Debate continues to simmer in California as to what position group solar initiatives will play as a part of the state’s new constructing codes that require solar installations on all new homes, which went into effect in the beginning of this yr.

Sacramento is floor zero for the stress, as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) works to steer regulators on the California Energy Commission to approve a program known as SolarShares that it considers to be a type of group solar. But the solar business has pushed again on the SolarShares program, arguing that it might set a poor precedent for the state’s largely undeveloped group solar market.

In January, SMUD submitted a new proposal that comes with among the modifications the solar business known as for: Rather than relying on utility-scale sources, together with one project positioned distant in Fresno County, SMUD will solely draw electrical energy from initiatives in its service territory; initiatives for this system will are available in underneath 20 megawatts; the utility will double the financial savings accessible to subscribers, from $5 per kilowatt every year in its authentic proposal to $10 per kilowatt per yr; and SMUD will add new sources fairly than relying on present initiatives.

The fee plans to take up the brand new proposal at a February 20 assembly. Commission employees have advisable its approval. SMUD’s modifications have additionally gotten some solar and environmental allies on board, together with the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA).

“SMUD addressed a lot of the concerns that we raised,” mentioned Charlie Coggeshall, CCSA’s coverage lead in California and Oregon. “We’re not calling it the gold standard, but at the same time I think it’s hard for us to push back any further just based on the [number] of concessions they made.”

That feeling will not be common inside the solar business, nevertheless. Tensions between SMUD and components of the solar business had been clear at a latest occasion hosted by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

“So much animosity”

Onstage on the occasion, Wade Hughes, supervisor of SMUD’s green energy and carbon offset program, claimed that “there’s a lot of debate around what…’community solar’ actually means.” But Rick Umoff, SEIA’s California director, challenged that assertion, noting {that a} definition has coalesced round “key attributes” such as distribution-level advantages and additionality — qualities the unique SMUD proposal lacked.

“We’re a little concerned that, at least here in California, there has been sort of a blurring of the lines” about what constitutes group solar, Umoff mentioned onstage on the occasion. After a tense change over renewable energy credit, through which Julia Zuckerman, head of exterior affairs for the West at developer Clearway Energy, additionally recommended SMUD’s program didn’t meet among the fundamentals of group solar, the session ended with Hughes lamenting the squabbles over SolarShares.

“It’s a shame that there’s been so much animosity,” mentioned Hughes. “It’s a shame that there’s been of late a lack of cooperation [and] a lack of collaboration, and the people we have thought of as our strongest allies somehow find it within themselves to be on the other side.”

Builders in California argue that homebuyers want an alternative choice except for paying for a residential solar system upfront. But the solar business worries that the approval of a less-than-ideal program may undercut California’s complete group solar market earlier than it even has an opportunity to take off. 

California’s group solar market on the road?

The battle over SMUD’s program — which might solely apply to the utility’s 1.5 million prospects in a state the place the three largest investor-owned utilities serve almost 12 million ratepayers* — displays broader considerations about the way forward for California’s group solar market and what position it’ll play within the state’s formidable climate and clear energy targets. If SMUD’s program is in the end accepted by regulators, related alternate options are more likely to pop up in different components of the state.

Though California simply ranks atop all states for each distributed and large-scale solar, group solar markets in states such as Minnesota and Massachusetts — with 722 and 328 megawatts in place, respectively — dwarf California’s 144.4 megawatts of installations.

Several solar advocates, together with Vote Solar and the Solar Rights Alliance, known as for extra in depth modifications from SMUD in feedback submitted to the fee final month.

Specifically, Vote Solar needs SMUD to extra straight have interaction with deprived group teams in its service territory to assist make choices about solar initiatives. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, mentioned the credit related to this system are “still woefully low” and will not be commensurate with the total advantages supplied by rooftop solar. 

Coggeshall at CCSA mentioned in a really perfect world, his group want to see additional tweaks to SolarShares however noticed that extra modifications are unlikely. “I don’t think the CEC will have the appetite for that,” he mentioned.

The course of to approve this system has already prolonged past the date when the mandate went into impact, leaving homebuilders with out another compliance mechanism for now (although many pulled permits earlier than the yr started, thus extending their timeline).

Numerous homebuilders and builder organizations have lined up in assist of the revised program, together with different municipal utilities, the Northern California Power Agency, the American Institute of Architects (California Council) and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Correction: This determine has been corrected.

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