Here Comes the Sun: Politics Make Strange Bedfellows

solar panels

The Phoenix home of David Leeper, a Republican who has installed solar panels on his roof. Samantha Sais for The New York Times

This week The New York Times published an article that began:

In conservative politics, solar power is often dismissed as an affectation, part of a liberal agenda to funnel money to “solar cronies” of the Obama administration and further the “global warming hoax.”
So one would not expect to see Barry Goldwater Jr., the very picture of modern conservatism and son of the 1964 Republican nominee for president, arguing passionately on behalf of solar energy customers.

There’s no doubt that utilities are going to have to change their business models as solar – and other forms of distributed energy – continue to become more cost effective and widely used. Energy generation is following the same path that moved our society from mainframe computers to hand-held devices that have the same power only “supercomputers” had a few years ago. They say “politics make strange bedfellows”, and it’s fascinating to see this across the country…

read the whole article…

Climate Change Wakeup Call

A Coke bottling plant in Winona, Minn. The company has been affected by global droughts. Andrew Link/Winona Daily News, via Associated Press

The economics are dramatically different when climate disruption stops business because there is no water, or storms knock out all the electricity, or your building is under water…

Coca-Cola has always been more focused on its economic bottom line than on global warming, but when the company lost a lucrative operating license in India because of a serious water shortage there in 2004, things began to change.

Read more…

Solar is Booming in the US

While many Americans have heard of the failure of one solar manufacturer – Solyndra – the reality is that solar is booming in the U.S., with many other manufacturers growing exponentially. The best news is that the 70% per year annual growth is not just being fueled by environmentally-concerned consumers, but rather by “average Americans” who realize that solar can start saving them money — with little or no cash outlay!

I recommend reading David R. Baker’s January 20, 2014 article: Explosive Solar Growth for States’ Surviving Solar Firms, in which he says: “The number of solar installations — both large and small-scale — is booming. In 2013, the United States added enough new photovoltaic panels to generate a maximum of 4.2 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the output of four nuclear reactors.”

Read the whole article >

Happy New Year

This letter was recently published in the New York Solar Energy Industries Association‘s newsletter — something I get to do as the president emeritus. You can browse the entire newsletter here, or read my letter below:

Dear New York Solar Friends & Colleagues,

Happy New Year! I hope you had wonderful holidays, and that 2014 is shaping up to become your best year ever, with lots of sunshine, peace, happiness, good health, and prosperity for all of you and yours.

It’s been a long haul, but my wife Linda had a successful LIVE liver transplant in August (where both the donor’s and recipient’s halves grow back), and she subsequently resolved the remaining issues with a final surgery last month. When I now speak with NYS officials about the new “resiliency” buzzword, I urge them to take lessons from her, as she overcame 14 hospitalizations over the last 14 months (the transplant, as well as winning multiple bouts with pneumonia, sepsis, peritonitis, gastritis, colitis, and C-Diff…).

While I took most of this last year for family medical issues, I’ve also finished a 500KW PV project on Staten Island and a MW Solar Wall Air Heating project at Stewart AFB, and we merged Starphire’s renewable energy marketing & public policy consulting practice with EarthKind’s solar, CHP, and efficiency project development business.

It is heartening to see the NY Solar Industry’s progress since passing the torch to Sean, Mary, Alfredo and the new NYSEIA Board, and humbling to be reminded that transitions of leadership often create things that are even better than before. In this last week, with support & direction from the Governor & PSC, we’ve seen NYSERDA request:

  • $960,556,000 of new funding for 3,000 MWs of CST PV
  • That LIPA/PSEG Long Island residential and small non-residential customers participate in the statewide PV program – with the PSC desiring NYPA to be in one uniform program as well…
  • A MW block plan by 2014 Q1 for the PV standard offer program (up to 200kW), with a similar program to be created later for the current competitive PV program (200-2,000kW)

I am tremendously excited about the new leadership at NYSERDA and the NYS Public Service Commission. Governor Cuomo’s Chairman of Energy and Finance, Richard Kauffman, has been working with the PSC’s new Chairwoman, Audrey Zibelman, and the new NYSERDA President / CEO John Rhodes to redefine the role of utilities and energy incentives. In December’s “trilogy of orders”, the PSC “…begins the process of articulating the broad policy based outcomes intended for the clean energy programs”, and “directs Staff to recommend, in the first quarter of 2014, a process that will result in timely decisions regarding changes to our regulatory model, including performance and outcome based incentives, that will be required to achieve our broad policy objectives”.

The PSC agreed with PACE/NRDC (and us) that “we need to have an incentive structure in place that not only makes utilities indifferent to revenue losses from efficiency (as revenue decoupling does) but provides affirmative motivation”. The PSC “intends to change the regulatory model so that …incentives are not confined to a narrow silo of meeting certain single metric targets, but are integrally bound to the utilities’ business model.”

What this means is that New York State utilities will soon stop fighting efficiency, solar and other distributed generation, since they will be making a profit from them. The old models are about to be turned upside down, and a “new day” is dawning. With the creation of the Green Bank, the PSC also authorized NYSERDA to reallocate unencumbered Main Tier funds to the solar photovoltaic (solar PV) programs “with the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating RPS incentives for PV systems by or before 2020”.

While change is always scary, the “future looks bright” to those who can evolve to the new structures.

I’m in the process of deciding which new projects, business development, and public policy ventures I’ll be pursuing this year, and am always interested in talking and working with good people who are doing interesting things. If you’d like to discuss any of the above or other topics, please email me.

Otherwise, I look forward to participating with you in the NYSEIA member calls, and hope to see you soon!

Best Regards,
Ron