Saturday, January 30, 2010

PGE Raises Rates Again

By George L. Strasser
Last summer I received a Pacific Gas & Electric bill that knocked my sandals off. I decided to compare Fresno's electricity rates with other hot cities. I discovered that Fresno's rates are absurdly high.
As of this January, it costs $241.93 to use 1,000 kilowatt hours a month in Fresno. That much juice costs $121 in Las Vegas, $111.83 in Phoenix, and only $83 in Tucson. Are you surprised?
The cost of 1,000 Kwh is $125.05 in Sacramento, $119 in Orlando, $108.61 in Chicago, $100.17 in Salt Lake City, $95.37 in Atlanta, $88.04 in Memphis, $87.99 in San Antonio, and just $63.09 in St. Louis.
So what's up with PG&E? It uses a rate system with five tiers, each more expensive than the next. The lowest tier is 11.88 cents. The highest is 47.39 cents per kilowatt hour after the first 1,070 Kwh.
Most cities have tiered rates. Tucson has three tiers. Its highest tier is reached after 3,500 Kwh, when the rate goes up to 11.3 cents per kilowatt hour. That's less than Fresno's lowest tier.
If we use 3,000 Kwh in a month, the cost in Fresno is $1,156.61. But 3,000 Kwh costs only $269 in Tucson, $400.37 in Phoenix, and $347.34 in Las Vegas. It costs $465.45 in Sacramento, $257.28 in Mobile, $274.50 in Houston, and only $164.85 in Tampa.
PG&E has a new "SmartMeter" option. If you sign up for it, on 15 "smart days," (hot days) when electricity is in short supply, PG&E will charge 60 cents more per hour on top of the 47.39 cent rate, for a total charge per Kwh of $1.07, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. The reward for this will be a reduction of the off-peak rate, down to (ahem), about 43 cents per Kwh for the top tier.
In other words, PG&E has a plan to use SmartMeters to charge you an insane additional 60 cents per Kwh on top of its already insane rate of 47.39 cents per hour on the very hottest days, when you need your air conditioner the most!
A SmartMeter option is also available in Phoenix. If a customer signs up for it, the highest peak rate is 21.6 cents from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., in return for an off-peak rate of just 5.4 cents per Kwh.
My wife and I moved to Fresno in 1975. We raised three kids here. I can tell you that for decades it did not cost an arm and a leg to stay comfortable in the summer. Now it does.
The Public Utilities Commission has kept rates down for the lowest tiers, so many PG&E customers in cooler areas have not seen an increase in their already low electricity bills.
But, last summer, with very little notice, the highest tier rate was raised an incredible 23%. That's why we now pay 47.39 cents per Kwh after the first 1,070 Kwh. This is the reason why last summer some people in Fresno had $500, $700, or even $1,000 PG&E bills. Brace yourself, because it will happen again.
Now, imagine you are a major employer, and you are thinking about moving a business to Fresno. Would you move here if you knew that you and your employees would pay thousands of dollars more for electricity in the coming years?
Can anything be done? The short answer is no. The Public Utilities Commission doesn't care, obviously.
You could sell your old house and buy a brand new smaller well-insulated home, but that is not the solution for most people. So, my advice if you want to pay less for electricity this summer is to empty your pool, and then buy a swamp cooler and some candles.
Or move just about anywhere else.
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Demand for Electric Vehicles Higher than Expected

Plug-in electric cars have technology geeks and the well-heeled excited, but how will they play in Peoria?
Ernst & Young on Thursday released results from a survey of 1,000 licensed U.S. drivers that found 10 percent of drivers would consider purchasing a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle. That represents about 20 million American drivers, enough demand to sell out 2010 and 2011 electric vehicles.
Automakers are betting the electrification of power trains is the future of the auto business, as was clear from this week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But even as automakers prepare to produce tens of thousands of these cars, big questions remain over how strong the demand will be.
Some argue that there will be rapid uptake in certain regions, much the way the well known Toyota Prius hybrid has been adopted. The Boston Consulting Group forecasts that 25 percent of new auto sales in 2020 will be hybrids or electrics, with the bulk being conventional hybrids.
Yet there are still clear barriers to consumer adoption, including range, cost, and availability of charging stations at home or public places.
Ernst & Young found that 34 percent of respondents were willing to subsidize local charging stations. At the same time, their top reason for considering buying an electric or plug-in hybrid is to save money on fuel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wisconsin Feed in tariff

Powerful Wisconsin legislators were first out of the gate in a brewing race to be the first to pass feed-in tariff legislation in the Midwest.
The bill also specifies that 6 percent of all electricity generated by 2020 must be produced from in-state renewable resources, and 10 percent by 2025.
Representatives Spencer Black (D-77th, Madison) and James Soletski (D-88th, Green Bay), along with cosponsors Senator Mark Miller (D-16th, Monona) and Senator Jeffrey Plale (D-7th, Milwaukee) introduced AB 649 on January 6th, 2010.

The bill, a comprehensive revision of laws governing energy and electric utilities in Wisconsin, was referred to the Special Committee on Clean Energy Jobs.

AB 649 includes a section creating a system of feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.

Assemblymember Black is chair of the Assembly's Committee on Natural Resources and Assemblymember Soletski is chair of the Committee on Energy and Utilities.

Senator Miller is the chair of both the Senate's Committee on the Environment and the Committee on Finance. Senator Plale is chair of the Committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy, and Rail.

The bill's section on feed-in tariffs directs the state's Public Service Commission to determine the specifics of the program. After a lengthy docket in 2009, Wisconsin's PSC had deferred implementing its own feed-in tariff program without a clear mandate from the legislature. AB 649 is in part a result of the PSC's earlier inaction and a desire by Governor Doyle and the legislature to lead off the new year with action on climate change.

The bill must pass both the assembly and the senate and be signed by Governor Doyle before it becomes law.

Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota legislators are also expected to introduce feed-in tariff bills this legislative session.

AB 649 includes provisions for wind, solar PV, biogas, and "other" renewable technologies. Only utilities with sales greater than 2.5 TWh per year will be required to offer the feed-in tariffs.

The bill's objective is "to maximize the development and deployment of distributed renewable energy generation technologies . . . without unreasonable impacts on electric utility rates."

Importantly, AB 649 stipulates that the price paid per kilowatt-hour must include the cost of generation for that type of generator, a reasonable rate of return, and any federal or state incentives, such as the federal renewable energy tax credit. Thus, the tariffs offered will not be based on "avoided cost" as in California, or the value of the electricity to the utility.

The PSC is to set limits on the amount of generation permitted under the program for each technology. As a consequence, there will be a rush by commercial developers to seize as many contracts as possible, potentially squeezing out homeowners, farmers, and small businesses from developing their own resources.

In a nod to a key provision in successful European policies and that in Ontario as well, the bill says tariffs "may" be based on different size classes within each technology. Creation of different size tranches within technologies, especially for solar PV, is regarded as a critical measure to prevent hoarding of contracts by large, multi-national developers.

Ontario, with five tranches of feed-in tariffs for solar PV alone, went even farther than that proposed in Wisconsin and set aside a special micro-FIT program for systems less 10 kW. Ontario also guaranteed expedited connection for systems less than 500 kW. Both measures were intended to insure that local residents and businesses could profit from the program despite the pressure from out of province and out of country developers.

Wisconsin's AB 649 assigns any renewable energy credits produced to the purchasing utility.

The bill also specifies that 6 percent of all electricity generated by 2020 must be produced from in-state renewable resources, and 10 percent by 2025.

In 2007, Wisconsin generated 60 terrawatt-hours (TWh). The in-state 2020 target of 6 percent would require approximately 3.6 TWh per year. The 2025 target would require about 6 TWh per year from in-state renewables.

Under Wisconsin conditions, such a requirement could result in the installation of thousands of megawatts of wind or solar PV. Typical wind farms in the Midwest generate about 2,000 kWh/kW/year of installed capacity. Typical solar PV systems generate about 1,000 kWh/kW/year of installed DC capacity.

2020 Target Equivalents (3.6 TWh/year)
  • Wind ~1,800 MW, or
  • PV ~3,600 MW
2025 Target Equivalents (6 TWh/year)
  • Wind ~3,000 MW, or
  • PV ~6,000 MW 

Indiana Feed in Tariff

Representative Matt Pierce (D-61st, Bloomington) introduced AB 1190 into the Indiana General Assembly January 7, 2010. The bill is the first comprehensive proposal for a system of feed-in tariffs in the current legislative sessions that have begun in states across the US.
AB 1190 tries to go Ontario one better as competition for renewable energy heats up in North America's heartland.
The bill to create a system of what Representative Pierce calls Advanced Renewable Energy Contracts was referred to the Assembly Committee on Commerce, Energy, Technology and Utilities. Representative Pierce is vice chair of the committee.

Representative Pierce had introduced a previous bill on feed-in tariffs in the 2009 session. AB 1190 has been extensively rewritten and has incorporated the feed-in tariffs, or renewable energy rates as they will be called in Indiana, recently introduced in the Canadian province of Ontario.

The proposed rates in AB 1190 have been adapted to the Indiana context by incorporating two tracks: one track with U.S. federal subsidies, one track without. Unlike Ontario, where there are no federal subsidies for renewable energy, some Indiana projects could qualify for U.S. federal subsidies. However, not all potential renewable energy generators in Indiana may be able to use the federal subsidies. For those who may not be able to use the federal subsidies, Representative Pierce has proposed the second track where the feed-in rates are proportionally higher.

Republican Governor Mitch Daniels and the legislature have liked to characterize Indiana as a potential renewable energy hub of the Midwest.

AB 1190 tries to go Ontario one better as competition for renewable energy heats up in North America's heartland. Representative Pierce has proposed a sophisticated system of rates for wind energy that is based on the intensity of the wind resource. Both Germany and France successfully use a similar policy and the concept has been raised frequently in Ontario. However, the Canadian province has yet to adopt such a program.

Differentiating the rates for wind energy based on the wind resource is used by Germany and France both to spread development opportunity to more farmers and rural landowners than one, single rate for wind energy, but also to avoid the concentration of wind turbines in only the windiest regions. Such a proposal in Indiana would give farmers in central Indiana as much opportunity to develop their wind resource as farmers in northern Indiana where it is windier.

And in another departure from Ontario, Representative Pierce has proposed specific tariffs for small wind turbines like those that would be used by individual households. While AB 1190's proposed rates for small wind turbines are less than those that will likely go into effect this April in Great Britain, they are the first of their kind in North America.

In other provisions, the bill requires the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to review the renewable energy rates paid to new generators beginning in 2012. AB 1190 directs the IURC's review to ensure the rates are sufficient for the rapid development of renewable energy without resulting in excessive profits for generators or excessive costs to ratepayers.

The bill establishes an equalization program to spread the costs of the policy across all ratepayers so that no one utility or its ratepayers absorb more than their fair share of the costs of the program.

AB 1190 creates a statewide registry of generators and requires the IURC to issue annual reports on the robustness of the program in meeting the bill's objective of encouraging the rapid and sustainable development of renewable energy in Indiana.

Before it becomes law, the bill must pass the assembly, controlled by Democrats, and the Senate, controlled by Republicans, and be signed by Republican Governor Daniels.

Summary of AB 1190's renewable energy "rates".

  • Project size cap: None, 10 MW for solar PV only
  • Contract terms: 20 years, 40 years for hydro
  • Technologies: most, excluding biomass from forestry, excluding coal-bed methane
  • Inflation indexing: 60%
  • Wind without and with tax credits:
    • Small <50 m2 (8 m dia): $0.350,$0.245
    • Small <500 m2 (25 m dia): $0.250,$0.175
    • Offshore: $0.180,$0.126
    • Onshore low wind: $0.140,$0.098
    •  Onshore high wind: $0.104,$0.073
  • Solar PV without and with tax credits:
    • Any Type <10 kW: $0.650,$0.455
    • Rooftop >10 kW<250 kW: $0.600,$0.420
    • Rooftop >250 kW<500 kW: $0.550,$0.385
    • Rooftop >500 kW: $0.500$0.350,
    • Groundmounted <10 MW: $0.400,$0.280
Interestingly, Indianapolis Power & Light (IP&L) has proposed a pilot feed-in tariff program to the IURC. The IURC has yet to rule on IP&L's proposal, yet IP&L's proposed wind enegy tariff is quite similar to that in Representative Pierce's AB 1190.

At a site with an average yield of 1,200 kWh/m²/yr, the average or equivalent 20-year tariff for onshore wind energy in AB 1190 is $0.104/kWh without tax credits and $0.073/kWh with federal tax credits. The latter "rate" is nearly identical with that proposed by to the IURC for wind turbines larger than 1 MW by IP&L of $0.075/kWh.

Top 10 Franchise Trends in 2010

There are a couple of categories in franchising that will continue to gather steam in 2010, and for many years to come. There will also be some other interesting things going on in franchising in 2010, and they don’t involve the latest pizza craze, or the launch of a solar-powered pretzel stand.

Green is still the thing, and companies like Solar Universe, and Pro Energy Consultants, will try to help you become more energy efficient in your home and office. Thomas Friedman, author of  “The World Is Flat,” talked about the importance of  E.T. The franchise industry will continue to create opportunities for would-be franchise owners that want to harness the power of  green technology.

More at:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Solar Stimulus Funds

NEW YORK ( -- President Obama unveiled a program Friday that will provide $2.3 billion in tax credits for the clean energy manufacturing sector, a move aimed at creating 17,000 jobs.

The funding, which comes from the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, has been awarded to 183 projects in 43 states, the White House announced.

"If we harness ingenuity, take the talent of our workers and innovators, and we invest in it, we'll forge a future where life is better in our country over the long run," Obama said.

The projects selected must be commissioned by February 2013, and the government expects about one-third of those will be completed this year. The program provides a 30% tax credit for those projects.

The credit is focused on U.S. manufacturing of clean energy technologies such as solar and wind. Obama has said he wants to double the amount of renewable energy the United States uses over the next three years.

In addition to the federal funding, private firms are investing $5.4 billion, which will create 41,000 more jobs, the White House said.

Obama noted the United States spearheaded solar technology, but fell behind Germany and Japan in production, and that most of the batteries used here are made in Asia.

"This will help close the clean energy gap between America and other nations," the president said.

David Kreutzer, energy economist at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, was skeptical about the program's ability to boost the labor market.

"It runs back to the notion that government spending will create jobs, but to do that truly you need people to [generate] more money than their work costs," he said.

How the winners were chosen
The White House said it received 500 applications from companies seeking a total of $7.6 billion in aid by the program's Oct. 16 deadline. The departments of Energy and Treasury reviewed the applications, and sent their selections to the Internal Revenue Service to award the credit.

The applications were screened for a variety of factors, including job creation potential, technological innovation and geographical diversity. The new facilities should also boost the export of U.S. manufactured clean energy products, the government said.

Advantage was given to "shovel-ready" projects -- those that have state and local permits in place and are ready to go, senior officials said.

Kreutzer said the initiative's focus on a particular sector is flawed, and he suggested that if these manufacturing facilities can only get started with government subsidies, they will fail when the funds run out.

"It's a government program to pick winners and losers, and we need a broader, overall view," he said. "Lower taxes, not higher subsidies -- lower energy costs, not more windmills."

Some of the funds will go to companies with headquarters outside the United States, but the money must be committed to building U.S. facilities and creating domestic jobs.

Some of the facilities that qualified for the tax credit include manufacturers that will produce plug-in electric vehicles, geothermal equipment, fuel cells and microturbines.

The announcement came after a government report released earlier Friday showed employers cut 85,000 jobs in December, a much worse report than economists expected. The unemployment rate held at 10%.

"We have to continue to explore every avenue for recovery, and the [stimulus] has been a major force in that trajectory," Obama said.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Small-scale solar plan clashes with big energy

When it comes to renewable power, Californians tend to think big.

Big wind farms sprawl across our hills. Big solar power plants will soon blanket acres of desert. Big new power lines will bring that electricity to our cities.

This, Bill Powers insists, is exactly the wrong approach. He wants us to think small.
Powers, an engineer and energy consultant, argues that California should cover every available rooftop with photovoltaic solar panels, especially commercial buildings. The panels can be installed quickly, unlike large solar power plants that take years to win government permits. They don't require big new power lines. And their price has dropped about 40 percent in the past year.
Powers is involved in a simmering debate over renewable power development in California and the country.
Even though much of the environmental movement has rallied behind the construction of large wind farms and solar power plants, an undercurrent argues that they aren't necessary, or even desirable. Better to get energy from hundreds of smaller facilities close to home than a giant one far away.
Most industry professionals consider the idea unrealistic, but it keeps resurfacing.

olar plants 'albatrosses'

"The solar plants in the desert are albatrosses," Powers said. "We've come to a point where (photovoltaic solar) is either going to be in the remote installations or it's going to be in the urban core. It'll be much more beneficial for those solar panels to be sitting in the urban core where they're going to be used."
It's an idea that could upend the traditional way of supplying electricity and weaken the control of utility companies. Supporters of the idea consider that a plus.
Photovoltaic solar "in the urban core is a fundamental threat to the utility business model," Powers said.
Most energy experts argue the small-scale approach won't work.
The hunger for energy, they say, is too huge, and it will keep growing. Solar panels are still a relatively expensive way to generate electricity. They cost more than large solar thermal plants, which use a different technology ill-suited to rooftops.
"It's not feasible, it's not economical, it's not realistic," said Mehdi Hosseini, an analyst who covers solar companies for FBR Capital Markets.
"Because of the economic and operational issues, I think we're going to see large-scale, grid-connected power for a long, long time," said Jonathan Marshall, a spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Many environmentalists reluctantly agree.
Carl Zichella, regional director for the Sierra Club in California, has been deeply involved in a state process to plan for new power lines linked to wind farms and solar plants. He wants as much small-scale generation - often called distributed generation - as possible. But that alone won't meet the state's demand for renewable power, he said.
"We need to do it all," Zichella said. "It's quite possible we can get more distributed generation than we thought, and if we get enough, we can build fewer big plants. But I haven't seen any studies I think are credible that say we won't need any."
Distrust and dislike of California's big utility companies, he says, fuel many supporters of the small-is-beautiful idea.
"A lot of the distributed power advocates really hate utilities," Zichella said. "They don't want utilities to own these facilities."

enewables fall short

California has been trying to ramp up its use of renewable power as a way to combat global warming. Under state law, 20 percent of the electricity the utilities sell must come from renewable sources by the end of 2010, a deadline they will probably miss.
Progress has been slow.
In 2009, California added 331 megawatts of renewable power to its grid. A megawatt is a snapshot figure, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 750 typical homes at any given moment.
Viewed together, California's many wind farms, solar facilities and geothermal plants can generate 8,100 megawatts, according to the California Energy Commission.
That may sound like a lot, but it's still just a fraction of the electricity the state needs. On summer days, electricity demand can top 50,000 megawatts. And remember, the output from solar plants and wind farms isn't constant. It varies from day to day, hour to hour.

ime for permit varies

Developers are racing to build a new generation of large solar thermal power plants in the California desert. Together, the projects seeking approval from state regulators could generate an additional 4,980 megawatts of clean power. But the process of winning government permits can take years.
Rooftop solar, in contrast, doesn't need those permits.
It spreads one building at a time, in small increments that eventually add up. Since the start of 2007, enough panels have been bolted to California homes, office buildings and warehouses to generate 277 megawatts of electricity, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.
Price has always been photovoltaic solar's big problem. And by some estimates, it still is. Despite the recent drop in panel prices, electricity from new photovoltaic solar projects still costs 17 percent more than electricity from big solar thermal plants, according to the energy commission.

rice a problem

But other analysts say the price gap has disappeared.
Ryan Pletka, with the Black & Veatch consulting firm, has been working on the same transmission planning project as Zichella. By his estimate, solar thermal and photovoltaic projects now cost roughly the same, watt for watt, so long as the photovoltaic projects are big enough to generate at least 20 megawatts.
That's far too large for a single rooftop. But installations of that size could be built at electricity substations. Together, they could generate up to 15,000 megawatts in California by 2020, Pletka said.
"The upshot is, if the costs are really this low, then you can have all these 20 megawatt solar PV projects that are going to be neck-and-neck competitive with the central station projects," said Pletka, director of strategic planning for Black & Veatch.
The small-versus-large debate played a key role in the fight over Sunrise Powerlink, a proposed power line between Imperial County and San Diego.
The local utility, San Diego Gas & Electric Co., pitched the power line as a necessary tie to solar and geothermal power plants near the Salton Sea. Opponents rallied around a study that said San Diego wouldn't need Powerlink if the city focused on local generation and energy efficiency instead.
The study, written by Powers, called for cutting the San Diego area's energy use by 20 percent, installing more than 2,000 megawatts of solar panels and adding 700 megawatts of small, local power plants that would generate both electricity and heat for buildings.
The utility considered the study far too optimistic. Powerlink, which will cost $1.88 billion, is still cheaper and more reliable than Powers' proposal, said SDG&E spokeswoman Jennifer Briscoe.
California energy regulators sided with SDG&E and approved the project in 2008. But the project's foes remain unconvinced.
"Why do we need to go way out into the desert for power?" asked Denis Trafecanty, a staunch Powerlink opponent. "We all can be generators in some way."

he price of power

Photovoltaic solar panels have dropped in price, but the technology remains more expensive than many other ways to generate electricity, according to the California Energy Commission. All figures are given in cents per kilowatt hour and include construction and operation costs.
Solar PV - 26.22*
Solar thermal (parabolic trough) - 22.47
Natural gas - 12.61
Geothermal - 8.31
Wind - 7.24

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Hot Customer Pics

With these great customer photos, you might develop a taste for roofs with solar vs. without