Category: Solar News

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Solar Wars 2

Solar Wars 2

Solar in Jacksonville: A battle won, not the war.

Jacksonville Electric Authority made the right decision last month when they tabled the proposal to reduce the buy-back rate for grid-tied solar in Northeast Florida.  The fact that the board elected to wait for further study and review is the direct result of concerned citizens speaking out against the changes JEA initially proposed. Unfortunately, a larger battle looms on the horizon.

Vote NO on 1!

The  utilities in Florida formed a coalition called Consumers for Smart Solar, circulated a petition through paid canvassers, and received approval from the Florida Supreme Court to place an amendment to the Florida Constitution on the ballot in November.  The language of the petition, the amendment itself, and the marketing campaign behind them are misleading.  The average consumer may read the amendment and assume that it does in fact benefit the growth of solar, when the reality is that it will place regulatory authority in the hands of the utilities themselves. This will not be good for consumers, despite what the marketing blitz claims.

From the Consumers for Smart Solar website:

BALLOT TITLE: Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice

BALLOT SUMMARY:

This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

 

The slick advertising campaign, with the slogan “Vote Yes on One, For the Sun,” touts the idea that with this amendment, citizens are guaranteed to be able to place solar on their homes. If Amendment 1 was actually good for homeowners and the rooftop solar industry, solar contractors would embrace the changes. Instead, this proposed constitutional amendment will drastically restrict the growth of residential rooftop solar. The amendment summary employs almost identical language to what JEA used in their rate change proposal, implying once again that those who do not have solar subsidize those who do. This claim is blatantly false, and has been proven so.

 

According to JEA themselves, net- metering accounted for a  revenue disparity in 2015 of $127,000. There are 524 net-metered customers out of over 450,000 JEA customers.   This breaks down to $2.82 per JEA customer per year. Contrast this number with the more than 4 million dollars in bonuses JEA paid out to employees last year.

 

Furthermore, JEA has not accurately assed the value of grid-tied residential solar because they do not account for the fact that the energy they buy is completely green. Utilities nationwide are under federal mandate to increase renewable capacity, reducing the amount of energy they produce from coal and natural gas. Rooftop solar does precisely this.

 

While many utilities around the country are mired in paradigms of the past and business models that have yet to adapt to the changing energy landscape, others like the OUC in Orlando incentivize and encourage solar.  This is a striking contrast with JEA. Here is a link to the OUC website:

 

http://www.ouc.com/environment-community/solar

 

Follow the Money!

 

So who supports this amendment? The utilities themselves do, along with those directly allied with the fossil fuel industry. Consumers For Solar Choice receives money from suspicious bedfellows.

Utilities:

  • Duke Energy, $355,000
  • Florida Power and Light Company, $595,000
  • Gulf Power Company, $380,000
  • Tampa Electric Company, $556,000
  • Powersouth Energy Cooperative, $30,000

Outside funding, which is not transparent comes from various organizations including 60 Plus Association. This group benefitted from at least 34 million dollars from the Koch brothers since 2010, and secret funding from Arizona’s largest utility to run ads opposing solar. Eventually they were exposed by Arizona Republic.

http://www.energyandpolicy.org/special-interests-behind-anti-solar-ballot-initiative-consumers-for-smart-solar/

Floridians deserve better. Amendment 1 is deliberately misleading, and the fact that those who are pushing it are firmly aligned with the fossil fuel industry should let smart voters know that it’s not a good idea to give the fox the keys to the henhouse.

 

 

 

JEA to vote on SolarSmart

JEA to vote on SolarSmart

jacksonville solar
Solar panels being installed on a home in Jacksonville.

JEA would be taking an unnecessary, premature step in the wrong direction by enacting their proposed SolarSmart policy. JEA had $1.7 BILLION in revenues last year; the bill credits for the entire net-metering program totaled less than .000075% (less than 1/10,000th of 1 percent) of that total. They are spending too much time and money trying to ‘fix’ a solar problem that doesn’t exist, and in doing so, they are harming Jacksonville’s reputation, the job market, and the economy. SolarSmart is bad for JEA, bad for homeowners, and bad for Jacksonville.

JEA claims: JEA wants to pay homeowners a ‘fair’ rate for solar buy-back from rooftop generation.

Fact: JEA bases their buyback rate on an unrelated, pre-negotiated, contract wholesale rate from a PPA with an outside company.  Studies consistently value rooftop solar at rates upwards of $0.18/ kWh; JEA believes it is fair to reduce the current rate from retail of $0.11/kWh down to $0.07/ kWh. JEA has done no study on the value of solar. The only fair method to determine a real value would be an independent study on the value of solar in Jacksonville with input/questions from both JEA and the solar & environmental industry.

JEA claims: Current solar customers are being subsidized by non-solar customers.

Fact: Rooftop solar provides quantifiable monetary value in addition to the energy cost*. Distributed generation/rooftop solar benefits everyone on the grid, not just the homeowner. JEA ignores all of these additional benefits. According to many reputable studies, solar power is actually more valuable to the power company than the power it creates.

Fact #2: If JEA wants to discuss subsidies, perhaps we should ask them who is subsidizing their huge bonuses each year. JEA has paid $0.00 total to solar customers for back-fed solar. The approximate value of the bill credits solar customers received in return for their back-fed solar last year was $127,000 in total, about $250 per home per year. JEA bonuses totaled approximately $250,000.

JEA claims: JEA claims on one hand that solar is too expensive and that Florida is not a good area for solar; but then on the other hand they say they are ‘solar friendly’ because they’re building millions of dollars worth of utility owned solar farms all over Jacksonville.

Fact: JEA plans to offer centralized solar to its customers, at a huge premium. They will be able to power 5,000 homes with their centralized solar. A homeowner that chooses to receive 100% of their energy from JEA’s solar farms will pay a 25% higher electric bill than they normally would.

Question: Who (if any) of 5,000 JEA customers will volunteer to have a 25% higher electric bill? SolarSmart is an ‘alternative for residential or business customers who can’t afford’ rooftop solar. Will these customers volunteer to pay 25% more every month? In addition, the utility scale solar will cost JEA ~$5 million. Who is subsidizing that $5 million, if no one buys into the program?

* Some standard factors that add value to solar are: reduced transmission & distribution line losses, fuel hedge benefits, increased grid resiliency, and avoided capacity & capital investment. Additionally, there are environmental and societal benefits (the monetary value is harder to calculate, but everyone agrees that they are extremely valuable) like: cleaner air, conserved water, preserved open space, and reduced climate impacts.

What is JEA missing in its valuation of solar?

What is JEA missing in its valuation of solar?

flaseiaBy arbitrarily valuing distributed rooftop solar at $0.075 per Kwh, JEA is overlooking the many quantifiable values that rooftop solar delivers to all ratepayers. With only 500 homes out of 427,000 JEA customers having solar on their roofs, the benefits of rooftop solar to all JEA ratepayers is just beginning to be recognized.

Distributed Rooftop Solar is a Net-Benefit to All JEA Ratepayers.
  1. Energy benefit – that actual amount of power produced on each rooftop lightens the generation and transmission load, which results in savings to all JEA ratepayers.
  2. Capacity benefit – more rooftop solar reduces the need for future power plant construction, which results in a savings to all JEA ratepayers.
  3. Private investments — the individual customer makes the investment in the system and bears all the costs and risks. Instead of all ratepayers chipping in to share the cost of new generation, rooftop solar is paid for by private investment, which results in a savings to all JEA ratepayers.
  4. Fuel saving benefit – consumers with rooftop solar use less fuel generated used by the utility, resulting in a savings to all JEA ratepayers. 
  5. Reduced Transmission & Distribution line losses – transmission and distribution systems are massively inefficient. Rooftop solar virtually eliminates transmission loss when excess electricity is shipped to the grid and consumed by the nearest neighbor, which results in a savings to all JEA ratepayers.
  6. Fuel hedge benefits – solar uses no fuel, therefore no need for the utility to enter into fuel hedging contracts. Fuel hedge contract premiums are passed on to customers – a lot of price volatility associated with fossil fuels. Reducing these contracts is a savings to all JEA ratepayers.
  7. Environmental benefit – solar uses no water, has no emissions, therefore has no environmental compliance costs – power with no compliance costs is a huge benefit to the utility – especially one as coal-heavy as JEA. Reducing these environmental compliance costs is a savings to all JEA ratepayers.
  8. Economic benefit – job creation and the economic multiplier associated with those jobs, not to mention money staying in the local community instead of paid to JEA to partially pay for fuel (coal/natural gas) imported from out of state.

Special thanks to FlaSEIA for all their hard work in fighting JEA’s proposed changes to their net-metering policies.

A JEA proposal threatens to pull the plug on SBA’s Florida Small Business of the Year

A JEA proposal threatens to pull the plug on SBA’s Florida Small Business of the Year

A fast-growing local business says that if the JEA board approves the proposed SolarSmart policy on April 19, it will mean pulling the plug on the company’s growth potential and, ultimately, livelihood. The United States Small Business Administration named A1A Solar Contracting’s CEO, Pete Wilking, the 2016 Florida Veteran-Owned Small-Business Person of the Year.

Wilking, a U.S. Navy Persian Gulf War veteran, founded A1A Solar Contracting in 2010 after noting a demand for a highly qualified company to design and install solar panels on residential and commercial buildings in Northeast Florida.

His solar business, along with many other small businesses, will incur damage and be forced to lay off staff if the changes are approved by the JEA board of directors. The need Wilking once recognized will disappear and JEA will monopolize the solar industry.

“The SolarSmart policies could put my company out of business, along with many other local companies,” Wilking said. “That could mean hundreds of local jobs lost. Small businesses are the backbone of our community and our country. These changes are crushing rooftop solar.”

The SolarSmart changes, if approved, will decrease the rate that JEA pays customers when purchasing the excess solar power their rooftop panels generate. This would make customer-owned solar panels economically less appealing. Additionally, JEA’s power grid would generate solar power and wire it directly to homes, which would make rooftop panels unnecessary. The board of directors is scheduled to vote on these drastic changes on April 19.

Wilking and many other opponents of the proposed SolarSmart changes speak out against JEA in an effort to forestall the negative effects their businesses and employees could face; they encourage the public to take action. JEA says it is listening and asks concerned citizens to voice their concerns directly to JEA by emailing solar@jea.com.
The SBA will recognize Wilking and all other 2016 winners at the Annual Small Business Week & Lender Awards Celebration on May 5, 2016, at the University of North Florida’s University Center from 11:30 a.m.1:30 p.m. The Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida will host the event.

Jacksonville’s highest-paid utility CEO may shut down local businesses

Jacksonville’s highest-paid utility CEO may shut down local businesses

Paul McElroy is the CEO of JEA, the municipal electric utility serving Jacksonville, Florida, and receives a salary of $437,000, among other perks. According to The Florida Times-Union, this makes him the highest-paid utility authority CEO in Jacksonville, as of September 2015.

The municipal utility runs all of the electricity in the Jacksonville area with little to no competition. Its only real competition comes from individuals who choose to install private rooftop solar panels: Residential and commercial buildings with their own solar panels do not rely on JEA’s services to generate their power. For them, the initial investment to have the panels installed is the only cost they pay for energy. After all, why pay a utility for energy when sunshine is free?

However, sunshine won’t be free for much longer if McElroy gets the JEA board of directors to approve the SolarSmart policy. The changes will make current net-metering policies less appealing to customers and will hurt the solar industry overall by disincentivizing investment in private solar panels.These policy changes will effectively shut down local small companies and allow JEA to take over the Jacksonville solar market. The municipal utility plans to generate solar energy through a large industrial power grid and wire it to customers, charging a fee for use of the sun.

Email JEA CEO Paul McElroy and the board of directors at solar@jea.com and tell them what you think of their proposed SolarSmart policy.

JEA: PROFITEERING OFF SOLAR CUSTOMERS

JEA: PROFITEERING OFF SOLAR CUSTOMERS

JEA aims to corner the solar market and edge out rooftop solar in Jacksonville

JEA, solar jacksonville, solar, renewable energyThomas Jefferson said “the sheep are happier left to themselves, than under the care of the wolves.” As the Jacksonville Electric Authority eyes proposed changes to regulations for roof-top solar, this public utility must decide what sort of entity it is: will it build community, which is its motto, or destroy it. At the recent board meeting held on the 18th floor of the JEA tower, the board listened patiently to members of the Jacksonville business community and concerned citizens. Let’s hope they actually heard.

What is the plan?
In broad terms, JEA is planning to launch a new policy, SolarSmart, which substantially changes current policy. Under this plan, JEA would reduce the buyback rate for grid-tied solar by 36%, taking the current rate of about $0.11 per KWH down to $0.07 per KWH. In addition, JEA would build ‘solar farms’ to add an additional 38 MWH; customers would have the option to purchase solar energy produced by JEA at a premium of $.075 per KWH (making the total price of JEA-produced solar power $.195 per KWH, well above the $0.11 per KWH customers currently pay)

Profiteering
The singular argument that utilities use to justify anti-rooftop solar policies is that solar ratepayers are subsidized by non-solar. This has been refuted over and over again all over the country. Not only is it false, in fact, the exact opposite is true.  While it is true that the utility is losing some revenue stream, this loss is more than made up in reduced expenditure-in fact, there is actually a net-gain due to things like zero fuel costs, no line loss, no debt service, and several other factors. JEA closely tracks credits to solar customers for back-fed solar, but does not seem to place any value for that same KWH sold to the house next door. It is unacceptable that JEA would like to generate its own solar power and charge ratepayers a premium for it, but also to claim that identical power produced by rooftop solar is worth less. Essentially, they’re planning to excessively profit from both types of solar customers.

Hostile Takeover
Rooftop solar accounts for only a tiny fraction of the total energy mix in Jacksonville (less than 1%). The changes JEA is planning to enact are unnecessary and draconian; they’re designed to and would result in essentially the end of rooftop solar in Jacksonville. If these proposed changes go into effect, JEA will have quietly committed the hostile takeover of solar in its service area. Public-owned utilities aren’t supposed to behave this way. In Nevada, something similar has occurred; Nevada Energy, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, has destroyed the economics of roof-top solar overnight with the stroke of a pen. The public outcry has been national news for weeks. JEA is Florida’s largest municipal utility; surely, as Mike Antheil, Executive Director of Florida Solar Energy Industries Association said, “There are more than just the eyes of the people in this room [on JEA].

Impacts
Real people with real jobs will be put out of work by these proposed changes. The economic ripples will wash over families and the community.  Can a company with the motto “building community,” move forward with a plan which will actively destroy lives and strangle an entire sector of that very community? Ironically, should this policy pass, it will leave Jacksonville a less attractive option to new business and will hinder our city’s growth, which equates to the hindrance of JEA’s growth, too.

Perception
Renewable energy is the future, and Jacksonville would like to define itself as a forward-thinking, vibrant city of tomorrow, rather than the slightly smelly backwater the name conjured in years past, where folks are set in their ways and change is seen as a threat. We are better than that, we are on our way to becoming vibrant, diverse, and truly metropolitan. Our city needs to attract more businesses, more intellect, and the energy of youth. This proposal is a step backwards in every way for this great city, for these changes will stifle growth and stain the community with small-mindedness, provinciality, and stagnation.

Conclusion
Reducing CO2 emissions is a global priority. In the first ever universal global climate deal, the Paris Agreement from 2015 outlines a global action plan to avoid dangerous climate change. Solar energy is one of the cleanest energy sources available. It’s clear that people overwhelmingly support solar here in Jacksonville and the rest of the world. Almost daily we hear how quickly the solar industry is growing, how much new solar is installed throughout the country and the world, and how dirty, nonrenewable fossil fuels are becoming a thing of the past. We need to be part of the solution, not further the problem.

Our citizens want solar. This proposal from JEA runs counter to the will of the people it is chartered to serve. So call your congressman, write the Mayor’s office, bug your city councilman, and let them know that you think these changes are unfair.  Beat back the wolf.

Floridians for Solar Choice