2020 Energy Policy Outlook Conference & Innovation Summit

2020 Energy Policy Outlook Conference & Innovation Summit

Energy Resilience, Infrastructure and Innovation
February 4-7, 2020 – The Fairmont, Washington, DC

NASEO 2020 Energy Policy Outlook Conference and Innovation Summit

The NASEO 2020 Energy Policy Outlook Conference and Innovation Summit will examine the key policies and initiatives needed to drive modernization and resilience across our energy infrastructure – grid, pipelines, buildings, transportation. Join top state and federal energy policymakers and private sector leaders from around the country on February 4-7, 2020 in Washington, D.C. for in-depth discussions of the critical investments needed for strong, reliable, and affordable grid, transportation, and buildings systems, as well as the latest news from the 117th Congress and the Administration.

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Bipartisan Promoting American Energy Jobs Act Introduced in Senate

Author: Sandy Fazeli        Published:  09/23/19       NASEO Newsroom

On Thursday, September 19, U.S. Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and McSally (R-AZ) introduced a bill to require the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct an annual survey and report of employment in the U.S. energy sector. The Promoting American Energy Jobs Act of 2019 would:

  • Establish an Energy Jobs Council, to include at least one State Energy Office serving on the State Energy Advisory Board;
  • Outline methodology and content guidelines for the analysis, in consultation with State Energy Offices and other key stakeholders; and
  • Ensure public access to the data collected.

The bill would also require the research and data collection methodology to be consistent with that used for DOE’s 2016 and 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Reports.

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Senator Shaheen and her staff on advancing this important bill,” notes NASEO Executive Director David Terry. “While it has been a privilege for NASEO to be involved in the production of a national jobs survey and report for the past two years, it is important to have DOE’s research capabilities, expertise, and continued investment moving forward.” NASEO joined nearly a dozen energy and business organizations in submitting a letter of endorsement for the bill.

NASEO, in conjunction with the Energy Futures Initiative and BW Research Partnership, produced the 2018 and 2019 editions of the U.S. Energy and Employment report, with support from a wide array of State Energy Offices, philanthropies, and energy, environmental, and business organizations.

Research and fundraising for the 2020 edition are currently underway. To learn more, contact Sandy Fazeli, NASEO Managing Director of Policy, at sfazeli@naseo.org.

Where Is Marijuana Legal in the US? [2020]

Author: Tara Bernal            Published: 01/29/2020       Testclear.com

Marijuana continues to tread between legal and illegal status, depending on where you are looking in the US and for what purpose you are using the substance.

Medical Marijuana

Recreational Marijuana

Decriminalized

THC-low, CBD-High Allowed

Table of Contents

As far as the US federal government is concerned, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Nonetheless, some states, which will include the District of Columbia (DC) if its statehood pushes through, have legalized marijuana for recreational, medical, or for both purposes. Other states are more stringent with limited medical cannabis laws allowing only cannabidiol (CBD) products with little to no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes the psychoactive high.

The winds of public opinion and policy reform seem to be blowing toward marijuana legalization. It’s hard to ignore the tax revenue from the marijuana industry, which can generate $17.5 billion in tax revenue by 2030. Plus, the medicinal value of marijuana, particularly CBD, may be the only hope for patients with serious medical conditions. These reasons and more may have motivated 30 out of the 50 states to have a marijuana law. It’s not just legalization that is at work here; the move toward decriminalization is also evident.

By the end of this post, you will have counted the states where marijuana is legal in the US. You’ll also be reading up on the laws in every state, whether it legalizes cannabis or not, and pending bills that can upend current federal law on marijuana. The guide also examines the impact of the legalization, public opinion, and prospects that can affect your life and career.

Where Is Marijuana Legal?

As of December 2019:

  • Thirty-three US states and DC have legalized the medical use of marijuana.
  • Eleven states and DC have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
  • Twenty-five states and DC have decriminalized possession of marijuana in small amounts.
  • DC does not allow commercial production and sale of marijuana in its jurisdiction.
  • Vermont does not allow commercial sales of marijuana but does permit medical sales.

Here is a list of states and federal districts where marijuana is legal, as specified:

  1. Alaska (both recreational and medical marijuana)
  2. Arizona (medical marijuana)
  3. Arkansas (medical marijuana)
  4. California (recreational and medical marijuana)
  5. Colorado (recreational and medical marijuana)
  6. Connecticut (medical marijuana)
  7. Delaware (medical marijuana)
  8. Florida (medical marijuana)
  9. Hawaii (medical marijuana)
  10. Illinois (recreational marijuana will become legal in 2020 and medical marijuana)
  11. Louisiana (medical marijuana)
  12. Maine (recreational and medical marijuana)
  13. Maryland (medical marijuana)
  14. Massachusetts (recreational and medical marijuana)
  15. Michigan (recreational and medical marijuana)
  16. Minnesota (medical marijuana)
  17. Missouri (medical marijuana)
  18. Montana (medical marijuana)
  19. Nevada (recreational and medical marijuana)
  20. New Hampshire (medical marijuana)
  21. New Jersey (medical marijuana)
  22. New Mexico (medical marijuana)
  23. New York (medical marijuana)
  24. North Dakota (medical marijuana)
  25. Ohio (medical marijuana)
  26. Oklahoma (medical marijuana)
  27. Oregon (recreational and medical marijuana)
  28. Pennsylvania (medical marijuana)
  29. Rhode Island (medical marijuana)
  30. Utah (medical marijuana)
  31. Vermont (recreational and medical)
  32. Washington (recreational and medical marijuana)
  33. West Virginia (medical marijuana)
  34. District of Columbia (recreational and medical marijuana)
Where is Marijuana decriminalized

Where Is Marijuana Decriminalized?

In the context of marijuana, decriminalization refers to the elimination or reduction of criminal penalties for the personal use and possession of the substance. By decriminalizing marijuana, the possession of small amounts of marijuana becomes a civil infraction or slides one notch lower in the penalty scale.

The term decriminalization differs from legalization that has more to do with allowing medical, recreational, or both uses of marijuana, such that penalties imposed on them are lifted or abolished. State cannabis laws can vary and specify what constitutes legal use, possession, purchase, cultivation, sale, and more of cannabis, so it’s critical to read the statutory provisions. It’s also plausible for a state to decriminalize marijuana but not to have laws that explicitly allow adult use, or that the decriminalization applies to local units.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the following jurisdictions in the U.S. have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. Connecticut
  5. Delaware
  6. Hawaii (decriminalization becomes effective on January 11, 2020)
  7. Illinois
  8. Maine
  9. Maryland
  10. Massachusetts
  11. Minnesota
  12. Mississippi
  13. Missouri
  14. Nebraska
  15. Nevada
  16. New Hampshire
  17. New Mexico
  18. New York
  19. North Carolina
  20. North Dakota
  21. Ohio
  22. Oregon
  23. Rhode Island
  24. Vermont
  25. Washington
  26. District of Columbia

Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois (legalization effective on January 1, 2020), Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia have laws permitting recreational use of marijuana.

What Are State Marijuana Laws?

The interactive map clearly lays out jurisdictions of the US that have medical-marijuana laws and recreational-marijuana laws. Despite not enacting laws on the legalization of medical cannabis, certain states have “limited” marijuana laws for therapeutic purposes.

What Is the Impact of Marijuana Legalization?

If you were to draw a rough timeline of cannabis laws in the US based on the section above, it would look like this:

Rough timeline of Cannabis laws

Many variables are involved in the legalization of marijuana, so further research is required to measure its impact on the youth, the overall economy, and more. For now, we look at numbers and findings with sample case studies that have been collected so far. States that implement medical-marijuana programs have to thresh out issues, such as establishing a patient registry, dispensing, and licensing. These MMPs can take years before they become fully operational.

Economy

Taxing legal marijuana sales has been one of the motivations for legalization on a state level.

MarketWatch relates that Colorado made $270 million in tax revenues from legal pot sales in 2018 or $45 million it collected from alcohol tax. The same article notes that California and Oregon missed their targeted projections for the same year.

Crime and Violence

2017 paper published in The Economic Journal in 2019 reveals the decrease in violent crimes in states or counties near the Mexican border because of medical marijuana laws (MMLs). The study notes that 12 out of 16 states that have MMLs as of 2012 allow for home cultivation. Ten of the 16 states have or allow for dispensaries supplied by local marijuana farmers. The latter reduces the revenues of Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and their “investment in violent activity.

Some, however, will argue that legalization does not equate the reduction of crime. This piece from The Hill relates an uptick in homicide rates in jurisdictions that legalize marijuana.

For example, Denver recorded a homicide rate of 67 percent in 2018 from 36 percent in 2013. Seattle had a peak rate of 31 cases in 2018 from 19 cases in 2013. Meanwhile, DC saw 160 homicide cases in 2018, compared to 116 cases a year before.

Employment

A study from The American Economic Review notes that the legalization of marijuana will remove the stigma of illegality with increased access to the drug. Does this “destigmatization” apply to employment in states with medical and recreational marijuana laws?

The NCSL notes that employers in states with marijuana laws are given discretion on drug testing and decision-making based on the results of the drug test. However, a state can have a law or language that protects medical or recreational cannabis users from discrimination or being declined employment, as in the case of Nevada. Check here if your state has this protection.

What Is the Cole Memorandum?

It’s critical guidance on the enforcement of marijuana issued by US deputy attorney general James M. Cole in August 2013 during the Obama administration. The 2013 memorandum recognized state ballot initiatives that legalized the use and possession of marijuana in small amounts, as well as the regulation of its production, purchase, and sale.

In the memo, the Department of Justice directed US attorneys and law enforcement to focus on the federal government’s important priorities, such as preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors. It left states and local law enforcement agencies to enforce their narcotics laws and prosecute marijuana-related conduct on an individual level.

The Cole Memo was widely seen as the federal government’s way of being hands-off on states with marijuana laws. The expectation is that states will have “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests.”

Rescission of Cole Memo

In January 2018, US attorney general Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo during the Trump administration. The memo took a jab at previous guidance that, according to Sessions, “undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out the mission.”

The 2018 memo emphasized the return of the rule of law, directing US attorneys to prosecute marijuana activities based on the laws of the US Congress and well-established principles.

For many, the rescission of the Cole Memo is a step back to the limbo that is cannabis’s legal status. Certain US representatives did respond to the reversal by introducing the Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act of 2019. This prevents the attorney general from prosecuting activities that relate to the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana or conduct that state law authorizes.

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment is hailed as the most significant legislation in the heels of the Cole Memo. The continued renewal of the amendment means that federal funds won’t be used to enforce federal law in states that legalize medical marijuana.

A bit on the name: the amendment was previously known as Hinchey-Rohrabacher, after Representatives Maurice Hinchey and Dana Rohrabacher. When Representative Sam Farr took over with Rohrabacher, the amendment became Rohrabacher-Farr. With Representative Farr’s retirement, Representative Earl Blumenauer took over his place, and the amendment bears the current names of the sponsors.

The amendment has been included in the annual appropriations bill passed by Congress since 2014. In June 2019, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the amendment that protects both recreational marijuana and medical marijuana programs from the DOJ’s interference. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee did not take up the expanded amendment but opted to go with the amendment that was enacted in 2014 and pertained to state medical-cannabis laws.

Marijuana at a federal level

Is Marijuana Legal at the Federal Level?

The short answer is no. Marihuana, cannabis, or marijuana, as defined in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), is a controlled substance classified as a Schedule I, along with marihuana extract.

According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Diversion Control Division, Schedule I controlled substances have these attributes:

Substances in this schedule have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.

The CSA, which is Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, schedules substances that form the basis for federal regulation and control. Drugs listed under Schedule I and II face the strictest regulations that will be enforced by the DEA. A substance can be removed or reclassified subject to a petition.

Notably, interested parties have called for the removal of cannabis from Schedule I. This is in light of states’ adoption of medical marijuana laws that recognize the medicinal value of the plant. Public policy research group Cato Institute proposed to end the drug war and legalize drugs that will save the government $41.3 billion in annual enforcement expenditures.

What’s Next for Legalization of Marijuana?

(Note: states in the process of legalizing marijuana and pending proposals on the federal level )

On the State Level

According to this report, six states are on track to legalize recreational marijuana in their jurisdictions:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • South Dakota

There can be more surprises with 2020 an election year. Nonprofit organization National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) keeps track of pending legislation for legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. Check what’s on your state’s plate here.

On the Federal Level

Here are marijuana-related proposals that are pending before the Congress:

  • The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (SAFE Banking Act of 2019) aims for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers to have access to financial services. Introduced in March 2019, the bill also intends to give protections to institutions that will provide the financial services.
  • The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARERS Act) aims to amend federal law such that states will be allowed to make their medical marijuana policies. It’s also the intention of the bipartisan bill introduced in January 2019 to permit doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans with serious or chronic conditions
  • Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act, which was introduced in January 2019, wishes to decriminalize marijuana such that it will be removed from all schedules under the CSA and its products be subject to regulation like alcohol
  • The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), introduced in May 2019, echoes the Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol. The bill proposes for the decriminalization of marijuana and the amendment of relevant laws to reflect this change. It also calls for the Health and Human Services to research on the impact of marijuana
  • The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, introduced in February 2019, seeks to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, as well as to establish procedures for taxing and regulating marijuana.

Where Does the Public Stand on Marijuana?

Public Opinion of Marijuana Legalization

What Can You Do?

The numbers and survey results shared above point to a shift toward legalizing marijuana, a movement that is sweeping the US as we speak.

You are fortunate if you live in a jurisdiction that permits access to cannabis for medical or recreational use. If not, you may have to be more proactive by participating in measures that ease restrictions on the substance in your state or on the federal level. You may also write to your lawmakers about your beliefs on the matter.

Indeed, the conflict between state laws and federal laws on marijuana makes it a challenge for employers to adopt drug-testing policies that comply with the rules. It’s all the more reason not to rest on your laurels as the existence of marijuana laws does not necessarily exempt you from a preemployment drug test for marijuana.

Accordingly, here are resources for passing a workplace drug test in flying colors:

Where Is Marijuana Legal?
NHVTRINJDEMDDCMACTHIAKFLMENYPAVAWVOHINILWINCTNARMOGASCKYALLAMSIAMNOKTXNMKSNESDNDWYMTCOUTAZNVORWAIDCAMI
  Medical Marijuana
  Recreational Marijuana
  Decriminalized
  THC-low, CBD-High Allowed

Lightview Cooperative Ribbon Cutting

Author: Leighanna Frantz       Published: 01/27/2020      Evenbrite

Event Information

A ribbon-cutting to celebrate the completion of the solar system at Lightview Cooperative with special thanks to the organizations involved.

About this Event

Thanks to the DC Department of Energy and the Environment’s 2018 Solar for All Innovation and Expansion Grant, PEER Consulting and New Columbia Solar were able to successfully develop, construct, finance, and operate a 108.2 kW solar installation at Lightview Cooperative.

With the Solar for All award, PEER Consulting and New Columbia Solar were able to bring renewable energy to the cooperative and the surrounding community. This program enabled the team to not only provide free energy to low-income residents in the area but also replace portions of the roof at no cost to the customer. PEER Consultants has successfully identified over 100 LMI residents to receive the energy generated by this system at no cost. The energy distributed from this system is estimated to reduce an enrolled household’s electricity costs by 50-120 percent of an average residential electricity bill.

Speakers to include:

Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Councilmember

Ronnie Dampier, Chief of Staff for the Deputy Mayor’s Office

Tommy Wells, Director of DC Department of Energy & Environment

Kathy Arnold, Lightview Board Member and Resident

Dr. Lilia A. Abron, President & CEO PEER Consultants, P.C., Ph.D., P.E., BCEE

Michael J. Healy, Co-Founder & CEO of New Columbia Solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ribbon-cutting to celebrate the completion of the solar system at Lightview Cooperative with special thanks to the organizations involved

 

 About this Event

Thanks to the DC Department of Energy and the Environment’s 2018 Solar for All Innovation and Expansion Grant, PEER Consulting and New Columbia Solar were able to successfully develop, construct, finance, and operate a 108.2 kW solar installation at Lightview Cooperative.

With the Solar for All award, PEER Consulting and New Columbia Solar were able to bring renewable energy to the cooperative and the surrounding community. This program enabled the team to not only provide free energy to low-income residents in the area but also replace portions of the roof at no cost to the customer. PEER Consultants has successfully identified over 100 LMI residents to receive the energy generated by this system at no cost. The energy distributed from this system is estimated to reduce an enrolled household’s electricity costs by 50-120 percent of an average residential electricity bill.

Speakers to include:

Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Councilmember

Ronnie Dampier, Chief of Staff for the Deputy Mayor’s Office

Tommy Wells, Director of DC Department of Energy & Environment

Kathy Arnold, Lightview Board Member and Resident

Dr. Lilia A. Abron, President & CEO PEER Consultants, P.C., Ph.D., P.E., BCEE

Michael J. Healy, Co-Founder & CEO of New Columbia Solar

Parking is located across the street at Safeway (Van Buren St and Georgia Ave).

 

Top News: New year, new funding opportunity.

Author: DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office    Published: 01/27/2020

Energy dot gov Office of Energy Efficiency and renewable energy

Solar Energy Technologies Office

The U.S. Department Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) has funding available for innovative, promising projects. We look forward to highlighting this research in our quarterly stakeholder webinars. We just had our third, and our fourth is on the calendar. All this work means SETO has a job opening. Got initiative? Apply. You could help manage some workforce projects.

These stories and more in this edition of the SETO newsletter.


Coming Soon: New Funding  

On December 19, 2019, SETO issued a notice of intent to award funding to projects that will keep decreasing solar costs, further cut costs in photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies, enable solar-plus-storage, enhance cybersecurity protections, increase manufacturing, develop solar-powered microgrids, and site solar with agriculture. Stay tuned for details.

Putting Initiatives to Work

Part of the SETO FY2018 funding program is focused on expanding the solar workforce—providing training, education, and networking and job opportunities—and preparing them to work on an increasingly modern electric grid. Find out how these eight workforce initiatives projects are contributing to this goal, helping the young, the underemployed, military veterans, Native Americans, and other populations find their way to rewarding solar industry careers.

SETO Quarterly Webinar April 2020

A Good Connection: SETO Stakeholder Webinars

The SETO quarterly stakeholder webinars are a great way to learn and ask questions about our work. On January 23, 2020, the office held its third one, discussing the 2019 project selections, the 2020 funding notice of intent for new projects, solar manufacturing, and collaborative teams. If you missed it, don’t worry: You can download the slide presentationRegister today for the next stakeholder webinar, on April 23, 2020, at 1 p.m. ET.

SETO Needs a Program Manager

Not everyone can successfully manage a team and be a part of it at the same time. But if you can, and you have a degree in physical science or engineering, we want to hear from you. SETO’s strategic analysis and institutional support team—which supports the development and dissemination of analysis, tools, and data resources related to the cost and value of solar technologies, both on their own and as they integrate with other technologies on the grid—is looking for a program manager/supervisory general engineer. Read more about this position and apply.

Decisions, Decisions: A New Energy-Planning Tool  

There’s a new data-driven online platform designed to help state and local decision makers understand the different ways they can meet their energy goals. Brought to you by eight U.S. Department of Energy technology offices and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), State and Local Planning for Energy (SLOPE), now in beta, integrates dozens of distinct sources of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and, soon, sustainable transportation data and analyses. Contact slope@nrel.gov with questions or feedback, and download this fact sheet to learn more.

Shedding Light: The State of the Solar Union

Want numbers? Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s annual utility-scale report is out, featuring extensive analysis—of technology trends, the prices of installed projects and power purchase agreements, operating costs, capacity factors, and the levelized cost and market value of solar. Information on solar-plus-storage projects are included, too. For quarterly industry updates, NREL is on the case. The most recent report was released in November 2019, chronicling domestic and worldwide supply and demand, module and system prices, business trends, and more.

Events

Distributech International 
January 28-30 | San Antonio, TX
On the first day of this annual transmission and distribution event, you can find SETO Systems Integration Program Manager Guohui Yuan at the session “ComEd’s Bronzeville Community Microgrid: Lessons Learned from Experience,” discussing this project in Chicago, which was awarded under the Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV (SHINES) funding program.

National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) Policy Outlook Conference and Innovation Summit 2020 Energy
February 4-7 | Washington, D.C.
SETO Director Becca Jones-Albertus will join state and federal energy policymakers and private-sector leaders at this summit, to present the solar office’s research and innovation priorities for the coming year. Discussions at this summit will identify the investments necessary for reliable and affordable grid, transportation, and buildings systems.

The Eleventh Conference on Innovative Smart Grid Technologies (ISGT 2020)
February 17-20 | Washington, D.C.
At ISGT 2020 on February 19, catch SETO’s Systems Integration Program Manager Guohui Yuan on the panel “Lessons Learned, Practice, and Methodologies for Renewables Integration and Grid Resilience using DERs and Networked Microgrids.”

SETO in the News

Solar Photo of the Week

Sunnyside Ranch Community Solar Array

The Sunnyside Ranch Community Solar Array, a 1.8-megawatt project in Carbondale, CO. Photo by Dennis Schroeder. Click the photo to download it.

Thanks for reading the SETO newsletter! If someone forwarded this to you, you can subscribe here.

SETO is part of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

How to finance solar panels for your home

Author: Holly D. Johnson  Published: 12/18/19      Bankrate

You may be wondering why more people are going solar these days, but it’s not hard to see why once you consider the financial — and environmental — benefits.

Not only can adding solar panels to your home mean never having to pay an electric bill again, but the investment can pay off in terms of increased property value. And if you’re worried about your carbon footprint, adding solar panels to your house can reduce your energy usage and impact on the planet in one fell swoop.

Unfortunately, there’s one big “gotcha” that comes with this home upgrade: Going solar isn’t cheap. The cost can even be considered exorbitant. The good news is there are IRS tax credits you can qualify for that will lighten the financial load, but you still need to find a way to pay upfront.

How much do solar panels cost?

Finding out the average cost of solar panels is the first step in the process for most people considering this option. After all, assessing the cost of the solar panel equipment plus the installation cost is crucial for families deciding if they can truly afford this investment in their home.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), most people paying for a residential system should plan on forking over between $2.70 and $3.11 per watt, data through March 2018 shows. The NREL notes that most residential rooftop systems are between 3 and 10 kilowatts in size. This means most residential systems could cost between $8,100 and $9,330 for a 3 kilowatt system. A larger 10 kilowatt panel system would range from $27,000 to $31,000.

Of course, this all depends on the type of solar panels you end up buying. There are different types of solar panels for residential systems, including gridtie systems that require a connection to your utility company, off-grid systems and gridtie systems with a battery backup. The latter option is the most expensive, but it may offer the best of both worlds. There are also different brands of solar panels to choose from, and installation costs can vary depending on where you live.

How much money can you save by going solar?

Spending up to $30,000 and potentially more for a solar upgrade may seem insane. However, it’s not hard to see how this investment could pay off in the long run just in terms of eliminating electrical usage.

According to data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in October 2018, the average monthly electric bill varied nationwide from a low of $81.65 in Utah to $149.33 in Hawaii.

When tracking bills by region, average monthly electric bills worked out to:

  • New England: $116.97
  • Middle Atlantic: $106.79
  • East North Central: $99.50
  • West North Central: $107.75
  • South Atlantic: $125.15
  • East South Central: $126.58
  • West South Central: $118.79
  • Mountain: $100.03
  • Pacific Contiguous: $101.21
  • Pacific Noncontiguous: $140.78

The total average for the entire United States worked out to $111.67 per month at last count, so we’ll use that as a basis to see how much you could save.

That monthly amount — which you may never pay again — works out to $40,201 over 30 years. So, depending on where you live and the tax incentives you take advantage of, your total electricity savings could exceed the cost of your solar panel installation, as long as you stay in the home long enough.

To get a good idea of what solar panels might cost you (and save you) given your home’s specific location, try using the Project Sunroof tool from Google. Just enter your address, and you’ll see the projected solar paneling costs for your specific property, as well as your expected savings over time. It will also break down the environmental impact your installation could have.

Tax credits that can reduce solar installation costs

If you act fairly quickly, federal tax credits can also help reduce how much solar panels cost. Through the end of 2020, you can receive a 26 percent federal tax credit for the cost and installation of a qualifying solar system. The credit drops to 22 percent for the tax year 2021, but that’s still a big chunk of money considering the high costs involved in solar installation.

To qualify for the credit, your solar system must be installed in a home you own and use as a residence. Rental properties don’t qualify for this credit, but second homes and vacation homes do. The solar system you install must also provide electricity for the house, and it needs to meet all state and federal requirements in terms of fire and electrical codes.

There may also be statewide and city-based incentives you can take advantage of, including valuable rebates and more. To see what’s available in your area, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

Three ways to finance solar panels

You can absolutely finance your solar panel installation cost with cash up front, but there are ways to borrow the money if you want to pay it off over time. Taking out a home improvement loan can help you stretch the payments on your investment out over several months or years. It can also help you “front” the money while you wait for federal tax credit money to head your way.

Personal loans

By and large, the best way to finance a solar project is probably with a personal loan. Personal loans come with fixed interest rates and a fixed monthly payment that will never change through the entire life of the loan. They also typically mean faster access to cash (sometimes as little as a day or two), and many come with no origination fees.

The best part? Personal loans are unsecured, so you don’t have to put your home up as collateral or have a ton of home equity to qualify.

Home equity loans and HELOCs

If you have a lot of equity in your home and prefer to borrow against it, you can also consider a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. Home equity loans work line personal loans, as they have fixed interest rates, a fixed repayment timeline, and the same monthly payments.

HELOCs, on the other hand, give you a line of credit you can borrow against similar to a credit card. With HELOCs, you’ll typically have a variable interest rate, which means your payment could go up or down as your account balance and rate fluctuates.

These two loan options let you use your home as collateral, but you can typically only borrow up to 85 percent of your home’s value across a first mortgage and second loan. The home equity requirement for these loans limits the number of people who can go this route.

In addition to needing a lot of home equity to qualify, home equity loans and HELOCs come with an application process that is more involved. You may, for example, have to get your home appraised to qualify. On the flip side, they can also come with low interest rates and fair terms for consumers with good or great credit.

FHA and Fannie Mae loans

There are also two types of mortgage loans — the FHA 203(k) loan and the Fannie Mae HomeStyle loan — that can help you finance both the purchase of a home and the installation of solar panels and other upgrades simultaneously. You can also use these loans to refinance your existing mortgage and pay for your solar upgrades that way.

Get pre-qualified

Answer a few questions to see which personal loans you pre-qualify for. The process is quick and easy, and it will not impact your credit score.

The bottom line

Going solar can help you reduce your environmental impact as well as your household operating costs. And with valuable federal tax credits available (at least through 2021), you can lessen the up-front costs of installing them, too.

If you need more help financing your solar panel installation, a handful of loan options can help you do it. Just make sure to compare all your financing options — as well as the rates and terms they come with — before you decide.

Learn more:

What’s The Average Cost Of Utilities?

Author:         Published:  01/21/20            moveBuddha

Generally, around $200/month should cover you, but things get a bit more complicated when you break the costs down.

A Quick Breakdown

So, where exactly does this $200 go? Here’s a quick breakdown of your average utility fees.

Average Electricity Bill: $65.33 – $88.10

Average Gas Bill: $80/month (varies from month-to-month)

Average Water Bill: $17.04 – $68.14 per month

Average Sewer Bill: $14.04 – $135.57 per month

Average Trash Bill: $12 – $20/month

Average Internet Bill: $56.60/month

Average Cable Bill $0 – $100 (depending on plan)

Average Condo Bill $50 – $1,000 per month

Average Phone Bill: $15 – $30/month

Can you afford the utilities?

Say you’re in the market for a new place to live.

You’ve found the perfect neighborhood.

Gone on way too many walk-throughs but finally found the perfect place.

And double-checked the rent/mortgage fits within your budget.

You’re good to go, right?

Quick question: Can you afford the utilities?

The quick breakdown above gives you an idea of what each of the utilities will cost. However, the range can sometimes be huge. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Start with $200 per Month

Whether you’re renting or buying a home the cost of utilities is very important to consider.

Experts recommend you set aside $200 each month to cover the bare necessities.

But there are a ton of variables that could make your total monthly utility cost way higher or lower.

Electric alone costs people $1,475 each year on average according to estimates from theU.S. Energy Information Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yeah, that’s a lot of money.

If you’re thinking about moving and want to estimate your utility costs, it’s important you consider the many factors that dictate your final costs.

Luckily, we’re going to break it all down in this post.

Ask For Prior Utility Bills

The average cost of $200 a month is only just an average. One of the simplest ways of getting an idea of what the utility bills of a specific house or apartment will be is to ask for prior utility bills.

In most cases, landlords and real estate agents can get these for you.

Requesting a copy of previous bills will also tell you which utilities were paid by the landlord. Sometimes landlords include utilities as part of the rent but you can only know this if you ask.

Even though prior electric, water and gas bills will probably vary based on usage, you’ll know with near 100 percent certainty what the trash/recycling and condo fees will cost.

Electricity – The Cost of Powering Your Home

Average Electricity Bill: $65.33 – $88.10

Almost every appliance in your home is going to be using electricity at some point in time, which is why it’s important to know exactly how you’re being charged for your power consumption.

Average Electricity Bill

Your electricity consumption is going to be measured inkilowatt hours (kwh), which is essentially a measure of how much power a device uses over time.

Currently, the average energy cost in the US is $0.133/kwh, which is higher than the previous year but prices are projected to fall within the coming months.

Since everyone uses different appliances at different rates, it can be pretty hard to estimate average energy usage, but here are a few constants…

Calculating Power Usage

Determining exactly how much electricity you’re using can be tricky, but there are a few constants you can rely on to give you a baseline.

Here’s the average cost of using some necessary household devices based on data fromDuke Energy:

Appliance Energy Usage Cost
Ceiling Fan 0.075 kwh/hr $0.01/hr
Energy Star Refrigerator 43.0 kwh/month $5.72/month
Dishwasher 1.0 – 2.17 kwh/load $0.13 – $0.29/load
Laundry
(Cold Wash, Cold Rinse)
0.3 kwh/load $0.04
Water Heater 390 – 500 kwh/month $51.87 – $66.50/month
TV (40″ – 49″ LCD) 0.15 kwh/hr $0.02/hr
Computer (Desktop) 0.06 – 0.25 kwh/hr $0.01 – $0.03 kwh/hr
Computer Monitor (17″ LCD) 0.04 kwh/hr $0.01 kwh/hr

Still, there’s one major factor to your electric bill that requires special consideration…

Heating and Air Conditioning – Different Variables Affect Cost

Average Heating Bill: $21.56 – $26.13 (3 – 4 months/year)
Average Air Conditioning Bill: $21.56 – $26.13 (3 – 4 months/year)

Heating and cooling usually make up 35%-40% of your energy bill.

Average Heating Bill

A few things to consider when trying to estimate energy costs…

  • How large is the residence? The more square footage you have the more costly it will be to keep maintain a certain temperature.
  • What’s the climate like? Very hot or cold climates will mean higher energy bills.
  • How old are the appliances? If your HVAC system is 10-15 years old it’s likely going to be less efficient than a newer unit.
  • How well insulated is the home? Are windows double-pane and well sealed? Is the house older? Then it likely isn’t as well insulated as a newer home.

Once you’ve figured all this out, here are some energy saving tips.

Energy Saving Tips

Energy Saving Tips

While many of the factors above are going to be largely out of your control, there’s plenty you can do to save energywhen it comes to heating and air conditioning.

  • Thermostats:
    When it comes to setting the temperature in your home, keep things set as warm as you can stand in the summer and as cold as you’re comfortable with in the winter in order to keep your heat and A/C running as little as necessary.
  • Ducts:
    Make sure your ducts are well-maintained, regularly checking for and sealing leaks to ensure efficient use of your heating and cooling equipment.
  • Fans:
    Ceiling and floor fans use way less energy than air conditioning, as long as you can remember to turn them off when you leave the room.
  • Windows:
    You can also keep your home cool by closing shutters during the day opening windows at night in the summer. Opening blinds to let the sunshine in can keep things a bit warmer in the winter too.
  • Filters:
    You’ll want to change your furnace filter every 2 – 3 months to keep your machines running efficiently and improve the quality of air in your home.

But what if your place hasn’t gone all-electric?

Natural Gas – It Powers Hot Things!

Average Gas Bill: $80/month (varies from month-to-month)

While electric devices are typically more common, many homes and apartments have gas-powered furnaces, water heaters, and stoves.

There are many benefits of natural gas, but the main draw is it’s low cost compared to that of electricity.

Average Gas Bill

While gas-powered devices tend to cost more upon installation and require more regular maintenance, many consider the affordability of natural gas to be a big enough draw to justify the initial hassle.

If your place does end up using natural gas, you’ll probably want to learn how to read your gas bill so that you better understand exactly what you’re paying for.

Once you’ve determined whether your usage is being measured by volume (CCF or MCF)or in heat units (Therm or BTU), you can see exactly how much gas you’re using and what you pay for it.

Taking into account that the average natural gas consumption per household is 567 CFL/year and that the average price of natural gas is around $1.70/CFL, you can expect to pay close to $964.47 annually on natural gas.

Water – The Utility You Can’t Afford to Avoid

Average Water Bill: $17.04 – $68.14 per month

Unless you’re living in a house with a well or an apartment complex that factors water usage into your rent, you’ll probably be paying a monthly water bill.

It’s no secret that city water is usually expensive and the price of water is rising, but it’s not like you can really avoid things like washing dishes and bathing. (Well, you could stop bathing but we really don’t recommend it).

The average daily water usage of one person person isbetween 80 and 100 gallons.

On average, a family of four using around 100 gallons per person per day would expect to spend $68.14 per month on their water bill. However, if you’re living alone and using the same amount of water, your bill will come closer to$17.04/month.

If that amount seems a bit high, that’s because it is. The price of water is rising in many larger US cities and it doesn’t look like it’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

Sewer- The Cost of Sanitation

Average Sewer Bill – $14.04 – $135.57/month

Dealing with the stench emanating from the sewer systems may not be everyone’s idea of a preferred job, but someone has to do it, and they have to be paid.

According to the non-profit organization Circle of Blue, there are two main reasons why the sewer bill is likely to be higher than your water bill.

The first is that the treatment of sewer gobbles more energy than the treatment of water.

Secondly, building sewer treatment infrastructure is more expensive now than it was in the past as local authorities have to meet more stringent environmental regulations.

According to the Water and Waste Digest, the average sewer bill can be as low $14.04 in Memphis and go as high as $135.57 in Seattle.

Even though different cities calculate their sewer bills differently, in most cases, the bill is based on the average water use of a household because sewer water is not metered like a water system.

To get an idea of how your sewer bill is arrived at, you may want to check the method used by your local authority.

Trash and Recycling – An Often Unexpected Expense

Average Trash Bill: $12 – $20/month

It’s rare for anyone to put too much thought into garbage collection beyond taking it out once a week.

But yes, it does cost money to get other people to haul away your waste.

Average Trash Bill

According to the National Solid Wastes Management Association, the average monthly cost of waste collection is between $12 and $20.

So, fairly inexpensive compared to most other utilities.

While most cities have companies who bill residents directly for trash collection, othersfactor waste disposal into local taxes.

Other areas have also begun implementing Pay-as-You-Throw systems which charge customers based on how many bags they throw away to incentivize recycling.

According to EPA Collection Cost data, an average household pays about $1.13 for weekly recyclable collection, adding up to a cost of $58.67 each year to recycle.

Internet – A 21st Century Necessity

Average Internet Bill: $56.60/month

Behold the internet!

What was once a luxury has now become necessity.

Average Internet Bill

Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you won’t have many options when it comes to internet providers in your area.

Not to mention, average internet service in the US is slower and more expensive than many other countries.

As of late-2017, the average cost of internet in the United States was $56.60/month, but you should expect that to differ pretty dramatically depending on how many providers are in your area.

Phones – The Cost of Staying Connected and Secure

Average Phone Bill: $15 – $30/month

Yes, we know, landline phones are so 90’s.

Average Phone Bill

But, over half of the country, still uses a home phone.

So it’s a cost to consider.

For those who need one, you can expect to pay between $15 – $30 per month.

Most major cable companies will offer to include a home phone line in your TV or internet package.

Cable – The Expense You Can Play Around With

Average Cable Bill: $0 – $100 (depending on plan)

Here’s where things get interesting.

Yes, we recognize having cable TV access isn’t a necessity, but it’s definitely a quality-of-life choice that most people find to be well worth the cost.

But don’t worry about not having access to entertainment and information, because there are a plethora of great options for audio/visual content available at many price points.

Average Cable Bill

Digital Antenna:

By far the cheapest option, as long as you’re within range of a local broadcaster, digital antennas allow you to watch a handful of television stations (typically including ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS) for free.

Average Price: $0

Cable Subscription:

Here you’ll see fewer options, depending on where you live, but all companies are required to offer basic cable packages along with additional channels and bundles with internet and phone service.

Average Price: $100/month

Streaming Television:

Recently, many companies have sprung up offering streaming television through the internet, offering customers an alternative to paying whatever their local cable company feels like charging.

Average Price: $25 – $40/month

Dedicated Streaming Services:

And if you’re more into watching things strictly for entertainment, there are plenty ofstreaming video services that offer a variety of content that appeal to almost every niche from film buffs, to classic television, comedies, and horror.

Average Price: $8 – $15/month (per service)

Condo Fees: The Cost of Being Part of a Close Community 

Average condo costs: $50 and $1,000

Are you in the condominium (otherwise known as the condo) market? Then you need to think about condo fees (some call it the “monthly maintenance fees”).

Once you’ve decided that you want the trappings of covered parking, a communal pool, and a gym, among other shared amenities, it becomes vital to consider what your condo fees will be.

So why do you even need to pay these fees? Gardener blowing leaves

There are actually many reasons.

 

The common area needs to be maintained; snow shoveled, leaves raked, gardens manicured, and roofing maintained.

Some of the funds you pay can also be invested so that they can be used for more significant projects like repainting the buildings or replacing roofs and paving.

According to the website Condo Capital, condo fees can average between $50 and $1,000 in the United States.

It’s essential to be clear about what condo fees cover because, in some cases, they can cover utilities like water, trash, and sewer.

You can check the laws regulating condo fees in the Condominium Act in the state where you live.

The Effect of Roommates on Cost of Utilities

So we’ve been looking at the average costs of utilities for an average family, but how does having a roommate affect what you eventually end up paying?

If you are lucky, a roommate can help alleviate the burden of paying for utilities.

Having a roommate can also give you a chance to live in a neighborhood that you may otherwise not afford.

However, if you’re unlucky and end up with a roommate from hell, you may find yourself having more uncomfortable conversations than you want.

You can avoid the uncomfortable discussions if you’re willing to do the following before agreeing to move in with a roommate.

Agree Before Moving In Together

Roommates talking together in living-room

If you can’t have an open discussion with someone, then you’re not likely to be good roommates with that person. Good roommates are clear about their expenses and how each one will contribute to the costs and do their best to keep them low.

Write It Down 

Yes, your roommate may be your friend, but you still need to have a formal agreement about your accommodation sharing arrangements and how you will pay the bills. If you think friends always live together in peace, then you haven’t seen those television judge shows that friends drag each other to when much love is lost.

Discuss Possible Scenarios 

So you met your roommate when they were single, but they fell in love during the course of your accommodation sharing arrangement? The new partner semi-moves into the apartment, and it all becomes a crowd. However, your roommate still believes their contribution should be the same as yours.  This example shows why it’s vital to create scenarios and be clear about how you would handle them when they present themselves.

If one of the roommates goes away for extended periods, say during university breaks, you may also need to discuss how this will be handled financially.

The Power of Negotiating

Do you realize that the $200 suggested at the beginning of this article may not be enough to meet your utility bills every month? But there is no need to despair because you can put on your negotiating hat and bring those costs down.

It’s much easier to negotiate before moving in than trying to do so after. Here are some things you can do.

Have the Attitude That Everything Can be Negotiated 

They may think you are unreasonable for asking for a discount for the lawn service or the electricity bill. Still, there is also a possibility that they actually charged you more, expecting that you would ask for a discount. If you don’t, it’s your loss.

Shop Around 

To negotiate, you will need to know the possibilities by researching the competing service providers. This is the reason why you need to do your research beforehand. Well, if they are not willing to offer a discount, you can always move to the next best offer because you have several of them down your sleeve.

Change Suppliers 

In states that have what is called an “energy choice,” you can negotiate the cost of utilities like electricity and gas. The arrangement allows you to switch to an energy supplier that offers you the best rates.

And that’s…all there is to it?

Look, we get it. There’s a lot to consider here, but hopefully, this guide gives you a decent idea of where to start in budgeting for utilities wherever you’re living.

And if you’re in the midst of planning a move, check out our moving cost calculator for some help with getting everything where it needs to go. You really don’t want another thing to worry about, do you?

DEEP DIVE 2020 Outlook: US renewable resources on steady course for increased deployment

Author: Iulia Gheorghiu      Published: 01/16/20       Utility Dive

‘ element of excitement and momentum” around renewable energy procurement, one analyst said.

Renewable energy resources have become a bigger part of the grid in recent years, competing with traditional generation sources. With flat load growth, falling costs and the expansion of the energy storage sector, this trend is only expected to rise.

While onshore wind is more economic than utility-scale solar in many areas of the U.S., analysts say solar could become increasingly competitive with wind.

“In 2020, this competition will likely evolve further to encompass not just renewable versus traditional resources, but also renewables in competition with each other,” Marlene Motyka, partner of Deloitte’s US Renewable Energy division, told Utility Dive.

The solar and wind energy industries receive a lot of optimism from analysts based on current growth trends for deployment and decreasing prices across the sector.

But the lack of new federal subsidies for clean energy has disappointed many environmental advocates, and the federal trade policy updated at the end of 2019 remains the strongest headwind for wind and solar energy.

“The headwind will continue into 2020 as well as impacts from the stepdown of the national tax credit,” Motyka said.

A strengthening domestic economy may encourage continued renewable energy development, however.

“In 2020, there’s sort of a ‘come on in, the water’s warm’ element of excitement and momentum.”

Ben Serrurier

Senior Manager, LevelTen Energy

“There’s been this looming concern about the recession,” Reed Smith renewable energy partner Brendan McNallen told Utility Dive. “Maybe six months ago, there was a feeling that [a recession] is very likely,” but now that sense “is abating a bit.”

However, he added, development may be stymied by uncertainty from the presidential election.

“Both sides … have pretty different views of renewable energy in the national energy mix,” McNallen said, which is becoming a headwind “against additional development.”

Despite the politicization of renewable energy incentives, the market has expanded in the past year, showing a “real maturation of the [commercial and industrial (C&I)] procurement space,” LevelTen Energy Senior Manager Ben Serrurier told Utility Dive.

The record-breaking year “marks a turning point in who is buying clean energy and the sophistication of those buyers,” he said. “In 2020, there’s sort of a ‘come on in, the water’s warm’ element of excitement and momentum.”

Tax credit reform didn’t shake out new renewables incentives

National tax credits have been key drivers for wind and solar growth in the U.S. renewable energy market. Several advocacy groups continue to lobby for extensions and new clean energy credits after the annual spending bill approved in December left out a number of renewable energy provisions.

The budget included a one-year extension for the wind production tax credit (PTC), although some analysts have argued a short extension will not provide investment certainty.

Efforts to extend the investment tax credit (ITC) for solar were unsuccessful, causing the credit step-down to begin in 2020.

The majority of renewable energy developers think power purchase agreement (PPA) prices for solar and wind will decrease or stay the same in 2020, LevelTen’s Serrurier said.

“In 2020, the entire sector is going to be focused on that final PTC hurdle and getting these massive projects over the line.”

Rachel Shifman

Wind Analyst, BNEF

In 2019, competition from other renewable projects was the leading factor on PPA pricing factors, he said. Only 15% of developers, as surveyed by LevelTen, said the phasedown of federal tax credits had an impact.

For 2020, the phase down of the tax credits are expected to play a greater role.

“They’re sort of connected,” Serrurier said. “When you look towards 2020, competition from other renewable projects … and the phaseout of the tax credit are tied [as developer concerns].”

The phasedown is expected to cause “a rush for projects to get grandfathered in,” he said.

For onshore wind, at least 19 GW is expected to come online in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) most recent short-term outlook.

“In 2020, the entire sector is going to be focused on that final PTC hurdle and getting these massive projects over the line,” BNEF Wind Analyst Rachel Shifman​ told Utility Dive.

 

NC And SC Lawmakers Call For Studies Of Electricity Market Reforms

Author: 

Santee Cooper and SCE&G had been adding two reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in Fairfield County.

An expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina was canceled.

A group of state lawmakers from North and South Carolina want to deregulate the states’ electricity markets by allowing competition for power production. At a press conference Thursday in Charlotte, the lawmakers said they want the two states to study the issue together and suggest reforms.

State Rep. Larry Strickland (R-Johnston County), said he wants North Carolina to convert the current regulated monopoly to a competitive system. A bill he introduced this session would allow for creation of a regional entity that would own power transmission lines in the Carolinas, and require the state to study the benefits of the idea.

He said the goal would be a system that lowers costs and gives customers more choices, or, as he put it, “transition from a vertical, integrated monopoly structure to a market-based system that puts the interests of utility customers at the center of the discussion.”

In a press conference at the Mint Museum Uptown, Strickland said 35 other states have adopted electricity market structures. He believes North and South Carolina, and maybe other neighbors, can create a new energy marketplace that will also help shift to cleaner energy sources and a more reliable energy grid.

South Carolina Sen. Tom Davis, a Republican from Beaufort County, said the states’ current early-20th century systems are outdated. He filed a bill this week to study electricity market reform after studying the business following the cancellation of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion project in Fairfield County, S.C.  That left ratepayers on the hook for millions of dollars in expenses for a plant that will never generate electricity.

“In politics, it’s very hard to change the status quo,” Davis said. “Whenever there’s a crisis or catastrophe, there’s a window of opportunity, like Fairfield County.”

He also said deregulated markets could spur faster adoption of renewable energy, like wind or solar power, and that could mean a faster response to the threat of climate change.

RELATED LINKS

South Carolina Senate Bill 998

North Carolina House Bill 958

 

Amid shut-off woes, a beacon of energy

Author: Scot Wilson     Published: 01/01/20       The Washington Post

A Native American tribe has insulated itself from California’s blackouts by creating a microgrid utility

Customers enter the Blue Lake Casino and Hotel in Northern California, where the lights remained on during a recent wildfire-related power outage. (Photos by Mason Trinca for The Washington Post)

BLUE LAKE, Calif. — After months of wildfires, an essential question in a warming, windy California is this: How does the state keep the lights on? A tiny Native American tribe, settled here in the Mad River Valley, has an answer.

Build your own utility.

The Blue Lake Rancheria tribe has constructed a microgrid on its 100-acre reservation, a complex of solar panels, storage batteries and distribution lines that operates as part of the broader utility network or completely independent of it. It is a state-of-the-art system — and an indicator of what might be in California’s future.

Randy Cox, the Blue Lake Rancheria tribe’s electric system director, tests the microgrid transformers.

A rude realization

Humboldt County has always considered itself an off-the-grid kind of place, the remote destination of a post-Summer of Love hippie migration that brought thousands here to live off the land.

A renowned marijuana industry emerged in the hard-to-reach canyons and valleys, and solar panels and generators helped keep the “grows” hidden from the law. That outlaw culture and black-market economy is now struggling to adapt, like the power system itself, to the regulations that come with a now-legal cannabis market.

But the October power shut-off, followed three weeks later by an even longer outage, revealed just how reliant Humboldt is on a vast, regionwide electricity grid.

While low humidity and high winds made Shasta County to the east a high-fire risk in October, cool, damp Humboldt faced no fire threat at all. Yet to protect Shasta, PG&E had to cut off transmission lines that also serve Humboldt.

“We always get the ‘What is going on there?’ question from businesses we talk to,” said Gregg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission in Humboldt. “But we didn’t know we were tied to a grid hundreds of miles away, and now we’re looking at why their issues have become our problems.”

On the city of Arcata’s central square, where the bead shops, cannabis oil vendors and vintage clothing stores attract a steady flow of tourists, owners of the Big Blue Cafe turned on their generator in the minutes after the power went out for the second time in October.

A few hours later, the popular diner was in flames, the generator later found to have vibrated across the floor to a wall, where the hot exhaust sparked the fire. The restaurant and its two neighbors are still closed.

The makeup of Humboldt’s population also is a barrier to the large-scale adoption of microgrids. It is more transient than most, with a homeownership rate below the national average. Landlords and renters are far less likely to invest in a new, expensive electricity system. The median household income of $42,000 also is well below the national average.

But use of microgrids is growing with the help of state money.

At the California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport, designed during World War II to train pilots how to fly in fog, an $11 million microgrid project is in the works. It is nearly twice as expensive as Blue Lake’s microgrid but five times more powerful, a sign the costs for the systems are coming down.

When finished next year the microgrid will provide electricity to the airport, a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station, a nearby animal shelter and a few other nearby businesses during blackouts.

Michael Shackelford, manager of the Play Station 777, restocks the store’s shelves. Shackelford is a fourth-generation Tolowa member of the Blue Lake Rancheria.

A place for retreat

Rancheria is the name the federal government gave to a series of small Native American reservations around the state’s far-northern coast, and Blue Lake’s reservation is indeed small. So is the tribe — 50 members, now, after more than a century of federal recognition.

The Mad River Valley flooded frequently until the 1950s, when the government built a levee to contain the unruly river. Now the tribe’s land sits between county sewage ponds and a city dump, although the steep-valley landscape on a clear winter day remains breathtaking.

“For a long time, we have had to rely on ourselves. You couldn’t count on help from the federal or the state government,” said Ramos, the tribal council member. “The sense of tribal sovereignty is strong.”

Of California’s many natural plagues, it was not fire but tsunami that focused the tribe’s interest on creating an independent power supply.

In early March 2011, an earthquake shook Japan, triggering the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The force created a tsunami that moved across the Pacific and flooded California’s northern coast, including parts of Humboldt.

Now, tsunami warning signs line Humboldt’s coastal roads. But the tribe noticed that, when residents sought higher ground at the time, many of them congregated in and around Blue Lake above the flood’s high-water mark.

“The tsunami was really a wake-up call about how people experience a disaster here,” said Jana Ganion, the tribe’s energy director. “We realized that people are going to come here for resources.”

When the lights went out in October, Heather Muller, emergency manager for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency began contacting its nearly 150 patients who use medical devices that rely on power.

Some were admitted to the hospital, which had its own emergency power. Muller said the staff identified eight patients “who were not sick enough to be hospitalized but could possibly die overnight without power for their devices.” They were checked into the reservation’s hotel.

Journalists at the daily newspaper, the Times-Standard, needed power to put out the paper. Five journalists worked through the night in a reservation conference room, publishing updates online and even getting designs for the printed edition to Chico, a city 200 miles to the southeast.

“On a normal night, they send those pages back to us and we print them here,” said Marc Valles, the Times-Standard’s managing editor. “This was not a normal night.”

The paper’s delivery trucks in Humboldt met trucks from Chico halfway, picking up the morning edition and delivering it on time. With PG&E “telling public officials one thing, and the public another,” Valles said, it was especially important to have the paper’s reporting as a guide.

“People are skeptical enough of distant officials already, and these mixed messages really didn’t help,” he said. “That’s true anywhere in America, but more so here.”

The Play Station 777 is lit up at night. The roof is covered in solar panels.

The greening grid

Solar panels cover two fenced-in acres behind the tribe’s hotel and casino, and stacks of Tesla batteries sit in the shade of the building. Across from the hotel, the tribe is growing its own food in greenhouses. It turns cooking oil from the hotel kitchen into biofuel.

Ganion estimates that the microgrid decreases the tribe’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 200 tons a year, pushing toward the tribe’s goal of becoming carbon-neutral over the next decade. In addition, by selling energy to the broader grid during peak-use hours, the tribe saves roughly $200,000 a year in PG&E costs.

And it is expanding its self-run utility.

The roof of the Play Station 777 gas and mini mart is covered in solar panels, the power source for a second microgrid set to come online soon. The storage batteries are tucked behind the store, on the edge of the parking lot, a paved dot in a river valley changing like the state around it.

“The main culprit here is climate change,” Ganion said. “When we look for the solutions to the wildfires and the power shut-offs, examples of our changing climate, we must make these decisions through the lens of clean energy.”

Trump administration set to approve NV Energy’s 1.5 GWh storage, 690 MW solar project

Author: Catherine Morehouse     Published: 01/02/20  Utility Dive

Dive Brief:

  • The Trump administration intends to approve siting for the largest solar farm in the United States, a 690 MW facility that will also include 380 MW of 4 hour battery storage.
  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final environmental impact statement for the project on Monday, following the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Nevada’s approval of NV Energy’s proposal Dec. 4. The $1 billion project will be sited on federal land outside Las Vegas.
  • Obama’s BLM previously rejected the project under an agreement with conservation groups that protected sensitive desert land from wind and solar development. The Trump administration indicated it would scrap that agreement in February 2018.

Dive Insight:

President Donald Trump has been generally critical of wind and solar, touting them as expensive, unreliable power sources. But the administration’s approval is indicative of the cost effectiveness of the resources even as the investment tax credit for solar winds down in 2020.

NV Energy’s Gemini solar-plus-storage project will cost around$38.44 per megawatt-hour under a 25-year contract and will take up approximately 7,100 acres of federal land, according to the utility. The project would mark the third time the Trump administration has approved solar siting on federal lands. In June 2018, BLM approved an 80 MW project in Wyoming and in November 2018, the bureau approved a 550 MW farm outside Joshua Tree National Park.

“The proposed Gemini Solar Project would represent a significant increase in renewable energy capacity for Nevada and the West,” BLM Southern Nevada District Manager Tim Smith said in a statement announcing the bureau’s draft environmental review. “The BLM actively supports the Department of the Interior’s America First Energy Plan, an ‘all of the above’ strategy which supports energy development on public lands.”

Conservation groups, including Basin and Range Watch, Defenders of Wildlife and the Wilderness Society cited concerns that the project may have “unavoidable impacts” to “sensitive resources” in public comments and blogs.

The Gemini project, if given final approval by BLM, would surpass a 579 MW solar farm in southern California that currently holds the record for the largest solar array in the United States.

Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners and Arevia Power are heading development of the project.

Nevada’s December approval of NV Energy’s integrated resource plan included 1,190 MW of solar and storage. In addition to the Gemini project, regulators approved a 200 MW solar with 75 MW battery with five hour duration storage project and a 300 MW solar with 135 MW of 4 hour battery storage facility. All three projects are expected to begin operation by Jan. 1, 2024.

BLM first opened up public comment on the Gemini project’s draft environmental impact plan in June and will close its final comment period Jau.27.

CBCF Honors the Life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Author: CBCF communications@cbcfinc.org     Published: 01/20/20

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF) President & CEO David A. Hinson released the following statement in recognition of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday:
“Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived and died fighting for the advancement of the black community. His steadfast commitment to achieving social and economic equality not only inspired generations to continue toward this goal, but Dr. King also served as a mentor, supporter and friend of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) founders.
‘You are demonstrating that we can stick together. You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny,’ King told a group of civil rights leaders in March 1968, a few weeks before his assassination.
“CBC founders, including the late Congressman John Conyers, the longest serving African American legislator in congressional history, resolved to preserve King’s work and legacy. Within weeks of his death, Congressman Conyers introduced legislation to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. Some 15 years later in 1983, the measure was passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law.
MLK Conyers
Rep. John Conyers describes the foundation of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
In the presence of Coretta Scott King (2nd from left), President Ronald Reagan signs a bill making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.
“In honoring Dr. King, we also honor the efforts of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who work tirelessly each day to represent Dr. King’s vision of honesty, integrity and fairness to the more than 80 million people across the United States whom they represent.
“I encourage you to take time today to reflect on the significance of this holiday and the legacy of Dr. King. I also challenge you to ask yourself, ‘how will my actions today and tomorrow advance the black community in America and around the world?’ In the words of Dr. King, ‘The job ahead must be massive and positive.’ We must all contribute to our collective success.”
ABOUT CBCF
Established in 1976, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF) is a non-partisan, nonprofit, public policy, research and educational institute committed to advancing the global black community by developing leaders, informing policy and educating the public. For more information, visit cbcfinc.org.

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Utilities

Author: Miner & Kasch       Published: 01/15/20         Utility Dive

Thanks to digital transformation, electric utilities have endless opportunities to thrive in the 21st century. However, many have been hesitant to move their computing workloads to the cloud and  embrace artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize their data.

AI can help utilities realize efficiencies that might not otherwise be possible, such as computer vision, outlier protection and deep learning techniques. Our new playbook highlights how AI can help utilities realize insights that might not otherwise be possible. This playbook explores:

  • Utility use cases for AI
  • National Grid’s investment in AI for utilities
  • How to overcome barriers to utility AI adoption
  • Initial steps toward an AI-enabled utility future

New law says newly constructed homes in California must have solar panels

Author:  MARIE EDINGER   Published: 01/12/2020      Fox26News

FRESNO, Calif. (FOX26) – A law that kicked in at the start of the New Year mandates that from now on, every new home that’s built must have solar panels installed on the roof.

The California Energy Commission says the goal is meant to zero-out energy consumption.

The California Rooftop Solar Mandate applies to homes, and complexes up to three stories high.

The size of the solar panel system that’s built is based on the square footage of the building, so it can meet the energy usage of the people living in it.

Brandon De Young, of De Young Properties’ says California is the first in the nation to create a law like this.

“Energy codes in historical times have only been about the energy efficiency component of the home – so, making sure the home consumes less energy through the year. This new code is – what’s very different is the solar aspect. So now they’re also requiring a certain amount of solar, which produces energy, right? Two sides of the equation.”

The De Young family says for modern day builders, this change shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

And it’s one that’s good for the homeowner, of course, but also the environment, and the community.

“Of course, the solar companies are loving it, too. They’re going to really grow here. And it’s great for everyone in the Central Valley, because it’ll grow jobs. This is going to be a huge industry now.”

The new law should make home ownership more affordable, since homeowners would save on their utility bills.

The Energy Commission says those savings top the corresponding increase in mortgage payments by about $420 a year in total.

De Young says that means people no longer have to sacrifice comfort to save on their bills.

Brandon De Young/’De Young Properties’: “This gives you the best of both worlds. Lower energy bill, but still comfortable.”

The rules around energy storage devices are also changing.

Those devices now generate a credit toward the minimum building efficiency standard, which will give builders more flexibility in how they meet the state’s energy efficiency codes.

There are a few exceptions to the solar mandate — for instance, if a home is under the shade of trees or other pre-existing buildings, and that makes zeroing out energy consumption impossible, the builders get a break.

More than 2 years after Hurricane Maria, earthquake shows Puerto Rico electric grid remains ‘fragile’

Author: Robert Walton       Published: 01/08/2020      Utility Dive

Dive Brief:

  • After a week of seismic activity, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico on Tuesday morning, causing widespread power outages across the island’s electric system, which has been rebuilt after the 2017 Hurricane Maria.
  • According to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), some of the of power outages can be traced back to automatic emergency response systems that are designed to shut down in an emergency. The utility restored power to some areas in the hours following the earthquake.
  • The earthquake directly impacted diesel generators on the south of the island. While the island is considering how distributed energy resources can help the American territory maintain power stability, progress on the ground has so far been limited.

Dive Insight:

PREPA’s long-term plan calls for a system of eight “mini grids” that would utilize distributed resources to improve reliability during disasters. It includes a focus on renewables, storage and distributed resources — just the kind of system that could help maintain power during a catastrophe, say experts.

But the status of the utility’s integrated resource plan (IRP) remains uncertain, with hearings starting next week at the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau.

Distributed energy resources “have been proposed through the IRP process, but that process is taking forever,” Sierra Club representative Pedro Cruz told Utility Dive. Though he added, “that is not a bad thing: it’s good they are moving slow, to allow input from different stakeholders.”

Cruz, who is the senior clean infrastructure representative for Sierra Club’s Labor and Economic Justice Program, was on the island working with local organizers and activists when the power went out.  “The earthquake shows Puerto Rico is not ready for this kind of disaster,” he said.

The largest recent earthquake impacted several generators, including the PREPA-owned Costa Sur power plant and Aguirres power plant, which are fueled by diesel.

The Aguirre power plant is being restored to service, which could supply 650 MW into the region, PREPA CEO José Ortiz said in a statement. Operations have been carried out to stabilize the system, with the expectation of supplying 2,650 MW of power with contributions from other power plants, he added.

“If another incident beyond our control does not occur and all processes (are effective), we are confident that at least 70% of customers may have power as soon as possible,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló​ said in a statement.

The epicenter of the earthquake was along the southern coast, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, where seismic activity has been occurring for days and a pair of earthquakes registered 5.8 or above.

“The situation there is tense after the two earthquakes,” Roy Torbert, a principal with the Rocky Mountain Institute, told Utility Dive in an email. “Most of the damage is in the south of the island, with particular damage at the Costa Sur power plant and the water tanks there. Guanica and other towns in the south are on edge.”

Most of Puerto Rico’s generation is on the south side of the island, while the island’s highest demand, including in its capital San Juan, is in the north. The need for long-distance transmission lines means power is particularly susceptible to disruption. The utility’s mini grid vision would change this, but in the immediate wake of Hurricane Maria, the electric system was rebuilt largely as it previously existed.

Rubble on Tuesday evening in Guayanilla, in southern Puerto Rico.

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While some hardening has been done, the system “has remained pretty fragile, and power outages are still a fact of daily life for some,” according to Michael Deibert, journalist and author of “When the Sky Fell: Hurricane Maria and the United States in Puerto Rico.”

“A lot of the issues that bedeviled Puerto Rico and held it back before the hurricane continue to exist vividly today,” Deibert told Utility Dive. “I haven’t seen a whole lot change.”

Much of the island’s generation is now fueled by diesel and combined cycle gas plants. However, last year the island’s state legislature adopted a 100% renewable portfolio standard by 2050. 

PREPA’s IRP could cost more than $14 billion, but the utility points to major potential benefits following disruptive storms.

“The business case for transforming the grid architecture is straightforward: it provides the least cost approach to achieve resilience against major hurricanes, meet and exceed compliance with the renewable portfolio standard, engage customers, and lower cost,” according to the IRP.

However, Sierra Club’s Cruz said cost is a serious issue for island residents. “Nobody knows how long it will take to get that plan going, and nobody knows where the money will come from,” he said.

The utility has proposed raising rates, and a tax could be levied on residential solar panels, said Cruz. But Sierra Club fears those actions could force more residents to join the island’s exodus, making the transition to renewables even more difficult. About 200,000 residents left the island following Hurricane Maria, by some estimates.

Raising utility rates “would be horrible for the economy, because it will push more people to leave the island, which means less people to pay back the debt, and that’s a cycle,” said Cruz.

 

 

Maryland regulators urged to consider climate, grid benefits of energy storage

Author:  Matthew Bandyk              Published: 01/08/2020        Utility Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Maryland regulators should create new value streams for energy storage projects that would compensate them based on their ability to reduce emissions and defer the need for distribution grid upgrades, among other factors, a group of utility and government stakeholderssaid in a filing with the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC).
  • The document is the next step toward determining how Maryland utilities will solicit energy storage projects 5 MW to 10 MW in size, as the state’s investor-owned utilities are mandated to do as part of apilot program created by the state legislature last year.
  • The outlined compensation methods could determine how energy storage in the state is monetized under several business models, including utility-owned, third-party-owned or a “virtual power plant” model in which customer-owned storage projects such as batteries are aggregated.

Dive Insight:

The ideas for how to value storage came from members of the Maryland PSC’s Energy Storage Working Group, which includes representatives of Exelon Corp., Exelon subsidiaries Baltimore Gas & Electric and Pepco, the Energy Storage Association and wholesale electricity market operator PJM Interconnection.

An example of a value stream is an “air emissions reduction value.” Energy storage can create reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by storing electricity generated by non-emitting sources like wind and solar, and then discharging that electricity at times when renewable energy is less available.

Under the working group’s proposal, the megawatt-hours discharged by a storage project could be converted into an equivalent number of tons of CO2, and then that number could be multiplied by a CO2 price to calculate a greenhouse gas reduction value. When this value is combined with other potential value streams, the electricity discharged by a storage project would be worth much more on a dollar basis than would be captured by the price of electricity alone.

The filing mentions that the emissions reductions allowed by potential storage projects can help Maryland reach its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 2006 levels by 2030.

Maryland is only the third state to propose substantive analysis of the costs and benefits of storage, Energy Storage Association State Policy Director Nitzan Goldberger said in an email to Utility Dive.

“Currently, only two states—California and New York—have sought to implement [benefit-cost analysis] frameworks beyond simplistic estimates of distribution investment deferral or replacement value,” she said.

“Absent reforms to most current [benefit-cost analysis] frameworks—along with regulatory and market reform that facilitates business models that can provide multiple applications from the same asset—energy storage economic impact analyses would not illustrate the full value of storage,” according to Goldberger.

Another value stream envisioned by the working group would be the savings created when storage defers, or negates the need for transmission and distribution upgrades. Fewer wires and substations need to be built if there are more ways to store electricity, which enhance the reliability of the grid.

More energy conservation at times of peak demand should also be treated as a value stream for storage, according to the working group.

“By reducing the overall need to supply customers during periods of peak demand, the utilities will save money for ratepayers by reducing the overall need to serve the system during period of high demand,” the filing said.

The group also proposed that utilities and regulators should also take into account “non-quantifiable” value streams of storage. For example, battery storage projects can help boost adoption of electric vehicles by serving as additional charging stations.

In addition, because the storage pilot program will embrace various ownership models, another qualitative value stream is “the development of a robust market of vendors” serving Maryland customers with a variety of storage technologies, the filing said.

Maryland’s pilot program for storage follows the state’s 2017 creation of an investment tax credit for residential, commercial and industrial storage installations.

The biggest storage project in Maryland is the 10-MW Warrior RunAdvancion project from AES Corp., Goldberger said. The pilot program would create an additional 10 MW of energy storage for Maryland by around 2022.

Bipartisan bill aims to end Dominion’s distribution monopoly in Virginia

Author: Iulia Gheorghiu            Published: 01/08/2020          Utility Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Virginia Delegates Mark Keam, D, and Lee Ware, R, announced a bill on Tuesday to establish electric retail competition in the state, rehashing prior attempts to end Dominion Energy’s monopoly on distribution.
  • The bill closely mirrors one introduced by Ware in December, according to the Virginia Energy Reform Coalition. It would institute a system for customer choice by mandating the decoupling of power generation activities from distribution and transmission.
  • Dominion, the largest investor-owned utility in the state, did not have access to a bill draft but opposes efforts to deregulate retail markets, citing costs. “When you look at what customers in deregulated states are paying, they are paying rates that are more than 40% higher on average … [while Dominion rates in Virginia] are low or below the national average,” spokesperson Rayhan Daudani​ told Utility Dive.

Dive Insight:

Various state efforts to decouple retail energy services are expected to continue this year, Frank Caliva, spokesperson with American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers (ACCES), told Utility Dive.

Several state legislatures have considered bills in recent years to create customer choice, including Nebraska and Kansas. Colorado, which is motivated to decouple transmission and distribution in order to allow consumers to prioritize clean energy services, is expected to introduce another bill this year, Caliva said.

In 2020, ACCES expects Florida to continue decoupling efforts through a ballot initiative, similar to the one Nevada attempted in the 2018 election.

“It really depends on the politics and the dynamics of the state,” Caliva said. For instance, in Arizona, “regulators have the ability to make policy decisions more broadly than in other states.”

Arizona Corporation Commission Chair Bob Burns last August directed regulatory staff to draft a proposed rule for retail choice access in the state.

“This can be a challenge to [the utilities’] business model,” Caliva said, but other opportunities exist. “There is a compelling case to be made here for cooperation, but… oftentimes, there’s a political challenge in the short term that prevents that.”

Utilities, including Dominion, point to predatory behavior from energy retailers in Maryland and in Massachusetts.

“We’ve seen a number of states where [retail choice] has been tried,” Daudani said. “The states that I have seen … to the northeast especially, have not been successful in trying to use deregulation as a way that’s going to give customers either lower prices or better consumer protections.”

“Bad actors who engage in these kinds of [predatory] practices need to be identified and appropriate action needs to be taken,” Caliva said. “There’s a way to have a functioning competitive market while keeping consumers protected.”

One approach states have taken to counteract such practices is to try to provide more visibility into price comparisons through marketplaces.

“Pennsylvania and Texas, they’ve built, at a considerable expense,” online marketplaces for consumers to “shop for their energy products,” Caliva said. Such websites have “increased shopping numbers” and instilled consumers with more confidence in choosing their energy service providers.

That can still be exploited, Glen Andersen, energy program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told Utility Dive. In Texas, where an online marketplace of retail choice providers exists, website operators have had to change requirements as some participants made their rates appear cheaper, he said.

“Basically, there’s always going to be that incentive for those folks offering [to serve energy loads] to try to get a leg up on the competition, and that might include approaches that look good at first but may, over the long term, not be,” Andersen said.

However, while challenges exist with retail choice for residents, less debate occurs about benefits to the commercial and industrial (C&I) sector.

C&I “participants have a lot of knowledge and can really focus on energy procurement, [making] sure that they utilize the competition that is there in retail choice markets,” Andersen said.

Various corporations using large amounts of energy, from the tech sector to retail, have sought to exit Dominion’s service. Dominion has reached a number of green energy deals with companies and has pledged to continue helping its customers meet their clean energy goals in an effort to keep large energy users in its service.

The Virginia Energy Reform Act, being introduced in the Assembly by Keam and Ware, is the latest in a string of bills targeting retail choice in the state. Another proposal from Democrats in the Assembly, backed by Direct Energy, a competitive service provider, seeks to allow large companies to shop around for energy more easily.

The Assembly is back in session today.

N.A.A.C.P. Tells Local Chapters: Don’t Let Energy Industry Manipulate You

Author: 

When utilities around the country have wanted to build fossil-fuel plants, defeat energy-efficiency proposals or slow the growth of rooftop solar power, they have often turned for support to a surprisingly reliable ally: a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 2014, the top officials of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Florida division threw their organization’s weight behind an effort to stymie the spread of solar panels on residential rooftops and cut energy efficiency standards at the behest of the energy industry. The group’s Illinois chapter joined a similar industry effort in 2017. And in January 2018, the N.A.A.C.P.’s top executive in California signed a letteropposing a government program that encourages the use of renewable energy.

Most Americans know the N.A.A.C.P. as a storied civil rights organization that has fought for equal access to public facilities, fairness in housing and equality in education. But on energy policy, many of its chapters have for years advanced the interests of energy companies that are big donors to their programs. Often this advocacy has come at the expense of the black neighborhoods, which are more likely to have polluting power plants and are less able to adapt to climate change.

The activities of the N.A.A.C.P. chapters, which operate with significant autonomy, have so unnerved the group’s national office that it published a report titled the “Top 10 Manipulation Tactics of the Fossil Fuel Industry” in April. It is also sending its staff to state and local chapters to persuade them to fight for policies that reduce pollution and improve public health even at the risk of losing donations from utilities and fossil fuel companies.

From New Orleans to San Diego, consumer and environmental groups have criticized power companies for using their largess in minority communities to get church pastors, nonprofit groups and organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. to back industry objectives.

“The utilities have essentially asked communities of color to be props for them,” said William Funderburk Jr., an environmental lawyer and former board member of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “It appears utilities are turning back the clock a hundred years.”

From 2013 to 2017, 10 of the country’s largest utilities gave about $1 billion in donations. Those contributions often went to groups representing minority communities, and many of the recipients promoted the interests of utilities in front of government regulators, according to the Energy and Policy Institute, an environmental group.

The N.A.A.C.P. has a long record on environmental issues, including fighting to reduce the health threats posed by lead paint and asbestos. But its national office has been slower to stake a clear position on climate change and the pollution caused by power plants. It established a group dedicated to environmental justice only a decade ago.

Derrick Johnson, the N.A.A.C.P.’s president, said the group had established a department dedicated to that work that is larger than any of its other programs, with 11 full-time staff members and three consultants.

“We care about the education of our children,” Mr. Johnson said. “But if the children are in unhealthy environments, we know that it impedes their learning. We care about health and access to health care, so we must care about the decisions that create mega health impacts.”

As solar panels and other renewable energy sources tumbled in price in recent years, making them attractive alternatives to coal and natural gas in power plants, electric utilities in Florida began pressing regulators and lawmakers to limit their growth.

Rooftop solar in particular posed a threat to the utilities. When the electric grid was designed, engineers did not foresee that consumers would generate their own power and even sell it to the utilities. That could reduce revenue for the companies.

ImageFlorida Power & Light’s plant in Cocoa, Fla. Invoices obtained by The New York Times show that the utility gave the N.A.A.C.P.’s Florida conference at least $225,000 from 2013 to 2017.
Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and other utilities argued that as more affluent homeowners installed solar panels and reduced their reliance on the electric grid, lower-income residents would be forced to pay higher rates to maintain power lines. Many energy experts have disputed that argument, saying energy-efficiency programs and increasingly affordable solar panels can reduce electricity costs for low-income households. But utilities have successfully made their case around the country, often with the help of the N.A.A.C.P. and other nonprofit groups that are advocates for communities of color.

In Florida, utilities found a ready partner — for a time — in Adora Nweze, the president of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Florida conference. She and her staff repeated industry talking points in newspaper opinion articles, written comments to state regulators and testimony in public hearings.

Utilities often sought the group’s support around the time that the state conference was in the middle of raising money for programs and its annual gathering, held in September, Ms. Nweze said.

Invoices obtained by The New York Times show that Florida Power & Light gave the N.A.A.C.P. at least $225,000 from 2013 to 2017 and that Duke Energy gave $25,000. Florida Power & Light’s annual donations doubled in 2014 just as the utility was pressing state regulators to restrict rooftop solar power and weaken the state’s energy efficiency goals.

For example, the N.A.A.C.P.’s Florida conference issued a $50,000 invoice to the utility on Sept. 11, 2014, a couple of months after Ms. Nweze wrote an essay in The Tallahassee Democrat opposing a solar-energy rebate program and in support of a utility-backed change to state efficiency goals.

“In many cases, nonparticipants tend to be the poor, creating a shockingly inequitable situation in which high-income households capture all of the benefits while low-income households shoulder all of the costs,” the essay said. Ms. Nweze said her staff wrote that article and similar ones, often copying verbatim from text sent by Florida Power & Light and other utilities.

In addition to the article, the conference filed comments with the state Public Service Commission. The commission later cited those comments in ruling for the utilities. The commission reduced the state’s energy-efficiency goals by about 90 percent.

The utilities’ policy victory in the 2014 case has had a lasting impact.

Florida utilities have some of the country’s least ambitious energy-efficiency goals. The Sunshine State also trails several states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, in how much electricity it gets from solar panels.

Credit…Zack Wittman for The New York Times

Florida Power & Light declined to answer questions about its work with the N.A.A.C.P.’s state conference and other civil rights organizations. The utility said its primary focus had been to keep electricity rates as low as possible.

“We are proud of our longstanding relationship with the N.A.A.C.P. and of our ability to constructively work together on issues that benefit customers,” said Alys Daly, a company spokeswoman.

In an interview, Ms. Nweze said she had signed on because of the utilities’ financial support to her group, and because she believed what executives had told her about solar panels and energy efficiency.

“I felt that if we wanted the money, we had to do it,” she said. “The shortcoming on my part was that I didn’t have the necessary knowledge to know that it was a problem.”

Ms. Nweze, 77, said she decided about two years ago that her advocacy for the utilities was wrong. That was when the N.A.A.C.P.’s national office worked with her conference on a report about the impact that climate change and pollution have on low-income families. The report concluded that seven power plants had a disproportionate impact on people of color. It also found that Latino adults in Florida had the highest prevalence of asthma at some time in their lives and that African-American adolescents were the most likely to have ongoing asthma.

Jacqueline Patterson played an important role in Ms. Nweze’s conversion. Once focused on becoming a teacher, Ms. Patterson, 51, became interested in environmental issues while in Jamaica as a Peace Corps volunteer, in New Orleans as a relief worker after Hurricane Katrina and in sub-Saharan Africa as an official of a nonprofit group that works on health issues.

She often found that local residents were not involved in the discussions when officials debated and decided environmental and energy policy — white men frequently had the final say.

“What struck me after all of that was the number of rooms I went into where I was the only person of color,” Ms. Patterson said. “Too often, we’re just completely not there.”

As Ms. Patterson began recognizing the need for more African-Americans in the climate-change debate, so did the N.A.A.C.P.

The organization saw a growing need to address climate change and clean energy when it was drawn into a debate over a climate bill in Congress in 2009.

A lobbying firm working for the coal industry, Bonner & Associates, had sent out letters opposing the measure that seemed to be from the N.A.A.C.P.’s chapter in Charlottesville, Va. The group’s national office, in Baltimore, felt it had to make clear that it supported the legislation, which would have established a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Jack Bonner, the founder of Bonner & Associates, declined to comment.

Then the organization began digging deeper, creating an environmental justice program and appointing Ms. Patterson to lead it.

Under her leadership, the group began connecting the dots between climate change and the impact of disasters like Katrina on African-American communities. The group also took a closer look at how rising sea levels and more intense storms might affect low-income, minority neighborhoods. And it started examining how air pollution from power plants affected nearby residents, many of them black.

“Seeing all of those intersections and more, we really saw this as a civil rights issue,” Ms. Patterson said. “The N.A.A.C.P. is now engaging around pushing for policies and pushing for access to clean energy.”

One of her priorities, Ms. Patterson said, is to educate state conferences and chapters. A milestone was the 2017 report with its Florida conference, which got the state organization to reverse its position on solar panels, energy efficiency and other clean-energy programs.

“I looked at it differently than I do now,” Ms. Nweze said. “The more you look at the issue, you realize this isn’t really working.”

But the national N.A.A.C.P. message has not found traction in every state.

The president of the group’s Illinois conference, Teresa Haley, said that her group typically got $5,000 to $10,000 a year from the energy industry and that the money did not influence the group’s activities. “They do have their lobbyist who contacts us and says, ‘We need your support.’”

Ms. Haley added that her group’s local branches held votes on which initiatives they support, sometimes backing utilities and sometimes opposing them. In 2012, for example, the Chicago branch successfully fought to close two coal-fired power plants in minority neighborhoods.

In California, the N.A.A.C.P. conference has more consistently taken positions that align with those of the state’s largest utilities.

Alice Huffman, the president of that state conference, has signed letters opposing government-run electricity providers known as Community Choice Aggregation, which allow consumers to choose solar power and wind with lower rates while leaving billing and transmission in the hands of investor-owned utilities. Ms. Huffman and the heads of other nonprofit organizations joined the utilities in sending a letter to state regulators contending that those programs could shift more of the grid’s cost to those who could least afford it. Studies have found that those in community choice programs typically have lower electric bills, but that state fees charged for grid maintenance could hurt low-income customers.

California’s three investor-owned utilities have donated about $180,000 to the N.A.A.C.P.’s state conference and its local chapters over the last five years, the companies said. Ms. Huffman and her conference did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Funderburk, the environmental lawyer, said the utility donations pressured nonprofit organizations to support the industry in ways undisclosed to members and the public.

“The only way to get real equity is to make things much more transparent,” he said.

Ms. Patterson said the N.A.A.C.P. was working on alternative revenue sources for chapters that stood to lose financial support from utilities.

In Florida, Ms. Nweze said that she realized that reversing support for fossil-fuel interests could jeopardize the state conference’s funding, but that she could no longer ignore the effect of climate change on her members.

“I’m not naïve,” she said. “I’m concerned, but I’m more concerned about the impact on the lives of the people throughout the country and this state in particular.”

 

 

Washington fails to extend the federal EV tax credit; what’s next?

Author: Plug In America           Published  01/8/2020

Despite a flurry of activity in December and thousands of emails and phone calls to Congressional offices (thank you!), an extension of the federal EV tax credit was left out of the final federal spending bill. According to Senator Debbie Stabenow, it was left out due to “extreme resistance from the president,” despite support from both sides of Congress. While the tax credit has been phasing out for Tesla and GM vehicles, it is still in place for automakers that have yet to sell 200,000 vehicles.

While this outcome is obviously not what we wanted, there are a few positives. The EV tax credit extension went from being a mostly unknown credit to one of the top Democrat priorities because of the strength we were able to demonstrate—and with a good number of sympathetic Republicans too. There were multiple letters sent from House Democrats to House Leadership calling for extending the EV tax credit. There were numerous op-eds written in papers around the country calling for extending the EV tax credit. There were advocacy days on Capitol Hill attended by the top utilities in the country calling for extending the EV tax credit. All this attention to the EV tax credit and EVs will certainly lead to more supportive policies at the state level and will set the stage for the next opportunity at the federal level to pass supportive policies.

And what are the next opportunities to extend the EV tax credit? Some members of Congress are looking to revive negotiations on extenders and energy tax credits in 2020. Others are looking to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to bring a bipartisan energy package together. Or, there’s also the possibility that a broad transportation infrastructure package moves through the House and back to the Senate. And of course, there’s always the lame duck session of Congress in November and December, which is probably the next big chance, though that also may depend on the election outcome. With new jobs and EV manufacturing being created in OhioTennessee, andGeorgia, that certainly could help to bring some bipartisan support to the table, as well.

And what’s the math after the EV tax credit for Tesla and GM? Is an EV still a good deal? Is a Tesla or a Chevy Bolt still an amazing car? Definitely! While we still need the federal EV tax credit to work for more consumers for a longer period of time, EVs still offer a better ride and will save consumers money in the long-term compared to a gas vehicle. Demand for these clean cars continues to rise, despite any negative news articles or any ploy from the oil industry.

Plug In America has been fighting for the EV ever since the days of Who Killed the Electric Car? in the early 2000s. Now, 20 years later, we continue to keep fighting.