How Are Your Energy Utilities Doing with Renewables?

Please add (as a Comment on this Post) your story about how energy utilities where you live are responding to radically changed costs and climate imperatives.  We welcome all stories and especially those from outside the US!

I’ll start the ball rolling by sharing very encouraging news from Vermont in the northeast US, from Green Mountain Power, a local electricity company.  “Green Mountain aims to turn homes, neighborhoods and towns into virtual power plants, able to reduce the amount of energy they draw from the central electric system.”  Also of note: “Green Mountain became the first utility to offer customers access to Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system when it was released in 2015.”

“Many customers say they are happy to be part of greening the area’s energy supply, whether for the financial savings, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming, or just to make sure the lights stay on in a power failure.  The Vermont program offers just one example of the continuing efforts at the local level to rethink a largely carbon-based power system.”

Read more on Green Mountain Power: NY Times + New Yorker



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Aryt Alasti's picture

I think the aggregate could

I think the aggregate could potentially become enough to sunstantially substitute for larger solar installations, especially with options such as Tesla's solar tiles becoming  available, and battery storage permitting significant independence from the grid. Germany has well over a million rooftop arrays. Hawaii has so many that a significant number of  them have been prohibited from connecting to the grids there. The property-tax consequences accrue to municipalities, rather than the state, but the presumption is (for owned equipment, or transferrable leases) that resale value has increased.

Though the sales of Renewable Energy Credits renders homeowners' solar production "not renewable," there are probably quite a few of those installations which wouldn't have occurred were it not for the REC-sale opportunities factoring into the financial calculations. Similarly, the utilities would not be either purchasing the credits or paying for their own installations if it weren't for state mandates with which they have to comply. So the overall effect of the credit scenario is to produce more renewable energy, even if not necessarily in the state which promulgated the mandates. Massachusetts is doing fairly well at increasing renewable-percentage requirements, with demonstrable results, significantly thanks to the strong citizen advocacy here. MIT's community will need to remain similarly engaged.

Rick Shankman's picture

Aryt, aggregated home solar

Aryt, aggregated home solar installations are just a drop in the bucket.

Nondispatchable power is not the real issue, but revamping infrastructure and the nature of the dispatchable power grid is. 

That's something the power utilities don't want to pay for or discuss.

Rick Shankman's picture

Dave, with regard to home

Dave, with regard to home-based solar in Florida, here is that story...

"Massive solar corporations, questionable business practices, thousands of foreclosures and hidden costs for consumers — it is far from the 'little guy' image solar groups such as Southern Alliance for Clean Energy portray the industry in its effort to expand solar power throughout Florida."

Rick Shankman's picture

Hi Dave,

Hi Dave,

At the risk of sounding a bit conspiratorial, I suggest that the "Renewable Energy Credits" (RECs) system is one of the most elaborate and clever environmental scams in history.  I'll explain my reasoning below...

The original concept of legislatively mandating that power companies go greener (derive more of their output from renewables) was to force those companies to spend money on large-scale renewables infrastructure.  This infrastructure modernization would mean that fossil fuel-derived power generation would take a corresponding hit; the beginning of a transition from old to new, polluting to green.  The cost to be borne by the guys doing the polluting.  Nope, we can't have that now can we?

Enter the fantastic scam of "credits" to offset this obligation to invest in infrastructure, and buy your way out of fulfilling this mandated obligation by purchasing (not really, as you will soon see) the public's attempts (in good faith) to address the problem themselves.  In the end, you (the power company) go on polluting as usual.  Attention diverted, activists placated.  Mission accomplished.

Now, let's look at the anatomy of the scam.  As a first matter, not every green-thinking power customer has a spare $18,000 to $24,000 to spend on solar.  This means a leasing (and money-making) financing plan.

Consider this excerpt from a 2017 Article in

"[B]ecause Massachusetts requires utilities to derive a percentage of their electricity from solar and other renewable sources, utilities buy SRECs to paint their power portfolio a shade greener. Homeowners sell their [REC] certificates on an open market to earn extra money. 'We have a 4.6-kilowatt system, so we generate an SREC every two to three months, or about four a year,’ said Jen McCloskey, who used a loan to finance the installation of solar panels on her Roslindale Colonial in late 2013. 'So we make about $1,300 a year off of that, which covers a good chunk of our loan payments.’

Of course, it’s not all sunshine in Solarville.

For starters, the estimated savings you see in an installer’s quote are based on the presumption that electricity rates will keep rising annually... [b]ut make sure the installer is using a reasonable figure, not an exaggerated rate that inflates your potential savings.

Likewise, be aware that most leases and power-purchase agreements include escalator clauses, meaning your monthly payment will tick slightly higher each year to keep up with those rising electric rates. And the 20-year contracts associated with leases and PPAs make a lot of people uneasy, said Brian Hession, field sales manager for Ashland-based installer SolarFlair Energy Inc. 'We’ve had 82 people sign up [through the Solarize Quincy program], and only one went with a lease.’

Selling your home gets a bit more complicated if you lease your solar panels, but it can be done — just like a car lease, you can buy yourself out. But keep in mind that the solar company probably scooped up all the tax credits when you first got the system installed...".

Get that, the power solar company got the government paid tax credits (originally designed to be paid to the green-conscious consumer) during the solar panel installation.

Now we come to the net metering cap issue...

"Your decision [to install solar] may be more complicated if you live in a town with [its own] municipal electric service.... [as y]our municipal utility may not participate in net metering.

'We only give an energy credit back to the customer based on what the array produces, and not the full-rate credit. That is considered to be a form of net metering, just not full ‘net metering’ as people usually think of the term,’’ said Ken Stone, energy services and account manager for the Braintree Electric Light Department, citing the need to recover distribution and transmission costs when solar panels aren’t producing power."

For those unfamiliar, "net metering" is the ability to enjoy the use of credit for the electricity a consumer generated at any time they consume electricity, regardless if that electricity contribution happened last month.  Raising the cap on net metering is something being fought by power companies like MIT's new fossil fuel pal Eversourse.

The bottom line is our modern society functions on large quantities of steady (dispatchable) electric power generation.  This is what makes for a reliable grid.  This is also where the electric utility pollution problem is rooted.  Home-based solar does NOTHING to address this problem and allows the polluting utility companies to continue polluting.

Oh, just as an aside, in most jurisdictions that home solar array installation is considered a home improvement and raises your tax assessment. So, you pay more again (in taxes), but this time back to the government who is sponsoring the programs with tax credits.  This cycle, shifting the financial burden of the programs back to the hopeless (green-minded) consumers.

All this is doing is making some small collection of solar, finance, and climate lobby companies rich, while derailing potential climate activism against polluting utility conglomerates.

This April 5, 2017 Boston Globe Article, "It's not so easy buying green power for your home" does a nice job of explaining the deceptive RECs situation...

As stated elsewhere here in ClimateX Dave, the shift in focus from individual to institutional must happen.  The cumulative effect on the climate crisis from individual greening behaviors is ZERO, next to the rate of destruction of the environment by corporate polluters.  Proper climate activism must be centered on stopping the greatest sources of the problem, and not diverted to (ultimately meaningless) individual behavior changes that just sell more stuff while lulling those alarmed by climate change into feeling better and accomplishing nothing.

Dave Damm-Luhr's picture

Hi RIck,

Hi RIck,

thanks for passing along the article which helps in understanding some of the details involved in getting solar in place - such as "renewable energy credits" (RECs).  Do you have any more recent info?  Apparently in 2017, "Vermont’s utilities need to meet certain renewable source requirements enabling Vermont solar companies to have an in-state market through which to sell RECs.

Do you have info on utilities where you live?

What do other people see in their areas?