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US Solar 2013 Halftime Update: Victories and Ongoing Initiatives

2013 is nearly halfway through, so we'd like to share an update of Vote Solar initiatives and notable industry happenings from net metering to innovative financing.

New State Solar Programs

New York is our biggest market-building campaign in the East. Last month the Senate unanimously passed legislation to extend the successful NY-Sun program for 10 years and build 2.2 GW of local solar — on to the Assembly! Between the Senate vote and the Governor introducing similar legislation of his own on Earth Day, there’s serious momentum for major solar policy coming out of New York this session.

Minnesota, where the men are good looking, the women are strong, and the House just passed a bill to require 4 percent solar in the state.  The Senate’s version requires 1 percent solar; now on to conference committee — here’s hoping they are above average.  Congrats to the great group of local advocates for this strong work.

Florida: Good news — the Sunshine State will no longer be taxing the sun. Florida just passed a bill exempting property taxes for residential PV systems.  This means that when homeowners make solar and other renewable energy investments to bring their utility bills down, their property taxes won’t go up.

Shared Solar

We are putting a lot of effort into expanding opportunities to participate in the solar economy. Shared renewables arrangements do that by making solar accessible to renters and others who don’t own suitable roofs. Exciting stuff.

In California, we are working on two big shared renewables bills — SB 43 and AB 1014.  Both made it through their first policy committees and are headed for floor votes by the end of this month. We think both are good options for connecting more Californians with the clean energy they want by allowing them to participate in off-site systems. We’d like to be sure the resulting program will also prompt clean energy developers to be innovative and allow customers to choose to invest in a specific clean energy project. The utilities are jumping on board with proposed programs of their own, creating more momentum for shared solar in Sacramento — stay tuned for next steps.

California’s not the only state eyeing exciting new shared solar programs. You can track policy progress around the country here.

Grid Integration

Success begets success…and sometimes, a new set of problems.  In places that have successfully built lots of renewable energy generation, integration challenges are being cited as a barrier to continued progress.  Clearly, running a grid at with a lot of variable resources (like the sun and wind) will require operational and physical changes.  Our goal is to make sure that’s done in a way that maximizes the carbon reductions and minimizes the costs.  One path is through coordinated regional grid operation (including use of regional “energy imbalance markets”). And another is through effectively using all the available tools, including rooftop solar, energy efficiency, demand response, and storage.  See our update here.

Financing

Add Arkansas and Utah to the list of states that have passed enabling legislation for commercial PACE programs.  And, fingers crossed, Texas may soon join as well — the House just passed legislation, and the matter goes on to the Senate.  Go, Texas.

In the meantime, the status of residential PACE programs is still in play.  Read about our efforts with FHFA here.

And, if you missed it, some great news out of Iowa.  After a long legal battle, Iowa became the 23rd state to allow third party solar purchases.

Net Metering and Rate Design

In the face of increasing customer adoption of solar, utilities across the country are working to put the brakes on continued growth — primarily by undermining successful net metering programs. A major priority for us is combating these utility efforts and ensuring that solar customers continue to get fair value for the clean, reliable solar power they deliver to the grid for others to use.

In California, there are two processes currently underway.  The first is a cost/benefit analysis of net metering.  We commissioned a study from Crossborder Energy that shows that at the current cap on net metering (about 5 GW of customer-owned solar generation), net-metered solar systems would provide an annual net benefit to utility ratepayers of over $90 million a year. It’s been widely cited, most recently by the Wall Street Journal, in the context of victory in Louisiana. We are now waiting for the CPUC to release their study.

California has also started a docket on residential rate design — proposals are due in early June, and that’s when it gets real. We’ll get insight into what utilities think the future of solar should look like.

In Arizona, we are intervening on the Tucson Electric Power rate case to try and ensure that solar owners get fair value for their solar generation. The settlement should be announced soon.  And in Arizona Public Service territory, we are participating in a utility-initiated workgroup that’s looking at the value of distributed generation. The problem is that APS has severely undervalued rooftop solar from its customers. We’re fighting back hard.

We are helping local advocates with similar net metering efforts around the country. Check out recent victories in Louisiana and Texas. We’re working to help get a win in Idaho too.

Wholesale Distributed Generation

Lots of good news here, with Los Angeles Department of Water and Power implementing a 100-MW Feed-in Tariff, and the Long Island Power Authority looking to expand its program as well.  The first projects from California’s Renewable Auction Mechanism are now coming online — some of the world’s cheapest solar.  The 1-GW program has now been expanded to 1.3 GW, with the 5th auction planned this summer.  Try it at home!  Here’s our guide to replicating this model.

This article was originally published on VoteSolar.org and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Time for update via Shutterstock

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