Solar – Going Gangbusters!
What a week! Maryland Governor Hogan signs into law, not one, but two Community Shared Solar bills, opening the grounds to a three-year pilot program for the development and the building of Maryland’s first community shared solar projects. And Georgia Governor Deal signs his own record breaking law, allowing third party ownership for solar; targeting both residents and businesses.
In both cases, utilities were both appeased and defeated. In Maryland, though utilities may own community shared solar, they must also agree to buy solar generated by privately developed solar arrays and agree to net metering; crediting solar owners at retail rates for electricity added to the grid.
In Georgia, local utility Georgia Power, who had successfully barred third-party ownership from previously being passed, agreed to a legislative compromise, with the stipulation that a size limitation be established for both residential and commercial installations seeking financing through third-party ownership. But what does that mean really? In a state seen as having one of the fastest growing solar markets in America, trying to keep utility control by limiting the size of third-party installations seems like a desperate act by a declining power system.
Wake up, Georgia! 25 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia now allow for third-party ownership, making solar a much more financially attractive undertaking for businesses and residents.
Too much energy?
And in California, there’s a whole different story going on, with utilities looking at over-generation or ‘overgen.’ This is where an overabundance of energy is produced via distributed energy sources, and the utility is forced to curtail excess energy coming into the grid.
So when the San Onofre nuclear power plant closed and plant owner, San Diego Gas & Electric looked to build a new natural gas plant to replace it, it seemed judicious that the California Public Utilities Commission denied the request, in deference to the utility exploring renewable sources instead! Again – why build a new plant when there are obvious energy sources already available.
New York is making great strides as well, mandating utilities to focus on distributed generation, storage, smart grid and demand response. Specifically addressing the utilities, the Chair of the NY Public Service Commission, Audrey Zibelman, stated, “Our message to utilities is, ‘Your job is no longer just delivering to the meter.’ We want to make utilities the drivers of change, instead of the deer in the headlights.”
But exactly how utilities will drive change is the question. Currently, the utilities earn profits by spending capital; the building of large, remote power plants with huge transmission lines means more money in their pockets. So how supportive will they be of new models in community solar, aggregated solar and other renewable energy sources? Where will they stand on net metering? Will they see the need to invest in large-scale energy storage capabilities?
It’s an exciting time for renewable energy, and utilities will play an important role in the changing energy landscape. How they play that new role awaits to be seen.