Net Metering Solar Credit System Under Debate in California
In a number of states, to varying degrees, the local utility is required to buy excess power generated by solar panels on homes and businesses. The system, known as net metering, is a good deal for those with renewable energy systems, but it costs utilities customers, and, the utilities say, to help support the costs of maintaining the power grid, as solar customers pay the utilities less, the utilities need to increase rates for those left on the traditional system.
Net metering is available to customers with RE systems in more than 40 states. It is so popular that several states are approaching regulatory limits on how many systems are eligible. The growing solar industry, of course, wants to raise those limits; the utilities are often opposed.
Utilities and RE advocates and developers across the country are also debating how much financial incentive to provide to solar, and to a lesser extent, other technologies. Regulators in California recently decided to double the amount of solar power capacity eligible for net metering. Massachusetts has created separate caps for the public and private sectors. Other states are currently reviewing their programs and some have begun to impose fees as customers generate and sell more power.
Colorado Tightens Rooftop Solar Energy Incentives
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has approved a new program for Xcel Energy that eliminates upfront cash incentives for solar panels that provide thousands of dollars to homeowners. The commissioners also capped the number of solar installations that would be eligible for subsidies. The action was taken, in part, to address a $32 million deficit in the fund that finances the solar rewards program.
The plan will provide total financial subsidies for up to 36 megawatts a year for commercial and residential installations for 2012 and 2013. Six of the megawatts will be dedicated to “solar gardens,” community-based installations that serve multiple homes.
In the present plan, the upfront subsidy is $1 a watt and payment of 9 cents for each kilowatt that a solar installation generates. In 2011, 38 megawatts were added. For a Colorado home, about 5.5 kilowatts is the average solar installation and about $5,500 is the average upfront incentive.
The new plan, which went into effect last month, provides a subsidy on a sliding scale for kilowatts generated, without the upfront payment. The first residential units approved this year will receive a 15-cent per kilowatt payment. The payment for new systems will decline to 11 cents by the end of 2013.
It remains to be seen if the new plan will dissuade customers from buying solar systems without upfront subsidies.
Solar pump critical in Ruidoso firefighting effort
A solar photovoltaic system kept water pumping for volunteer firefighters in Ruidoso as they attacked the Little Bear Fire last month, after all other electrical power in the area was lost, state officials report.
“This is a great demonstration of how solar energy can benefit rural communities in an emergency,” said Louise Martinez, division director for the state’s Energy Conservation and Management Division. “Solar energy also provides great energy electric utility savings,” she said.
In the spring, the Sun Valley Water and Sanitation District in Alto, NM, installed an 11-kilowatt grid-interconnected single-axis pole-mounted solar system with $75,000 in state funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The PV system, the first installed by a rural water cooperative in New Mexico (if not the nation), was designed to power the community water system in hilly territory in the Lincoln National Forest, five miles north of Ruidoso.
Five NM Projects Funded to Boost Renewable Energy Production, Reduce Energy Consumption
The USDA has selected five New Mexico projects for funding through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which is authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill. The funding is intended to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy consumption and costs; use renewable energy (RE) technologies in their operation; and/or conduct feasibility studies for RE projects.
“Stable energy costs create an environment for sustainable job growth in rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner said, “These REAP grants are vital to keep these businesses improve their bottom line by saving money by using less energy.”
The five projects selected for funding are:
· Cornucopia Enterprises, LLC of Fort Worth, TX will receive $10,000 to assess the feasibility of using solar photovoltaic and wind turbines in conjunction with passive solar, algae, etc. for greenhouses and a fish pond at its manufacturing facility in Rociada, NM.
· Custom Steelworks, LLC, of Silver City, NM. $9,633 will fund the purchase and installation of an 8.82 grid-tied photovoltaic system to defray electricity use from the grid for a metalwork facility.
· Ritter Investments, LLC in Roswell, NM is receiving $20,000 to provide new and more efficient HVAC units for an office building.
· Sitterly, Inc. of Clovis, NM is receiving $20,000 to provide more efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems and insulation for an office building.
· TRU, LLC of Belen, NM is receiving $4,055 to replace lighting and make improvements to refrigeration units for a restaurant/gas station/convenience store.
California Voters to Decide on GMO Labeling
Polls show overwhelming support for historic labeling initiative
The Right to Know initiative to label genetically engineered foods will be on California’s November ballot. The initiative would be the first law in the United States requiring labeling of a wide range of genetically engineered foods. “This initiative is pretty simple,” said Stacy Malkan, a spokesperson for the California campaign. “It’s about our fundamental right to make informed choices about the food we eat and feed our families.”
The initiative requires labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – plants or meats that have had their DNA artificially altered by genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria. This type of genetic alteration occurs in a laboratory and is not found in nature.
Polls have shown nearly unanimous support across the political spectrum in the US for labeling of genetically engineered foods. The California Right to Know initiative is backed by a broad array of consumer, health and environmental groups, businesses and farmers.
Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms in the Sacramento Valley, noted that the US is one of the few developed nations that does not provide consumers with simple labels to inform them if their food has been genetically engineered. “More than 40 other countries – including all of Europe, Japan and even China – already label genetically engineered food,” Lundberg said.
The California initiative is widely regarded as the best chance to achieve GMO labeling in the US. The campaign has generated significant national interest in the growing movement for transparency in our food system, as reported in a recent front-page New York Times story.
In March, more than one million people submitted comments to the US Food and Drug Administration on a petition for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, more than any other petition in FDA history. Twenty states have tried to legislate GMO labeling, but none have succeeded due to intense opposition from corporate special interests.
For more information on California’s Right to Know campaign, visit www.CARighttoKnow.org.
Appeals Court Backs EPA on Emissions Rules
Last month a federal appeals court for the District of Columbia dismissed arguments from industry that the science of global warming was not well supported, and upheld an Environmental Protection Agency finding that greenhouse gasses from industry and vehicles endanger public health.
The judicial panel declared that the agency was “unambiguously correct” that the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to impose limits once it has determined that emissions are causing harm. The court also upheld related rules setting limits on emissions from cars and from stationary sources.
Fourteen states, including Texas and Virginia, joined with the coal, gas and oil industries to try to block the rules and deny the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution. Fifteen states, including California and New York, have supported the EPA in related court cases. One of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s goals, according to his website, is to amend the Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from the EPA’s purview.
Schott Solar to Close Albuquerque Plant
Schott Solar will cease manufacturing operations in Albuquerque by the end of the summer. More than 200 jobs were terminated at the end of June. The company will continue operating in the US, but not in New Mexico.
The State of New Mexico invested millions of dollars of Local Economic Development Act funds in Schott as an incentive for the company to locate in New Mexico. The State will not be able to recoup any of those funds, but the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County will get money back.
Schott poured $125 million of its own money into Albuquerque facilities and equipment. Last month, the company proudly announced its involvement of the successful installation of 1,750 of its solar panels at the Albuquerque International Sunport. The project is projected to save the city of Albuquerque about $30,000 in energy costs annually.
The company opened its 200,000-square-foot factory in 2009 at the Mesa del Sol planned community, where it made photovoltaic and concentrating solar power modules. Schott shut down one of its two concentrating solar production lines two years ago because of depressed demand on the US market, plummeting prices and intense competition from Chinese manufacturers.