Recognizing the benefits that small-scale and locally-owned wind projects can have, in 2005 Minnesota lawmakers enacted legislation requiring all of the state’s electric utilities to establish Community Based Energy Development (C-BED) tariffs. The key aspect of the C-BED tariff is higher payments in the first 10 years of a power purchase contract. The only other state to enact such a law as of 2009 is Nebraska. Continue reading
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In the era of electric deregulation customers in some states now have the ability to choose their electric supplier. But early indications are that the vast majority of consumers will choose not to choose. Who, then, should be their default supplier? In most states the incumbent utility has been given this huge pot of customers – California,Massachusetts and Ohio have decided that it should be the town or city who is responsible for serving these customers. Continue reading
Emissions reduction efforts to address the issue of climate change focus on two primary greenhouse gases: CO2 and methane. CO2 is released when fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas – are burned to power our cars, produce electricity or heat our buildings. Methane is emitted in urban areas when garbage and waste products decompose, primarily in landfills. Local and state governments can play a key role because they directly influence and control many of the activities that produce these emissions. Decisions about land use and development, investments in public transit, energy-efficient building codes, waste reduction and recycling programs all affect local air quality and living standards as well as the global climate. Continue reading
A growing number of farmers are selling their products directly to consumers. Expanding localmarkets for agricultural products connects producers with eaters and increases farmers’ incomes by eliminating the middleperson.Food and dollars stay in town, transportation costs are minimized, anda connection between farmers and the community is fostered. Usingfarmers markets, community supported agriculture, and new statemarketing and inspection programs, a new turn towards local markets hasbegun. As these markets expand, local food systems are being rebuilt toreplace the centralized, corporate ones currently in place. Below arethe rules and trends that are driving such a transition. Continue reading
In this short interview on KGNU’s science show – How on Earth– with Tom McKinnon, we talk about: the problems presented for local ownership of energy resources when federal incentives use the tax code, the trouble for clean energy when it’s reliant on Wall Street, how Boulder, CO, may accomplish something remarkable with its vote… Continue reading
Where does solar grid parity strike first? How fast does it spread? Click “animate” on the map below to see which major metropolitan areas can beat grid prices with local solar first, and how quickly unsubsidized solar could take over America’s major metropolitan areas.
Germany is the unquestioned world leader in renewable energy. By mid-2011, the European nation generated over 20 percent of its electricity from wind and solar power alone, and had created over 400,000 jobs in the industry. The sweet German success is no accident, however, and the following pie chart illustrates the results of a carefully… Continue reading
This is a presentation by John Farrell to the MDV-SEIA Solar Energy Focus conference in Washington, DC. In it, I discuss the transformation in the electricity system being wrought by clean energy sources, the winning economies of local solar power, how the drawbacks of solar are technically surmountable, and how public policy must change to… Continue reading
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.