Tag Archives: Net Metering

JuiceBox Energy deal may be solar-saver

If innovation truly is the mother of invention, a deal between a Silicon Valley energy storage firm and a Las Vegas solar installer may be just what Nevada’s solar industry needs.

In January, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) redefined the residential rooftop solar industry with its revision of net energy metering regulations. The decision has resulted in the loss of perhaps thousands of solar industry installation jobs, launched several lawsuits and spawned a bid for a ballot measure.

So when opportunity knocked, JuiceBox Energy, a Silicon Valley-based company with offices in Las Vegas, opened the door to what utility companies such as NV Energy might consider a Pandora’s Box.

Teaming with Las Vegas-based Bombard Renewable Energy, one of the leading installers of residential solar in Las Vegas, JuiceBox is providing a battery system that is capable of both peak shifting and power backup.

Because of the PUCN decision to reduce the amount of compensation that rooftop solar customers will receive from selling excess solar energy to the grid, rooftop solar investors may not see a return on that investment within their lifetime.

However, with the introduction of the JuiceBox Energy storage system, the energy generated by rooftop solar systems can effectively offset the peak energy charges imposed by NV Energy, changing the math of rooftop solar systems.

The JuiceBox system works by capturing and storing the energy generated by a rooftop solar system and then dispensing that stored energy during “peak energy” rate hours as defined by NV Energy.

“While no system is designed to take a household entirely off the grid,” said Greg Maguire, vice president of operations for JuiceBox, “we can significantly reduce the amount of money paid to energy utilities by reducing the amount of energy consumed during peak energy rate hours.”

With the JuiceBox system, the house draws power from the solar system first, the JuiceBox batteries second, and the utility grid third. In this way, nearly 100 percent of the power generated by the rooftop solar system is used by the homeowner. In a rooftop system without battery storage, much of the energy is generated during the daytime hours when residents are at work or school and unable to use the power. The excess power is then sent to the power grid where the utility purchases it at a significantly discounted rate.

JuiceBox allows the homeowner to use the power generated by the rooftop solar system to operate normal appliances and air conditioning system, and send the excess energy to a battery storage system, during the hours when NV Energy charges the most for its power. In the evening, when the batteries are drained, the household uses power from the grid when the rates are the least expensive.

Bombard Renewable Energy completed its first installation of the JuiceBox Energy storage solution in January at a Las Vegas home. The installation includes dual 8.6kWh JuiceBox Energy storage systems (17.2kWh total capacity) and an 11kW solar array. It is predicted that the annual energy savings provided by this system will be around $16,000 per year. For every 6kW of solar system installed on the roof, there is one inverter and the capability to install up to two 8.6 kW JuiceBox storage systems. JuiceBox batteries are composed of lithium-ion nickel manganese cobalt and deliver a minimum of 4,000 charging and discharging cycles over 10 years of operation and average about $10,500 installed after federal rebates.

“Residential solar is here to stay in Nevada,” said Bo Balzar, operations manager of Bombard Renewable Energy. “Bombard is excited to be the first solar installer in the state to join JuiceBox Energy on its intelligent, grid-connected energy storage system. This type of net energy metered solar PV power system will allow ratepayers to contribute to the sustainable energy future of Nevada by increasing their use of renewable energy, and lowering their costs, for many years to come.”

JuiceBox started the research and development on the product in 2013 and installed its first system in 2015. To date, the company has installed the systems in seven states, predominantly where energy rates are high, the need for backup power exists, where there is a focus on green energy, and where time of use rates are applied. Nevada fits each of those categories.

The next project on the books for JuiceBox is an energy management system that controls the thermostats and water heaters the way the customer wants the system to work, with the slogan “We put the customer in charge.”

According to Maguire, “By investing in a JuiceBox Energy System, you are increasing your self-consumption, reducing reliance on the grid, creating a backup power, and powering a greener future.”

 

– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/technology/juicebox-energy-deal-may-be-solar-saver#sthash.L51Uv2Kn.dpuf


Power play in full swing

The issue of rooftop solar is not likely to be settled soon.

But the battle lines have been drawn pitting star power and protestors vs. legislative mandate, Las Vegas vs. Nevada, the public perception of Nevada as a solar leader vs. reality.

On the morning of Jan. 13, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada held a hearing, solar advocate voices got louder, threats grew stronger, and the commission started preparations for an impending court battle.

Both sides have declared “game on.” And where that leads is anybody’s guess.

At stake for the residents with rooftop solar is a new rate that reduces the amount NV Energy pays for excess electricity that is supplied to the grid, in addition to a fee for hooking up to the grid.

The plan is designed to be implemented in steps over a four-year period. Net Energy Metering customers would see their service charge for connecting to the grid increase from the current $12.75 per month to a rate of $38.51 by Jan. 1, 2020. Meanwhile, the amount that they receive in credits for supplying energy to the grid will decrease from the 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 2.6 cents per by Jan. 1, 2020.

Because of the initial investment cost for solar panels, along with the reduced earning and increased connection fees, most agree that residents with solar panels will be paying more for electricity than residents without solar. NV Energy will be receiving energy to its grid without paying the cost of generating and, largely, transmitting because most energy generated by residential solar customers is distributed within the neighborhood.

That morning nearly 1,000 protesters stood outside the PUCN building in Las Vegas holding handmade signs and chanting slogans against NV Energy and Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The chants were led by high profile notables such as Debbie Dooley, a preacher’s daughter from Louisiana, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, member of the board of directors of the national Tea Party Patriots, and, since 2012, a fierce solar-power advocate.

She, along with actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo, most recently known for his portrayal of Dr. Bruce Banner in “The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron,” took turns speaking through a bullhorn delivering sound bite after sound bite.

“Tell your governor that he’s wrong — that the Public Utilities Commission is for the public, not the utility,” said Ruffalo. “Sandoval and the Public Utilities Commission is the anti-Robin Hood.” Ruffalo continued, saying “today is just the beginning. If the Public Utility Commission doesn’t come through and do the right thing for the people of Nevada — then it’s GAME ON!”

Within hours, the commission would accept that challenge.

Inside the chambers, it was standing-room only during the public comment period as speakers poured their hearts out for their allotted three minutes, pleading for the commission to reverse their December ruling that instituted a new rate structure and monthly connection fee.

During the seven hours of public comment, commissioners Paul Thomsen and David Noble in Carson City, and Commissioner Alaina Burtenshaw in Las Vegas, sat stoically while being accused of everything from taking bribes to collusion to not even knowing how solar energy works.

Meet the commissioners
The commission is made up of three members, each appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Commissioner Paul A. Thomsen became chairman on Oct. 1. Previously, he served as Sandoval’s appointee as the director of the Governor’s Office of Energy. He was selected for that position in September 2013.
Commissioner Alaina Burtenshaw, a lawyer, was appointed to the commission by Gov. Jim Gibbons on Jan. 18, 2010, and was re-appointed by Sandoval in June 2013. She served as chair of the PUCN from February 2011 to September 2015. Burtenshaw’s career with the PUCN began in 1992, first as assistant staff counsel and later staff counsel, with the Regulatory Operations arm of the PUCN.
Commissioner David Noble, also a lawyer, was appointed by Sandoval in August 2011 and reappointed in October 2012. He has been with the commission since 1997, working as an administrative attorney, assistant staff counsel, assistant general counsel, and hearings officer. Noble was also a commission liaison to the Nevada Legislature on various utility and administrative matters over six regular legislative sessions from 2001 to 2011.

After all the members of the public who asked to speak had their turn, the chairman declared the public comment period closed and moved onto to the next items on the agenda.

Three of the items involved the request for reconsideration of the exit fees being assessed to the Las Vegas Sands Corp. (owner of The Venetian, Palazzo, Sands Convention Center and this publication), Wynn Resorts, and MGM Resorts. The resorts want to leave Nevada Power and choose another provider. The request was denied in each of the three cases. A second request by each of the three entities to consider a different energy provider — yet to be named — was approved.

Then came the residential solar agenda item. The item itself, and the only thing that the commission was allowed to vote on during this meeting, was a “petition for a stay” of the December ruling until a petition for reconsideration could be heard.

That petition has been filed by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, Bureau of Consumer Protection, along with the Alliance for Solar, Vote Solar, and the Solar Energy Industry Association. The petition for reconsideration will be heard during a meeting in February.

Before taking a vote on the petition for a stay, the chairman, as is procedure, made a few corrections to the draft order, then asked if there were any comments or questions by each of the Commission members. Commissioners Noble and Burtenshaw replied that they did not.

However, Thomsen said “I feel greatly for the employees that lost their jobs. Receiving that news from all of us over the holidays was heavy on all of our hearts, and we heard today, and we have the distinct decision of balancing the rates for 2.8 million people who live in this state.”

Thomsen then acknowledged Commissioner Noble “for the incredible work” that he did in preparing the order.

Thomsen pointed out that Net Energy Metering first passed in 1997 and that the commission and the “highly qualified individuals that work here have been working with NEM since that time.”

“So I take offense, and I’ll take notice to all of the comments about how we don’t know what we’re doing, we didn’t do our homework. This commission has been working tirelessly not to penalize anyone or to favor one technology over the other, but to create a path forward for rooftop solar in this state that treats all rate payers fairly.”

Acknowledging that Ruffalo’s comments were exciting, Thomsen added that it “doesn’t make me uncomfortable to try to protect 98 percent of the residents in this state who don’t have net metering on their roofs.”

Thomsen then took this opportunity to ask Commissioner Noble a list of prepared questions. One of the important questions was about the contracts entered into by the residents for the sale of excess energy. The answer is, for those who lease their equipment, their contract is with the solar company. However, for those who purchased their system, the entered into an “agreement” with NV Energy whereby the language in those agreements state that it is subject to a legislative as well as a regulatory change.

Upon hearing that explanation, Thomsen took the opportunity to interject his observation that on June 5, the Nevada Legislature passed SB374, requiring the PUCN to develop an alternative to Net Energy Metering. Prior to that date, there were just 6,000 customers in the program. Currently there are more than 17,000 customers, which means that 11,000 were signed after the governor signed SB374.

“For the life of me, I don’t know why rooftop solar companies didn’t at least let their customers know that this proceeding was going on,” said Thomsen “I am flabbergasted; I don’t know why people would do that knowing that there was a decision coming down.”

What was interesting about the Q & A between Thomsen and Noble, is that the answers prepared by Noble were clearly designed to be read into public record in reply to the allocations made by the public during the public comment period, and to establish the basis by which their December decision had been made. Noble answered each question in detail, at times explaining technical terms for members of the pubic.

In the end, the petition for a stay was denied by the commission and the new rates remain in effect as of Jan. 1. And, while it was not stated out loud, the commission lead by Thomsen answered Ruffalo with its own implied version of “GAME ON.”

Meanwhile, on Jan. 19, Steve Ross, the City of Las Vegas’ mayor pro tem, jumped into the fray stating that “Their [the PUCN] decision is a poor decision… and we need to do something different in the city and we’re going to do that.” His statement came on the heels of his proposal that the city form an independent committee of energy experts to advise the city in the development of a comprehensive energy strategy.

Part of Ross’s plan is the sponsoring of a city ordinance that would create an Energy Improvement District that would allow residents and businesses to pay for solar panels and energy efficiency improvements. The payments could be rolled into the property’s mortgage, making solar upgrades more affordable and tying the improvements to the home or business rather than the individual.

Besides the recently continued 30 percent federal rebate program on solar systems, Ross is also anticipating the development and availability of affordable energy storage systems which could make the discussion of Net Energy Metering a moot point.

“The city of Las Vegas not only supports solar energy, but has emerged as a world leader in sustainability. In this light, I am concerned by the recent ruling by the Public Utilities Commission that negatively impacts all those residents who have invested in solar in their homes, as well as those who hope to add solar in the future. I believe that this sends a mixed message to the world about the commitment that Las Vegas has to sustainability,” said Ross.

 

– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/heard-street/power-play-full-swing#sthash.cOVibSPP.dpuf


Obama promotes solar in Vegas visit

Call it a “tree-hugger” convention or a political rally, but the National Clean Energy Summit 8.0, held Aug. 24 at Mandalay Bay, was clearly a vehicle used to keep the solar bandwagon moving across the country.

Or should I say, in the case of Nevada, to start the bandwagon moving again.

The elephant in the room was the recent Nevada net metering cap that had been reached three days before the start of the conference, throwing Nevada’s over 6,000 solar workers into panic mode.

President Barack Obama, feeling refreshed from his recent vacation, was greeted with a standing ovation and enthusiastic applause when he took the stage to deliver the closing address.

Not wasting any time, one of his initial comments was clearly directed toward NV Energy.

“It’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market,” Obama said. “It’s another thing if you’re free market until it’s solar that’s working, and people want to buy it, and suddenly you’re not for it anymore. That’s a problem.”

The president announced that his administration will seek to expand access to a loan program that allows homeowners to get up-front financing for clean-energy or energy-efficient home upgrades, and then pay it off over many years as part of their property taxes.

“We’re going to make it even easier for individual homeowners to put solar panels on the roof with no up-front cost,” Obama said.

During his 30-minute speech, Obama remarked that “distributed” generation is sweeping the country as more and more homes install solar panels and, more recently, contemplate backing them up with home batteries. “The real revolution going on here is that people are beginning to realize that they can take more control over their own energy,” he said.

Obama also took advantage of this occasion to focus attention on his administration’s flagship climate change solution, the EPA’s recently completed Clean Power Plan, which depends upon the strong growth of clean energy.

The plan requires states to cut emissions through a mix of options that include greatly increasing the amount of electricity they get from wind, solar and other renewable sources.

However, 15 states, including West Virginia and Wyoming, have filed suit seeking an “emergency stay” of the rule, which they call “clearly unlawful.”

Sen. Harry Reid, the summit’s organizer and host for the past eight years, took several opportunities during the event to bemoan that Nevada is the first state to reach the limit on net metering, commenting on both the state of the current utility grid and efforts by utilities across the country to abandon or revise net metering regulations.

“Our electric grid has barely changed in a century, but that is quickly coming to an end. American demand for clean, reliable power choices is forcing change that is accelerating,” said Reid. “It is clear that distributed energy, energy storage, other sources of electricity and efficiency, are competing with utility-scale power plants as they should, and indeed the facts cannot be ignored. U.S. solar has increased 418 percent since 2010, and more than half of this increase comes in the form of solar panels on homes and businesses. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have authorized net metering, and nearly 60 percent of our utilities across the country are currently reviewing their net metering policies.”

A debate on the “Future of Rooftop Solar” — featuring Charles Cicchetti of Pacific Economic Group representing the rooftop solar contingent, and Lisa Wood of Edison Foundation speaking for the public utilities — captured the attention of attendees when they took opposing positions. Rose McKinney-James, managing principal of Energy Works Consulting and McKinney-James & Associates, moderated the debate with questions that were crafted to bridge the opinion gap. Despite her efforts to reach some common ground, the debate ended in a stand-off, reminiscent of the real world debates that are taking place in Congress.

Save our Solar signs and T-shirts could be seen throughout the Summit audience.

Save our Solar signs and T-shirts could be seen throughout the Summit audience.

Despite the rather negative vibe and the silent protest of T-shirts and signs reading “Save Our Solar,” NV Energy’s CEO Paul Caudill was on the agenda to introduce a panel discussion of “Energy in the Information Age.” Caudill received moderate applause during his short introduction when he spoke about the various statewide geothermal and solar projects in place and the partnership with First Solar to develop the new 100-megawatt grid-tied Switch Station that will be constructed and operated at costs that are being recognized industrywide as among the lowest seen in the United States.

Whether it was a result of the conference, pressure from politicians and the people, or simply the logical decision to be made at the moment, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission made a ruling three days after the summit, to extend the current net metering program until an alternative recommendation can be made at the end of 2015.

– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/obama-promotes-solar-vegas-visit#sthash.kfDCn4p2.dpuf


Net metering limit could topple solar industry

 

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Two years ago, Steve and Debbie Luce decided that they had to do something about their increasing energy bill.

They took the usual first steps by replacing their incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent and LED bulbs and changing out the pool pump to a more efficient variable speed model. These changes shaved a few dollars off their monthly bill, but the big change came in September 2013 when they installed a photovoltaic solar system on their roof.

The savings were large and immediate. But the Luces may be among the last to enjoy the benefits of rooftop solar if the state Legislature doesn’t lift a limit on the number of customers who can sell excess power back to the grid.

Solar panels only generate electricity during daylight hours. However, the Luces, like the majority of people, are at work or school during those daylight hours and therefore the power generated is sold to the electrical grid in the form of credits on their power bill under a program called “Net Metering.”

Between September 2013 and June 2014, the Luces solar system generated more energy than they used. However, during the summer months, the solar system could not keep up with the homes energy demand because of the extended use of the air conditioning system, and the Net Metering credits that were built up during the winter were used to offset those monthly power bills.

At the end of the first year, the Luces discovered that their average power bill went from $250 per month down to $2.33 per month. The solar system they had chosen produced 98 percent of their annual power usage, and the payback on the $20,000 investment, at current power rates, would be less than seven years.

But there is a dark cloud building over Nevada that may block the sun from shining on future residential solar installations.

NV Energy has a 3 percent cap on the number of homes that can participate in the Net Metering program in Nevada. That cap is calculated using a formula that divides the cumulative installed capacity of all residential solar systems by NV Energy’s highest peak load for their total system. Projections by NV Energy are that the cap will be reached in the first quarter of 2016, after which no additional homes will be able to participate.

That is not good news for residents like the Luces who want to cut their energy bill. “Net metering is what made our decision viable; without it, the system simply does not pay off,” Steve Luce said.

NV Energy has more than 3,300 systems enrolled in its Net Metering program with a total of more than 60 megawatts of residential and commercial installed capacity, most of which came from distributed photovoltaics. Many states such as Arizona and Colorado have eliminated the Net Metering cap, and California is considering legislation to increase its cap.

Meanwhile, as the Nevada desert begins to heat up under the glow of the spring sun, so too is the battle between NV Energy and the solar community.

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Two advocacy groups, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), funded by the largest rooftop solar installation companies in the nation, and Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK), founded by retired Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr., are working to increase solar energy installations across the country. Together they have been lobbying Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Legislature to increase the Nevada cap to 10 percent, a first step in their fight. At one point, the groups had the support of Sen. Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, who introduced Senate Bill 374, which included language that would have raised the current 3 percent cap to 10 percent. But she confirmed on April 15 that she had removed the cap language from her bill, sparking speculation that Sandoval had influenced the removal.

That speculation is not without cause. Sandoval was at one time the attorney for the advocacy group Utility Shareholders of Nevada, viewed by some as a proxy for the management of NV Energy. In that capacity, he joined a lawsuit challenging the Public Utilities Commission’s decision to block a $110 million rate hike proposed by NV Energy.

Trying to determine Sandoval’s position and involvement is The Energy &Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, which submitted a public records request April 16 asking for correspondence regarding solar energy by Sandoval, NV Energy, the lobbying firm R&R Partners and Edison Electric Institute, the utility industry’s trade association.

“The concern is that Sandoval’s campaign adviser and utility industry lobbyist Pete Ernaut is influencing the governor regarding solar energy policy in Nevada,” said Gabe Elsner, executive director of Energy &Policy Institute. “The public has a right to know if Governor Sandoval is meeting with utility staff, consultants, or lobbyists as these special interests attempt to limit the growth of their competitors in the electricity market.”

In addition to having clients in the utility industry and being a campaign adviser for Sandoval, R&R Partners’ Ernaut is a friend of the governor’s. The pair became friends in college and were in the Legislature together before Ernaut served as his campaign director when Sandoval ran for attorney general and then as an adviser in Sandoval’s gubernatorial campaign.

Through all of this, Sandoval has stated that he is neutral on the issue and on April 16 met with the CEO of Solar City to discuss the issue. While details of the discussion have not been disclosed, a representative of Solar City said that the meeting was positive. If the two sides can come to an agreement, it is possible that new language can be added to Farley’s bill, and it could be brought to a vote on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, has said: “The most effective way to produce an agreement on net metering is get all stakeholders in the same room.” He has indicated a compromise plan could be handled as as an emergency measure, bypassing legislative protocol.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the holding company owned by famed investor Warren Buffett, recently purchased NV Energy. The company would like to see the cap remain and is asking for additional fixed charges to the bills of customers getting credited for their solar power.

NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira previously commented that, “Photovoltaics (PV), gets a ‘free ride’ through Net Metering policies that don’t charge solar customers for using the grid as a backup.” Solar advocates dispute those claims, saying solar provides a net benefit to the grid by reducing the need to invest in expensive peaking plants.

At the heart of the issue is the large fortune that power companies have spent pioneering the power plants and utility line infrastructure to bring reliable electric service to each door. In addition, they must continue spending money on new technology and continued maintenance of the system.

In Nevada, from 2006 to 2011, NV Energy spent $4.3 billion to build, expand or buy eight power plants, more than doubling its generating capacity to 5,862 megawatts. The idea was for the company to own most of its power production so it wouldn’t be vulnerable to unpredictable wholesale power prices. In 2014, NV Energy also started the process of decommissioning its only coal-fired power plant, eliminating 1.5 million tons of carbon emissions per year. But this investment has also meant incremental rate increases on the monthly bill. And the demand for more energy has been increasing exponentially.

In 2013, SolarCity, one of the largest installers of residential solar panels in the country, moved into offices in Henderson and Town Square on Las Vegas Boulevard. Today the company employs more than 1,000 employees in its nationwide call center and installation office. In March, SolarCity announced the opening of its second installation office in North Las Vegas. According to Nathan Jarrell, regional vice president of operations, “SolarCity is installing between 12 and 20 solar systems per day in Southern Nevada. The average system is 7.5 kilowatts in size and provides between 60 percent and 80 percent of the average household power.” SolarCity also has $750 million in backing from Google to finance its residential program with a zero dollar down lease back option that makes going green affordable.

According to a National Solar Jobs Census 2014 report, released by The Solar Foundation in February, “Nevada’s solar industry employed 5,900 Nevadans in 2014 and added 3,500 solar jobs over the previous year. Nevada’s 146 percent solar industry employment growth allowed it to rise back to seventh in the rankings of the highest number of solar jobs by state— and #1 in solar jobs per capita. Solar employment in Nevada grew more than 53 times faster than the state’s average employment growth rate of 2.7 percent in the same period.”

During a visit to Utah’s Hill Air Force Base on April 3, President Barack Obama announced the expansion of a previous Solar Workforce Training Program that would increase the number of workers from 50,000 to 75,000 by the year 2020.

The new goal is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which helps fund research, manufacturing and market creation. The SunShot Initiative’s Solar Instructor Training Network works with 400 community colleges across the country for training and claims to have certified 1,000 solar instructors and nearly 30,000 students in the past five years.

On April 9, Sunrun, the largest residential solar company in the United States, announced the expansion of its Las Vegas office and warehouse, which opened in 2014, expecting to add more than 45 new jobs this spring, nearly doubling the company’s local workforce.

Without a change in the Net Metering cap in Nevada, all of those local job opportunities would evaporate like water on a hot summer day. And while the Luces and other residents currently enrolled in the Net Metering are grandfathered into the program, they may face an increase in other fees owed if NV Energy has its way.

As for future solar installations, without Net Metering, residents will be not be able to take full advantage of the daytime energy savings offered through solar and find that being green does not pencil out.

– See more at: http://businesspress.vegas/technology/net-metering-limit-could-topple-solar-industry#sthash.qlIiOQg3.dpuf