In the November 4, 2011, edition of The Atlantic Cities Christopher Mitchell talks with journalist Emily Badger about political lobbying and its long term threat to the Internet. Continue reading
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Property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing launched three years ago with great promise. The premise was simple: pay for building energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy with long-term property tax assessments, aligning payback periods and financing terms. The residential program’s rapid expansion came to a screeching halt in mid-2010 when the Federal Housing Finance Agency told lenders that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not buy mortgages with PACE assessments on them.
Commercial PACE was left alive, and programs for business and industry are finally getting scale.
In September, the Carbon War Room announced a business consortium would provide $650 million in financing for commercial energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements for two regions: Sacramento, CA, and Miami, FL. San Francisco announced a similar program in October, with $100 million in private funding. For comparison, the largest operational PACE program to date in Sonoma County, CA, has completed $50 million in retrofits.
An interesting difference in the new programs is that they inject private capital into PACE programs that were often envisioned as publicly financed (e.g. using municipal revenue bonds). It’s a welcome development, however, since public sector programs had grown slowly – if at all – since the FHFA decision to curtail residential financing.
The opportunity in commercial PACE alone is enormous. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimates that building energy consumption could be cut by 15-20% in the United States with the right technologies and tools. Since buildings represent 40% of energy use, beefed up commercial PACE activity could be a big step in the right direction.
For more on the residential program and attempts to revive it, visit PACENOW.org.
You’re a city manager hoping to cut electricity costs at sewage treatment plant, a school administrator looking to power schools with solar, or a state park official needing an off-grid solar array for a remote ranger station.
But unlike any private home or business, you can’t get 50% off using the federal tax incentives for solar (a 30% tax credit and ~20% from accelerated depreciation). That’s because the federal government’s energy policies all use the tax code, and your organization is tax exempt.
What about a public-private partnership? The private entity puts up some money and gets the tax benefits, and the public entity only has to pay half. It can work, if you’re lucky, although a good portion of those tax benefits (half, in recent years) pass through to that private entity for their return on investment, not changing the price of your solar array.
But the legal niceties also matter. One common option is a lease, where the public entity leases the solar panels from the private one. One big problem: the IRS doesn’t allow the private entity to collect the 30% tax credit if they lease to a public entity.
The cash grant program in lieu of the tax credit allowed leasing, but it expires in December. Furthermore, it disallowed depreciation of the solar array, equivalent to 20% off.
Another clever arrangement is a power purchase agreement (PPA), where the third-party owns the solar array and simply sells the power to the school or city. The third-party can claim both the tax credit and depreciation, but if you live in a state with a regulated utility market (and no retail competition), your utility might slap you with a lawsuit for violating their right to exclusive retail service.
The following chart illustrates the financial challenge for public entities created by using the tax code to support solar.
Even with a lot of legal creativity, the public sector is often stymied in accessing both federal solar incentives. The result is that private sector solar projects always get a lower cost of solar, because the public sector can only access federal incentives through (costly) partnerships with third parties.
Using the tax code for solar (instead of cash grants, production-based incentives, or CLEAN Contracts) is bad for the solar business, bad for taxpayers and bad for ratepayers. It’s time to change course, and let the public sector go solar, too.
By a razor-thin margin, Boulder citizens gave the city a victory for energy self-reliance on Tuesday, approving two ballot measures to let the city form a municipal utility. If the city moves ahead, it would capture nearly $100 million currently spent on electricity imports and instead create up to $350 million in local economic development by dramatically increasing local clean energy production.
The stage was set over several years, as the city’s multiple pleas for more clean energy were given short shrift by the incumbent electric utility, Xcel Energy. Instead of meeting local demands for more wind and solar power, Xcel instead financed a new coal power plant and told Boulder that it could have more wind power only if it paid extra, and paid when the wind didn’t blow. In response, the city authorized two measures for the Nov. 1 ballot to allow the city to pursue municipal clean energy production.
The campaign was enormously lopsided. Xcel dumped nearly $1 million into a vote ‘no’ campaign, outspending local clean energy supporters by a 10-to-1 margin and spending nearly $77 for each no vote. On the flip side, nearly every local business or newspaper endorsement (and nearly 1000 individual citizen endorsements) supported a ‘yes’ vote. Despite the financial disadvantage, the local grassroots groups won, though their margin of victory was less than 3%.
The victory margin was small, but the clean energy and economic opportunity is enormous. According to a citizen-led and peer reviewed study, the city could increase renewable energy production by 40 percent from multiple, local sources without increasing rates. In contrast to the $100 million in revenue sent to Xcel under the current arrangement, the economic value of local energy production and ownership could multiply within the city’s economy to as much as $350 million a year, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
If the city uses its new authority to become a utility, future generations may look back at 11/1/11 as the shot heard round the world – a shot fired for clean, local energy – and ask why more Americans didn’t “go Boulder” sooner.
On Tuesday, ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell was invited on the David Sirota Show on AM760 in Denver to talk about his article on Local Solar Could Power America in 2026. Click here to find the podcast from iTunes (Sirota Tuesday 10-25-11, Hour 3), the segment starts at 16:24. Continue reading
Back for a second round, the Open Neighborhoods organization in Los Angeles has organized another group purchase of residential and commercial solar PV, bringing the cost of solar incredibly close to the cost of grid power. With grid prices constantly rising, the lifetime savings of going solar have never looked better.
The savings from the group purchase are enormous. With prices are around $4.40 per Watt installed for solar, Open Neighborhoods gets residential solar for $2.00 cheaper than the average prices reported by the Solar Energy Industries Association for the second quarter of 2011. That equates to a 6 cents per kilowatt-hour savings on solar over 25 years. Even with solar typically being cheaper in California, the group advertises savings of as much as 33% on a residential solar array.
The low group purchase price means that those who go solar will have cheaper electricity from their rooftop panels than average grid electricity by 2015. If the solar user is on a time-of-use pricing plan, they’ll already have cheaper electricity from solar than from their utility.
The following chart illustrates the comparison between the cost of power from a rooftop solar array purchased as part of this group buy versus grid electricity at a flat rate.
The results are promising and show that economies of scale can be achieved even with residential solar, if folks work together.
10/25/2011 – Christopher Mitchell sheds light on community networks and lobbying in Colorado in the Huffington Post. Longmont, Colorado has become ground zero for the battle over the future of access to the Internet. Because big cable and telephone companies have stopped us from having a real choice in Internet Service Providers and failed to… Continue reading
A few days ago NBC’s Meet the Press host David Gregory complained about Occupy Wall Street protestors “demonizing banks” and wondered, “Is this not a reverse tea party tactic?” Gregory is right. In many respects Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is indeed a mirror image of the Tea Party. To the Tea Party government is the… Continue reading
For the numerically inclined and because no series of posts should be complete on Energy Self-Reliant States without a chart, here’s the weekly site visits to Energy Self-Reliant States starting with our launch last October. We started slowly, but have been steadily piling on the new visits since early this year. The early summer drop can be blamed on the person pictured below.
The cause of our mid-summer slide:
We’re also getting more people to sign up for our weekly update email, and follow yours truly on Twitter.
Thanks again for a wonderful first year at Energy Self-Reliant States! Help us keep producing these great charts and great analysis of distributed renewable energy by donating!