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California moves to require solar panels on all new homes

Kathleen Ronayne, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Jumping out ahead of the rest of the country, California on Wednesday moved to require solar panels on all new homes and low-rise apartment buildings starting in 2020.

The new building standard — unanimously approved by the five-member California Energy Commission — would be the first such statewide mandate in the nation. It represents the state’s latest step to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Robert Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, called it a “quantum leap.”

“You can bet every other of the 49 states will be watching closely to see what happens,” he said.

The commission endorsed the requirement after representatives of builders, utilities and solar manufacturers voiced support. It needs final approval from California’s Building Standards Commission, which typically adopts the energy panel’s recommendations when updating the state’s building codes.

The requirement would apply only to newly constructed homes, although many homeowners are choosing to install rooftop solar panels with the help of rebate programs.

Read more at https://apnews.com/afa0978eff8443af9e5d7c77a3c285bf

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How solarized is western and northern Sonoma?

Kyle Pennell, THE HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

The level of solar penetration varies quite a bit between the cities and towns in western Sonoma County. At the highest level, 6.83 percent of homes in Sebastopol have installed solar. This is notably more than Healdsburg, where only 3.02 percent of residents have installed solar.

renewableHave you ever wondered how green western Sonoma County is and how we are contributing to protecting the environment and combating climate change? One major way we do this is by changing the way we produce electricity.

Household electricity consumption accounts for about one-third of all energy use, so by reducing or eliminating fossil fuels in electricity production, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint as individuals and as part of the towns where we live.

Installing solar panels is the easiest and more effective way to make electricity more sustainable. We know that more western Sonoma County residents each year are installing solar panels on their rooftops.

But we were were curious — just how many rooftops have solar and how much electricity gets generated from them in Sebastopol, Windsor, Healdsburg, Cloverdale? If every rooftop in these four towns had solar panels, how much electricity would this generate? Finally, how much carbon emissions would be saved by all of this?

Read more at http://www.sonomawest.com/the_healdsburg_tribune/local_biz/how-solarized-is-western-and-northern-sonoma-county/article_077b691a-15d7-11e8-9cc9-7f3735eb6cca.html

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Santa Rosa begins installing solar panels on parking garage roofs

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa has begun installing nearly a thousand solar panels atop four city parking garages, modules that will both shade vehicles from the sun and reduce the city’s energy costs.

“I’m excited to see a much smaller PG&E bill,” said Luke Morse, the city’s parking supervisor as he helped organize the delivery of the panels on Tuesday.

A huge crane began hoisting the photovoltaic panels and the steel canopies that will support them onto garage roofs Tuesday morning.

If all goes well, the installations should take about a month per garage, with the project completed in a few months.

The city estimates the $1.4 million project will pay for itself in about 11 years and save $1.4 million in power costs over the 25-year life of the arrays.

That should help the city achieve about 10 percent of its 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction target, said Kim Nadaeu, parking district manager.

Read more at: Santa Rosa begins installing solar panels on parking garage roofs | The Press Democrat

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Rooftop solar dims under pressure from utility lobbyists

Hiroko Tabuchi, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Some of the slowdown in smaller-scale rooftop solar has come in maturing markets in states like California, where rooftop solar companies are having trouble expanding their customer base beyond early adopters.

Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900 percent by one estimate.

That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2 percent, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.

But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.

Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.

Read more at: Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure From Utility Lobbyists – The New York Times

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Petaluma’s Enphase Energy strives to survive as solar industry transforms 

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

New opportunities are expected to shine soon on the world’s solar industry, and Petaluma’s Enphase Energy is striving to survive long enough to enjoy them.

The energy tech company with 350 employees has reported annual losses every year since it went public in 2012, including nearly $67.5 million worth of red ink last year. Since September, it has gone through two rounds of layoffs and raised about $26 million by issuing new stock and bringing in two major investors.

Enphase officials say with confidence that a turnaround is underway and the company is on track to make a profit in the second half of 2017. Its employees have worked to significantly cut the cost of producing its signature devices, microinverters that take DC, or direct current, power from solar panels and transform it into AC, or alternating current, power for homes.

And one of its recent products, an encased home battery system, is making its U.S. debut just as the rules governing solar energy rates are changing in California, home to half the nation’s solar production.

Due to the rate change, new rooftop solar owners are expected to make less money than their predecessors for the power they sell to utilities in the Golden State. As such, energy storage systems and rate-savvy monitoring technology could one day help future solar owners take advantage of the best times to buy, sell and store power.“

The way people are approaching the solar business today will look antiquated in just a couple of years from now,” said Enphase President and CEO Paul Nahi.

Residents won’t simply buy solar panels, but complete energy packages that include storage and operating systems managed in the cloud, he said. And Enphase has the products and software technology to maximize efficiency.

Read more at: Petaluma’s Enphase Energy strives to survive as solar industry transforms | The Press Democrat

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Feds ease rules on homes with PACE green-upgrade loans 

NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

The federal government has announced new guidelines that will make it easier for the sale and financing of homes with existing property-assessed clean energy (PACE) loans, through the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Veterans’ Administration (VA).

Seniority has been a sticking point for PACE loans since California enacted Assembly Bill 811 of 2008, allowing such financing, and the pioneering Sonoma County Energy Independence Program launched in March 2009.

“This guidance provides resolution on how PACE financings will be handled in the event of a property’s sale, refinance or foreclosure and upholds PACE’s senior lien position,” said Stacey Lawson, CEO and president of Ygrene Energy Fund, a Santa Rosa-based PACE financing provider. “This is confirmation for the homeowners and local governments that have realized enormous, positive benefits of PACE financing for energy and water-related improvements.”

PACE programs enable homeowners to finance up to 20 years water and energy-efficiency projects, paying for the improvements along with their property taxes.

The new guidelines say that a senior PACE lien can be secured to a property with an FHA-insured mortgage in a manner consistent with traditional special property-tax assessments. Additionally, the announcement reinforces lien transferability by stating that in the event of a sale — including a foreclosure sale — that the outstanding PACE obligation will remain with the property and the new homeowner will be responsible for the balance.

The Obama administration, in collaboration with state agencies, also announced a new goal to bring 1 gigawatt of solar — enough to power roughly 700,000 homes — to low- and moderate- income families by 2020. The Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative is a joint partnership between the department of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Veteran’s Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Source: Feds ease rules on homes with PACE green-upgrade loans | The North Bay Business Journal

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Windsor approves Vintage Oaks on the Town Green housing project

… Councilman Sam Salmon, the lone dissenting vote, said he was still troubled over the removal of trees and that the original low-income units proposed were dropped.
That was the consensus of the Town Council members Wednesday as they voted 4-1 to approve a revised development plan for the 387-unit Vintage Oaks on the Town Green, the once controversial project planned for the site of the former Windsorland mobile home and trailer park.“This is a great day for Sonoma County,” said Mayor Mark Millan, adding that it will provide new housing choices for both young and old.

“It’s sorely needed,” he said.

It’s a huge complement to the downtown and the new Bell Village center,” Councilwoman Deb Fudge said in reference to the site it will occupy just to the north of the new Oliver’s Market and shopping center.

She and other council members touted the ability residents will have to walk to the nearby station to ride SMART commuter trains, which Fudge said could be in service in Windsor by the summer of 2018, if grant funding comes through to extend the line beyond its current terminus just north of Santa Rosa.

Developers hope to begin building the first half of Vintage Oaks as early as next month and be ready to rent units out by the summer of 2017, according to project manager Peter Stanley, a principal in Santa Rosa-based ArchiLOGIX.

Southern California developer Bob Bisno said he and his partners expect to spend as much as $135 million to build the combination of apartments and townhomes, which will feature rooftop solar panels and a dozen electric vehicle charging stations initially, with potential to add more.

Read more at: Windsor approves Vintage Oaks on the Town Green housing project

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Solar Wins the Day at CPUC

Geoffrey Smith, CENTER FOR CLIMATE PROTECTION

The fate of rooftop solar has been a cliffhanger for the last few months.

On January 28, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted on the future of Net Energy Metering (NEM) and its impacts on rooftop solar in California.

The consequences of a ‘bad’ CPUC decision are proven. We need only look at rate decisions recently made in Nevada and Hawaii, which devastated the rooftop solar industry. Would California go the way of Nevada? Thankfully, that was not the outcome.

In a 3-2 vote, the CPUC helped secure a future of growth for rooftop solar by adopting a NEM successor tariff largely resembling the original tariff (or “rate structure”), that governs how rooftop solar generators are compensated for the energy they produce.

What does this mean for you, the rooftop solar generator? First and foremost, it means you will continue to be paid full retail rate (rather than a lower wholesale rate proposed by the utilities) for all of the power you produce and send to the grid. Additionally, no monthly fixed or transmission access charges were imposed, and only a ‘reasonable’ one-time fee will be charged for connection to the grid. Overall, the outcome was a big win for rooftop solar.

The Center for Climate Protection attended the CPUC session to show our support and bring to you a report of the day’s events.

Despite months – years, in fact – of aggressive lobbying and grassroots organizing from the solar industry and climate activists, the prevailing sentiment on January 28 was one of tension and uncertainty.

More than twenty audience members presented public comments from a variety of perspectives, almost all supporting strong NEM rules favoring rooftop solar. Only one spoke against such rule-making: The California Chamber of Commerce.

At the close of the public comment period, CPUC President Michael Picker opened the discussion among the commissioners. He noted that the proposed decision (PD) from December to extend NEM would give customers more choice as well as responsibility, and that the PD was moving in the right direction. He voted YES (1-0).

Commissioner Liane Randolph also spoke in defense of NEM, saying that the PD strikes the right balance in a complicated process. She voted YES (2-0).

Commissioner Catherine Sandoval had enthusiastically supported the PD leading up to the previous day’s amended proposal in which transmission access charges were removed. She said she could not support the proposal without those charges in place. She voted NO (2-1).

Commissioner Michael Florio largely echoed Sandoval’s comments, and voted NO (2-2). The tension in the room escalated as the 2-2 vote and ultimate decision moved to the last commissioner. ‘What if’ scenarios were playing out in everyone’s minds.

Commissioner Carla Peterman opened her remarks by acknowledging the wide range of views on the matter and endorsed the PD as moving in the right direction. She said she looked forward to working on the future of NEM, which the CPUC takes up again in 2019. And then she cast a YES vote for the 3-2 final vote in favor of NEM.

Rooftop solar lives to power our communities for another day! The mood in the room as the (mostly) rooftop solar supporters stood to leave the chamber was one of relief. This was a hard-fought battle over a complex set of issues governing an individual’s right to choose how they power their lives. But the real winner was the climate. With new certainty now established around rooftop solar rates, greenhouse gas reductions will accelerate. Go solar!

Source: http://climateprotection.tumblr.com/post/139125780367/solar-wins-the-day-at-cpuc

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It’s all in the timing: California transitions to time-based net metering 

Alison Seel, SIERRA CLUB

January 28. Today, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted its final, hotly anticipated decision on the future of rooftop solar compensation in California. The Commission voted to keep net metering, allowing new rooftop solar owners to receive compensation for every kilowatt hour of energy they export to the grid at their retail rate.

The big change is that new solar customers will soon be required to be on a time-of-use rate, where electricity is more expensive to buy (and extra solar energy is more valuable to sell), at times of high electricity demand. New net metering customers will be required to start signing up under time-of-use rates as soon as the current net metering program is filled to capacity (expected to happen in six months to a year, depending on the utility).

Time-of-use-based net metering is a wise first step in the evolution of rooftop solar policy. As California takes bold and necessary steps toward a fully decarbonized power system, we’ll need to create a more dynamic relationship between electricity supply and demand. Today’s decision helps us achieve this goal: the simplicity and familiarity of net metering will keep rooftop solar expanding, while time-of-use rates incentivize net metering customers to save solar power for later in the day through adaptations both cutting-edge (battery storage and smart thermostats) and mundane (west-facing panels). This shift can reduce our evening reliance on gas-fired generation, decrease air pollution, and position rooftop solar as a tool to address, not exacerbate, the much-ballyhooed duck curve.

But this isn’t the end of the road. The Commission only narrowly approved the decision, with two Commissioners feeling it didn’t reduce solar compensation enough. The discussion made it clear that rooftop solar policy can and should evolve further, as we’re better able to quantify the locational value of power exports, and as we begin to harness the features of (soon-to-be-required) smart inverters. The Commission will reconsider the issue in 2019, with Commissioners suggesting they’d favor a shift to a model based on a set price for power exports.

Overall, it’s refreshing to see a time- and resource-intensive, high stakes debate result in a balanced outcome (we’re looking at you, Nevada). This decision models how states with high levels of rooftop solar penetration can begin aligning solar compensation with its value in a measured way. Tens of thousands of people weighed in, and in the end, rooftop solar in California is positioned to keep growing, bringing cleaner air, more jobs, and a more resilient power system to California.

Source: It’s All in the Timing: California Transitions to Time-Based Net Metering | Sierra Club

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The home battery you can install yourself is coming

Cade Metz, WIRED

Tesla isn’t the only one building batteries for your home. As Elon Musk and company trumpet the Powerwall, so many other outfits, including Samsung and Panasonic and LG Chem, are fashioning similar devices that can store energy for use when the power grid goes down or grid prices rise. So many are saying that, when paired with solar panels, their batteries can further reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which still provide so much of grid’s power.

All are nice thoughts. But questions abound. Do the economics of these batteries really make sense? Are they worth not only the cost but the hassle of installing them? Are they worth it even if you don’t have solar panels?The ultimate goal here is to create vast networks of home batteries, all fed with solar energy and other kinds of clean power.

Orison, a small startup based in San Diego, wants to show that the people really do want these home batteries. That’s why it’s offering a rather friendly version of the technology via a new Kickstarter campaign. The device is unusually small and light, weighing only about 40 pounds. You can install it on your own, inside the house, simply by plugging into an ordinary electrical socket. And you can get your hands on one if you contribute a mere $1,600 to the Kickstarter campaign.

The device stores only about 2.2 kWh of power—which would, say, run your TV for 5 hours. But you can install additional devices for only $1,100 apiece. And each is designed to blend with a home’s decor. You can choose a device that hangs on the wall or one that stands on the floor, and both models double as an LED light fixture. No, you can’t have one today. But the company says its batteries will ship this summer.

Read more at: The Home Battery You Can Install Yourself Is Coming | WIRED