Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Small Solar’ Category

Ukiah Daily, March 9, 2010

Cool Small Wind Device

Mendocino County, along with the counties of Sonoma, Lake, Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Siskiyou will be receiving a $4.4 million grant from the California Energy Commission to initiate the proposed North Coast Energy Independence Program. The NCEIP is patterned after and represents an expansion of the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program. Implementation of the NCEIP will provide Mendocino County residents and businesses access to funding for residential and commercial energy efficiency and water conservation improvements, and stimulate the County’s economy through development of clean technology jobs.

The NCEIP will be implemented through the North Coast Integrated Regional Water Management Group, a coalition of Mendocino and six other North Coast counties. The NCIRWMG’s governance committee will serve as the principal contact with the California Energy Commission and administer the grant on behalf of the participating North Coast counties. Start-up and implementation of the NCEIP will occur within each county under direction of the respective County Board of Supervisors.

The North Coast and Sonoma County Energy Independence programs are the product of recent State legislation, Assembly Bill 811. Assembly bill 811 became law in 2008 and authorizes cities and counties to finance the installation of energy and water efficiency improvements to existing structures within a designated geographic area. Under AB 811, a city or county can loan money to property owners for the installation of permanent energy and water energy efficiency improvements, with the loan being repaid as a part of the property owner’s regular property tax payments. Repayment of the loan is tied to the property. Consequently, when the property changes ownership the loan repayment obligation automatically transfers to the new property owner.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, August 27, 2009

berkeleysolar1When Greg Hare looked into putting solar panels on his ranch-style home in Magnolia, Tex., last year, he decided he could not afford it. “I had no idea solar was so expensive,” he recalled.

But the cost of solar panels has plunged lately, changing the economics for many homeowners. Mr. Hare ended up paying $77,000 for a large solar setup that he figures might have cost him $100,000 a year ago.

“I just thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity to do the most for the least,’ ” Mr. Hare said.

For solar shoppers these days, the price is right. Panel prices have fallen about 40% since the middle of last year, driven down partly by an increase in the supply of a crucial ingredient for panels, according to analysts at the investment bank Piper Jaffray.

The price drops — coupled with recently expanded federal incentives — could shrink the time it takes solar panels to pay for themselves to 16 years, from 22 years, in places with high electricity costs, according to Glenn Harris, chief executive of SunCentric, a solar consulting group. That calculation does not include state rebates, which can sometimes improve the economics considerably.

American consumers have the rest of the world to thank for the big solar price break.

Until recently, panel makers had been constrained by limited production of polysilicon, which goes into most types of panels. But more factories making the material have opened, as have more plants churning out the panels themselves — especially in China.

“A ton of production, mostly Chinese, has come online,” said Chris Whitman, the president of U.S. Solar Finance, which helps arrange bank financing for solar projects.

At the same time, once-roaring global demand for solar panels has slowed, particularly in Europe, the largest solar market, where photovoltaic installations are forecast to fall by 26% this year compared with 2008, according to Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm. Much of that drop can be attributed to a sharp slowdown in Spain. Faced with high unemployment and an economic crisis, Spain slashed its generous subsidy for the panels last year because it was costing too much.

Many experts expect panel prices to fall further, though not by another 40%.

Manufacturers are already reeling from the price slump. For example, Evergreen Solar, which is based in Massachusetts, recently reported a second-quarter loss that was more than double its loss from a year earlier.

But some manufacturers say that cheaper panels could be a good thing in the long term, spurring enthusiasm among customers and expanding the market.

“It’s important that these costs and prices do come down,” said Mike Ahearn, the chief executive of First Solar, a panel maker based in Tempe, Ariz.

First Solar recently announced a deal to build two large solar arrays in Southern California to supply that region’s dominant utility. But across the United States, the installation of large solar systems — the type found on commercial or government buildings — has been hurt by financing problems, and is on track to be about the same this year as in 2008, according to Emerging Energy Research.

The smaller residential sector continues to grow: In California, by far the largest market in the country, residential installations in July were up by more than 50% compared with a year earlier. With prices dropping, that momentum looks poised to continue.

John Berger, chief executive of Standard Renewable Energy, the company in Houston that put panels on Mr. Hare’s home, said that his second-quarter sales rose by more than 225% from the first quarter.

“Was that as a product of declining panel prices? Almost certainly yes,” Mr. Berger said.

Expanded federal incentives have also helped spur the market. Until this year, homeowners could get a 30% tax credit for solar electric installations, but it was capped at $2,000. That cap was lifted on Jan. 1.

Mr. Hare in Texas cited the larger tax credit, which sliced about $23,000 from his $77,000 bill, as a major factor in his decision to go solar, in addition to the falling panel prices. Sensing a good deal, he even got a larger system than he had originally planned — going from 42 panels to 64. The electric bill on his 7,000-square-foot house and garage has typically run $600 to $700 a month, but he expects a reduction of 40-80%.

Mr. Berger predicts that with panel prices falling and the generous federal credit in place, utilities will start lowering rebates they offer to homeowners who put panels on their roofs.

One that has already done so is the Salt River Project, the main utility in Phoenix, which cut its homeowners’ rebate by 10% in June. Lori Singleton, the utility’s sustainability manager, said the utility had recently spent more than it budgeted for solar power, a result of a surge in demand as more solar installers moved into Arizona and government incentives kicked in.

California has been steadily bringing down its rebates. An impending 29% cut in rebates offered within the service area of Pacific Gas and Electric, the dominant utility in Northern California, means that “with the module price drop over the last few months, it is pretty much a wash,” Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, an installer in Novato, Calif., said in an e-mail message.

Even if falling rebates cancel out some of the solar panel price slump, more innovative financing strategies are also helping to make solar affordable for homeowners. This year about a dozen states — following moves by California and Colorado last year — have enacted laws enabling solar panels to be paid off gradually, through increased property taxes, after a municipality first shoulders the upfront costs.

Some installers have adopted similar approaches. Danita Hardy, a homeowner in Phoenix, had been put off by the prospect of spending $20,000 for solar panels — until she spotted a news item about a company called SunRun that takes on the upfront expense and recovers its costs gradually, in a lease deal, essentially through the savings in a homeowner’s electric bill.

“I thought well, heck, this might be doable,” said Ms. Hardy, who wound up having to lay out only $800 to get 15 solar panels for her home.

Read Full Post »

OurGreenJourney, May 20, 2009

AB-811-Sonoma-1st-InstallSonoma County has funded its first clean energy loan secured by a lien on property taxes. As we have posted before, the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program is California’s first county wide energy efficiency financing district, authorized by AB 811.

The loan of $25,500 went to homeowners and paid for a 5 kilowatt photovoltaic system, net of an $8,200 California Solar Initiative rebate, and 30% tax credit on the remaining system cost. And it’s reported that there is already $6 million worth of applications for more loans from the programs.

During the Urban Land Institute’s Developing Green Conference last week, the participants talked seriously about the critical milestones that would affect the success of this funding mechanism:

The additional property tax liens created by these loans might disturb some commercial real estate lenders who might see them as a threat to the priority of their loan.

Several folks felt that lenders might become more relaxed about this when they compared the actual loan size to their own mortgage loans (very small), as well as the fact that the loan might accomplish energy efficiency retrofits which upgrade the property – and possibly even its cash flow and value. Note that Sonoma County’s program tells commercial property owners to get the approval of their lenders before applying for their loans.

We’re all still waiting to see that the bond markets will buy paper based on these types of loans, their terms, pricing and conditions. That acceptance is needed to bring increased secondary market liquidity to these funding mechanisms. Without it, these size programs will remain too limited to have much environmental impact and potentially just wither on the vine.

Homebuilders and homeowners should think for a second –> what does it mean for home prices in those areas where homeowners have direct access to easy credit for clean energy systems, energy efficiency retrofits, not to mention some pretty good rebates and tax credits?

Do you think that easy access to this type of green financing (and the benefits of the retrofits that it enables) makes it harder for other property owners to sell their unretrofitted properties at market rates? Will more homebuilders have to build green homes to compete?

Yes, AB 811’s gonna keep things interesting — and good — for a while.

Read Full Post »

MendoCoastCurrent, April 26, 2009

berkeleysolar1The California Energy Commission is conducting a workshop on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 in Sacramento, to discuss the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provisions related to funding for energy projects.

The workshop will focus on Assembly Bill 811 (Levine, Chapter 159, Statutes of 2008) that finances the installation of energy efficiency improvements, distributed generation and renewable energy sources through contractual assessments to determine if and how ARRA money can advance these programs in local jurisdictions.

This workshop is intended to inform and discuss with the public and various stakeholders the types of projects that may be funded, eligible recipients of funds and application processes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
California Energy Commission
1516 Ninth Street
First Floor, Hearing Room A
Sacramento, California

Remote Attendance
Webcast – Presentations and audio from this meeting will be broadcast over the Internet through Windows Media. For details, please go to [www.energy.ca.gov/webcast/].

Webcast participants will be able to submit questions on areas of interest during the meeting to be addressed by workshop participants via e-mail at [AB811@energy.state.ca.us].

Purpose
Energy Commission staff are exploring the efficacy of supporting AB 811 type programs with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. These would promote the installation of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources or energy efficiency improvements that are permanently fixed to real property and are financed through the use of contractual assessments. Included in this discussion will be the costs and benefits of financing such a program, local and state barriers that may exist to implementing AB 811 related programs, and exploring other financing mechanisms that could be quickly implemented to achieve similar energy efficiency project installation and financing as described in AB 811.

Note that the following criteria for project priorities and expending ARRA funds will be taken into consideration when discussing AB 811 and/or other funding:

  1. Effectiveness in stimulating and creating or retaining green jobs in California;
  2. Achieve lasting and measureable energy benefits consistent with the “Loading Order” priority of energy efficiency systems;
  3. Expend money efficiently, with accountability and minimal administrative burden;
  4. Contribute to meeting California’s energy policy goals as defined by the Energy Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy Report, California Air Resources Board’s AB 32 Scoping Plan as well as other relevant energy policy documents; and
  5. Leverage other federal, state, local and private financing to sustain the economy.

Background
ARRA of 2009 will provide nationally $787 billion in economic investment. The goals of ARRA are to jump start the economy and create jobs for Americans.

The Energy Commission is expected to administer three programs that include: the State Energy Program for approximately $226 million; the Energy Efficiency and Conservation and Block Grant Program for approximately $49.6 million; and the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program estimated at approximately $30 million.

In addition, there is more than $37 billion available nationwide that the United States Department of Energy (DOE) will administer through competitive grants and other financing for energy- and climate change-related programs. The Energy Commission will work with other state agencies, utilities, and other public and private entities to identify ways to leverage these funds for California projects.

Read Full Post »

KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, February 4, 2009

imagesWind and solar energy have been growing at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate under the green-minded Obama administration. But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: installation of wind and solar power is plummeting.

Factories building parts for these industries have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 – 50% declines this year in installation of new equipment, barring more help from the government.

Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.

“I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry,” said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, N.D., where DMI Industries of Fargo operates a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20% of its work force because of falling sales.

Much of the problem stems from the credit crisis that has left Wall Street banks reeling. Once, as many as 18 big banks and financial institutions were willing to help finance installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, taking advantage of generous federal tax incentives. But with the banks in so much trouble, that number has dropped to four, according to Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

Wind and solar developers have been left starved for capital. “It’s absolutely frozen,” said Craig Mataczynski, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, a wind developer. He projected his company would build just under half as much this year as it did last year.

The two industries are hopeful that President Obama’s economic stimulus package will help. But it will take time, and in the interim they are making plans for a dry spell.

Solar energy companies like OptiSolar, Ausra, Heliovolt and Sun Power, once darlings of investors, have all had to lay off workers. So have a handful of companies that make wind turbine blades or towers in the Midwest, including Clipper Windpower, LM Glasfiber and DMI.

Some big wind developers, like NextEra Energy Resources and even the Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a promoter of wind power, have cut back or delayed their wind farm plans.

Renewable energy sources like biomass, which involves making electricity from wood chips, and geothermal, which harnesses underground heat for power, have also been slowed by the financial crisis, but the effects have been more pronounced on once fast-growing wind and solar.

Because of their need for space to accommodate giant wind turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project’s costs. For example, JPMorgan Chase, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the firm’s managing director for energy investments.

In the solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25% in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10% by midsummer. (For homeowners, however, the savings will not be as substantial, partly because panels account for only about 60% of total installation costs.)

After years when installers had to badger manufacturers to ensure they would receive enough panels, the situation has reversed. Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, said that manufacturers were now calling to say, “Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?”

The turnaround reflects reduced demand for solar panels, and also an increase in supply of panels and of polysilicon, a crucial material in many panels.

On the wind side, turbines that once had to be ordered far in advance are suddenly becoming available.

“At least one vendor has said that they have equipment for delivery in 2009, where nine months ago they wouldn’t have been able to take new orders until 2011,” Mr. Mataczynski of Renewable Energy wrote in an e-mail message. As he has scaled back his company’s plans, he has been forced to cancel some orders for wind turbines, forfeiting the deposit.

Banks have invested in renewable energy, lured by the tax credits. But with banks tightly controlling their money and profits, the main task for the companies is to find new sources of investment capital.

Wind and solar companies have urged Congress to adopt measures that could help revive the market. But even if a favorable stimulus bill passes, nobody is predicting a swift recovery.

“Nothing Congress does in the stimulus bill can put the market back where it was in 2007 and 2008, before it was broken,” said Mr. Martin, the tax lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke. “But it can help at the margins.”

The solar and wind tax credits are structured slightly differently, but the House version of the stimulus bill would help both industries by providing more immediate tax incentives, alleviating some of their dependency on banks.

Both House and Senate would also extend an important tax credit for wind energy, called the production tax credit, for three years; previously the industry had complained of boom-and-bust cycles with the credit having to be renewed nearly every year.

Over the long term, with Mr. Obama focused on a concerted push toward greener energy, the industry remains optimistic.

“You drive across the countryside and there’s more and more wind farms going up,” said Mr. Mattern of West Fargo. “I still have big hopes.”

Read Full Post »

MARIA DICKERSON, the Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2008

7nov07_solarAt a time when many investors are sticking money in their mattresses, Californians are putting it on their roofs.

Applications for state rebates to install solar panels hit their highest level ever in December, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy economy.

Residents filed a record 1,215 applications seeking solar subsidies this month, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. That’s the best showing in the program’s 24-month history, and December isn’t even finished. More than 18,000 California homeowners and businesses have applied for rebates over the last two years. Although not everyone who files this paperwork actually ends up installing solar, the figures are viewed as a reliable barometer of future demand.

A record 133 megawatts of solar photovoltaics have been installed in California so far this year, even as the state’s economy has stumbled.

Michelle Gerdes of Long Beach just lost her job as a designer for a dinnerware manufacturer. Her husband, Steve, works for an air-conditioning company whose business is slowing. But that didn’t stop the couple from buying $32,000 worth of photovoltaic panels that went up on their roof this month. The state rebate and a federal tax credit will reduce their out-of-pocket costs to about $17,000 — a substantial saving but still a big chunk of change. “We decided to just go for it,” said Michelle Gerdes, 44. “It’s the right thing to do for the environment . . . and it will definitely increase the value of our house.”

Coming in the midst of a deep recession, continued strong demand for solar has thrilled — and puzzled — officials who oversee the California Solar Initiative, which seeks to put panels on 1 million roofs in California within a decade. Consumers nationwide are in a serious spending funk. Even with California’s generous incentives, photovoltaic systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

New federal tax breaks have persuaded some homeowners to take the plunge, said Molly Sterkel, who manages rooftop solar efforts for the utilities commission.

Others are being enticed by new financing models pioneered in California that allow them to go solar for little or no money down. Add rising electricity rates in many parts of the state and turmoil in the financial markets, and some consumers are concluding that sunshine is their safest investment.

California is by far the nation’s leader in rooftop solar, with well over half the installed capacity.

“In an economic downturn, people are looking for ways to save money on things that they are going to do anyway,” said Nat Kreamer, founder of SunRun Inc., a San Francisco residential solar energy company. “Electricity is one of those fundamentals.”

Launched in January 2007, the California Solar Initiative is an attempt to push photovoltaics on a mass scale in California to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and shore up the state’s energy supply.

The goal is 3,000 megawatts installed by 2018, enough to displace five good-sized power plants.

Funded by utility ratepayers across the state, the $3-billion program offers rebates to Californians who install panels on their homes and businesses. Incentives vary. But refunds typically range from 20% to 50% of a system’s cost.

The incentives are structured to decline over time as demand grows, meaning Californians who act sooner will get the biggest refunds.

Rooftop solar will get even more attractive in January. Congress recently expanded federal investment tax credits for residential solar arrays. Starting next year, homeowners will be eligible for tax breaks of up to 30% of the entire cost of their projects. Those benefits had previously been capped at $2,000 per system.

“That has really spurred the market,” said Lyndon Rive, chief executive of SolarCity, a Foster City, Calif.-based solar installer. “Our cash sales have increased dramatically.”

For consumers who still can’t afford to purchase, SolarCity has a residential leasing option. It lets them put solar on their roofs without the hefty upfront costs. Customers cut their power bills while the rebates and tax credits flow to SolarCity, which maintains ownership of the panels.

The deal has proved so popular that it has turned SolarCity into the state’s largest installer of residential rooftop photovoltaics.

Kreamer’s SunRun offers a similar program known as a power purchase agreement. His company installs, maintains and owns the systems. Homeowners sign a long-term contract with SunRun for solar energy that’s priced below what they pay for conventional power.

Californians pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Rates in many parts of the state are rising.

The Gerdeses’ utility, Southern California Edison, is asking state regulators to allow it to collect more than $700 million extra from its ratepayers next year.

It won’t be coming from the Gerdeses. With solar panels now snug on their roof, the couple needn’t worry about rising electricity bills as the recession deepens.

“We can think about turning the hot tub back on now,” Michelle Gerdes said.

Read Full Post »

Redwood Times, December 17, 2008

cudrefin_switzerlandashxCalifornia State Senator Patricia Wiggins has introduced new legislation to encourage more production of solar power by compensating smaller producers for all of the solar power that they generate.

Currently, residential electric customers can participate in the state’s solar program, known as the California Solar Initiative, and receive subsidies for the installation of photovoltaic panels to produce solar power. They may also participate in “net-energy metering,” a program that gives customers credits for the amount of solar power they produce against their electric bills. However, power produced beyond their own use is returned to their electric provider for free.

SB 7 would not only allow residential utility customers to continue to receive credits for the solar power they produce for their own use, it would also allow them to contribute more solar-based power to the electrical grid and be compensated for it at the same rate a utility provider would pay.

The state already has legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by getting 33% of its power from renewable sources.

SB7 “offers a fair and reasonable path to increased production of solar power, and it contributes a win-win for solar power producers, utility providers and our environment,” Wiggins said.

Read Full Post »