Utilities Mount PR War on Rooftop PV

An article in Scientific American talks about the impact of cheap rooftop PV is having on utilities. Some utilities like Arizona Public Service (APS) are fighting against solar as HECO/MECO are doing:

In response APS and other utility companies across the country have launched a propaganda war against an energy source that still accounts for less than one quarter of 1 percent of U.S. electricity. In Arizona that fight became very public in 2013, as APS took on such residential solar power in a television ad campaign and mailings.

…Waking up to the looming threat, utility-funded research outfit the Edison Electric Institute released a report in January 2013 called “Disruptive Challenges” [pdf]. In essence, EEI noted that home solar, dubbed “distributed energy resources” could allow Americans to get off the grid, putting their member utilities into a death spiral of fewer and fewer electricity sales to cover more and more grid maintenance costs. That would drive up electricity prices and, as a result, drive more and more people to install rooftop solar. The parallel is drawn with the telephone monopolies of the 1970s that are, in the words of the report, “not recognizable today nor are the names of many of the players and the service they once provided (‘the plain old telephone service’).” The roughly 3,000 electric utilities that now control U.S. electricity may be as dim a memory in a decade or two.

…Spurred by projections of 500 percent growth for solar in the U.S., Arizona Public Services mounted a public relations campaign against its own obsolescence. Backed by EEI and other outside interest groups, APS spent nearly $4 million on TV, print and Internet ads depicting solar homeowners as freeloaders on the grid, and an economic burden to all the households without such solar panels. According to APS ads, such solar homes cost the rest of the utility’s customers at least $1,000 a year, what they dubbed a “cost shift” in anodyne bureaucratic terminology concealing real malice. APS therefore proposed a surcharge, or “sun tax” in the words of opponents, of as much as $100 per month that solar homeowners would pay as their fair share of grid maintenance costs. Some Arizona residents described such ads as “deceptive at best” or “false advertising,” among other, less mild epithets.

According to studies, though, rooftop PV is providing a benefit that means APS is underpaying people with rooftop solar:

In fact, utilities may be underpaying solar homeowners for the benefits of rooftop electricity, at least according to an analysis run by one of their own: Texas’s Austin Energy. The municipal utility’s analysis concluded that it should pay to solar homeowners 3 cents more than the retail electricity rate, for savings in transmission losses and the ability to delay building large, centralized power plants that can require multibillion-dollar investments. “We must fight the greedy, unscrupulous tactics of companies like APS every step of the way,” Sun City West-resident Christina Compton testified to the public commission

Read the entire article here.

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu lashes out at Hawaiian Electric

A Forbes article by Steven Chu:

Utility companies have been looking for new regulations and higher connection charges to save them from a “death spiral” spurred by a surge in rooftop solar installations. Instead, says former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, they should get into the rooftop solar business.

Utilities are in danger of being FedExed, Chu said, “like the Post Office got FedExed,” as rooftop solar modules drop in price.

“The cost of modules has plummeted. In California where I live, that means for $10,000 you can generate a lot of electricity. The cost of batteries is plummeting, so that in five maybe 10 years at the outside, a $10,000 or $12,000 system will allow me to go, on average, 80 percent off grid.

“That’s pretty exciting. So this is a technology that could be disruptive to electricity production and generation.”

The article asserts that HECO has sought to “shut down” rooftop solar in Hawai’i.

The Grid Modernization bill that raises caps on rooftop solar is currently making its way through the Hawai’i legislature and is strongly supported by the Sierra Club.

Chu called HECO’s argument that allowing more rooftop PV will cause grid instability “bullshit”.

“Instead of that, you need a better business model,” Chu said. “So I’m telling utility companies, this is coming down the line, so let’s think of a new business model where you can profit from this.”

In Chu’s business model, utilities will borrow money—because “utility companies get to borrow money as inexpensively as just about anyone in the United States”—to buy rooftop solar modules and batteries. Then they’ll partner with private rooftop-solar installation firms—”because I don’t expect a utility company to figure out how to do that”—to install rooftop panels and batteries at customer homes.

The utility will own the panels and batteries and sell electricity to the customers at a much lower rate.

Customers would not only get lower rates, they would get solar power without having to pay for installation, Chu said, and they would get a battery backup that can keep the lights on and the refrigerator running for up to a week in a power outage.

Utility companies, meanwhile, would benefit from a distributed network of panels and batteries “where they need it the most, at the end of the distribution system, for grid stability.”

Chu’s idea allows utility companies to expand without installing new transmission lines, completing environmental impact reports, “and all of that stuff,” he said.

Sierra Club Supporting Solar

Solar Makes a Splash! 

In partnership with Pacific Resource Partnership, we recently announced the results of a state-wide poll that showed a stunning, nearly unanimous 96% support for solar energy. In addition, we also took the opportunity to literally roll out the petition that over 900 people signed in support of a modern, clean energy grid.

If you’ve ever wondered what 900 people in a legislator’s office looks like, it looks something like this:

The poll and the petition got great coverage on Star Advertiser among others! solar petition

Rep. Chris Lee responded to your petition by saying, “We’ve heard it loud and clear from voters that they want to install solar. The Legislature is committed to looking at policies this year that overcome current hurdles and ensure that our residents can continue to go green and save money with solar.”

Your voice is one of the things we’re giving thanks for today, as we reflect on this vital time of transition in Hawai’i. You made a difference, and can continue to make a difference as we move forward into a clean energy future.

Happy Thanksgiving!

With aloha,
Caitlin Pomerantz
Conservation Coordinator, Sierra Club of Hawai’i

Henry Curtis: HELCO Ignores Residential PV

By Henry Curtis 05/15/2013
A year ago the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) opened a regulatory proceeding on Integrated Resource Planning (IRP). The HECO Companies (HECO, MECO, and HELCO) were given a year to develop short-term Action Plans and evaluate how utility actions would be impacted by different long-term possible future scenarios. The PUC created a 68-member Advisory Group, to be overseen by an Independent Entity (IE), to help the utilities create these Action Plans.

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Community Solar Summit

Due to high demand, the Maui Solar Summit has changed locations from the college to the Castle Theater at the MACC. The hours are extended from 11:00am-1:30pm. A sandwich lunch by the Maui Culinary Academy will be available in the courtyard at 11:00am subsidized by the county for only $5. The blessing will start promptly at 11:30am. Please arrive early to get your seat.

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Utilities vs. rooftop solar: What the fight is about

(Photo courtesy Rising Sun Solar)

The conflict between electric utilities and distributed energy— mainly rooftop solar panels — is heating up.

David Roberts takes a look at the fight over utilities who don’t want to take more rooftop solar – a subject that is hot in Hawaii, where folks are being charged $3000 for “interconnection studies” and being denied the opportunity to install PV.

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Sierra Club – Working for YOU


The state of Hawaii has passed a first-of-its kind clean-energy financing measure that will make it easy for residents of the Aloha State to go green and install clean energy, while saving some green at the same time. The Sierra Club and a coalition of environmental and labor groups championed the measure, which will reduce the upfront costs of solar energy and energy-efficiency for residents and small businesses.

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