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10.07.15 Solar Media Update

October 7, 2015

By Clara Schopf, Incentive Coordinator, SoCore Energy

Layoffs at SunEdison as Investors Question the Renewable Energy Developer’s Strategy

  • With its stock price taking a hit, SunEdison is planning some deep cuts, laying off 15 percent of its workforce.
  • Investors were having a hard time understanding SunEdison’s recent acquisition spree — specifically, the $2.2 billion purchase of the residential installation company Vivint Solar in July.
  • The cuts have reached all the way to the VP level, but not the executive level, and sources within the company expressed worry and surprise that the cuts didn’t impact the architects of the Vivint acquisition.
  • Critics think SunEdison’s expansion into many new areas is too expensive and complicated.
  • A slowdown in project construction or constraints on capital would be a blow to SunEdison’s YieldCo, which was built on the promise that an unending volume of projects will bring ever-higher dividends to investors.
  • In its most recent earnings declaration, SunEdison targeted 2,100 to 2,300 megawatts of completed renewable energy projects for all of 2015.

The IRS Plans to Issue New Regulations for the Investment Tax Credit

  • The IRS and the U.S. Department of Treasury issued a notice last Friday that the agencies are seeking public comments through February 16, 2016 on Section 48 of the Internal Revenue Code, the commercial Investment Tax Credit, concerning the definition of qualifying energy property.
  • Regulations that govern the ITC haven’t been updated since 1987, however, so there’s been growing confusion around which technologies qualify and how they must do so.
    • The IRS and Treasury wrote last week that they “anticipate” issuing new tax credit regulations.
  • With the ITC currently scheduled to step down from 30 percent to 10 percent at the end of 2016, the timing seems a bit strange, however, there’s a reasonable chance that Congress will extend the ITC at a higher level.
  • In theory, Congress could pass a comprehensive tax reform package that would address all of these issues, but in reality that process is likely to take years.

Massachusetts Governor Backs Long-Term Renewable Contracts and Raising Net Metering Cap

  • Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) appeared at a statehouse hearing this week to lobby support for a proposal to allow the state’s utilities to enter into long-term renewable energy contracts, the Boston Herald reports.
  • Baker has introduced legislation that would allow utilities to enter 15-25 year contracts to source one-third of their energy needs from Canadian hydroelectric facilities, and said he is open to similar contracts for offshore wind.
  • Baker also testified in support of legislation that would lift caps on the state’s net metering program.

SolarCity Touts its New Rooftop Solar Panels as Most Efficient in the World

  • SolarCity, the leading U.S. residential solar installer, will begin manufacturing a 22.04% efficient solar module, which co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Peter Rive called the world’s most efficient rooftop solar panel.
  • The company will begin making the new product at its 100 MW California facility in October and ramp up production when its Buffalo, New York, 1 GW facility comes online in early 2017.
  • The modules are built with a high efficiency cell technology developed by Silevo, which SolarCity acquired in 2014.
    • They combine elements of two standard solar cell designs, increasing power 30% to 40% over current technologies without an increase in module size, according to Rive.

Northeast Has More Than 250,000 Commercial Rooftops Suitable for Solar

  • A new study from California-based investment firm Wiser Capital estimates there are more than 274,000 commercial buildings in the Northeast which would be appropriate for solar power installations, potentially yielding about 95,000 MW of capacity, Greentech Media reports.
  • The study examined solar potential in New York and Massachusetts, to determine the Northeast region could potentially see $67.5 billion in investment.
  • The firm sees mid-tier commercial solar developments as an “untapped market” largely because financing options have lagged, but said a better understanding of solar economics has the potential to shift the balance.

Vermont’s Updated Energy Plan Reaffirms 90% Renewable Goal

  • The Vermont Public Service Department has released the state’s 2015 Comprehensive Energy Plan for public review, and has scheduled five meetings in October to take comment.
  • The plan reaffirms Vermont’s goal of meeting 90% of the state’s energy needs through renewable sources by 2050, directs utilities to develop microgrids and calls for reducing total energy consumption per capita by 15% by 2025.
  • Vermont regulators say the plan emphasizes efficiency and conservation, including efficiencies gained by using new electric technologies such as heat pumps electric vehicles.

In Other News…

The Austin City Council last week approved power purchase agreements for 300 MW of utility-scale solar for Austin Energy at $33 million, the lowest price ever paid for Texassolar. See article here

EnergyOne, a residential and commercial solar provider, has reportedly arrived as the best solar energy provider in Kansas & Midwest. See article here

Paul Thomsen, the Director of the state Office of Energy and a strong solar advocate, was appointed to a post in the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to replace outgoing commissioner Rebecca Wagner. See article here

A new rooftop solar array at the Houston Food Bank’s warehouse is expected to provide 154,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy annually, which the food bank estimates will generate enough savings to provide for nearly 30,000 additional meals every year. See article here

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission voted to reduce the state’s renewable energy rebate from $.75 per watt and a maximum of $3,750 to $.50 per watt and a maximum of $2,500 due to a drop in funding for rebates from $17 million to $4 million. See article here

In Wisconsin, Madison Gas and Electric is teaming up with town of Middleton to bring large-scale solar power to its customers by next summer. See article here

Entergy Mississippi brought the first of three pilot solar arrays online, the first commercial scale solar project in the state. See article here

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality plans to issue a permit for an 80 MW Amazon solar facility in Accomack County, more than quadrupling the amount of solar energy currently installed in the Commonwealth. See article here

NextEra Energy, the world’s biggest producer of wind and solar power, plans to invest $100 million in energy-storage systems over the next year to back up its fleet of solar and wind energy plants. See article here

Equinix signed a major power-purchase agreement for 105 megawatts (AC) of new solar power with SunEdison, covering all of the electricity needs at Equinix’s 11 California data centers, which amounts to 300 megawatt-hours per year. See article here

New From BNEF

Upcoming US Supreme Court Case Might Increase FERC Power: An upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case on whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authority to compensate demand response programs in the wholesale electricity markets could in the end increase the federal government’s power, a Republican FERC commissioner said Oct. 1.

SunEdison to Fire 15% of Workers, May Take $40 Million Charge: SunEdison Inc., the world’s biggest clean- energy developer, is planning to fire about 15 percent of its workforce.

For an Hourly Fee, This U.S. Lab Will Help You Make Batteries: Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. government-funded center near Chicago that designed the first nuclear reactor to generate electricity in 1951, is looking to do business with battery storage developers.

SolarCity to Offer Solar to Low-Income Renters in California: SolarCity Corp. will finance and install rooftop panels for affordable housing and low-income renters in California as the company moves to address concerns about the accessibility of solar energy.

Clean Energy Tax Credits Called ‘Status Symbol’ for the Rich: About $18 billion in federal subsidies for clean energy investments, like solar panels and electric cars, have mostly gone to high-income taxpayers, according to a study.

High Compliance Rate by States Seen for Clean Power Plan: Relatively few states—even the ones that dislike it—ultimately will elect not to submit their own compliance plans for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the heads of groups representing state air and utility regulators said Sept. 29.

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