercial biogas through the Renewable Fuels Standard. Biogas technology converts organic wastes (i.e., agricultural residues, manure, food wastes, and sewage) into energy through a process of anaerobic digestion. According to the American Biogas Council, there are currently about 2,200 operational biogas systems in the United States, with a potential for more than 14,000.

Photo Source: Pixabay

There is also significant potential to develop offshore wind energy, which is abundant and provides a higher capacity factor than terrestrial wind. However, additional policies are necessary to support growth in this industry. In particular, more work is necessary to build transmission from the turbines to end users.

When crafting policy on energy efficiency and renewable energy parity, equity, inclusion, and stakeholder centered processes should be paramount in keeping with the promises of the Green New Deal.

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What Will 100% Renewable Energy Look Like? https://solartribune.com/what-will-100-renewable-energy-look-like/ Tue, 19 Feb 2019 04:25:36 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14499 As Hawaii, California, and even some in the federal government move forward on legislation to move towards 100% renewable energy, utilities are finding paths to meet these goals, mainly focusing on solar panels, wind, and batteries for energy storage. But what exactly does 100% renewable look like, and how long will it take? When Representative […]

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As Hawaii, California, and even some in the federal government move forward on legislation to move towards 100% renewable energy, utilities are finding paths to meet these goals, mainly focusing on solar panels, wind, and batteries for energy storage. But what exactly does 100% renewable look like, and how long will it take?

When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced the Green New Deal, it was met with some heavy eye-rolling by certain individuals. Many saw it more as political stunt than a true path to dealing with the underlying causes of climate change. For many, the most attention-grabbing section was certainly its goal of shifting to a 100% carbon free economy after a mere decade.

While the plan is grandiose and gives a very short timetable, the general goal isn’t far-fetched. Numerous states, cities, and even utilities have committed to 100% renewable goals in the last few years, and they’re becoming more and more common.

In 2017, Hawaii became the first state to ratify a goal of 100% renewable electricity, by 2045. In December 2018, Xcel Energy – which provides electricity in 8 states in the mountain west – became the first major utility to commit to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. In late 2018, California also signed into law a goal of 100% clean energy –not renewable energy – by 2045. (We’ll get into the differences between clean and renewable energy in the next section.)

What does 100% renewable look like, and is it really a viable option on a large scale?

What’s Your Goal? Renewable Energy vs Clean Energy vs Carbon Free Economy

Image Source: CC license via Wikimedia

The Green New Deal wants a carbon-free economy. Hawaii’s pledged 100% renewables. California’s pledged 100% clean energy. They might sound like synonyms, but there’s major differences among them.

First, a 100% renewable energy goal is just that. All electricity is sourced via renewable methods, typically solar, wind, and possibly water like tidal and wave energy or small hydro plants.

A 100% clean energy goal, on the other hand, broadens the scope of allowable technology. Any electricity generation that produces zero carbon is on the table, including solar and wind, but also nuclear power and fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage (CSS), a system in which utilities essentially capture all the carbon emissions and bury them underground so they don’t enter the atmosphere. Because the technologies allowed are more flexible, clean energy goals should be easier to meet than 100% renewable goals.

Lastly, the Green New Deal posits a 100% carbon free economy. Along with carbon-free electricity, like in the goals above, the Green New Deal also seeks to decarbonize the transportation and industrial sectors as well. Unlike the previous goals that only involve the electric sector, this far-reaching goal would require fundamental changes for every sector and every market – a much larger project.

How Does 100% Renewable Work?

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune

When we think about going 100% renewable, most of us probably picture fields of solar panels and wind turbines on sunny, windy days. That’s certainly part of the future, but by no means the whole picture. In reality, moving to 100% renewable requires a balance of three key actions: energy use reduction, renewable energy, and energy storage.

Reducing energy use

The first step to going 100% renewable is simply cutting out waste. There are many ways to decrease energy use. The Green New Deal includes legislation to create more stringent energy efficiency standards for buildings. The state of Hawaii already requires homes to include solar hot water heaters to pre-heat water using the sun’s abundant heat. By dropping energy needs as low as possible, you’re able to build less infrastructure, and there’s less wear-and-tear, leading to lower long-term costs.

Adding renewable energy sources

Renewable energy technology is, of course, key to building a 100% renewable electricity industry. Utilities can use utility-scale and rooftop photovoltaic solar, concentrated solar power (CSP), on- and offshore wind turbines, tidal/wave energy, and geothermal to meet energy needs.

Different renewable sources produce power at different times, a challenge known as intermittency. Solar panels, of course, produce electricity during the day. Land-based wind turbines typically produce more electricity during daylight hours. Off-shore wind produces more at night. Diversifying the technology portfolio and balancing their electricity generation is key.

Adding energy storage

Energy storage is seen as the solution to renewable energy’s intermittency problem. Lithium-ion batteries are hot commodities right now and utilities use massive banks for large-scale storage projects, but they aren’t the only options available. There’s a handful of other cheaper battery technologies as well, and utilities have a few more unusual energy storage methods at their disposal as well, like compressed air in caves that’s heated to pressure (yes, this really exists!) and pumped hydro using two reservoirs and gravity-fed turbines.

Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries, known as Powerpacks for utility-scale projects, are the most well-known energy storage on the market, and the company has installed over 1 gigawatt-hour of energy storage as of fall 2018, with another GWh in the works in the next 12 months.

In 2019, Tesla was working with California utility PG&E for a Powerpack up to 1.1 GWh, over 8x larger than their current largest project, a 129 MWh system in Australia. With PG&E’s January 2019 bankruptcy though, this project is almost certainly on hold.

A Look into the Future

In 2017, a research group from Stanford published an article in the forward-thinking journal Joule which laid out potential pathways to 100% clean economies by 2050 in 139 countries. Their study focused on the technical feasibility of such a move, creating a two-step process: 1) Electrify all industries (for example, moving all vehicles to batteries and fuel cells) and 2) Transfer all electricity production from fossil fuels to a unique mix of wind, water, and solar tailored to each country.

Looking at the world’s overall electricity demand over the next few decades, the authors propose that we could meet 2050’s estimated 20.6 terawatts of electricity demand via energy reduction and electrification’s greater efficiency than combustion (for example, electric vehicles are more energy efficient than gas-powered vehicles), onshore and offshore wind, utility-scale PV solar and CSP, residential and commercial solar, and wave/tidal energy.

Hawaii’s Plan for 100% Renewable

100% renewable energy

Image Source: CC license via Wikimedia

In 2017, Hawaii passed legislation to source all electricity from renewable sources by 2045. If we want to see what going 100% renewable looks like in the real world, we can turn to them as an example.

Thanks to their remoteness and the high cost of importing fossil fuels, Hawaii suffers from the highest electricity prices in the country, which as of November 2018 is $0.34 per kWh – 2.6x higher than the national average of $0.13 per kWh.

The state leaves Hawaii’s utilities to decide the best way to achieve this goal, though the Hawaii PUC (Public Utilities Commission) has the final say on utilities’ plans and also gives guidance on what utilities should be moving towards. Like we discussed above, the commission recommends (p.6) that utilities plan for new renewable generation, energy reduction via demand response, and energy storage:

“The PSIPs [utility action plans] are to include actionable strategies and implementation plans to expeditiously retire older, less-efficient fossil generation… increase generation flexibility, and adopt new technologies such as demand response and energy storage”

In their plan approved by the PUC in July 2017, HECO – one of three privately-owned utilities on the islands (all of which are owned by Hawaiian Electric Industries) – laid out their pathway to meet the 100% renewable goal, which included 400 MW of new renewable energy resources by 2021, continued growth of residential solar (17% of HECO’s customers have installed solar, compared to just 1% for the national average), and adding energy storage to the generation mix.

Since the plan was approved, they’ve been moving forward on these goals. In mid-2018, they sought PUC approval for two Li-ion battery storage systems totaling 120 MW and entered contract negotiations for seven solar+storage installations across three islands totaling 260 MW.

How Does 100% Renewable Affect You?

You might wonder how all this affects you. Most of us just want reliable, freely-available electricity. If it’s renewably sourced, that’s certainly a plus, but not a necessity.

That mindset though is quickly retreating, as the clean energy movement and the signs of global warming continue to stir people to, if not action, then at least acceptance. According to a 2018 poll, 74% of Americans believe worldwide temperatures are rising.

On the household level, increased utility rates for customers are always a concern, as utilities seek to update existing generation plants and build new plants, and create and implement new programs. In 2017, when utility HECO sought approval from Hawaii’s PUC for its proposed plan to 100% renewability, the PUC was worried it could increase electricity rates due to near-term capital investments and financial commitments.

The real change though, especially moving to a 100% carbon free economy, is that each business and homeowner will have to engage more deeply with their energy use. Demand response, rooftop solar, and EVs all require greater involvement from customers. Transferring to 100% clean energy isn’t a one-and-done process. It won’t be immediate, and it’ll likely take much longer than a decade. It’s a slow progression of change, brought on one project at a time.

And while electricity in the future might need a more hands-on, mindful approach than we’re used to, what we’ll get out of it – namely a cleaner, more efficient electric grid and economy – is something we’ll all benefit from down the line.

Image Source: CC license via Wikimedia

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Midterm Elections Reveal Mixed Results for Clean Energy https://solartribune.com/mixed-results-for-clean-energy-at-the-2018-midterms/ Mon, 26 Nov 2018 02:40:35 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14269 On November ballots, voters across 3 states said no to 3 different bills designed to encourage the growth of clean and renewable energy. The success or failure of these high-stakes propositions led organizations on both sides to spend tens of millions of dollars on campaigns. Arizona Voters Say No to 50% RPS Goal At the […]

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On November ballots, voters across 3 states said no to 3 different bills designed to encourage the growth of clean and renewable energy. The success or failure of these high-stakes propositions led organizations on both sides to spend tens of millions of dollars on campaigns.

Arizona Voters Say No to 50% RPS Goal

At the November polls, Arizona voters overwhelming voted down Proposition 127, which would’ve created a constitutional amendment to increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) goals, requiring utilities to purchase or generate 50% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. As of 2018, Arizona already has an RPS goal of 15% renewable by 2025, fairly typical for western states, so Prop 127 would’ve pushed the utilities into overdrive while attempting to meet those 2030 goals.

The proposition was supported by the local Sierra Club and a handful of other organizations, and was initiated and mainly funded by the non-profit NextGen Climate Action, founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer and which provided over $22 million to the Arizona cause.

Considering the tenuous relationship Arizona utilities have had with solar energy in the past, it’s no surprise that both sides spent millions on the initiative. In fact, Prop 127 was the most expensive ballot measure in Arizona history, with Pinnacle West Capital – the company that owns APS, the largest utility in the state – spending almost $30 million in opposition to the bill.

Opponents argued the proposition, forced on Arizona by out-of-state political interests, could lead to higher customer bills. Proponents, however, argued the higher goals would lead to a cleaner environment and stronger local economy as solar costs continue to lower and the industry grows.

In a November press release after the bill was defeated, APS called the measure ‘ill-conceived’, with Chairman and CEO Don Brandt noting:

The campaign is over, but we want to continue the conversation with Arizonans about clean energy and identify specific opportunities for APS to build energy infrastructure that will position Arizona for the future.

APS has come out in favor of a different clean energy goal, proposed by the Arizona Corporation Commission. This plan creates a target of 80% clean energy, including nuclear power, by 2050. One of APS’ issues with Proposition 127 was that it didn’t allow nuclear energy to meet the RPS goals and APS feared they would’ve had to shut down their Palo Verde nuclear generator, which accounts for about 25% of the utility’s total generation. The utility claimed the defeated proposition was too constraining and simply not designed for Arizona’s specific needs.

Nevada Says Yes to RPS Goals, No to Deregulation

In Nevada, Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action also funded the inclusion of a similar measure on the ballot, Question 6. Under this proposal, Nevada will increase their RPS mandate from the current 25% by 2025 to 50% by 2030, the same as proposed in Arizona.

Unlike in Arizona, Nevada voters actually passed this measure, with 59% of voters approving. Proposed constitutional amendments, however, need to be approved in two separate elections before becoming law, so Question 6 will need to be approved in the 2020 election again. Exactly how that will go is anyone’s guess, but it’s a necessary – and promising – first step.

Nevadans also voted on another energy-related bill, Question 3, though this one was stopped in its tracks, with 67% of voters in opposition. Question 3 asked voters whether they were in favor of breaking apart Nevada utilities’ monopoly on electricity generation in the state and replacing it with a competitive electricity market, known as a deregulated electricity market and similar to Texas, Illinois, Ohio, and 16 other states. The map below, from the 2016 NREL report linked to previously, highlights the states that allow most energy consumers to choose their electricity provider.

Image via NREL, 2016

Nevada utilities currently hold a monopoly on both the generation of electricity as well as the distribution of that electricity to homes and businesses. If voters had approved Question 3, the state would’ve ended utilities’ monopoly on electricity generation, thereby allowing homeowners and businesses to choose their electricity provider. Utilities however would’ve held on to their monopoly on distribution, retaining ownership of the infrastructure as well as the responsibility to move that electricity to consumers.

While not specifically concerning clean energy, proponents argued that deregulating the electricity market gives consumers greater options in regards to their energy, giving them the ability to purchase clean energy if they so choose.

Voters’ apparent flip-flop isn’t too surprising. While voters initially approved the bill in 2016, Nevada’s unique laws require a 2nd vote to amend the state constitution. Approving a constitutional amendment the first time is a low-risk situation. The second go-around though, the stakes are higher and NV Energy, the state’s biggest electric utility, spent $62 million campaigning against the bill. The bills biggest supporters, Data center Switch and Las Vegas Sands, on the other hand, jointly provided a substantial, but underwhelming, $32 million.

Carbon Fee Voted Down in Washington

Image via Pexels

Moving to the Pacific Northwest, voters in Washington once again voted down a clean energy bill on the November ballot. Initiative 1631 would’ve placed a fee on carbon emissions from both large-scale carbon emitters as well as on fossil fuels and electricity generated or brought into the state.

Proponents of the measure included Bill Gates and Washington governor Jay Inslee, who voiced his support during the scourge of wildfires wreaking havoc on the state’s air quality in the summer of 2018:

Today, this smoke be opaque. But when it comes to children’s health, it has made something very clear, and that is the state of Washington needs to pass this clean air initiative, so these children can breathe clean air. They deserve that. The significance of this is profound.

That support wasn’t enough though, and 57% of voters voted against the initiative.

The fee would’ve started at $15 per metric ton in 2020, increasing by $2/ton each year until greenhouse gas reduction goals were met in 2035. A handful of states have already proposed carbon taxes, including Maryland, New York, Vermont, and Maine, but so far none have yet been approved.

This is actually the 2nd carbon tax Washington voters have voted down, defeating a similar initiative in 2016. Having voted down a carbon tax on both of the last two ballots, Washington voters clearly aren’t ready for a carbon tax yet, though with the opposition – led by the Western States Petroleum Association – spending $31 million on the cause, about twice as much as supporters’ $15 million, it’s no surprise the measure didn’t pass.

Things look a bit rosier on the federal level though, as Democrats now control the House and a handful, like Sean Casten in Illinois, specifically campaigned on a clean energy and emissions reduction platform. And even though our carbon emissions have actually continued to decrease despite President Trump attempting to roll back environmental policies, support for these policies on the federal level is still necessary to push clean energy forward in the United States. With this new majority in the House, hopefully we’ll see new environmental and clean energy legislation in the near future.

Image Credits: CC license via Pexels: 1, 2

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Utility of the Future: Insights from Colorado’s Energy Transition https://solartribune.com/utility-of-the-future-insights-from-colorados-energy-transition/ Tue, 13 Nov 2018 14:37:33 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14222 Technocrats, sitting in their colorful offices in Silicon Valley and the hallowed halls of Cambridge institutions, would have us believe that to solve the biggest global energy challenges, we will need to journey down a path of massive, unprecedented disruption.  Ubiquitous presentations promise to digitize the world’s problems away, and assure us that legacy utilities […]

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Technocrats, sitting in their colorful offices in Silicon Valley and the hallowed halls of Cambridge institutions, would have us believe that to solve the biggest global energy challenges, we will need to journey down a path of massive, unprecedented disruption.  Ubiquitous presentations promise to digitize the world’s problems away, and assure us that legacy utilities with their old business models and boring dress codes will soon have zero impact on our daily lives.  However, Xcel Energy and its Colorado Energy Plan may offer a striking counterpoint to this logic.

Researchers from MIT  shared their vision for the Utility of the Future, where a decentralized, “self healing” grid would replace the heap of old wires we have today. New business models would materialize if only regulators would accept total market transformation. These pronouncements fill the pages of Wired Magazine and give us something to chat about at cocktail parties, while the real future is quietly unfolding right under our noses in Colorado.

MIT’s Utility of the Future study, published in December 2016.

Tucked away in unexceptional office buildings and dated municipalities, Xcel Energy, a legacy utility with a boring dress code and a century old business model, is working alongside policy makers, public utility commissioners, and engaged stakeholders, to transform the State’s power grid. In an effort similar to Germany’s Energiewende, Colorado is on track to meet 55% of its electricity supply with renewable energy by 2026, and reduce CO2 emissions by 60% below 2005 levels over the same period.  They are pulling this off without significant rate hikes to consumers or disruptions to reliability. This energy transition is challenging long standing assumptions on the economics and technical feasibility of a carbon free grid. Where it is headed offers a far more tangible carbon free energy future than any proclamation has yet offered.

Background on Colorado’s Energy Transition

Xcel Energy’s commitment to energy transition was not a unilateral proclamation. It came about as a response to customer demand. In 2011, residents of the City of Boulder voted in favor of a ballot to divorce itself from Xcel Energy and establish its own municipal utility. As one ballot supporter stated, “They [Xcel] don’t have our interests at heart,” referring to the portfolio of coal assets that Xcel continued to operate, and that comprised 57% of it’s portfolio at the time. This initiated a 6-year process of joint working-groups and often adversarial negotiations. Among the issues that needed to be resolved was the transfer of assets from Xcel to Boulder.

Throughout the rounds of negotiations, public hearings, PUC filings and even a lawsuit that proceed, the City of Boulder offered Xcel several opportunities to “partner” with the city, including asking that Xcel reduce the price of wind power for Boulder customers and remove a cap on wind generated south of Boulder.

Part of Xcel’s Cherokee Generating Station is a 928 MW Coal Plant outside of Denver.

Under the specter of more customers following Boulder’s lead, Xcel Energy submitted a new Electricity Resource Plan (EPC) in 2016, changing its posture, and adopting a commitment to “better serve our customers across the state…” by “keeping your energy costs low” and to “deliver increasingly cleaner energy…” In August 2016, CPUC approved a series of filings whereby Xcel would move forward with programs that offered customers greater resource diversity and access to renewables, while removing the transmission premiums that it had levied on renewable power. This met more customer demand for renewables, and it established conditions that would make municipalization an even less feasible option for customers seeking affordable, clean energy.

In 2017 Xcel unveiled its proposed Colorado Energy Plan (CEP), laying out a more defined roadmap to meet rising energy demand with more renewable energy and lower carbon emissions, at rates that still undercut the national average. Xcel laid identified three clear goals: 1) increase total production to meet growing demand; 2) meet 55% of its total supply with renewable energy by 2026; 3) reduce emissions to 60% below 2005 levels, also by 2026. To get there, Xcel plans on cutting its coal power supply by 30% and reducing 50% of it’s natural gas generation. As a first step, the CEP requested approval to retire place 700 MW of coal powered generation in early retirement, and replace that capacity with wind and solar power. As additional coal plant move to retirement beyond 2026, Xcel believes that it will be on the road to achieve a zero carbon portfolio.

Source: Western Resource Advocates

In early 2018, Xcel received 350 proposals for solar and wind projects, many of which included energy storage. The median prices offered for wind, solar, and combined storage projects all fell sharply below the lowest documented prices previously offered anywhere else in the US, and they significantly undercut coal and natural gas.

This past August, CPUC gave final approval for Xcel’s CEP. In moving forward with its plan, Xcel will move to invest $2.5 billion to add over 1,100 megawatts of wind generation, more than 700 megawatts of solar generation, and 275 megawatts of battery storage onto Colorado’s grid. Xcel will also retire the Comanche 1 and 2 coal plants, comprising 700 MW of existing capacity, a decade early. Despite this lofty investment, Xcel is promising to save money for the rate payers. The CEP outlines $200 Million in anticipated savings for Colorado ratepayers. Decommissioning coal plants and operating lower cost resources offsets the burden of the associated capital investment. Furthermore, Xcel anticipates that it will drive further savings by avoiding compliance costs for anticipated emissions regulations as it moves to downsize its coal fleet.

Xcel Energy’s phased plan to increase resource diversity and lower carbon in its generation portfolio.

As Xcel Energy takes on bold moves for a regulated utility, Colorado’s biggest cities and counties are upping the ante even higher. At least ten of the state’s most populous and prominent regions have set 100% renewable energy goals, most of which are set to be achieved by 2030, and none of them any later than 2035. As one executive from excel put it, “We will eventually have a zero carbon power grid. Xcel would rather lead in that direction, than get dragged there.” With so much customer demand, Colorado provides a unique foothold for Xcel to assume that leadership.

Turning Customers into Allies and Taking Advantage of the Stakeholder Brain Trust

During the rounds of public hearings and back room meetings between Xcel Energy and the City of Boulder, the latter gained volunteer support from a team of experts, including researchers from National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and University of Colorado. These experts assisted Boulder in assessing the cost and technical feasibility of various generation portfolios. The team, referred to as “RenewablesYES!”, provided Boulder with a roadmap to double its renewable energy supply, halve its carbon intensity and “greatly reduce other forms of fossil fuel-related pollution at rates that would meet or beat Xcel’s.”

Through ongoing rounds of negotiation, public hearings, a lawsuit, and PUC filings, citizen leadership in the technical review process influenced Xcel’s process of evaluating its own portfolio. This helped Xcel fuel its own effort to devise a more ambitious renewable energy roadmap, and likely contributed to the partnerships that it formed with renewable energy and environmental advocacy groups. These many of these groups aided Xcel in formulating the CEP, and that have been strong supporters of Xcel’s efforts in front of CPUC.

Xcel intelligently turned its proceedings with Boulder into an opportunity to draw a new relationship with the stakeholder groups that would be difficult opposition if they were not key allies. In its 2017 CEP filing, Xcel listed numerous renewable energy coalitions, consumer advocacy groupd, and even energy think tanks that participated in the plan formulation. The Western Resources Advocates was one of the major partners.

Cities and counties across Colorado are seeking to go 100% renewable.

Firm Renewable Power Beats Natural Gas

In January 2018, Xcel released the results of the All-Sources-Solicitation that it issued in late 2017. The response was striking. In contrast to the 55 responses that Xcel had received in its 2013 solicitation, this time around 430 bids were submitted, 350 of which were for solar and wind projects comprising 100 GW of total capacity. Over 100 of these proposed renewable projects included battery storage, comprising 27 GW of total capacity. In other words Xcel was looking at 27 GW of firm renewable energy, with the same dispatchability and load control as the traditional fossil fuel resources.

If that is not astounding enough, the game changer was in the costs that were proposed for these projects relative to Colorado’s existing fossil fuel resources. The median price offered for Solar + Storage came out to $36/MWh while Wind + Storage was offered at a median cost of $21.50/MWh. With natural gas selling at $40 – $60/MWh and the state’s coal power supply selling for even higher, Colorado is seeing a new reality unfold where renewable energy, made firm and dispatchable with battery storage, is technically and economically scalable, even in the most competitive power markets.

The Vertically Integrated Utility-of-the-People

Xcel’s guiding principles to working with partners such as municipalities and coops. Xcel has taken a tone that utilities operate best when planning is a multi-lateral activity taking place outside of formal regulatory hearings.

Energy market deregulation was intended to establish competitive markets that would stabilize, if not lower costs for rate-payers, while creating greater transparency. The data on whether or not deregulation helped achieve these goals is inconclusive. Natural gas has been a major factor in driving down the cost of electricity since 2005. The same market construct that enabled the rapid expansion of natural gas generation led to rapid growth in wind and solar power in these markets. That same mechanism, however, limits their continued scalability. As fossil fuels comprise a smaller portion of the resource mix, renewable energy generators must rely more and more on long term power-purchase-agreements to ensure that they will achieve a viable return. But wholesale markets are not going away any time soon, and a 10-year power purchase agreement does not make sense to most customers. The answer to this challenge falls back to benefits of regulation.

These truths lead to difficult questions about the chances of achieving grid transformation in deregulated markets. Colorado would not be on track to deliver on its 2026 goals were it not for the centralization of accountability and oversight that can only be promised by a vertically integrated utility. But owning the entire energy value stream is not enough. The challenges of energy transition require significant changes to the governance and planning culture of most regulated utilities in the US today. Again, Colorado is charging ahead to create this future.

Xcel took many lessons away from its experience with Boulder, and the utility institutionalized the way it works with cities, municipalities, and other governance organizations as a result. As cities like Denver, Longmont, Pueblo and Fort Collins have approved county-wide RPSs of 100% renewable energy by anywhere from 2020 to 2035, Xcel has opted to partner with them in achieving these goals, maintaining its role as their utility. According to Jaren Luner, a public policy analyst at Xcel Energy, when cities approach Xcel with a plan to meet 100% of their demand with renewables, “’No that’s now how it works’ isn’t an answer that is acceptable to our cities. We need to incorporate their goals into our resource planning.”

Why Look to Colorado?

Colorado is not the only state that set ambitious clean energy goals. California and Hawaii have both committed to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2045. They are seeing rapid growth in their renewable portfolios. In both states, however, rate payers are seeing their energy bills escalate to over 50% above the national average. In contrast, Xcel Energy met 28% of its Colorado energy supply with renewables last year. Its customers’ paid energy bills were an average of 33% below the national benchmark. The Colorado Energy Plan estimates that customers will continue to see savings, and by 2030, Colorado rate payers will save as much as $200 million.

An energy transition similar to Colorado, is necessary if we are going to collectively meet the emergent challenges of climate change, resource scarcity and infrastructure vulnerability. On the face of it, the US power grid is a regulatory jungle of balkanized markets and aging infrastructure, making massive transformation almost impossible. At closer look, Colorado may be the oracle that can providing a roadmap for other states to follow. What might that energy future look like?

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Political Climate Change and the Path to Clean Energy https://solartribune.com/political-climate-change/ Mon, 30 Jul 2018 11:18:48 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13958 Could a change in the US political climate spark rapid growth in renewable energy? A group of progressive Democratic candidates believe that it can and voters are listening. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old New York Bartender turned Bernie Sanders campaign organizer, achieved a stunning political upset last month when she beat incumbent 10-term Congressman Joe Crowley […]

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Could a change in the US political climate spark rapid growth in renewable energy? A group of progressive Democratic candidates believe that it can and voters are listening.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old New York Bartender turned Bernie Sanders campaign organizer, achieved a stunning political upset last month when she beat incumbent 10-term Congressman Joe Crowley in the primary elections for New York’s 14th district. In a predominantly Democratic, working class district, many see the upcoming mid-term elections as a mere formality on her path to public office.

More noteworthy than who she defeated is what Ocasio-Cortez represents. She is one of 42 candidates running in federal, state, and local elections who are being endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organization that aims to transform the US to a socialist economy through political change. As the organization’s website states:

“As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.”

These candidates have embraced a set of uniform policies that disrupt the moderate appeal that mainstream Democratic leaders have sought to maintain. They are promising voters that if elected, they will fight to legislate Medicare for All, a Federal minimum wage of $15 per hour, free higher-education, and aggressive federal action on climate change. These positions, and their refusal to accept corporate donations has put them greatly at odds with the Democratic establishment. If elected into office, they could disrupt some of the fundamental Democratic footholds including clean energy legislation.

Ocasio-Cortez campaigning in the Pride Parade in her home district in Queens ,NY a week before the primary elections. (Jennifer Mason / LA Times)

Clean energy and the path to economic empowerment

Climate change is a pivotal issue for the DSA candidates. According to them, it disproportionately affects disadvantaged populations, while the activities causing it primarily benefit wealthy elites. Coal executives, for example, earn incomes as high as 600 times that of average mine workers, while it is the latter who contract black-lung and incur the high cost of medical treatment. Similarly, industry executives and their families were not among those affected by the contaminated groundwater in Flint, MI. On the other hand, combating climate change by transitioning to a clean energy economy will create millions of jobs and facilitate the economic mobility necessary to support a more equitable society. As Ocasio-Cortez’s website states,

“radically addressing climate change is a potential path towards a more equitable economy with increased employment and widespread financial security for all.”

Ocasio-Cortez has made clean energy central to her campaign. She points to low-income communities in her own district that are being affected by erosion and sea level rise, and she is proposing a “Green New Deal” that she says will not only increase employment, but also support national security through global climate action. Like Ocasio-Cortez, DSA backed Kaniela Ing, running for Hawaii’s first congressional district, relates the effects of climate change to the lives of his voters. In a 2017 Facebook post, Ing wrote that:

“Climate change is already impacting our islands. Hawai‘i must act now to keep our shorelines and our economy from ending up underwater.”

He is referring to the shrinking coastline of Waikiki and the impact that it is having on the island’s mainly native, economically struggling population.

Ocasio-Cortez, Ing, and other DSA candidates are proposing bold climate policy that would transition 100% of energy in the US to renewable energy by 2035. They believe that this will close economic and labor gaps. They are promising that a strong, resilient and fair economy can be achieved by directing the ingenuity and skill of the American workforce towards the energy transition. This, they say, will create millions of jobs and lead to a more equitable society in the process.

Breaking the deal with the Devil

Ambitious Climate policy is not new in the Democratic political landscape. Some of the party’s most influential leaders have put their weight behind bold legislation to curb Greenhouse Gas emissions and transform the US energy sector. In 2009, the Democratic House passed H.R. 2454, a bill that outlined a national cap-and-trade market and mandated a renewable portfolio standard of 25% by 2025. The bill never made it through the Senate. It was ambitious, even by today’s standards, and most experts believed that implementing its mandates would spark significant growth in clean technology. More aggressive measures have recently been proposed. Just last year, H.R. 3671, the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act, was introduced into congress. Thirty-seven cosponsors signed onto the bill including Joe Crowley himself. This bill set the – 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 – goal that Ocasio-Cortez later adopted in her lead-up to the primary race.

Despite these initiatives, progress in transitioning to carbon-free energy has been slow.  As candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, Ing and others see it, establishment democrats lack the political will to turn climate bills into laws, because in large part, their campaign treasuries are filled high with donations from the fossil fuel industry. Ocasio-Cortez and Ing, along with Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, Randy Bryce vying for the Wisconsin seat being vacated by Paul Ryan, and 310 other Congressional candidates signed on to the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, refusing to accept donations from PACs, executives, or “front-groups” of fossil fuel companies. They say that by avoiding this conflict of interest, they can take the firm action on climate change that current Democratic lawmakers are only able to give lip service to.

Many however, see turning down fossil fuel money as too big a campaign risk in an election process where cash is king. OpenSecrets.org reports that in the 2016 elections the fossil fuel sector contributed over $100 Million in campaign contributions, making it the largest contributor of campaign funds out of every measured sector. The tide, it seems, may be turning on the importance of a campaign treasure chest to winning voters’ hearts and minds. Both Ocasio-Cortez and Ing were outspent by their primary opponents at a rate of 10 to 1 before they both delivered the startling upsets that ushered them into national attention.

It’s not the What, but the How

Another key factor that differentiates the climate policy vision of the insurgent candidates from that of the old guard lies in who would lead the massive investment that energy transformation will require. Since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, renewable energy and climate policy has mainly focused on market driven solutions. Policies relied on tax credits, loan guarantees, and grant funding to incentivize private sector investment in energy technologies. The Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), for example are recognized for catalyzing the rapid growth in solar and wind power that took them from less than 1% of total US energy production in 2007 to over 10% today.

Experts see the PTC and ITC as having been vital to the growth of US wind and solar energy over the last decade; Total installed Solar PV and Wind capacity in the US: 2006 – 2016. (GridLion Analytics)

Underlying the Democratic-Socialists’ plan for energy transformation is a firm belief that Government has the capability to invest trillions of dollars directly into industries currently controlled by the private sector, if only legislators had the political will to authorize such expenditure. Ocasio-Cortez, who calls herself an “Environmental Hardliner”, criticizes market-based approaches as half-measures. Instead, she is calling for a centralized approach, empowering Government to lead the way rather than hoping for private sector action. She points to Puerto Rico, which has been slow to regain a stable power grid, as a prime example of why central planning from Government is the only way forward on energy.

On her website, Ocasio-Cortez outlines her vision for a Green New Deal that, like FDR’s program, would entail massive direct investment by the Government. Under this plan, the Government would directly invest trillions of dollars to expand manufacturing and implementation of renewable energy and electric vehicle technologies. This, she says, will create “millions of high-wage jobs”, and provide the resources needed to dismantle America’s reliance on fossil fuels. As she was quoted in a recent Huffington Post interview:

“The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan.”

Over the last month, however, beyond reiterating the high-level concepts of a Green New Deal or new Marshall Plan, Ocasio-Cortez has not provided any insight into her strategy for achieving these lofty policy goals.  In an email inquiry trying to obtain more information on the candidate’s plan, her staff responded saying that they “hope” to be able to provide more concrete information soon.

Another Democratic Socialist who is positioning climate action at the epicenter of his platform is Hawaii’s Kaniela Ing. Like Ocasio-Cortez, Ing is hitting on two issues with one solution. His website states that:

“he will fight to commit our nation to‍‍‍ a 100% renewable energy goal in order to save our planet from climate change and put millions of rural Americans back to work.”

Ing plans to achieve this by partnering with labor unions and environmental groups to generate groundswell in congress for federal job guarantees, labor agreements, and community owned renewable energy.

Congressional candidate Kaniela Ing has experience legislating on clean energy market transformation through his work in the Hawaii State Legislature.

Ing has direct, first-hand experience passing similar legislation. During his time in the Hawaii legislature, the Ratepayer Protection Act (SB 2939) was signed into State law. This law ties utilities’ reimbursement to their performance on achieving Solar PV and Energy Storage benchmarks to meet the State’s 100% renewable energy goal. Furthermore, he has taken a strong stance against a proposed gas pipeline, and in a verified Reddit post, he claims success for preventing the pipeline altogether “I successfully fought to stop fracked natural gas from reaching Hawaii.”

Randy Bryce is another candidate whose platform ties clean energy to job creation. A former steel worker, Bryce believes that the job insecurity faced by today’s steel workers can be eliminated by retooling the industry and focusing it on domestic wind production. Like Ocasio-Cortez and Ing, Bryce sees Government investment as the key to this.

Can they really live up to their promises on clean energy?

The change that Ocasio-Cortez, Ing, and others are committing to deliver will require immense political capital that freshmen in Congress typically do not have. Furthermore, as Ocasio-Cortez herself points out, it will require deep structural change and trillions of dollars of Federal investment. That could lead to a rapid increase in the nation’s debt. On the other hand, if these candidates do enter the next class of freshman Congress-men-and-women, it will be without being beholden to either fossil fuel interests or their own party’s leadership. That may empower them to disrupt the legislative cadence enough to make real progress in their first terms. There is little insight into how, exactly, these candidates will attempt to turn their respective visions into realities. But any progress on the ground could mean significant steps forward for solar and wind companies. Even if the DSA candidates’ initial progress is limited to tax credit extensions or direct, program specific investments, this would mark a significant turning point for clean energy, thrusting into the limelight as a first-tier issue. That, ultimately, is what may open the pathway towards full decarbonization.

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Early Impact of Solar Tariffs Being Felt Nationwide https://solartribune.com/early-impact-of-solar-tariffs-being-felt-nationwide/ Fri, 01 Jun 2018 00:35:50 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13804 The solar industry has now had a handful of months to digest the solar panel tariffs that were implemented by the Trump Administration in January, and the early verdict is somewhat of a mixed bag. Domestic solar capacity has ratcheted up in the front half of 2018 thanks to investments by solar companies seeking to […]

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The solar industry has now had a handful of months to digest the solar panel tariffs that were implemented by the Trump Administration in January, and the early verdict is somewhat of a mixed bag.

Domestic solar capacity has ratcheted up in the front half of 2018 thanks to investments by solar companies seeking to circumvent the tariffs. However, solar panel imports have plummeted in the wake of the tariffs, disrupting sensitive supply chains in the process for many domestic companies.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases monthly data showing annual PV module shipment volumes and their respective dollar value. The latest Monthly Solar Photovoltaic Module Shipment Report captures data through March 2018. The report shows that PV module shipments in January, February, and March of this year were about half of the average monthly volumes experienced in the back half of 2017.

Parsing the data further, a noticeable uptick in import volumes began in March 2017, the same month that Suniva petitioned for its Section 201 case. The ensuing stockpiling of solar panels throughout the remainder of 2017 was surely a direct result of the pending uncertainty over the case and the resulting likelihood that tariffs would be levied on solar panels.

Solar panel shipments

Source: Graphic produced by Solar Tribune, data from Energy Information Administration

For companies like Cypress Creek Renewables, the nation’s largest utility-scale solar installer in 2017, the tariffs and resulting decline in solar panel imports have had a crippling effect. In May, the company announced that they would be halting $1.5 billion in new solar projects, many of which would have benefited economically distressed rural communities. Cypress Creek’s business model is heavily reliant on utility-scale projects, which have slim profit margins and are especially sensitive to even the slightest fluctuation in panel prices.

While hard to quantify, the economic impact of Cypress Creek’s decision could be profound. As the company’s head of communications, Jeff McKay, put it:

“For each project we create, we’re hiring hundreds or sometimes even a thousand of construction workers for each project. Those jobs now go away. Also, local tax revenue that would go into those rural communities no longer exists.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has projected that as many as 23,000 jobs could be lost due to the solar tariffs.

There are numerous examples, however, of new investments being made by solar manufacturers in the U.S. since the implementation of the tariffs. JinkoSolar, First Solar, and Mission Solar are just a sampling of such companies. The solar panel production capabilities of these companies and other U.S.-based manufacturers is dwarfed by the number of panels that were previously being imported from overseas.

The new solar factories being built in the U.S. are also heavily automated, putting a damper on any prospect of them being significant drivers of new jobs. JinkoSolar’s planned manufacturing facility in Jacksonville, FL is a perfect example of this harsh reality. Back in January, the Chinese-based firm initially announced their plans to build a $410 million facility that would employ 800 people. In recent months, however, JinkoSolar has significantly scaled back their plans for the plant. Recent reports indicate a $50 million plant will be built that will employ just 200 people. Ultimately, as industry experts are quick to point out, the number of new solar manufacturing jobs expected to be borne out of the levying of tariffs will be more than eclipsed by the solar installer jobs that the tariffs will slash.

The year of the solar tariffs is only halfway over, but the impact of the tariffs is already being felt far and wide, and this is likely only the beginning.

 

Cover photo source: Ecowatch.com

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California to Require Solar Panels on New Homes https://solartribune.com/california-to-require-solar-panels-on-new-homes/ Thu, 10 May 2018 14:15:19 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13795 On Wednesday, the state of California became the first state in the country to establish a mandate that requires almost all new homes to be equipped with solar panels. The new rule, approved by the California Energy Commission, applies to all new homes, condos, and apartment buildings up to three stories tall that obtain building […]

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On Wednesday, the state of California became the first state in the country to establish a mandate that requires almost all new homes to be equipped with solar panels.

The new rule, approved by the California Energy Commission, applies to all new homes, condos, and apartment buildings up to three stories tall that obtain building permits after January 1, 2020. Currently, only 15% – 20% of new single-family homes in California are affixed with solar panels.

Certain exemptions to the rule would apply, such as homes that are in heavily shaded areas or homes with limited rooftop surface area to accommodate solar panels. Additional offsets will be available for builders installing solar batteries, which would allow the solar panel capacity requirement to be reduced.

Photo Source: NPR

The move by California is a watershed moment in the solar industry. Given its stature and role as the leading state for solar capacity, California plays an outsized role in dictating where the U.S. solar market goes. Quite simply, as goes California’s solar industry, so goes the nation. California’s solar mandate for new housing construction will surely have positive effects on making solar a more affordable and mainstream energy source for the broader domestic market.

While California’s new solar mandate is a first of its kind statewide initiative, the city of San Francisco implemented a similar provision in 2016 that went into effect this January. The city ordinance requires some form of solar energy – either solar panels or solar heating units – to be affixed on all new buildings that are 10 stories or fewer. The effort in San Francisco was led by then-San Francisco Board of Supervisors member, Scott Wiener, who subsequently went on to lead the push for a similar statewide policy once elected to the state Senate.

Cost Concerns in Context

California’s new solar mandate raises reasonable concerns about the impact it will have on the affordability of housing, especially for a state suffering a serious and deepening housing affordability crisis.

However, as with most any residential solar investment, the upfront costs that the mandate will add to new home construction will be dwarfed by the long-term cost savings that will be passed onto the homeowner. The California Energy Commission projects that the mandate would add about $9,500 to the initial cost of building a house, but long-term energy savings could total $19,000 over 30 years.

The Commission is well-aware of the initial costs that will be passed onto consumers, but they want homeowners to keep the big picture in mind. In the words of Commission member, Andrew McAllister:

“We do not minimize the cost of housing in the state — everyone recognizes that’s an issue. Their cash-flow position will be improved with the addition of solar. It won’t make it worse.”

The Commission estimates that buyers of new solar-equipped homes on average would see a $40 hike in their monthly mortgage payments, while their monthly utility bills would decline by $80.

Cost estimates from private developers are even more bullish about the potential savings that homeowners will realize over the long haul. Meritage Homes, a housing developer with a significant presence in California, estimates that the new energy standards will add $25,000 to $30,000 to home construction costs. However, they also estimate that homeowners will realize $50,000 to $60,000 in reduced operating costs over the 25-year life of the home’s solar energy system.

From the homeowners’ perspective, there is a lot to be said about installing a solar energy system during the initial home construction process rather than years down the road. Doing so is both more convenient and cost-effective. As the San Francisco solar ordinance outlines:

“Requiring solar water heating and/or solar photovoltaics at the time of new construction is more cost-effective than installing the equipment after construction, because workers are already on-site, permitting and administrative costs are lower, and it is more cost-effective to include such systems in existing construction financing.”

California’s latest move to make solar a mainstream energy source for more of its residents serves as a reminder of the leadership position that California has assumed on all things solar, over the years. If the past is any precedent, expect other residential solar mandates to pop up around the country as the other 49 states once again follow California’s lead.

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A New Day Dawns For U.S. Solar https://solartribune.com/new-day-dawns-u-s-solar/ Mon, 05 Feb 2018 05:00:14 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12711   In the wake of new tariffs on cheap foreign panels, the industry is looking ahead. Last week, Solar Tribune looked at some of the possible effects of President Trump’s recent decision to impose tariffs on many foreign-made solar products. As more analysis of the economic impacts becomes available, a clearer picture is forming of […]

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In the wake of new tariffs on cheap foreign panels, the industry is looking ahead.

Last week, Solar Tribune looked at some of the possible effects of President Trump’s recent decision to impose tariffs on many foreign-made solar products. As more analysis of the economic impacts becomes available, a clearer picture is forming of what we can expect to see in the months and years to come. Let’s look at what some of America’s leading experts and solar industry insiders are saying about the future of US solar.

Who is in, and who is out?

The tariff comes at the request of two troubled American solar manufacturers, Suniva and SolarWorld. These two companies petitioned the International Trade Commission to recommend sanctions against foreign-made solar products– Chinese solar panels in particular. Though the 30% tariffs approved by the President are less than requested, they are significant and will have a major impact on the US in the near-term. Ironically, they are not expected to be enough to save the two companies who requested them. According to said Abigail Ross Hopper, The Solar Energy Industry Association’s president, and CEO:

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs.”

There will be new opportunities created by the tariffs, although they will be too little and too late to make up for the loss of jobs and business in the coming years. However, Jinko Solar, a Taiwanese solar company, announced last week that it would be setting up a new manufacturing facility in the U.S. in response to the tariffs. Also, companies like Tesla, who recently opened its new gigafactory with Panasonic just outside of Buffalo, New York, will be in a good position to benefit from some of the new openings in the market. First Solar, America’s largest domestic solar manufacturer, saw an 8% rise in stock price after the tariff was announced.

graphic: GTM

According to Greentech Media (GTM), there are 14 American solar manufacturers, including CBS Solar, Colored Solar, Csun USA, Lumos, Mission Solar, Prism Solar Technologies, Seraphim USA Manufacturing, SunSpark Technologies, Tesla, Solaria, Itek Energy and SolarTech Universal — plus Section 201 trade case petitioners Suniva and SolarWorld Americas. So far, Texas-based Mission has announced it will be hiring to replace the 50 workers laid off in 2017, and California’s Solaria is also planning expansion in response to the tariffs.

Also, there is a long list of countries that are exempt from the tariffs, and one country on the list, Pakistan, has already invited Chinese solar giant Trina to set up shop there. Other notably exempt are: Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Ecuador, Egypt, Georgia, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Nigeria, Paraguay, Samoa, Serbia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Ukraine. Most of the countries on the list are not industrial powerhouses, but there are definitely a few glaring exceptions. For instance, Adani, an Indian solar manufacturer, now rates as the largest tariff-free solar manufacturer in the world. Tata Power Solar and Vikram Solar, Longi, Hareon Solar and GCL-Poly are all Indian companies that stand to enjoy major gains.

What About Jobs?

The single biggest head-scratcher for many solar watchers is why the administration would implement a move that will have such an obvious negative effect on American jobs. Even if U.S. manufacturing ramped up to produce enough solar panels to fill 100% of the nation’s demand, it would take years and still would not produce enough jobs to replace all of the installation, sales and service jobs that will be lost. The good news is because the Presidents tariff is not as large as that requested by Suniva and SolarWorld, the initial job-loss estimates by SEIA have dropped from as high as 80,000 to 25,000. Hardest hit for job losses will be states including California, Texas, Florida and South Carolina, where solar is growing fast. Matt Moore, the former chair of the state’s Republican Party and the new chair of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition told GTM:

“The solar panel tariffs are a 30 percent tax on consumers that will reduce energy freedom and kill South Carolina jobs. That is unacceptable in my opinion, and local leaders can’t do much to fix it. That tariff will kill more jobs than it will possibly create. I will also say this: We appreciate the President looking out for American workers, but American workers are already winning with solar.”

How much will the Trump tariff cost consumers?

The way that the tariff is structured, it will start high and decline over the next four years. It starts with a 30% tariff in the first year, 25% in the second year, 20% in the third year and 15% in the fourth year. In each year, the first 2.5 GW of imported solar cells would be exempt from the tariff. Many large companies have amassed considerable stockpiles of panels in anticipation of the ruling. It is also important to remember that the solar panels are only a portion of the total cost of a solar project. This means that we can expect to see the installed price of solar go up about 10% for utility-scale projects, but only about 3-7% for residential and rooftop projects. This will roll back costs to where they were in 2015–which is, admittedly, a move in the wrong direction– but certainly not a death-knell for the solar business.

The immediate impact of the decision to affix a tariff on imported panels is a “speed bump, but not a wall,” for solar power, said PJ Deschenes, a partner at renewable energy boutique Greentech Capital Advisors. However, GTM Research estimates that the tariffs will cut about 7.6 gigawatts (GW), or 11%, of the 68.9GW of solar projects to be installed between 2018 and 2022.

graphic: GTM

Will the Trump tariff help the coal industry?

Many critics of the President speculate that the tariff was designed not to help the solar industry, but to hurt it. By increasing the cost of solar, they think, he will be helping the coal industry. We can only speculate on the motivations, but the fact is, that the tariff will not help the coal industry. Job growth in the coal has been nearly non-existent since President Trump came into office, and coal production dropped 5% in 2017. If the move helps any sectors in the utility-scale production business, it would be natural gas or wind, both of which are showing plenty of growth without taking any business away from solar.

What’s the “bright side?”

“Had Trump listened to the solar installers and coddled solar-panel dumping, Americans would have been limited to affixing imported solar equipment to U.S. homes and businesses, the nation would have been pushed further to the sidelines of the green-energy revolution, and government-supported foreign producers would have compromised further the nation’s free markets.”

So writes Alan Tonelson of RealityChek. Tonelson makes a case in favor of the tariffs on the grounds that the Chinese government is subsidizing their manufacturing sector and dumping cheap panels specifically to drive American manufacturing even father into the ground. He is not wrong. Despite the partisan arguments, there is a chance that the tariffs may be setting the groundwork for a solar manufacturing renaissance in this country. However, one of the keys to this becoming a reality is that the U.S. must be ready to commit to new R&D and innovation. That innovation takes place in large part at places like the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL). And, their budget has been cut.

Thankfully, there are a select few American innovators like Elon Musk who are stepping into that void. With a few more leaders like Musk, the nation’s solar horizon may look very different and hopefully very bright in the next four years.

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How Bad Are The Trump Tariffs For Solar? https://solartribune.com/bad-trump-tariffs-solar/ Sat, 27 Jan 2018 16:24:51 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12628 The Solar Energy Industry Association estimates 23,000 jobs will be lost. But is that the whole story? “Our action today helps to create jobs in America for Americans. We’ll be making solar products now much more so in the United States. Our companies have been decimated, and those companies are going to be coming back […]

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The Solar Energy Industry Association estimates 23,000 jobs will be lost. But is that the whole story?

“Our action today helps to create jobs in America for Americans. We’ll be making solar products now much more so in the United States. Our companies have been decimated, and those companies are going to be coming back strong.” -Donald Trump, Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Bloomberg News ran the forboding headline: Trump’s Tariffs on Solar Mark Biggest Blow to Renewables Yet.

The Solar Energy Industry Association released a statement that pointed out the irony that the tariffs will not only cost American solar installer jobs, but they probably won’t save the two foreign-owned U.S. solar manufacturing companies who filed the original complaint. According to Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s President and CEO:

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs.”

President Trump approved four years of tariffs that start at 30 percent in the first year and gradually drop to 15 percent. The first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells are exempt for each year. Admittedly, this is less than the amount requested by Suniva and SolarWorld, which is a small silver lining to the clouds gathering over the U.S. Solar market.

But not all energy-watchers were doom and gloom. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:

“This is not a goodbye for renewable energy in the U.S. I don’t believe this decision will reverse the solar expansion in the U.S. The global solar industry will adjust. The penetration of solar in the U.S. will continue.”

A Tesla spokesperson told elektrek.com:

“Tesla is committed to expanding its domestic manufacturing, including Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York, regardless of the solar tariff decision today.”

In fact, despite lobbying against the tariffs, Tesla may benefit from the measures, thanks to their commitment to domestic manufacturing.

Despite the heated rhetoric, partisan pundits on both sides of the argument have cause to pause and reflect on the complexities of the situation that potential intended and unintended effects. There is plenty of hypocrisy on both sides of the issue. Solar skeptics might remember their criticisms of the Obama administration “playing favorites” by supporting the failed solar manufacturer Solyndra, while solar supporters have turned a blind eye to the unfair labor practices and environmentally damaging processes that have made cheap Chinese solar panels ubiquitous in the U.S. solar industry.

Abigail Ross Harper photo: seia.org

What can we expect to see in the months and years to come?

Asian nations affected by the tariffs will challenge the tariffs in front of the World Trade Organization. That could get ugly, and there could be retaliations in the form of anti-U.S. tariffs. Many analysts predict that a trade war is looming.

We will undoubtedly see a short-term chilling effect on the U.S. solar market. Not only because of the tariffs, but because the over-heated solar market growth of the last several years was already slowing and state and federal tax breaks will be sunsetting. GTM Research analysis predicts an 11% decline in solar installations over the next five years, translating into a loss of 7.6GW of installed solar from 2018 to 2022. The same analysis predicts module prices will increase by 10 cents per watt under the 30% tariff, and scale down to a 4 cents per watt increase by the fourth year under a 15% tariff.

We will see a shift in imports from China to other countries that are exempt from tariffs, like India and Brazil.

Next, just as with Japanese and German car companies in the 1980s and 1990s, we will see foreign companies set up manufacturing and assembly plants in the United States. However, it will take years for some plants to tool up, and immediate job growth numbers in manufacturing will be insignificant compared to losses in the installation, sales and service areas. According to SEIA’s Ross-Harper:

“I think tariffs can work; I just don’t think in this scenario they are likely to work. Obviously, we welcome new manufacturing capacity, but we need to be realistic about what that is likely to look like. These new facilities are largely automated. When you think about the impact on jobs — which our president cares about — it’s going to have a minimal impact.”

Could there be other unintended benefits? Could U.S. R&D efforts get a boost in the development of next-generation solar technologies? Could solar panel manufacturing be “greener” under U.S. environmental protection policies? Maybe. Undoubtedly, the presidents actions are going to create some pain in an industry that has been running very hot for the last few years. But will it be short-term pain and long-term gain? Is the President tapping the brakes or slamming them? There are certainly going to be unintended consequences, and hopefully, not all of them will be bad.

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Trade War With China? What It Might Mean For Solar https://solartribune.com/trade-war-china-might-mean-solar/ Mon, 08 Jan 2018 04:08:02 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12365 Will solar fall victim to protectionism? Chinese solar panels, along with steel, aluminum and consumer electronics, may soon be subject to tariffs designed to protect US industries from what the Trump administration believes are unfair Chinese trade practices. The question in the minds of many experts is, will responding to the problem with tariffs really […]

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Will solar fall victim to protectionism?

Chinese solar panels, along with steel, aluminum and consumer electronics, may soon be subject to tariffs designed to protect US industries from what the Trump administration believes are unfair Chinese trade practices. The question in the minds of many experts is, will responding to the problem with tariffs really help US companies, or might they bring about retaliation from China worse than the problem itself? A flurry of articles from a range of business journals and respected news sources are trying to make sense of how a trade war with China might play out.

China is America’s biggest trading partner and accounts for about 50% of the US trade deficit. Obviously, any sweeping changes to trade policies that alienate the Chinese could create ripple effects throughout the nation’s economy. Jim Cramer, investment strategist and host of the CNBC program Mad Money, is concerned.

“We’re at a major crossroads when it comes to trade policy in this country, and I think you need to seriously consider the protectionist course of action before you decide to buy international stocks with foreign exposure,” the “Mad Money” host said.

Scott Lincicome, an adjunct scholar and former trade analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute writes that unilateral trade action on the part of the United States could trigger backlash not only in relations with China, but that negative effects could be far more far-reaching.

“…other WTO Members would likely join China in condemning the United States’ chest-thumping unilateralism, perhaps even joining in on the underlying WTO dispute challenging the overall lawfulness of Section 301. So, in one fell swoop, the Trump administration could expose its exporters to WTO-consistent foreign retaliation, kill the remaining legitimacy of Section 301, and paint the United States as a global scofflaw (and China as the law-abiding victim). That’s a trifecta of bad, totally-avoidable outcomes. “

Cramer’s comments were focused on steel and aluminum imports an Lincicome was referring specifically on intellectual property issues arising around the consumer electronics marketplace, but the same concerns apply when discussing the possibility of imposing tariffs on solar panels.

The Origins of the solar tariff proposal: Suniva

Solar cell manufacturer Suniva, which declared bankruptcy in April of 2017, requested relief from Chinese competition under  Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, which was designed to protect American businesses from dumping low-cost products on the U.S. market. A report issued by the Trump administration the previous month had promised a more aggressive approach to unfair international trade practices, including expanded use of Under Section 201.

Because Chinese manufacturers of solar panels have flooded American markets with panels at prices too low for U.S. manufacturers to compete, Suniva filed a petition with the Trade Commission seeking “… a recommendation to the President of four years of relief of an initial duty rate on cells of $0.40/watt, along with an initial floor price on modules of $0.78/watt. Petitioner also seeks other equitable remedies that will effectively assist the domestic industry to make a positive adjustment to import competition. Finally, petitioner seeks a recommendation from the Commission to the President that the United States negotiate with trading partners to address the global supply imbalance and overcapacity in CSPV cells and modules.” This will  “…allow the domestic industry to survive long enough that it can benefit from actions of the U.S. government, and foreign governments and producers to address the massive excess global capacity that has depressed global CSPV cells and modules prices to unsustainable levels.”

Not long after Suniva’s action, another bankrupt American manufacturer, SolarWorld, signed on to the action. In September, members of the Trade Commission voted unanimously in favor of the Suniva/Solarworld petition, opening the door for the President to impose tariffs. Ironically, although Suniva and SolarWorld are both located in the United States, they are both owned by foreign parent companies… SolarWorld is a German company and Suniva is owned by a company from… you guessed it…China.

According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the chilling effect caused by a shortage of cheap Chinese solar panels could cost the American solar business 88,000 installation jobs, while saving only 2,000 manufacturing jobs. Suniva and SolarWorld’s downfall was the result of insufficient production capacities and a “series of damaging business decisions that had absolutely nothing to do with imports,” according to an SEIA report. According to Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the SEIA;

“They did not make a product that could compete at the utility scale, where 80 percent of solar market growth has been, effectively icing themselves out of the biggest and fastest growing part of the market…On the residential solar side, they didn’t align themselves with some of the biggest residential developers.”

Solar industry mobilizes, calling for free trade

The response by every sector of the solar industry (other than the two failed manufacturing companies) has been united in calling on the President to reject the idea of a tariff on Chinese panels. Not only will installation companies be effected, but even other, successful American manufacturers would be hurt by a reduction in demand, lack of raw materials, and more expensive components.


SEIA and its members have set forth a plan for encouraging a free market in solar that does not include bail-outs for failed companies. It includes:

  • Step 1: Say No to Solar Tariffs – These taxes on industry will raise electricity prices, kill jobs and bring an American economic success story to a halt.
  • Step 2: Support our Military and National Security – Take a strong stand for the military by keeping the costs of solar down. Our fighting forces need solar in the battlefield and use solar on domestic bases today. Solar helps ensure mission success.
  • Step 3: Ensure U.S. Energy Dominance – Do not cede world leadership in solar power production. Listen to a broad but unified coalition of energy producers, conservative groups and American businesses large and small, which all see solar investment as giving them an edge.
  • Step 4: Fight for American Workers and Don’t Turn Off This Economic Engine – Today, solar is a force in America’s economy. Keep the booming solar market going strong and offering well-paying jobs.
  • Step 5: Don’t Bail Out Failed Foreign Firms – You will be helping millionaires in China and Germany, and investors in Qatar and Europe, rather than the American families that have built this booming American industry. Don’t let two foreign-based, bankrupt companies manipulate U.S. law for a bailout.
  • Step 6: An America First Plan for Solar – If you believe those firms need assistance, create a plan that would support further investment in U.S. manufacturing, not just bail out foreign investors. Say no to traditional tariffs and quotas, and use American innovation – such as an import license fee that will get hundreds of millions of dollars in direct investment help to U.S. companies and our economy.

Conservatives speak out against tariffs

“Taxpayers should not have to bail out one foreign-owned company only for their foreign financers to get another. American solar can compete just fine on its own.” – Sean Hannity

It’s not often that Sean Hannity agrees with environmentalists. It’s even rarer that fossil fuel insiders like the Koch brothers do, too. But the Heritage Foundation and the Koch’s American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have come out against the tariffs on imported crystalline silicon solar products as well, joining in a coalition with the SEIA and others to form The Energy Trade Action Coalition (ETAC). The members may not agree on a lot of things, but they do agree that we are in a global economy, and that archaic ideas about protectionism are more likely to hurt the American economy than to help it. The coalition makes for strange bedfellows, but chances are, powerful conservatives have a much better chance of being heard than do solar advocates.

Wait and see…

right now, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the White House plans to address Chinese trade policy, but there is very little information coming out on what those plans might be. The bottom line for consumers is, there may be a lot of solar customers who want to buy panels now and hedge their bets, just in case the price goes up in the months to come.

 

 

 

 

 

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Solar Trends: 2017 Year In Review https://solartribune.com/solar-trends-2017-year-review/ Tue, 26 Dec 2017 18:00:24 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12269 Looking back at my New Years Day 2017 solar predictions, the solar stories I missed, and what to watch for in 2018. On January 1st of 2017, I dropped my annual predictions for the coming year in the solar industry. I kicked off Solar Trends to Watch in 2017: The Good, The Bad and The […]

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Looking back at my New Years Day 2017 solar predictions, the solar stories I missed, and what to watch for in 2018.

On January 1st of 2017, I dropped my annual predictions for the coming year in the solar industry. I kicked off Solar Trends to Watch in 2017: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by tooting my own horn a little bit about the accuracy of my 2016 predictions. How did I do this time around? Well honestly, maybe not quite as well, but in my defense, I think we can all agree that 2017 had a LOT of surprises. At the same time, some things that were question marks at the beginning of the year remain unresolved. Let’s look at last years predictions, and you be the judge.

Lat Year’s Predictions

Solar Storage Breakthrough: “Breakthrough” may be a bit strong, but I think “significant progress” would be an understatement. New storage products hit the market on a regular basis during 2017, and a bevy of new players, including industrial giants like Lockheed-Martin, Mercedes Benz and Caterpiller, announced their intentions to get into the market. Sadly, it may be the devastation of the Puerto Rican power grid by Hurricane Rita that will push solar + storage into the mainstream.

photo: http://www.solaryna.com

Trump Will Embrace Solar: Okay, hear me out on this one. Yes, I know that this prediction seems like a long-shot… maybe even the result of a moment of madness. Yes, I pointed out that Elon Musk was going to be a presidential technical advisor, and that Musk bailed as soon as Trump dumped the Paris Climate agreement. But this might still happen. We have yet to see what decision Trump will make on the Suniva case, and although his anti-free-trade and anti-China rhetoric would lead one to believe that he will grant the request for an embargo, I honestly think that he could go either way.
I do think that solar will continue to grow in the next four years, and at some point, Republicans will see that. I predicted that he would claim victory for new solar business by the end of his first term, and I’m going to wait a full three years before admitting defeat on this one.

 

Solar Will Build Local Economies: This one was a no-brainer. Despite slower growth in 2017, the solar industry has tripled solar installation jobs across the country in the last six years, increased property values, increased local tax revenues and kept dollars circulating in communities. “With a near tripling of solar jobs since 2010, the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation.

Global Solar Growth Will Slow: Unfortunately, I was right about this one as well. Solar installations slowed in 2017, both in the US and globally. The market has run hot for several years now, and as the industry matures, growth inevitably slows. In some areas, aging infrastructure is reaching its capacity for handling new solar generation.


Panel Prices May Go Too Low: It wasn’t a stretch to predict that panel prices would drop again in 2017, and it was no surprise to anyone when they did. But have they fallen TOO low? For manufacturers, the answer is yes. Trina and other solar panel makers are canceling the construction of new manufacturing facilities. For American installers, it is a mixed blessing…lower panel prices mean offering customers more affordable systems, but it also means a constant race to the bottom on the margins.


Tesla Will Have A Tough Year: I’m going to stick by this prediction, although you wouldn’t know it from the constant hype around everything that Elon Musk touches. Hey, I’m an as much of an Elon fan-boy as you will find, but the fact is, Solar City’s business has dwindled since being acquired by Tesla, the Solar Roof is AWOL, and the Powerwall is not exactly blowing up the market. Now, word on the street is that the Gigafactory is causing a global cylindrical battery shortage. Still, customers seem to be willing to “pay it forward,” and for now, all the balls remain in the air.

More ALEC Anti-Solar Lobbying: As I said last year, behind virtually all of the anti-solar legislative action happening in states across the country is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The organization has fought a state-by-state battle against rooftop solar, and that battle continues. There is an interesting twist in the story though- both ALEC and the conservative Heritage Foundation have come out against the tariffs requested in the Suniva/SolarWorld case. I think the message here is that they aren’t opposed to solar–they just want to make sure that large energy companies stay in control of it.

So, how did I do? Not terrible, I think. But what were the big solar stories that I did not see coming in 2017? There were a bunch.

Suniva/SolarWorld Case


Troubled American solar cell manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld went to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) looking for the relief because Chinese manufacturers of solar panels have flooded American markets with panels at prices too low for U.S. manufacturers to compete. Suniva filed a petition with the Trade Commission seeking “… a recommendation to the President of four years of relief of an initial duty rate on cells of $0.40/watt, along with an initial floor price on modules of $0.78/watt. Petitioner also seeks other equitable remedies that will effectively assist the domestic industry to make a positive adjustment to import competition. The FTC has found in Suniva/SolarWorld’s favor, and we are waiting to hear if President Trump will put the tariffs to in place.

World’s Largest Lithium-Ion Storage Facility

Row of lithium-ion energy storage batteries at Escondido

Photo by SDG&E

San Diego Gas & Electric, in partnership with the Virginia-based company AES Energy Storage, unveiled the largest lithium-ion energy storage installation in the world this year. The 30 megawatt (MW) facility contains 400,000 AES Advancion® batteries, similar to ones found in electric vehicles. The batteries are installed in nearly 20,000 modules and placed in 24 containers. Also, the Escondido facility is alleged to be 50 percent larger than the next-largest such installation.

Solar Incentives Survive the Tax Bill

The House version of the tax bill took aim at incentives for solar, wind and electric vehicle, but thankfully, Republican renewable energy supporters in the Senate prevailed. The House bill also would have ended a tax credit for investment in solar power for commercial properties and large solar farms. More immediately, the House bill proposed changes to eligibility rules that would make it harder for solar farm investors to claim the credit in a given year. In the end, the permanent 10 percent tax credit survived, and the eligibility criteria remained the same.

Solar Plays A Major Role In Puerto Rico’s Recovery


The collapse of the Puerto Rican electrical grid is a textbook example of what happens when a monopoly utility lets its infrastructure fall apart. In July, even before hurricane Maria struck the island, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) defaulted on a 2014 deal to restructure its debt. Everything PREPA could do wrong, they have done wrong. Puerto Ricans have been paying an insanely high price for low-quality service for years, and now, they are paying the ultimate price. The damage across the island is estimated at over $95 Billion, and in the wake of the storm, 3.4 Million people were without electricity. After Maria, replacing Puerto Rico’s shattered power grid with solar micro-grids is a no-brainer, and solar companies from across the world are stepping up.

What Lies Ahead?

I have to admit, my crystal ball is cloudy concerning 2018. There are just SO many variables that could effect where we are heading in the new year. I expect that we will see installations in the US and Europe continue to flatten out as transmission issues continue to be a problem. President Trump could single-handedly increase the chilling effect on the solar market in the U.S. by imposing a tariff on Chinese solar panels. State legislature’s will continue to be heavily lobbied by big-money energy companies to shut out indie rooftop solar. It could be a rough year.

On the other hand, Trump may chose not to impose tariffs. this could send a strong signal to the industry and reduce uncertainty. Battery storage is growing fast, and improvements in that sector may reduce grid-related growth issues. Microgrids continue to mature. Equipment efficiency increases, technology prices drop, and price parity with fossil fuels illustrates that solar is a mature industry. Against the odds, Solar is going to continue to compete and capture a growing market-share. For that, we can all be thankful.

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11 Solar Advocacy Groups You Should Follow https://solartribune.com/get-involved/ Mon, 18 Sep 2017 05:30:33 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11793 In a time when the President is talking about bringing back coal, who is fighting for policies that assure a fair market for solar?  For years, advocates for the solar industry have battled to open the utility market for individual’s who want to make their own electricity, as well as start-up businesses who want to […]

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In a time when the President is talking about bringing back coal, who is fighting for policies that assure a fair market for solar? 

For years, advocates for the solar industry have battled to open the utility market for individual’s who want to make their own electricity, as well as start-up businesses who want to make and sell power in a free market. Environmental groups concerned with the negative effects of burning fossil fuels have joined the fight, and by raising awareness and of both the economic and environmental benefits of solar, this coalition has succeeded in helping to make solar the fastest growing sector in the energy economy.

Which advocacy groups are most effective in fighting on behalf of solar? Here are a few groups you should be following.

Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA)

Founded in 1974, SEIA is the single largest and most effective non-profit organization working solely on behalf of the solar industry. SEIA has been at the forefront of national and state policy efforts during the solar industry’s infancy, and helped to bring it to maturity.

Led through twelve turbulent years by the very effective and sometimes controversial Rhone Resch, SEIA has a new CEO as of 2016, Abigail Ross Hopper. Hopper, who was the Director of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before joining SEIA, has proven to be a strong spokesperson for the Solar industry and has done an excellent job of filling Resch’s shoes. In addition, she has one of the most informative twitter feeds in the solar world.

Most recently, SEIA and Ms. Hopper have been very effective at laying out the case against the tariffs proposed in the Suniva case. Hopper told PV Magazine:

SEIA is going to fight fiercely on behalf of the solar industry every step of the way. We’re going to continue to engage with the ITC at a high level so our feelings as an industry are known. We feel confident that the Trump administration understands the importance of this issue to American jobs and innovation.

For more information, visit: seia.org

Solar Foundation

The Solar Foundation is the non-lobbying sister organization of the Solar Energy Industry Association. Whereas SEIA is a 501(c)6 is a non-profit trade organization that is allowed to do direct lobbying, The Solar Foundation is a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit dedicated to performing the research needed to support SEIA’s efforts.

The Solar Foundation may not get as many headlines as its big sister the SEIA, but they have been putting out some excellent reports on the economic impacts of solar. From their website:

The annual National Solar Jobs Census is the first and most authoritative national benchmark for solar jobs research. It has shown time and again that solar is a leading source of job growth in the 21st century. As of 2016, the solar industry employs 260,077 people in the United States, marking a 25 percent growth from 2015.

For more information, visit thesolarfoundation.org

American Solar Energy Society

The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is one of the grand-daddies of the solar movement. ASES was founded in 1954 at the very dawn of photovoltaic research at Bell Labs. They have local chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, as well as student chapters at eight colleges and universities. Their board members hail from all across the country and from both businesses and NGOs.

Their accomplishments have included:

    • More than six decades of advocacy, research and scientific papers
    • 45 National Solar Conferences and counting
    • 30 years of Solar Today magazine issues
    • 17 volumes of Advances in Solar Energy
    • Countless policy reports commissioned by ASES
    • More than 20 years of the National Solar Tour
  • The prevalence of solar and renewable energy businesses, events, and media that has erupted over the past decade

Their website is ases.org

The Smart Energy Power Alliance (SEPA)

Formerly known as The Solar Electric Power Association, SEPA has expanded their focus to include not only solar, but demand response, energy storage, and other “enabling technologies.”

Based in Washington DC with a staff of 30 highly-qualified professionals, SEPA produces research and position papers focused on reducing the roadblocks to implementing utility-scale solar. In 2015, CEO Julia Hamm told the Huffington Post:

“Today we work with 50 different sets of energy policies in 50 different states. We operate with the decades-old legacy of electricity market rules and structures designed for the central station power world of the 20th Century. So it is not surprising that the rapid rise of an easily scalable energy source like solar – along with the advent of affordable energy storage, expanded microgrids and a growing electric vehicle fleet – is causing disruption that will only continue to grow….Our initiative is soliciting the best and brightest ideas from solar industry companies, electric utilities, related associations or think-tanks, universities, consultants…anyone with the best and brightest ideas for a sustainable path for distributed energy resources and the infrastructure and needs of managing the electric grid.”

Environmental Law and Policy Center

For more than 20 years, Executive Director Howard Learner has led this unique regional advocacy group. Unlike so many smaller groups focused on policies in their home state, this Chicago-based outfit takes a regional approach, providing legal and strategic support to smaller groups all around the Midwest. According to their website:

We develop and lead successful strategic advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural resources. We are public interest environmental entrepreneurs who engage in creative business dealmaking with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress and economic development can be achieved together.

In the area of solar, ELPC is focused on:

    • Renewable Energy Standards (RES) that include “carve outs” requiring a certain percentage of a state’s energy to come from in-state solar power
    • Financing mechanisms like net metering that make solar projects more affordable
    • Municipal electricity contracts that maximize local solar opportunities
  • Net metering and interconnection policies that help ensure customers with on-site solar installations are compensated fairly by utilities when their meter runs backward

For more info, visit their website elpc.org

Interfaith Power and Light (IP&L)

Unlike many of the other organizations in this list, Interfaith Power and Light is neither a business association nor a think-tank. IP&L is a faith-based organization which brings together people of all religions around the idea of stewardship. From their website:

For 16 years, IPL has been helping congregations address global warming by being better stewards of energy. The campaign has a track record of tangible results: shrinking carbon footprints and educating hundreds of thousands of people in the pews about the important role of people of faith in addressing this most challenging issue.

Started in 1998 as coalition of Episcopal churches aggregated to purchase renewable energy, the Episcopal effort broadened its focus in 2000 and brought in other faith partners Now, over 20,000 congregations in 40 states are participating in IP&L’s programs. These programs have included assisting with energy efficiency upgrades at churches and installation of solar panels on places of worship.

Visit interfaithpowerandlight.org for more info.

Energy Storage Association (ESA)

ESA is an international organization dedicated specifically to energy storage, so the American solar industry is not its direct focus. However, we all know that storage is key to next-gen solar technologies, so ESA is a relatively new group that we will want to be watching in the years to come. Its partner organizations include:

    • Australian Energy Storage Council (ESC)
    • California Energy Storage Alliance
    • China Energy Storage Alliance
    • European Association for Storage of Energy
    • Energy Storage Canada
    • India Energy Storage Alliance
    • Korea Battery Industry Association (KBIA)
    • NC Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA)
    • New York Battery & Energy Storage Consortium (NY-BEST)
    • Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER)
    • Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
  • SunSpec Alliance

For more info, visit:energystorage.org

Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE)

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) is an interesting coalition group made up of some unlikely bedfellows. Founded in 192, BCSE is a coalition of players from the worlds of the energy efficiency, natural gas, and renewable energy. It also includes independent electric power producers, investor-owned utilities, public power, commercial end-users and project developers and service providers for environmental markets.

Their annual “Sustainable Energy in America Factbook” is a unique publication that cast a wide net bringing in a variety of low carbon generation technologies. It may not appeal to hardcore environmentalists, but it gives a very realistic picture of where the US is heading in the journey toward new, cleaner technology.

BCSE staff and members engage in routine meetings with congressional staff as well as the Executive Branch in order to advocate the Council’s energy and economic policy priorities.The Council provides written responses to congressional requests for information on specific issues, public statements for a hearing record, and witnesses for congressional hearings.

For more info, visit: bcse.org

Clean Energy Business Network (CEBN)

Founded in 2009 by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Clean Energy Business Network has more than 3,000 members across all 50 U.S. states. the CEBN has more recently become  an initiative of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, where it “serves as a grassroots arm to inform and engage clean energy business leaders in policy issues affecting their industry.” Unlike BCSE which is made up of larger corporations and associations,  CEBN is composed of individual members, many of whom are executives of small- to medium-sized businesses working in the energy sector. Small businesses that joining CEBN receive:

  • Updates on policies affecting your business.
  • Alerts letting you know how your voice can make a difference.
  • Opportunities to network with other clean energy professionals.
  • Resources to help you grow your business and identify new market opportunities.
  • Notices about clean energy events, funding opportunities, market research, and news.

Pew itself is an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), founded in 1948, and its stated mission is to serve the public interest by “improving public policy, informing the public, and stimulating civic life.” Pew has over US $5 billion in assets, .

For more information: bcse.org/cebn/

Citizens For Responsible Energy Solutions  (CRES)

CRES is an extremely interesting organization with an unusual mission. From the Website:

Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions was founded to engage Republican policymakers and the public about commonsense, conservative solutions to address our nation’s need for abundant, reliable energy while preserving our environment.

For those who think that all Republicans hate renewables, here is the exception to the rule. This organization illustrates that business knows no party lines. James Dozier, president of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, said in a statement to the Huffington Post that his group has received funding from 800 donors and backing from more than 5,000 “conservative activists.”

“CRES was founded with a commitment to conservative, free-market solutions to America’s energy challenges and we will continue to advance that mission,” Dozier said.

The team at CRES is loaded with experienced Republican political operatives and moves a lot of money around political campaigns. Agree with them or not, how they operate is a lesson in what happens when big-money DC politics meets the renewable energy industry.

For more info, visit: citizensfor.com/

Vote Solar

Vote Solar is a non-profit organization working to foster economic opportunity, promote energy security and fight climate change by making solar a mainstream energy resource. They work at the state level all across the country to support the policies and programs needed to repower our grid with sunshine.

For more info, visit: votesolar.org

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The Truth About Solar Subsidies https://solartribune.com/truth-solar-subsidies/ Mon, 21 Aug 2017 02:03:14 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11767 Critics say solar can’t survive without government handouts, and supporters point to decades of subsidies for fossil fuels. Are subsidies corporate welfare, or do they level the playing field? The simple answer is yes…to both. Lies, damned lies, and statistics “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”   Often attributed to Mark […]

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Critics say solar can’t survive without government handouts, and supporters point to decades of subsidies for fossil fuels. Are subsidies corporate welfare, or do they level the playing field? The simple answer is yes…to both.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  

Often attributed to Mark Twain, it was actually British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who originally coined this classic phrase. Often, in a debate, opponents will throw out seemingly contradictory statistics, and yet both sides can be telling the truth. How is that possible? It’s all about context.

It is true that renewables received more subsidies than coal, natural gas and nuclear combined (in 2007) and it is also true that fossil fuels have received 75 times more money in subsidies than renewables (since 1918). Some renewable energy proponents argue that externalities, like cleaning up environmental pollution, the cost of storing nuclear waste and the cost of military actions in the oil-rich middle east should be added to the list of fossil fuel subsidies. Fossil fuel supporters claim that big tax breaks like depletion allowances are not actually subsidies at all.  Agreeing on the metrics to get an accurate picture of subsidies can be difficult.

Comparing apples to apples

It can be said that comparing solar subsidies to coal or nuclear subsidies is like “comparing apples and oranges.” A true side-by-side comparison can be very hard to make, considering all of the variables and all of the differences between the different energy sectors. There is one thing that everyone can agree on, though. David Hochschild, a California Energy Commissioner said it best:

“There is a myth around subsidies, but there is no such thing as an unsubsidized unit of energy.”  

Hochschild was speaking at the Energy Productivity Summer Study in 2016. He made the case that energy production, be it renewable or fossil, is subsidized to some degree by the government. Hochschild showed a graph that shows the accumulated energy subsidies in the US under federal programs, starting in 1918. Oil and gas and nuclear are historically the biggest winners in the subsidy game. Federal renewable energy subsidies are a small fraction. “The fossil fuel industry hates to talk about that,” said Hochschild.

How useful is this historical data, though? The biggest problem is getting an honest assessment of what data to leave in, and what to leave out. It is quite common to see the entire energy sector lumped into one pie chart like the one Hochschild presented. Incentives for transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel and ethanol are presented right alongside electrical generation sources like wind, solar, nuclear and… where is coal? Although this makes an impressive case for how little has been spent on solar as compared to oil production, it really doesn’t give us a decent apples-to-apples comparison. Even when compared on a dollars per kilowatt basis, renewables are often lumped together, large wind and rooftop solar, which also doesn’t tell you a whole lot about solar’s place in the subsidy race.

Finally, discussions of “government handouts” often focus on federal incentive programs, often ignoring state, local and utility company incentives. There are so many factors to consider, it can seem like there is no chance of getting to the bottom of the subsidy question, but for the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the federal incentives.

Tax breaks, grants, and R&D

What is commonly thought of as “government incentives” fall into several categories, like tax breaks and grants for research and development. Are these subsidies? What constitutes a subsidy, exactly? A subsidy is defined as “…a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.” By definition, tax incentives are not necessarily subsidies. But sometimes they are… let’s look at the most popular federal solar program.

For independent owners of residential and business photovoltaic systems, the most frequently tapped are the federal “Investment Tax Credits” (ITC.) According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA)fact sheett on the ITC:

  • The ITC is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential (under Section 25D) and commercial (under Section 48) properties.
  • The residential and commercial solar ITC has helped annual solar installation grow by over 1,600 percent since the ITC was implemented in 2006 – a compound annual growth rate of 76 percent. (See more solar industry data.)
  • The existence of the ITC through 2021 provides market certainty for companies to develop long-term investments that drive competition and technological innovation, which in turn, lowers costs for consumers.

Because the ITC is a tax credit and not a direct payment like a grant or a rebate, it is more popular with fiscal conservatives than some other programs. However, The Section 1603 Treasury Program allows solar and other renewable energy project developers to receive a direct federal grant in lieu of the ITC.  As of December 2013, the Treasury Department had awarded $4.4 billion in grants to solar projects. When taken as a grant, the ITC  most definitely serves as a subsidy.

Research and Development

Since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, there has been a lot of talk about Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, cutting the budget at the Department of Energy (DOE) and specifically at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget has proposed the following cuts to the two labs:

  • NREL, would see its overall budget would be slashed 22%, energy-storage research eliminated, and solar energy research cut 22% cut itself.
  • Berkeley Lab would absorb an overall 28% budget cut. As with NREL, energy-storage research is eliminated, and solar’s research budget would also sustain a nearly fatal reduction of 54%.

    photo: statesman.com

So far though, the only cuts to take effect have been at two other labs-Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Brookhaven National Laboratory– where 500 jobs are being eliminated. Interestingly, these labs focus on nuclear research, not solar.

As of 2015, before the presidential election, the US federal government was allocating only about  $5 billion to energy research, which is a small fraction of what competitors like China spend annually on energy R&D. The funding was distributed like this:

  • Nuclear –  $1 billion
  • Coal and carbon sequestration research- $350 million
  • Solar – $188 million
  • Wind – $90 million
  • Oil and gas research – $25 million

The research dollars for nuclear and coal far outstrip the funding for solar, and always have. However, one solar project above all others gave solar R & D investments a bad name: Solyndra.

Solyndra: The wrong technology at the wrong time

“The Solyndra transaction went through more than two years of rigorous technical, financial and legal due diligence, spanning two administrations, before a loan guarantee was issued,” he said. “Based on thorough internal and external analysis of both the market and the technology, and extensive review of information provided by Solyndra and others, the (Energy) Department concluded that Solyndra was poised to compete in the marketplace and had a good prospect of repaying the government’s loan.”

-Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Republican critics of President Obama and the solar industry still love to reference the Solyndra case. Solyndra was a solar startup company that had a promising new technology for increasing the efficiency of solar panels. The company received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Along with $198 million from private investors- including Goldman Sachs- they built a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Fremont California.

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Solyndra Chief Executive Officer Chris Gronet, right, looks at a solar panel during a tour of Solyndra, Inc., a solar panel manufacturing facility, in Fremont, Calif. Wednesday, May 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Unfortunately for the company, investors and American taxpayers, China began dumping cheap silicon onto the US market at precisely the time Solyndra was about to release its new product. It simply could not compete with the huge drop in the price of conventional solar panels, and the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-2011.

Solyndra became the whipping boy of anti-solar activists and the Solyndra case is truly a perfect example of misplaced subsidies. But despite the collapse of that one company, many other subsidized companies have gone on to create new jobs and a new market for clean energy. Solyndra has proven to be the exception, not the rule.

Is it time for the government to get out of the energy business?

Texas Congressman Lamar Smith is the Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. He wrote recently in an op-ed on RealClear Energy:

“…While it’s true that many fossil fuel tax incentives are permanently installed in the tax code, it’s clear that federal incentives for energy technology heavily favor renewable energy and energy efficient technologies.  This means higher costs for American consumers and an energy market that is heavily influenced by federal government policy.

It’s not the role of the federal government to pick winners and losers in the energy market.  Instead of costly tax incentives, subsidies, loans or loan guarantees, the federal investment is most effective when we prioritize the basic research that benefits all forms of energy.  It’s time to level the playing field and reduce federal intervention in the energy market.”

Smith’s comments illustrate the problem with so much of the criticism that solar has to contend with. He openly admits that tax code is “permanently” fixed to favor fossil fuels, he points at renewables as the problem. He cites higher costs despite recent studies that show that solar is actually cheaper than coal in many cases. Finally, he calls for “leveling the playing field,” despite having already admitted that tax code slants the field in favor of fossil fuels. The hypocrisy of this attitude is so blatant, and yet still so common.  

 

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Where Does Trump Stand on Solar? https://solartribune.com/where-does-trump-stand-on-solar/ Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:17:01 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9160 Six months into his administration, President Trump has yet to take on energy policy. Meanwhile, the solar industry continues to grow despite uncertainty about federal support. In a report from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the first quarter of 2017 showed continued and impressive forward motion, with the installation of more than 2,000 Megawatts […]

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Six months into his administration, President Trump has yet to take on energy policy. Meanwhile, the solar industry continues to grow despite uncertainty about federal support.

In a report from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the first quarter of 2017 showed continued and impressive forward motion, with the installation of more than 2,000 Megawatts (MW) of new solar generation in the U.S., the sixth straight quarter of installation numbers over 2 Gigawatts.  “It would be hard to overstate how impressive 2016 was for the solar industry,” said Abigail Ross-Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Prices dropped to all-time lows, installations expanded in states across the country and job numbers soared. The bottom line is that more people are benefitting from solar now than at any point in the past, and while the market is changing, the broader trend over the next five years is going in one direction – and that’s up.”

SEIA CEO Abigail Ross-Hopper

To look at the state of solar in the nation, it is hard to imagine that our current president has been such an outspoken critic of solar in the past. After all, he proposed slashing the research budget for renewables at the Department of Energy and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. How can solar still be on the rise? Simple… It’s good business.According to Ms. Hopper,

 “The majority of projects are economic- and not policy-driven at this point, so as the prices have gone down, installations have gone up.”

Trump Supports Solar…on the Border Wall?

One of President Trump’s campaign promises that has yet to see any significant progress is building a border wall between Mexico and the U.S. The price tag for the wall, estimated to be anywhere from $10-$70 billion, is the obvious sticking point and there seems to be no realistic plan for funding the project….until now?

“The president is committed to building the wall and securing the border and I commend him for it. He’s continuing to fight and following through on that promise. One idea he is looking at is a wall that would actually function as a solar panel to ultimately pay for itself,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told The Hill after meeting with Trump at the White House.

“I’m glad he’s being innovative and I’m fully supportive of helping him build the wall however we can legislatively,” Scalise added. “He is continuing to pursue every option to make sure it happens.”

Solar Border Wall Model: Gleason Partners LLC

The solar-powered border wall idea appeared to come completely out of left field, but in fact, the idea was floated earlier this year by a Las Vegas-based construction company, Gleason Partners LLC. Managing partner Thomas Gleason proposed the project to the Department of Homeland Security in April at an estimated the cost at $7.5 million per mile, claiming the wall will pay for itself in 20 years.

The Atlantic called Trump’s embrace of the solar wall idea as “…a politically simplistic troll… Environmental groups that believe the wall will hurt local ecosystems will still oppose the project even if it becomes carbon neutral. As Brett Hartl of the Center for Biodiversity said in a statement on Tuesday: “An ecological disaster with solar panels on top is still an ecological disaster. With solar panels on top.”

Renewable energy industry insiders may be laughing privately, but publicly, the idea is being damned with faint praise. In an interview with Business Insider, Bryan Birsic, the CEO of Wunder Capital, a renewable-energy investment firm, said that,

 “We’re excited that President Trump sees the economic value created by solar installations, as solar prices continue to plummet… While we would prefer a different location and purpose for a large solar installation, we strongly support all additional generation of clean power in the US.”

Although to most people, the addition of solar to the already controversial wall simply adds to an already convoluted debate. But can solar advocates take President Trump’s suggestion of a solar wall as some sort of backhanded compliment or passive admission of solar’s economic viability? After all, admitting that solar can not only pay for itself but pay for the wall as well is a far cry from 2012, told Greta Van Sustern of Fox News: “ Solar, as you know, hasn’t caught on because, I mean, a solar panel takes 32 years — it’s a 32-year payback. Who wants a 32-year payback? The fact is, the technology is not there yet.”

On January 25th, 2012, @realDonaldTrump tweeted, “After Solyndra, @BarackObama is stil (sic) intent on wasting our tax dollars on unproven technologies and risky companies. He must be accountable.”

Energy Secretary Perry Examines the Grid

In April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a 60-day study of the nation’s energy grid. The focus of the study is unapologetically anti-renewable and anti-state’s rights- the premise of the study is that state-specific renewable energy policies are reducing grid access for baseload power producers like coal-fired and nuclear power plants. This, despite the fact that the utility industry itself studies reliability constantly, and few or no problems have been reported by grid system operators.

Even the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), historically a critic of renewables and a staunch defender of the utility industry status quo understands the potential problems that can occur when federal regulators start messing with state policies. At the recent EEI annual conference in Boston,  Pat Vincent-Collawn, the incoming chair of EEI made no bones about the fact that EEI wants the DOE to keep its hands off the grid. “We have one of the most reliable generation fleets in the world,” said Vincent-Collawn, continuing,

 “Hopefully the study takes into account good utility planning and … will show what we’ve known for a long time, which is that we know how to plan the grid.”

Senator Charles Grassley photo:politico

In a polite but blistering letter to Secretary Perry, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley called into question the motivations for the study, the need for the study, and the cost of the study. Grassley wrote in the letter,

“I’m concerned that a hastily developed study, which appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability, will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources.”

Grassley, a high-ranking veteran Republican lawmaker is also a strong advocate for renewable energy, particularly wind power, which makes up 35% of his state’s electrical generating capacity.

The study was scheduled to be completed by mid-June, but as of this writing, there is little to no information on the progress of the report. With conservatives like Grassley and the Edison Institute looking over his shoulder, Trump’s energy secretary may be reluctant to tread on territory that is closely guarded by those who he needs as allies.

Will Trump Spark a Solar Trade War?

In April, Solar Tribune reported that bankrupt Georgia-based solar panel manufacturer Suniva is seeking protection from Chinese competition under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Under Section 201, the President may impose sanctions to protect American businesses from dumping low-cost products on the U.S. market. A report issued by the Trump administration in March promised a more aggressive approach to unfair international trade practices, including expanded use of  Section 201, which the report refers to this as a “vital tool for industries needing temporary relief from imports to become more competitive.” Section 201 was most famously used by the steel industry in 2002 to obtain a three-year moratorium on imported steel.

On May 25th, the International Trade Commission (ITC) informed the World Trade Organization that it is moving ahead with an investigation of Suniva’s claims, indicating that they are seriously considering the case and they will be making recommendations to President Trump on the matter. Section 201 is known as the “escape clause” in the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT), which has been in place since the end of World War II and is designed to promote open international trade. Section 201 provides American industries with  “global safeguards” against foreign imports from any country that might do “serious damage” to the industry. The president has sole discretion to activate Section 201, despite the very real possibility of economic retaliation by China and other countries affected by the tariff.

Suniva is asking the ITC to make a  recommendation to the President that he impose these global safeguards for the maximum statutory period of four years at an initial tariff rate on imported solar cells of $0.40 per watt and an initial minimum price on solar modules of $0.78 per watt. The price floor would decline over the duration of the four-year tariff, but even in year four, panel prices would be near twice their current level, with a rate of $0.33 per watt per and a floor price of $0.68 per watt.

To say the least, this kind of tariff on Asian panels would have a significant chilling effect on the deployment of solar in the United States. Yes, it might save a few solar manufacturing jobs, but that would not come close to making up for the jobs that will be lost if the solar installation business slows down. SEIA’s Abigail Ross Hopper said in a call with reporters,

“There is no job worth saving that is worth putting the other 250,000 at risk.”

Not to mention that providing these types of incentives to U.S. solar manufacturers is not that different from the subsidizing of solar companies like Solyndra by the Obama administration, and that kind of “playing favorites” has drawn immense amounts of heat from Republican opponents of pro-solar policies.

Where Will Trump Go on Solar?

To date, the hallmarks of the Trump administration are controversy and stalemate. Campaign promises to begin building the border wall, institute a travel ban on visitors from the Middle East,  reform healthcare and the tax system all in the first 100 days in office have faded into seemingly insurmountable challenges, even with a Republican majority in Congress. It seems hard to believe that anything like a major change in energy policy is even on the President’s viewing screen.

At this point, what seems more likely is that current federal tax credits will be allowed to sunset as expected. The DOE will defund programs like the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), but in all likelihood, that work will continue to be done with private funds. Solar will continue to grow, lead by large utility-scale projects racking up major MWs.

 

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Your Summer Guide to Solar Fairs https://solartribune.com/summer-guide-solar-fairs/ Mon, 29 May 2017 14:48:22 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11098 Solar fairs and sustainable living expos are great places to learn more about solar. For consumers, sustainable living events are a place to meet face-to-face with installers from around the region, see new products and compare services. For professionals, solar fairs are a great way to advertise, meet distributors and check out the competition. They […]

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Solar fairs and sustainable living expos are great places to learn more about solar.

For consumers, sustainable living events are a place to meet face-to-face with installers from around the region, see new products and compare services. For professionals, solar fairs are a great way to advertise, meet distributors and check out the competition. They can also be a lot of fun!

No matter what part of the country you are in, there is probably a solar fair near you. Some are small, drawing just a few hundred area residents, and some are huge, drawing tens of thousands of participants from all around the country and the world. Some are oriented more toward pros, but a lot of fairs feature educational workshops or break-out sessions and demonstrations for solar newbies and people with a casual interest in solar or sustainable living. Many feature kid-friendly hands-on activities, making them great family outings. There are even solar-powered outdoor music festivals!

April

Go SOLAR and Renewable Energy Fest

Kicking off the spring renewable energy fair season, Go SOLAR Florida hosts  Go SOLAR and Renewable Energy Fest each April at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, in Fort Lauderdale. This free event features information on alternative and renewable energy with a focus on the latest technologies, financing options, and creating renewable energy jobs.

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May

California Solar Power Expo

Held each May, the California Solar Power Expo is an interactive event designed for solar, smart energy, and storage professionals who are working in and with the California solar market to make powerful business connections. The event will feature exhibitor-led interactive training for installers as well as networking opportunities.

The Midwest Solar Expo

A fairly new event, the Midwest Solar Expo focuses on continuing the dialogue on Midwest solar, gaining insights from industry experts and receiving hands-on product training and networking with 450+ solar industry leaders from across the country.

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June

MREA Energy Fair

The third weekend in June is the brings us one of the oldest and most established summer solar events. Coming up on 30 years, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair takes place in the woods of Wisconsin near Custer, just outside of Stevens Point. This event draws as many as 25,000 people each summer and offers three days of non-stop classes and workshops, demonstrations and camaraderie.

photo:MREA

The Michigan Energy Fair

Hosted by the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, the Michigan Energy Fair features workshops on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living. There are hands-on activities for kids, rides available in electric vehicles and over 70 exhibitors.

Green Festival Expo

The Green Festival Expo is a popular event that includes not only solar but a lot of educational sessions on eco-living and other environmental topics. Held in New York City in June, the expo also has dates in Washington DC, Tampa, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Of all of the solar events held each year, the Green Festival Expos feature some of the most famous and popular guest speakers in the world of sustainability.

SolWest

SolWest is Oregon’s long-running renewable energy fair, now going into its 17th year. SolWest takes place every June, where, according to their website, “Dozens of one-hour workshops help participants understand the basics of solar electricity, low-cost do-it-yourself solar projects, setting up wind, micro hydro, or solar hot water systems, creating an off-grid paradise, constructing green buildings, raising small livestock, gardening, preserving food, and more.” For more info: solwest@oregonrural.org

Solar Power Texas

Solar Power Texas is a two-day event held in Austin, Texas. This event showcases products like power conversion, PV mounting systems, Operations & Maintenance, Residential Solar, Smart Home Technology, Software etc. in the Power & Renewable Energy, Solar Energy industries.

Texas Renewable Roundup photo:digitaljournal.com

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July

Intersolar North America

Intersolar North America is North America’s most-attended solar event. It is primarily aimed at industry pros,  and premier networking platform, takes place July 11-13, 2017 in San Francisco. The event’s exhibition and conference both focus on the areas of photovoltaics, PV production technologies, smart renewable energy and solar thermal technologies. Since being founded, Intersolar has become the most important industry platform for manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, service providers and partners of the solar industry.

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August

Illinois Renewable Energy Fair

The Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) hosts it’s annual event each August. IREA supports sustainable energy development in Illinois. The IREA provides hands-on opportunities for the Illinois public to learn about the benefits, potentials, and uses of renewable energy and energy-efficiency for our homes and businesses.

SolarFest

SolarFest in Vermont started in 1995 when a “group of friends with overlapping passions for music and renewable energy planned a big party.” In 2015, Vermont SolarFest will celebrate their 20th anniversary by staying true to their roots, celebrating music, art and renewable energy.

LES Sustainable Living Festival

Kudos to electric utility provider Lincoln Electric Systems (LES) for holding their own sustainability fair! A small, regional event with great educational sessions,  The 2017 LES Sustainable Living Festival is held every August at The Railyard on West Market in Lincoln, Nebraska. The festival is a designed specifically to be fun event for the whole family. The event is focused on providing attendees with education about sustainable living through engaging hands-on activities.

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September

MREA Energy Fair

MREA has added a second Energy Fair to their annual calendar with a September show in the Twin Cities. A smaller and more urban version of the big energy fair in Wisconsin, the Energy Fair Minnesota includes a Friday networking session for pros and two full days of exhibits and over 100 workshops for people of all ages and experience levels.

Montana Clean Energy Fair

Not to be confused with MREA (Midwest Renewable Energy Association), The Montana Renewable Energy Association also holds its annual Montana Clean Energy Fair in September. The fair will include workshops on solar, wind, alternative fuel vehicles, energy efficiency, and other clean energy technologies; exhibits by clean energy businesses; and an electric car show. Plus there will be food vendors and kids’ activities including a bouncy castle, solar ovens, and model solar car races.

Sunstock

Held in Los Angeles, Sunstock is a 100% solar-powered music festival featuring local. Egonal and nationally-known acts. Sunstock is open to all ages and feaures great music and great food, all powered by the sun.

photo:sunstocksolarfestival.com

Solar Power International

Solar Power International (SPI) generates success for solar energy professionals and the global solar industry. SPI sets the standard for solar events as the fastest growing and largest solar show in North America as recognized by Trade Show Executive and Trade Show News Network. SPI has also been among the Gold 100 for seven years running and named “Stickiest Show Floor” by Trade Show Executive for the innovative ways in which attendees stay engaged.

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October

National Solar Home Tour

Sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society, the National Solar Tour is the largest grassroots solar event in the nation, involving over 30,000 participants in over 60 cities and towns nationwide. In conjunction with Energy Awareness month every October, homeowners and businesses in neighborhoods across the country open their doors and show what they’ve done to slash utility bills and help cut pollution from electric generating plants. It offers the opportunity to informally tour innovative green homes and buildings, and see how solar energy can be used efficiently.

The Sustainable Preparedness Expo

Whether your interest is in preparedness, homesteading, or sustainable living, you will find a wealth of information at the Sustainable Preparedness EXPO in Spokane Washington. Featuring training sessions for preparedness-minded attendees, visitors can obtain hard to find equipment, supplies and advice from a wide variety of vendors present at their booths.

 

 

 

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Around the Globe, Solar Policies Are Changing https://solartribune.com/around-globe-solar-policies-changing/ Mon, 15 May 2017 15:18:45 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11040 Feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, rebates, net metering, voluntary goals, portfolio standards and market-based solutions…what works, and what’s next? In nearly every region of the globe, electricity generation from solar PV (photovoltaic) is experiencing exponential growth. Between 1995 and 2016, global PV generating capacity grew from 600 megawatts (MW) to 256,000 megawatts. This incredible rate of […]

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Feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, rebates, net metering, voluntary goals, portfolio standards and market-based solutions…what works, and what’s next?

In nearly every region of the globe, electricity generation from solar PV (photovoltaic) is experiencing exponential growth. Between 1995 and 2016, global PV generating capacity grew from 600 megawatts (MW) to 256,000 megawatts. This incredible rate of growth did not occur in a vacuum, however. Technological advancements, market forces and government policies combined to stimulate rapid deployment. We can look at current trends,  compare the national policies of some of the world’s solar leaders and draw some conclusions about what has worked and what has not.

Germany, Japan, and Italy Lead the Way

The biggest generators of solar are currently China, Japan, Germany, United States and Italy. While we will be looking primarily at the solar incentive policies of these top five nations, we will also look at some smaller countries that are leading in terms of per capita generation of solar. When measuring solar on a per capita basis, the U.S. and China drop out of the top five, with Belgium and Greece making strong top five showings. Germany, Japan and Italy lead in both installed and per capita solar installations.

photo: SEIA.org

Germany: A Mature Market Sees Slower Growth

Germany’s commitment to renewable energy development has been nothing short of phenomenal. On April 30th of 2017, Germany hit a one-day record, with 85% of all electricity used in Germany came from renewable sources including solar, wind and hydro. How did Germany manage this impressive feat? The key to the success of solar in Germany has been through the use of a policy mechanism commonly known as a “Feed-In Tariff” or FIT.  According to a report on German solar policies by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA):

“FITs guarantee a fixed compensation for electricity produced from solar PV facilities for a period of 20 years. The program requires that transmission system operators (TSOs) purchase all the power produced from these PV systems. TSOs in turn sell the power on wholesale markets and are made whole through a renewables levy (“EEG-Umlage” in German), which is collected from most customers. Heavy electricity users in trade-sensitive areas are (partially) exempt from this renewables levy. Under the program, solar PV installations have increased dramatically, reaching a total installed capacity in excess of 35 GW by year-end 2013.”

Despite the Success of FITs, it appears that they have reached the end of their usefulness for Germany. Because of the amount of renewable capacity available, Germany is producing excess electricity because the older coal and nuclear plants (that provide power in times of lower renewable output) cannot be turned on and off quickly. They can’t sell the excess renewable generation outside of Germany, due to current laws and agreements among European Union partners. The German parliament is looking for solutions to this problem and is moving away from FITs to a new auction system by which developers will bid on renewable projects based on capacity limits set by the government. This more market-based approach may become more common as global markets for solar reach maturity.

China: An Explosion of Solar

It is not unusual to see news stories about the horrible air pollution problems in China. News photos show Beijing residents wearing protective masks as they walk through clouds of smog. China has been completing construction of a new coal-fired power plant every week in an attempt to power their epic growth in manufacturing. Ironically, one of the things being manufactured in China is cheap solar panels.

photo: CNN.com

In January 2017, China began canceling orders for new coal plants. Acknowledging the astronomical environmental problems caused by the new plants, China is turning more to installing new renewable generation, although they are still a long way from mitigating the damage done by new, dirty coal plants.

Chinese energy policy is set by its National Energy Agency (NEA). China also uses a form of feed-in tariff to encourage the development of solar energy. The NEA recently announced that in the period from March 2016 to March 2017, solar power generation rose to 21.4 billion kilowatt-hours. China added 7.21 gigawatts of solar power during the period, boosting its total installed capacity to almost 85 gigawatts. This amounts to an 80% increase in renewable generation and unfortunately, much of power is being wasted because China simply does not have the transmission assets to deliver the power to market. This is leading China to cut FITs as much as 52%, intentionally putting the brakes on solar growth.

More Feed-In Tariff Successes and Challenges

Japan, Italy, Belgium, Greece and many other nations around the globe have all adopted FITs of one sort or another. In most cases they have proven successful in the short-term, providing the price stability to assure a reasonable return on investment and stimulating rapid expansion in the solar market. Most countries have set feed-in tariffs to sunset in either 10 or 20 years. However, many countries are reducing rates for FITs or implementing size caps because of the steep drop-off in the price of installed solar as China has flooded the global market with cheap solar panels. Japan has dropped their FIT rate from 28 to 21 Yen per kilowatt hour (kWh) for residential systems under 10kW.

U.S. Solar Growth Relies on Federal and State Policies

Many American renewable energy advocates have called for the United States to adopt European-style feed-in tariffs. In reality, The U.S. passed the first FIT in 1978, under president Jimmy Carter. It was not called a feed-in tariff, but the  Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) did function in much the same way as a contemporary FIT. Different states have interpreted PURPA in a number of ways, and PURPA has been open to a wide range of legal interpretation over the years.

The most significant federal incentive for solar in the U.S. has been the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) which was passed as part of the 2005 energy bill. The ITC is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties.

SEIA and other advocates successfully lobbied for a multi-year extension of the credit in 2015 which should continue to spur solar growth until it sunsets in 2021. According to SEIA:

“On the state level, net-metering policies have been critical to the success solar has achieved in those states. Net metering is a mechanism by which solar producers can feed their extra electricity onto the grid during sunny times, and buy it back at retail rates when they need it. In addition, some states have instituted state tax credits, solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) rebates or local feed-in tariffs, which, when stacked with federal incentives have pushed those states to the top of the list of installed solar capacity.”

Going Forward: Developing Markets, Developing Policies

In much of the developed world, feed-in tariffs have run their course. Now, developed nations–particularly those in the European Union who have pushed FITs the hardest–find themselves caught between their commitments to Paris Climate Accord carbon reduction targets and the need to properly distribute the power from their over-built renewable portfolios. Transmission solutions, like a continental energy grid, will be needed to move to the next level, as will market-based solutions that will ensure that new generation is built to match loads as well as meet targets. Massive solar development in Morocco and Algeria are just a trans-Mediterranean transmission cable away from delivering their energy to Spain and the rest of Europe.

Meanwhile, countries in Central America are quietly making serious moves into the solar market. Last year, it was not Germany or China who generated the highest percentage of annual solar energy, but rather Honduras. This poor country gets more than 10% of its electricity from solar each year and is pushing to increase its solar capacity. Nicaragua, El Salvador and Panama are all moving heavily to renewable energy production.

photo: greentechmedia.com

According to PV Magazine, FITs were established in Honduras in 2013, but have proven problematic and only moderately successful. Instead, market-based solutions have proven to be the most successful mechanisms for rapid deployment of solar in the Central American region. Auctions, sales of renewable energy on the spot market and bilateral contracts have been extremely successful. A combination of these policies has lead to the installation of over 600 MW of solar farms in recent years and In 2021, the region is expected to have more than 40 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, according to the latest edition of GTM Research’s Latin America PV Playbook. Several countries have also established net metering policies to support distributed generation and indie solar projects.

It’s not hard to understand why Central American renewables are taking off so fast.  With little or no coal resources, expensive diesel generation or geothermal has been used as baseload generation. The recent drop in PV prices, along with the most consistent solar assets in the world makes PV a no-brainer.

Market Forces will Determine Long-Term Success

Obviously, it is essential to the health of the planet that new, clean energy technology is deployed as rapidly as possible. However, government incentives for renewables can only take us so far. A combination of approaches that fine-tune the generation and transmission mix will be needed to create a stable and secure global energy market that can both meet demand and reduce emissions. Although a successful carbon market has yet to emerge, some mechanism must be found to prevent the fossil fuel industry from continuing to externalize costs by dumping their waste product into the air. Outdated monopoly utility structures need to be opened up to innovation. A global energy grid needs to be established. In the meantime, look to our neighbors to the south for new and imaginative ways to build the clean energy economy.

Outdated monopoly utility structures need to be opened up to innovation. A global energy grid needs to be established. These types of major changes can only happen through well-crafted government policies like FITs. Once solar is allowed to compete, new market mechanisms can take over.  In the meantime, we may want to look to our neighbors to the south for new and imaginative ways to build the clean energy economy.

 

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Suniva Lobbies Trump for Protection From Chinese Solar Imports https://solartribune.com/suniva-lobbies-trump-for-protection-from-chinese-solar-imports/ Sun, 30 Apr 2017 17:41:50 +0000 http://www.solartribune.com/?p=10915 Will President Trump keep his promise to defend US manufacturing, even if it COSTS jobs? A report issued by the Trump administration in March promised a more aggressive approach to unfair international trade practices, including expanded use of  Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Under Section 201, the President may impose sanctions to […]

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Will President Trump keep his promise to defend US manufacturing, even if it COSTS jobs?

A report issued by the Trump administration in March promised a more aggressive approach to unfair international trade practices, including expanded use of  Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Under Section 201, the President may impose sanctions to protect American businesses from dumping low-cost products on the U.S. market.The report refers to this as a “vital tool for industries needing temporary relief from imports to become more competitive.” Section 201 was most famously used by the steel industry in 2002 to obtain a three-year moratorium on imported steel.

Bankrupt Manufacturer Seeks Sanctions

Solar cell manufacturer Suniva, which declared bankruptcy last week, is now looking for the relief promised by the administration under Section 201. Because Chinese manufacturers of solar panels have flooded American markets with panels at prices too low for U.S. manufacturers to compete, Suniva filed a petition with the Trade Commission seeking “… a recommendation to the President of four years of relief of an initial duty rate on cells of $0.40/watt, along with an initial floor price on modules of $0.78/watt. Petitioner also seeks other equitable remedies that will effectively assist the domestic industry to make a positive adjustment to import competition. Finally, petitioner seeks a recommendation from the Commission to the President that the United States negotiate with trading partners to address the global supply imbalance and overcapacity in CSPV cells and modules.” This will  “…allow the domestic industry to survive long enough that it can benefit from actions of the U.S. government, and foreign governments and producers to address the massive excess global capacity that has depressed global CSPV cells and modules prices to unsustainable levels.”

Experts React to Filing

Jade Jones, a senior solar analyst with GTM Research, explained the impact on module pricing: “That would bring us to module price levels seen in the last oversupply cycle. So similar to prices in 2012. That would also make the U.S. the highest priced market in the world, with module prices more than double other regions.”

In a statement from CEO Abigail Ross Hopper, the Solar Energy Industries Association reacted negatively to the action.  “We strongly urge the federal government to find a resolution that bolsters the competitiveness of American solar cell and panel manufacturing, which employs approximately 2,000 people in the U.S., without erecting new trade barriers. SEIA opposes any resolution that restricts fairly-traded imports of solar equipment through new tariffs or other barriers that endanger the livelihoods of the 260,000 American solar workers and their families living in every state in the Union.”

Prepare for Irony

The irony of this case is not lost on observers of the solar industry and international trade. What we are looking at is not merely a case of an American manufacturing company standing up to Chinese dumping of cheap solar panels on the U.S. market. That battle was fought in 2012, and the commerce Department slapped Chinese manufacturers with tariffs of as much as 36% for their unfair practices. This case is very different.

This action would COST American jobs, not protect them.

As stated by the Solar Energy Industry Association, the jobs in the U.S. solar industry are in installation and operations, not in manufacturing. American solar manufacturing, like most other manufacturing industries, is not doing well in the states. They cannot compete with cheap and exploitative labor practices overseas. Installation, however, cannot be outsourced. Additional sanctions against Chinese panels would only delay the inevitable collapse of a non-competitive industry while damaging a flourishing one.

Suniva in NOT American-owned. It is owned by the Chinese.

To add insult to injury, Suniva is not even owned by Americans. Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd. acquired 63 percent of Suniva in 2015. Shunfeng (whose subsidiary Suntech took a major hit in the anti-dumping action of 2012 and went bankrupt in 2013)  purchased the troubled solar company in a clear attempt to do an end-run around anti-dumping regulations while tapping into superior U.S. research and development. The strategy backfired though, and Shunfeng has recently upgraded its reported loss in 2016 of around US$133 million to US$348 million.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Chinese companies are playing both sides of the fence in the U.S. solar market. Chinese money is so deeply embedded in the U.S. economy that any sanctions on the part of the current administration could have countless unanticipated consequences. This may explain the softening of the hard-line rhetoric on the part of the President- and his new found friendship with the Chinese leaders.

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Solar Markets Wilt While Solar Technology Blooms https://solartribune.com/solar-markets-wilt-solar-technology-blooms/ Mon, 21 Nov 2016 19:42:49 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10343 Uneasy solar investors are gloomy after the presidential election, but the state of solar technology has never been brighter. Sadly, renewable energy development has become highly politicized over the last 10 years. Despite the strong economic case for solar development in particular, renewable energy development is seen in political circles as a “Democrat’s issue.” Clearly, […]

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Uneasy solar investors are gloomy after the presidential election, but the state of solar technology has never been brighter.

Sadly, renewable energy development has become highly politicized over the last 10 years. Despite the strong economic case for solar development in particular, renewable energy development is seen in political circles as a “Democrat’s issue.” Clearly, with the results of the 2016 election from statehouses to the Whitehouse, many fear that pro-renewable policies will be in the Republican crosshairs. However, many in the solar industry feel that solar deployment has already reached a tipping point, and attempts at punishing the industry for perceived ties with the Democratic party will only be minor setbacks on an the road to wider adoption. Investors, however, are not so optimistic.

Voicing solar investor’s concerns in an article entitled “Trump’s Presidency Already Has Solar, Utilities Stocks Reeling”  TheStreet.com’s Tom Terrarosa reported that “…the bludgeoning of renewable energy players like First Solar and solar panel and panel component manufacturers SolarEdge Technologies (SEDG) (closed down more than 5%) and SunPower (SPWR) (finished more than 14% below its previous close), is to be expected as reduced fossil fuel regulations would hamper the ability of these companies to continue to grab up slices of market share in the U.S. power market.

Moreover, many of these companies have manufacturing facilities in foreign countries like Mexico and Malaysia, and Trump has been a critical proponent of punishing those companies who move facilities out of the country for tax breaks.”

Terrarosa is not out of line with his assessment, but the view from Wall Street is, as always, at once speculative and reactionary. Looking at solar in real-time, current conditions on the ground offer many reasons to be positive, even optimistic.

The Des Moines Register, the largest paper in a state that dominates in many areas of renewable energy production, ran an article by Donnelle Eller last week declaring that; “Like a Tesla flying down the highway, Iowa and the nation’s clean energy industry has too much momentum for President-elect Donald Trump and his fossil-fuel allies to derail it, say renewable energy advocates.” Later in the article it points to the large investments that the state’s utilities have made in wind and solar, and “…Possibly more important, tech giants Google, Facebook and Microsoft, all of which have large, energy-hungry data center operations in the state, have made it clear they invested in Iowa operations, in part, because of low-cost, clean energy supplies.”monitor-electric-car-charging-spots

So, what of Tesla? Elon Musk, whose entire fortune rests on the development of the clean energy economy, seems nonplussed. At a meeting of Tesla shareholders (who voted by an 85% majority to acquire SolarCity) he pointed to the ineffectiveness of ZEV (Zero Emissions Vehicle) credits in building the market for electric vehicles. He obviously doesn’t feel that elimination of programs like ZEV will really hurt Tesla, and Tesla shareholders are going big into solar at the same time that Wall St. appears shaken at the prospects of an anti-solar Trump administration. Why?  Because they know that Tesla’s integrated approach to consumer-side energy production, storage and use is very likely going to be the game changer in the energy sector, regardless of subsidies. Storage is coming in 2017, with or without incentives. When consumers are given a choice, solar will finally be able to compete on a level playing field.

Ultimately, how badly could an anti-solar push in the federal government hurt solar? Would they attempt to cancel the Investment Tax Credits for solar mid-program?  “For the most part most Republicans and Democrats, they may not have supported the extension, but they also don’t like changing the rules midstream on businesses,” Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs for Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), told PV Magazine. “They set this policy in place, and businesses are making investment decisions based on five-year extensions of the (solar tax credits), and I think most Republicans and most members of Congress in general are loathe to change the rules on companies as they are making these decisions.”

Though investors may be joining climate change activists in panicking over what may happen in the coming four years, indications are that the solar industry is not going away anytime soon.

 

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Solar After the 2016 Election: Where Do We Go From Here? https://solartribune.com/solar-after-election/ Mon, 14 Nov 2016 23:35:52 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10337 Will President Trump take the solar panels off of the White House? When Ronald Reagan assumed the office of President  in 1981, one of his first actions was to have the solar panels removed from the roof of the White House.  It would come as no surprise to see this scenario repeated as the new […]

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Will President Trump take the solar panels off of the White House?

When Ronald Reagan assumed the office of President  in 1981, one of his first actions was to have the solar panels removed from the roof of the White House.  It would come as no surprise to see this scenario repeated as the new president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, takes up residency there. Unfortunately for those in the solar industry, supporting the use of solar energy has long been associated with environmentalism and the radical left despite it’s obvious technological and economic growth potential. For Reagan, the White House solar array was symbolic of the Carter administration and their liberal agenda, and he called them “a joke.”cartersolarpanels

Can we expect the same from President Trump? President Obama’s economic recovery goals included a lot of support for clean energy, and all indications show that trend will come to an abrupt halt after Mr. Trump’s inauguration. As of this writing, the name being floated as Trump’s choice for energy secretary is Harold Hamm, an oil billionaire, and leader in the fracking industry. Hamm, who spoke at the Republican National Convention, called Hillary Clinton’s solar plan “The silliest thing I’ve ever heard… I don’t see solar panels on her new airplane she’s flying around. I don’t see solar panels on these 18-wheelers going down the road,” added Hamm. “I’m calling it silly. We’re trading good American jobs here in the U.S. for those in China, Japan and around the world.”

Despite falling demand for fossil fuels and falling oil prices, Hamm insists that fossil fuels are the key to economic recovery. Despite having no data to back it up, Hamm told the audience at the RNC that “We are going to lift the restrictions on the production of American energy. This will produce more than $20 trillion in job-creating economic activity over the next four decades.”

The best we can hope for is that the Trump administration leaves the solar industry alone. Even if they try to cancel the federal tax credits for solar before they sunset next year, they probably couldn’t do it, and it wouldn’t make much difference. But don’t be surprised to see a Trump Energy administration go after cornerstones of the renewable energy industry, like PURPA. The Public Utilities Regulatory  Policy Act is an important piece of law that allows non-utility power producers access to the market. Also, net metering laws, which are currently set on a state-by-state basis could be undermined through federal policies.

Luckily, there is a huge push currently underway to bring affordable energy storage to market by companies like Tesla, Sonnen and Sungevity. Soon, indie solar systems with power management systems behind the meter will make it much, much easier for consumers to use solar without having to ask the permission of utility companies. Look for this market to blossom despite the best efforts of a federal government that is now undeniably anti-solar.sonnenbatterie-final-inspection-energy-storage-sonnenbatterie

The Reagan administration was able to quickly suffocate the fledgling solar industry in its infancy in the 1980s, because of the admittedly excessive government subsidies and the unwise dependence on them by the solar industry. Luckily,  the 21st-century iteration of the solar industry is much less dependent on federal money as it was in the 80s. Solar is highly competitive and getting more so every year.

The final question mark for solar right now is the fate of Chinese imports. Despite anti-dumping tariffs, panel prices continue to fall, in part due to competition from cheap Chinese product. It is doubtful that Mr. Trump will be able to make good on his promise to level a 45% tariff on Chinese products, but if he does, domestic production is ramping up to fill in the gap.

Our best hope as solar advocates is that the new Trump administration and a Republican congress will leave solar alone, to grow on its own and compete in the market. However, there is a real reason for concern- if they attack the solar industry, it could be a very, very tough four years.

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Winning the Clean Energy Economy, Greatly https://solartribune.com/winning-clean-energy-greatly/ Fri, 11 Nov 2016 12:03:27 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10325 Let’s stop fighting climate change. For the next four years, it’s all about winning the clean energy economy. President-elect Donald Trump is looking for bi-partisan wins that create jobs, “big league.” Plans are being made and appointees are being selected, so the time to act is now. As activists, it’s our duty to sell clean […]

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Let’s stop fighting climate change. For the next four years, it’s all about winning the clean energy economy.

President-elect Donald Trump is looking for bi-partisan wins that create jobs, “big league.” Plans are being made and appointees are being selected, so the time to act is now. As activists, it’s our duty to sell clean energy effectively.

Only market-based solutions will do. We need to think in terms of subsidies, not caps and regulations. We need to think in terms of jobs created, not emissions reduced. And we need to speak in one voice–now more than ever.

We have a compelling story to tell. Money is being made and new industries are being created. 200,000 people work in solar. As costs decline, job growth accelerates greatly.

We’re catching energy from the sky, competing with China, and creating big league jobs. Let’s tell that story. Sure the energy is clean, but believe me, Donald Trump doesn’t really care.

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Beyond the Election: Solar Policy in the Next Four Years https://solartribune.com/solar_election/ Tue, 18 Oct 2016 13:41:54 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10287 Clinton is pro-solar. Trump is anti-solar. Beyond that, what do we know? At the time of this writing, the United States is just weeks away from going to the polls to decide the single ugliest election since the civil war. Although the Clinton campaign appears to be opening a widening lead, anything could happen. The […]

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Clinton is pro-solar. Trump is anti-solar. Beyond that, what do we know?

At the time of this writing, the United States is just weeks away from going to the polls to decide the single ugliest election since the civil war. Although the Clinton campaign appears to be opening a widening lead, anything could happen. The bigger question mark is what happens down the ballot, in congressional races and state races. According to the political stat-geeks at fivethirtyeight.com, Democrats will likely gain a few seats in congress, but remain the minority. Safe bets are on a Clinton Presidency and a closely divided House and Senate, but honestly, it wouldn’t be terrible surprising to see the exact opposite transpire.

We can be sure that in terms of federal incentives, a Clinton Presidency would mean more incentives for solar and tighter restrictions on the  fossils, while Donald Trump pledges to strangle the renewable industry in it’s cradle and return us to the happy days of coal mine fires, black lung and acid rain. Frankly, no one with any respect for the environment, human health or the American economy could vote for Donald J. Trump with a clean conscience, but much of what Hillary Clinton is presenting as an energy plan is itself pie-in-the-sky campaign rhetoric. If you haven’t dug into the candidates energy policies at this late date, do yourself a favor and read the excellent analysis at Business Insider before you vote.

Here are the two campaign “Action Plans” side by side.

First Mr Trump’s:

Here is my 100-day action plan:

  • We’re going to rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions including the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.
  • We’re going to save the coal industry and other industries threatened by Hillary Clinton’s extremist agenda.
  • I’m going to ask Trans Canada to renew its permit application for the Keystone Pipeline.
  • We’re going to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas
  • We’re going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies. These technologies create millions of jobs with a smaller footprint than ever before.
  • We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.
  • Any regulation that is outdated, unnecessary, bad for workers, or contrary to the national interest will be scrapped. We will also eliminate duplication, provide regulatory certainty, and trust local officials and local residents.
  • Any future regulation will go through a simple test: is this regulation good for the American worker? If it doesn’t pass this test, the rule will not be approved.

 

Now Mrs. Clinton’s:

Hillary Clinton will launch a Clean Energy Challenge that forms a new partnership with states, cities, and rural communities that are ready to lead on clean energy. She will outline this Challenge in detail in the coming weeks, and it will include:

  1. Climate Action Competition: Competitive grants and other market-based incentives to empower states to exceed federal carbon pollution standards and accelerate clean energy deployment.
  2. Solar X-Prize: Awards for communities that successfully cut the red tape that slows rooftop solar installation times and increases costs for businesses and consumers.
  3. Transforming the Grid: Work with states, cities and rural communities to strengthen grid reliability and resilience, increase consumer choice and improve customer value.
  4. Rural Leadership: Expand the Rural Utilities Service and other successful USDA programs to help provide clean, reliable, and affordable energy, not just to rural Americans but to the rest of the country as well.

As part of the Clean Energy Challenge, Clinton will ensure that every part of the federal government is working in concert to help Americans build a clean energy future. This includes:

  1. Transmission Investment: Ensure the federal government is a partner, not an obstacle, in getting low-cost wind and other renewable energy to market.
  2. Solar Access: Overcome barriers that prevent low-income and other households from using solar energy to reduce their monthly energy bills.
  3. Tax Incentives: Fight to extend federal clean energy incentives and make them more cost effective both for taxpayers and clean energy producers.
  4. Public Lands and Infrastructure: Expand renewable energy on public lands, federal buildings, and federally-funded infrastructure, including an initiative to significantly increase hydropower generation from existing dams across the US.
  5. Innovation: Increase public investment in clean energy R&D, including in storage technology, designed materials, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and sequestration. Expand successful innovation initiatives, like ARPA-e, and cut those that fail to deliver results.

As we can see, Mrs. Clinton’s plan is very much a continuation of the current Obama energy plan. Mr. Trump’s, is a complete and utter repudiation of those policies, with promises to massively expand fossil fuel mining and drilling with as little regulation as possible. Where her plan is dragged down by details that are at times verging on fanciful, his is completely unburdened by specific implementation plans.
energy-graphic
For now, Let’s stick with what we KNOW…

Coal is on it’s way out, and even Donald J. Trump can’t will an obsolete technology back into existence. Natural gas and renewables are taking it’s place, and those technologies are where new jobs are going to happen.

By the end of the next presidential term in 2020, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) will be at the end of its phase-out period. Chances are, neither candidate will have the political horsepower to change that, either by extending it or accelerating its cancellation.

Look for nuclear to muscle in on any future tax schemes. Hillary Clinton has been a strong supporter of nuclear, and high-dollar supporters from the energy sector like Warren Buffett are eye-balling the same tax credits used for big wind and solar to fund their nuclear dreams.

The real action will continue to be on the state level, where utility boards are under pressure from Koch brothers funded campaigns to bleed state net metering policies to death. Though Clinton’s plan alludes to increasing “access”, congress will probably not wade into that state-by-state fight.

Finally, it is safe to say that the solar industry will survive regardless of who is elected next month. That train has left the station… and it is a global movement. In many ways, the federal government is becoming less and less relevant in the advancement of solar technology, as it has matured greatly through global efforts. As “solar plus storage” makes its way to the forefront in the next few years, US presidents will have less and less to say about how and where Americans spend their energy dollars.

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Florida To Vote On Stealth Anti-Solar Amendment https://solartribune.com/florida-vote-stealth-anti-solar-amendment/ Thu, 06 Oct 2016 01:36:08 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10280 Nov. 8th, utility companies will try to pull the wool over voter’s eyes. In what has proven to be possibly the craziest election season ever, Florida voters will see a proposed amendment to their state constitution near the bottom of an already confusing ballot. The summary of the proposed amendment which will appear on the […]

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Nov. 8th, utility companies will try to pull the wool over voter’s eyes.

In what has proven to be possibly the craziest election season ever, Florida voters will see a proposed amendment to their state constitution near the bottom of an already confusing ballot. The summary of the proposed amendment which will appear on the ballot will read:

This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

Scanning over it quickly in the voting booth, most voters might say… “YES! I want to support the right to own solar!” But wait– let’s take a closer look. It starts by making in a constitutional right to own solar. That sounds like a really strong pro-solar stance, right? But think about it…is there any danger of individuals losing their “right” to buy solar? No. Owning solar is not against the law, never has been, and no one has proposed making solar ownership illegal.

The summary continues “…State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare…” Also fine. Everyone agrees that government should protect health safety and welfare. Except, of course, libertarians and anarchists, and they probably aren’t voting anyway.

It’s the last section where the true intention of the amendment is hidden. “…to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”  This statement is designed to sound innocuous to liberals and act as a dog whistle for conservatives by stating clearly “no subsidies.”

What they are talking about is net metering, the single most effective incentive ever created for independently owned grid-tied solar. If you are a regular reader of Solar Tribune, you already know what net metering is. If not, do a little reading over at Wikipedia. In short, utility companies are required to allow the solar owner to push their unused excess solar Kilowatt-hours out onto the grid, where it benefits all of their neighbors as well as the utility company during sunny peak usage hours when it is needed most. In exchange for this service, the utility gives them credit for those kilowatt-hours to be used later, when the sun isn’t shining. Despite utility company grumblings, net metering has been a mutually beneficial system for decades.

Now, thanks to all of those forward-thinking consumers who invested their own money to raise demand and lower prices of solar, utilities now see the potential for profit in owning their own solar and they want to purge their government-sanctioned-monopoly service territories of any upstart competition. They are willing to use the power of the all-mighty dollar, along with armies of expensive lobbyists and lawyers to crush net metering and corner the solar market.

“Amendment 1 is a sham designed by the utilities to turn out the lights on solar in Florida,” said Pamela Goodman, the president of the Florida League of Women Voters. “Florida utilities have raised a staggering $21 million to place this ‘citizen’ amendment on the ballot. With Amendment 4 we saw the enthusiasm Florida voters have for good solar policy, and we urge voters to get the facts and not be fooled by this utility-funded attempt to put their boot on the neck of solar.”

In August, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which protects property owners who install solar panels from tax increases. In Florida, this effort is lead by a utility front group with the Orwellian name  “Consumers for Smart Solar.”consumers-for-smart-solar-deception-award

The Amendment is so egregiously deceptive that The Clear Language Institute – a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster legislation that’s written using honest, easy-to-understand language – announced it has given their first “Deceptive Language Award” to the Consumers for Smart Solar PAC, the sponsors of Florida’s Amendment #1. The recipient of the award is a political organization consisting primarily of four utility companies: Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power Co.
“Consumers for Smart Solar PAC is the hands-down winner of this award,” said Pete Tannen, Chairman of the Institute, speaking at the organization’s annual luncheon. “Amendment #1 uses deceptive language to purposely mislead voters. The self-interest of the four utility companies behind this PAC is apparent, and the Florida legislators and the Florida Supreme Court should be called to task for allowing this dishonest legislation to appear on the ballot.

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The Future of American Labor: Coal vs. Solar https://solartribune.com/future-american-labor-coal-vs-solar/ Mon, 05 Sep 2016 13:18:30 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10234 Coal jobs are in decline. Solar jobs are on the rise. The new face of labor is clean. America is undoubtedly entering a new era in respect to how we work. In recent decades, jobs have become increasingly insecure, and the idea that hard work and loyalty will be rewarded with a steady job and […]

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Coal jobs are in decline. Solar jobs are on the rise. The new face of labor is clean.

America is undoubtedly entering a new era in respect to how we work. In recent decades, jobs have become increasingly insecure, and the idea that hard work and loyalty will be rewarded with a steady job and a pension is a thing of the past. Post WWII workers often spent their entire careers with one company, and the majority of baby-boomers worked for the same employer for 10-20 years. Now, younger workers are changing jobs every three years, on average. In the fast-changing world of energy production, jobs in older technologies like coal production are naturally being eliminated as new technologies (like solar and wind energy) mature.

As statistics, job losses in one area of energy production and jobs created in another may seem like the natural market shifts of an economy based on supply and demand, but in the lives of the workers, it is a much more complicated issue. A young coal miner may be able to go back to school, relocate and make the transition to working as a solar installer. An older miner probably cannot. A friend of mine recently envisioned a “Grapes of Wrath” scenario of former, in which caravans of West Virginia coal miners migrate to California to work as solar installers. Is that a real possibility?clinton_trump_split

The two major party candidates in the 2016 presidential race are making radically different promises when it comes to energy jobs. In May, Donald Trump said in coal country:

“Let me tell you: the miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which was so great to me last week and Ohio and all over, they’re going to start to work again, believe me. You’re going to be proud again to be miners.” Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton made a huge political gaff… by telling the truth to West Virginia coal miners. “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” She also said that those jobs would be replaced with new “clean energy” jobs, but that, of course, was not the soundbite du jour. The die was cast- with Donald Trump firmly the candidate of coal, and Hillary Clinton in the role of the solar industry’s best hope for a level playing field in the next four years.

Could President Trump deliver on promises to restore the greatness of the coal industry? Only the most naive believe that he can. Cyrus Sanati wrote in Fortune Magazine that “Donald Trump’s promise to bring coal mining jobs back to West Virginia is pure fantasy. Even if environmental protections are eased under a Trump presidency, demand for coal, especially West Virginian coal, will continue to decline due purely to market forces.”

The United States has lost approximately 191,000 jobs in the coal mining industry since September 2014 including approximately 7,000 that were lost in April, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Can Donald Trump bring those jobs back? Perhaps… but only by radical government intervention. That would be a tough position to defend for a self-professed “free market guy.” Is it time to roll out the old “buggy whip manufacturing” analogy? The fact is, coal is in decline, and despite a century of government subsidies, it is time to let it scale down. Now, the question is, can coal workers transition into new, clean energy jobs, as suggested by Mrs. Clinton?

A recent report by two professors from Michigan Technological University tackled exactly that question. “Retraining Investment for U.S. Transition from Coal to Solar Photovoltaic Employment” by  Edward P. Louie and Joshua M. Pearce examined the viability of transferring coal industry workers to the new, growing solar job market. They found that “The results of the study show that a relatively minor investment ($180 million to $1.8 billion, based on best and worst case scenarios) in retraining would allow the vast majority of U.S. coal workers to switch to solar-related positions. Of course, training times depend on type of job and prior experience.” Looks good on paper, right? Obviously, it’s not as easy as simply taking every coal industry worker and inserting them into a shiny new solar job. It can’t happen overnight. But it needs to happen, and it appears that it CAN happen… at least theoretically.

The transition from coal-based electricity generation to cleaner, safer and more economical technologies WILL happen over time, regardless of which candidate is elected in November. This train has left the station. Sadly, it may take a generation before coal miners are willing to give up their dangerous, unhealthy careers, come out of their deep, dark holes in the ground, and choose a life in the sun.

image: alfreemarket.com

image: alfreemarket.com

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Also Running: 3rd Party Presidential Candidates on Solar Policy https://solartribune.com/also-running-3rd-party-presidential-candidates-solar-policy/ Sat, 27 Aug 2016 01:09:53 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10224 Libertarian Gary Johnson and The Green Party’s Jill Stein are energy idealists. The 2016 presidential campaign won’t be over soon enough for most Americans. With Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump both tipping all-time low approval ratings (an August CBS News poll had Trump’s favorability rating at 36 percent among U.S. voters; Clinton’s was […]

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Libertarian Gary Johnson and The Green Party’s Jill Stein are energy idealists.

The 2016 presidential campaign won’t be over soon enough for most Americans. With Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump both tipping all-time low approval ratings (an August CBS News poll had Trump’s favorability rating at 36 percent among U.S. voters; Clinton’s was at 46 percent) a lot of American voters are giving the lesser-known party candidates a look.  With at least 27 declared candidates for president, not all independent and 3rd party candidates are experiencing a boost, but the two nationally competitive 3rd parties, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, are garnering record levels of support during this election cycle. How do they stack up to Trump and Clinton on solar policy?

Libertarian Gary Johnson is a former Republican governor of the state of New Mexico, although his executive track record on solar policy is pretty sketchy. He was governor until 2003, so the solar boom happened several years after his retirement from office.  Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, is a well-respected physician and environmental activist. Never having served in political office, her positions on solar are more based on the Green Party platform and her efforts to forward anti-fossil fuel legislation in the Massachusetts legislature.

Dr. Stein’s 2016 platform features a “Power to the People” energy plan which includes the following:

“Enact an emergency Green New Deal to turn the tide on climate change, revive the economy and make wars for oil obsolete. Initiate a WWII-scale national mobilization to halt climate change, the greatest threat to humanity in our history. Create 20 million jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, conservation and restoration of critical infrastructure, including ecosystems.”

Wow, I guess you don’t get much more pro-solar than that! Of course, the devil is in the details, but the details of the Stein plan are equally ambitious:

  • Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat jill-stein-green-placardenergy as a human right.
  • Redirect research funds from fossil fuels into renewable energy and conservation.  Build a nationwide smart electricity grid that can pool and store power from a diversity of renewable sources, giving the nation clean, democratically-controlled, energy.
  • End destructive energy extraction and associated infrastructure: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, natural gas pipelines, and uranium mines. Halt any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas, and phase out all fossil fuel power plants. Phase out nuclear power and end nuclear subsidies.  End all subsidies for fossil fuels and impose a greenhouse gas fee / tax to charge polluters for the damage they have created.

The Libertarian Party’s 2016 platform is far less specific about their stand on energy, but even in its brevity, it couldn’t be more different than the Green Party’s goals:

2.3 Energy and Resources

While energy is needed to fuel a modern society, government should not be subsidizing any particular form of energy. We oppose all government control of energy pricing, allocation, and production.

However, Gary Johnson has expressed a considerably more nuanced stand on the issue of renewable energy vs. fossil fuel. Johnson talked energy policy with the Juneau Empire, explaining that “I do believe that climate change is occurring. I do believe that it is man-caused.”

To address climate change, Johnson said he believes “…there can be and is a free-market approach to climate change.”

That would include a fee — not a tax, he said — placed on carbon. Such a fee would make pollutants bear a market cost.

“We as human beings want to see carbon emissions reduced significantly,” but at the same time, he says the United States is only “16 percent of the (global) load” of carbon, and “I don’t want to do anything that harms jobs.”

Mr. Johnson is obviously playing semantic games. Miriam Webster defines a tax as:

  • a :  a charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes
  • b :  a sum levied on members of an organization to defray expenses

The Libertarian platform does not explicitly oppose all taxes, but Johnson knows that a carbon tax is a non-starter for many libertarian and republican voters. He is trying to walk a fine line, but ultimately, he can’t win on this issue. His party platform calls for an end to subsidies and complete deregulation of the utility industry. When all’s said and done, solar would be the obvious winning technology in such a scenario, but only after complete grid system collapse. Johnson certainly doesn’t want to be president in a Mad Max-ian dystopia. Instead, he is talking baby steps.

In many ways, the Libertarian vs. Green approach to the energy debate is simply a distillation of the core ideological dispute between the Democrats and Republicans. Government programs vs. the free market. Although both plans look good on paper, new technologies simply cannot be expected to compete against government sanctioned monopolies. Neither can new subsidies piled on top of old subsidies have the desired leveling effect without unintended consequences.

Bottom line: As a solar advocate, should you vote for a 3rd party candidate? I certainly don’t expect Stein or Johnson to win in this election, but if you live in a state that is not a swing state, this may be your best opportunity to cast a vote for your ideals, be those Free Market or New Deal.

 

 

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