November 27, 2007 – Volume 11, Issue 10
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Net Energy Providers

The California Solar Initiative (CSI) is my state’s path to a solar future. Progressive and exciting, it is a $3.2 billion solar program championed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and supported by ratepayer funds. Some say it is booming; others claim that it’s falling short of the mark. Incentives are falling faster than product prices; it’s not clear how the market is holding up. Participants continue to be confused about the CSI “solar deal,” in many cases having to gamble on utility escalation rates.

Another limitation of the CSI is that it limits production at any given site. California’s net metering law limits the size of a homeowner’s solar system to the usage of a specific, on-site electric meter. While the notion of “running the meter backwards” is appealing, the best our digital meters can do is “zero out” the bill. CSI participants, regardless of their roof size, land available, or desire and capital to make solar investments, cannot produce more than they use on an annual basis.

Why apply the brakes? Why not allow for “net providers,” those that produce more than they use on site? Less than a single percent of California homes have solar. Of the rest, not everyone has solar access. What can they do? What about apartment owners that lack designated roof space? The CSI misses the opportunity to help everyone go solar, which in turn limits the role of distributed solar generation in meeting local, state, and regional climate protection commitments.

EcoMotion spent a week in Germany exploring its “feed-in tariff” for solar systems, an incentive model that works well: It is simple, clearly profitable for participants, and there is no limit of power that a participant can feed into the grid. Solar developers – from homeowners to farmers -- are encouraged to produce as much as they can. Solar system sizes are not bridled, and many systems do indeed “run the meter backwards.” Last year, Germany installed eight times the capacity of the entire United States.

German homes that generate more power than they use are known as “Energy Plus+” homes. In these cases, the solar system can help pay the mortgage. EcoMotion visited a major consumer electronics store in Freiburg whose new roof is being paid for by its 140 kW photovoltaic system. Farmers are augmenting their farm income by putting land in clean energy generation. It’s good for the owner, and it’s good for society. We need net providers to account for those of us that cannot go solar. And the German rate impact – for those that care -- is about a fifth of a percentage point.
"If we can only get that first 7% without getting thrown out of office for doing it."
Seattle "Cool" Mayor Nickels on CO2 reductions

Mayors, and now Governors, for Climate Protection

Three Western Governors are spokesmen in a television advertising campaign underwritten by Environmental Defense to raise awareness about global climate change, and to call for both personal and federal government action, specifically in the form of federal legislation capping CO2 emissions. In what is being called “a concerted lobbying effort to prod Congress to act” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California (R), Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah (R), and Brian Schweitzer of Montana (D) appeal to the public and policy makers to support national climate protection legislation.

Imagine Midwestern governors leading a charge to cut carbon dioxide! With 22% of the nation’s population, the Midwest region emits 27% of the carbon dioxide. This is largely due to its 71% dependence on coal-fired generation of electricity, well above the 49% national average.

But times have changed. Earlier this month, nine of the twelve Midwestern Governors Association members, plus the premier of Manitoba, signed an agreement to work together to reduce energy and CO2 consumption by 60 – 80%. At a regional summit on energy and climate change, members endorsed a plan that calls for a full report in 30 months that will spell out caps for specific sectors and acceptable trading mechanisms. The regional model is based on similar efforts in the Northeast, Southwestern, and West Coast governors associations.

The Office of the Governor of Wisconsin called upon the Midwestern region to become “the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.” Between its advanced manufacturing base and agricultural productivity, complete with vast northern forests and leading research universities, the Minnesota Governor Pawlenty suggested that the 12-member association ought to lead the nation with renewable energy developments.

Meanwhile, 110 “Kyoto cities” from across America gathered in Seattle for the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Summit. They are among 728 cities with an aggregate population of approximately 70 million Americans that are represented by the “cool mayors,” and that have pledged to cut their CO2 emissions by 7% from 1990 baselines by 2012, and 80% by 2050, the same commitments made by countries around the world in Kyoto.

While praised by President Clinton for their commitments, a study of ten “Kyoto cities” by the Institute for Self Reliance found that few of the cities are having much success. With one exception – Portland, Oregon – the Kyoto cities’ carbon footprints are growing just like the footprints of their states and their nations. So what gives?

An LA Times reporter finds that that it’s not easy to cut CO2. First off, cities are having trouble determining their 1990 baselines. Data is disparate if available. Methodological issues remain: For instance, are airport emissions in or out? Then there is the power to make changes. Cities do not have jurisdiction over their cars’ emissions – for example – nor can most cities affect how their power is generated.

The Kyoto cities have done the relatively easy things such as recycling, van pooling, capturing methane gases from landfills, and installing LED traffic and intersection lights, but in other climate protection areas their efforts are falling short. While the mood was reportedly “upbeat” in Seattle, cities’ commitments are now coming squarely into focus as the 7% date draws near and the results are relatively few and far between.

Member Feature: John A. Smith, Glendale, Arizona

Dear EcoMotion,

I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your newsletter! Lots of thought provoking ideas and interesting initiatives to reduce dependence on fossil fuel!

Speaking of reducing fuel (natural gas in this case) consumption. Your publications that explain the use of alternate energy sources were the genesis of a recently completed solar water heating project for our community pool. We initiated this effort last September and throughout the process, your staff has provided assistance and encouragement when I found myself in over my head in "Natural gas therms; energy use factors; pump motor efficiency, load and HP figures; shading factors; efficiency slopes; and effective Y-intercept data."

Virginia and Russell even provided an analysis of the bids that we received! Their input allowed us to make the right decision in terms of selecting a contractor and thus far we have been completely satisfied with our choice.

Another bit of advice provided by Virginia was to have a roofing contractor check the roof prior to installing the solar panels! Neither we, nor the solar contractors, even addressed the "state of the roof." Good call!! The roof, while not leaking (no rain in Phoenix) it was way past due for replacement."

I have attached a couple of pictures for you and your staff - Thanks again.

John A. Smith
President, Glencroft Residents Association
Glendale, AZ

A Gigawatt of Texas Wind A Year

The State of Texas has now achieved another renewable energy distinction: It is the first state to install 1 GW of wind capacity in less than a year. The installed in capacity was actually 1,185 MW nine months with another 500 MW in line for completion in 2007. The 2007 installed capacity eclipses the prior Texan single year record of 912 MW in 2001. Texas now is home to 33% of the nation’s total installed wind capacity of 13,885 MW, with a Lone Star State total of 3,953 MW.

Portland’s Fee-Bate Carbon Tax

The City of Portland, Oregon is considering a revolutionary form of carbon tax on housing: Homes that meet building codes will pay a carbon tax. Those that are 30% more efficient will “escape” the tax. For those builders that build to 45% or greater efficiency than the code, cash payments will be awarded. According to the City’s Office for Sustainable Development, the item is expected to go to Council in early 2008. While facing some opposition from the building industry that asks “Why fix a working system?” (Portland already boasts the most green building of anywhere in the world.) Portland’s mayor supports the measure.

One of the advantages of a carbon tax that works like a “fee-bate” is that it can be ratcheted downward as the distribution curve of participants continues to be more and more efficient. Through carefully orchestrated taxes and incentives, symmetrical payments in and out, fee-bates can be used progressively.

Berkeley’s Solar Assessment Districts

On November 6th, the Berkeley, California City Council unanimously supported a plan for the City to form the nation’s first solar assessment district, what it is calling Sustainable Energy Financing District. Like assessment districts for street-lighting, under-grounding, and septic systems, the City will be authorized to raise funds to pay for residential solar systems, and then to recoup those funds by placing fees on property taxes. Berkeley’s effort has been supported by a grant from the EPA. Technical, financial, and legal details are expected to be worked out for Council's final approval by early summer 2008.

Under the plan, a homeowner will call the City to ask for a solar system. If suitable for solar, the City would pay a certified installer for the system (net of rebates and tax credits) and would then put an assessment for this cost on the property tax for the home for the next 20 years. Through low-interest financing, payments may be equal to or less than the offset utility bill payments. If a property is sold, the solar system payments will be transferred to the next owner.

Last November, 80% of Berkeley voters approved Measure G which called on “every man, woman, and child who lives or works in Berkeley” to do their part in reducing their carbon footprint. This spurred staff, notably the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Cisco DeVries, to pursue all means to comply with the City’s climate protection commitments. Berkeley has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. The City’s Climate Action Plan focuses on solar, particularly how to finance solar systems.

City officials hope that 25% of all homeowners will sign up for solar, cutting 2,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. If the plan succeeds, Berkeley will be 10% closer to its greenhouse gas reduction target. The City is considering using the same mechanism to support energy efficiency upgrades.

Star Traxxx – Jay Leno’s Green Garage

Inspired by Ed Begley Jr., Jay Leno is doing his bit to kick the habit. His 17,000 square foot “Big Dog” garage adjacent to the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank gets about half its power from a 54 kW photovoltaic system and a 10 kW wind turbine. The late-night star and stand-up comedian has a 150-car collection and has invested heavily in going green. Even his parts cleansers are now green, using grease-eating microbes. Leno quipped that some people say that he should sell all his cars and motorcycles. “No, I’m not going to do that. But what else can I do?”