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11.04.15 Solar Media Update

November 4, 2015

By Clara Schopf, Incentive Coordinator, SoCore Energy

California Ballot Initiative Would Eliminate IOUs, Establish Statewide Public Utility

  • The California Secretary of State last week approved a ballot proposal for signature gathering that would replace the state’s three investor-owned utilities with a single, statewide public power district.
  • The proposed measure to establish the California Electrical Utility District (CEUD) was approved by the Secretary of State on Friday, allowing backers to begin gathering the 365,880 signatures needed by April 26, 2016 to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
  • The CEUD would replace Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the state’s other investor owned electric utilities.
    • It would replace the IOUs’ corporate structures with an elected Board of Directors from 11 wards made up of the current IOU service territories.
  • The initiative is led by Ben Davis, an anti-nuclear activist and former SMUD Rate Advisory Board member.
    • He got an identical ballot proposal cleared for signature gathering in March, but did not get enough people to sign on before that proposal’s deadline was reached on Sep. 23.

Court Rejects Wisconsin Utility’s Fee on Solar Customers

  • In a victory for solar advocates in Wisconsin, a Dane County Circuit Court judge overturned fees on customers with solar installations in We Energies’ service territory.
  • The ruling was the result of an appeal filed by The Alliance for Solar Choice and Renew Wisconsin.
  • It invalidated part of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s December 2014 approval of We Energies’ rate case, which also included increased fixed charges and other provisions that advocates say have undermined the development of distributed solar in the state.
  • The groups argued that the new fee specifically on people with solar installations was “discriminatory,” and that We Energies had not provided proof that such fees were necessary to make sure those customers paid their “fair share” for upkeep of the grid.
  • We Energies is reviewing their options in light of the ruling.

Rival Solar Petitions Spawn Confusion, Race for Signatures

  • Although many Floridians may not know it, two competing solar petitions that could dictate the future of the state’s lucrative electricity market are engaged in a well-funded battle for signatures — and voter confusion has been the result.
  • Becky Van Horn of Hollywood says she “was duped” into signing a utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar petition by being told it would make it easier for people to switch to solar power in Florida.
  • Donna Redish of Tampa says she “was scammed” into signing the same petition because it was described as the “revised, updated version” of the Floridians for Solar Choice initiative she had already signed.
  • Organizers of the utility-backed Smart Solar initiative say they have no intention of misleading voters.
  • It’s a scenario many predicted when a coalition of solar companies launched the Floridians for Solar Choice amendment last spring that, if successful, would allow property owners to sign lease agreements with solar companies to finance and install solar systems up to 2 MW.
    • The amendment also prevents utility companies from trying to erect barriers to competition by charging solar users new fees in order to connect to the grid or use backup electricity — a tactic electric companies are using in other states that allow third-party sales of solar energy.
  • The utilities fought back and launched a rival amendment, Consumers for Smart Solar, to leave things as they are and let state and local regulators decide.
  • Both amendments now aim to get on the 2016 ballot. Both must get court approval for the ballot language, collect 683,149 valid petition signatures by Feb. 1, and then win 60 percent of the vote in November — and both look alike.

Hawaii’s Largest Solar Array, Complete with Storage, Now Online

  • REC Solar has brought online Hawaii’s largest solar array yet, a 12 MW AC facility paired with a 6 MW lithium ion battery system.
  • Developed for Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), the system is located on 60 acres and will supply 20% of the island’s annual power needs.
  • The solar plant will help the island meet its goal of 38% renewables by the end of 2015, on the road to hitting the statewide 100% renewables target by 2045.
  • The solar power will allow KIUC to cut fossil fuel imports and will save $250,000 each month on operating costs alone, according to the company.
  • Funds from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service were used by KIUC to finance the project.
  • KIUC also announced it would conduct a pilot program offering discounted electric rates to encourage customers to shift their energy use to the daylight hours to take advantage of the utility’s solar resources.
    • The program will offer a 25% discount on standard electric rates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In Other News…

Duke Energy has responded aggressively to the solar energy experiment at Faith Community Church, urging state regulators to impose a fine “up to $1,000” per day against the nonprofit group selling solar panels to the small Greensboro congregation. See article here

Researchers and policy experts in Michigan are criticizing an out-of-state organization’s report released last month claiming the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard has prevented 24,000 jobs from being created and caused $15 billion in lost income statewide in 2013. See article here

SolarCity announced in its third-quarter 2015 Securities and Exchange report that it will replace the focus on growth that brought it about a third of the residential market with efforts to cut costs and turn its cash flow positive by the end of 2016. See article here

TenKsolar says it will reprogram or replace a failed component on about 100 recently installed solar power arrays mostly in Minnesota. See article here

The Robeson County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina will try for the fourth time to decide if conditional-use permits should be granted that will allow for the construction of two solar farms. See article here

Solar power developer Ecoplexus Inc. closed financing for a 25 MW solar photovoltaic project in North Carolina that will be installed with about 150,000 Solar Frontier modules and will achieve commercial operation in late 2015. See article here

Leading CdTe thin-film producer and project developer First Solar expects to be operating all its production lines at full capacity in 2016. See article here

SunPower Corporation is planning to sell the projects of its power plant business unit to Berkshire Hathaway Energy, a holding company that provides energy solutions. See article here

New From BNEF

Acciona Rules Out Yieldco, Seeing Growth From Solar Developments: Acciona SA, the Spanish construction company that’s one of the world’s top owners of renewable power plants, ruled out forming a yieldco to absorb some of its developments, saying more of its growth will come from solar photovoltaics.

How Indonesia’s Fires Made it the Biggest Climate Polluter  Indonesia’s forest fires have catapulted the southeast Asian nation to the top of the rankings of the world’s worst global warming offenders, with daily emissions exceeding those of China on at least 14 days in the past two months.

Austin Energy Plans to Triple Solar Power on Texas Grid: The municipal utility in Austin, Texas, has a big appetite for solar energy.

SunEdison Boosted by Einhorn Praise, Speculation on Tepper Stake: SunEdison Inc. got a boost from signs that hedge fund managers David Einhorn and David Tepper have faith in the renewable-energy developer despite a three-month nosedive for the shares.

Goldman Sachs Targets $150 Billion in Clean-Energy Deals by 2025: Goldman Sachs Group Inc. set a goal of arranging financing or investments in $150 billion worth of clean-energy projects by 2025, part of a promise to “harness market-based solutions” to address climate change.

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