Archive for East Tennessee News
TSEA has had a number of anguished calls from homeowners who want to add solar PV to their roofs but the homeowner’s association do not like the looks of panel mounted solar panels. It is an aesthetic problem and so far the covenant has stopped the interested parties from adding solar. There is an answer to homeowners who are adamant about having solar energy for their home. The answer is solar shingles like those offered by Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles. The following are two examples where looks were important: first, a historic building and the second, a home owners association.
In Katy, TX we had a project opportunity in a neighborhood with regulations against rooftop solar panels. Dow Solar and the homeowner presented the technology and the installed aesthetics to the homeowner’s association board, and won their approval for the project. The system has been installed, and the homeowner and neighbors have been pleased with the outcome. This link is a short video re-cap of the project.In Sag Harbor, NY solar shingles from Dow had a opportunity on a church located in a historic district that was being renovated into a commercial design studio. The building owner had tried unsuccessfully on multiple occasions to win approval to install conventional solar panels on the church as part of the renovation. Dow and the building owner presented POWERHOUSE to the architectural review board in Sag Harbor, and again won their approval for the project.
Other suppliers of solar shingles include Apollo II by Certainteed shown here
Solar Panels Growing Hazard for Firefighters – Why the Need for Integrated Converter with each panel
Firefighters battling the massive 11-alarm blaze at the Dietz & Watson distribution center in South Jersey faced an unlikely foe during the fight — solar panels.
A solar array with more than 7,000 photovoltaic panels lined the roof of the nearly 300,000 square-foot refrigeration facility which served as a temporary storage center for the company’s deli meats and cheeses. But the panels, while environmentally sustainable and cost-saving, may have led to the complete destruction of the warehouse.
Fighting the fire under bright blue skies Sunday, Delanco Fire Chief Ron Holt was forced to keep firefighters from attacking the blaze from the roof because of electrocution concerns.
“With all that power and energy up there, I can’t jeopardize a guy’s life for that,” said Holt. Those electrocution fears combined with concerns of a collapse forced firefighters to simply spray the building with water and foam from afar.
Ken Willette from the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit that develops standards for firefighting, says electrocution is one of the hazards firefighters are increasingly facing fighting blazes at structures where solar panels are deployed.
“Those panels, as long as there’s any kind of light present, whether it’s daylight or it’s electronic lamp light, will generate electricity,” he said.
A 2011 study from the Underwriters Laboratory found solar panels, being individual energy producers, could not be easily de-energized from a single point like other electric sources. Researchers recommended throwing a tarp over the panels to block light, but only if crews could safely get to the area.
SLevy: The issue is the series connection of many panels result in high voltages being developed which could be lethal if improperly handled. There are several answers but the one that makes the most sense to me is to modify the junction box in the back of each panel with an intelligent converter (either a DC-DC converter or a DC-AC inverter) that can disconnect itself from the string either from an internal sensor detecting a fault condition, like heat, or by the main disconnect for the solar system being activated so that all panels are isolated from each other. Then the danger is controlled and fire-persons can do their job and not worry about high voltage danger. A wireless remote monitor will verify the safe condition allowing firefighters to do their job in safety. The other benefit to the solar array owner is the same detection system will warn of panels being stolen. The cost of the intelligent converter should be 10% or less than the cost of the basic panel. Present fire safety regulations do not address this problem.
TVA Solar Investment
• TVA must balance the need for incentives to support new sources of clean, renewable
energy and the impact of these subsidies on consumer power bills. TVA’s mission is to keep
electric rates as low as feasible.
• TVA will invest about $25 million to buy solar energy in FY 2013 part of about $398
million TVA will spend on renewable energy and wind contracts this year.
• TVA’s average cost for all energy generation and delivery is 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Under its current renewable programs terms, TVA pays:
o Green Power Providers – An average contracted price of 17 cents per kWh over 20
years for solar; 14 cents over 10 years for wind, biomass and small-scale hydro.
Renewable Standard Offer – An average market price of 7 cents per kWh for solar;
6 cents per kWh for other renewables over 20 years.
Since the year 2000, the number of solar power installations in the Tennessee Valley has grown from only three to nearly 1,700.
Buoyed by some of the most generous incentives offered by any utility in the South, TVA gets as much power from the sun as it does from either Norris or Chickamauga dams.
But the boom in small-scale solar generation has turned to a bust for many solar installers this summer. TVA capped its 17-cents-per-kilowatt-hour payment for solar generation to only 10 megawatts this year and the limit quickly was reached before many interested homeowners and businesses were able to take advantage of the offer.
Solar power enthusiasts appealed to TVA directors Thursday to buy more solar through its Green Power Providers program. TVA spends about $25 million a year in above-market payments to buy solar generation to help meet its goal of getting more electricity from renewable sources.
As solar panels become more efficient and the industry matures, TVA is looking to cut that subsidy and move toward more market-rate prices for solar generation.
TVA and Pickwick Electric Cooperative are working with Strata Solar to develop two 20-megawatt solar farms near Selmer, Tenn., which will sell power to TVA at market rates. The new solar installations will be the biggest yet in Tennessee and could provide enough electricity for 4,000 Valley homes.
“I actually think we’ve been in a pretty good spot here,” TVA President Bill Johnson said. “As the price comes down, we can afford to do more solar.”
TVA Chairman Bill Sansom said TVA has to balance the costs of subsidizing small solar units, which tend to increase the average price of TVA power, with consumer desires for more solar and assistance to help nurture the new industry.
TVA opened up another 2.5 megawatts in its Green Power Partners program on Aug. 1, but that capacity was sold at auction in only one minute and most applicants didn’t get a piece of the program. TVA has not yet set the price or capacity for its solar programs for 2014, but officials said the utility should soon announce its plans.
“We are looking at the program and we’re looking at the type of adjustments that we can make to help make it a little more friendly for folks,” said Joe Hoagland, TVA’s senior vice president of policy and oversight.
Large-scale solar farms are adding solar generation at less cost for TVA, Hoagland said. TVA still has nearly 75 percent of the capacity available for such large-scale, market-rate solar generation.
“We want to see more of those because they not only give us more renewable energy, they do it without putting any extra burden on our other ratepayers,” Hoagland said.
Future purchase plans and incentives for renewable power will be shaped, in part, by a new Integrated Resource Plan TVA will launch this fall to study future power options for the next two decades. The updated power plan will be finalized by 2015, Hoagland said.
Background: Raccoon Mountain pumped store is one of the largest in the United States holding the equivalent to 12% of the total energy used in Tennessee in one day. Both nuclear and solar PV need energy storage to maximize the return on investment. Pumped storage of water is the most cost effective massive energy storage method known today. Construction at Raccoon Mountain began in 1970 and was completed in 1978. The reservoir constructed at the top of the mountain has 528 acres of water surface. The dam at Raccoon Mountain’s upper reservoir is 230 feet high and 8,500 feet long. It’s the largest rockfill dam ever built by TVA. Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Station is a hydroelectric facility. It has four generating units with a net dependable capacity of 1,652 megawatts. Net dependable capacity is the amount of power a plant can produce on an average day, minus the electricity used by the plant itself. Several units at the 600 MW Raccoon Mountain pump storage facility were taken offline in 2010 due to rotor cracks.
Update on the status of the repair work at that plant by Bill Johnson. In an interview with Power Engineering Mr. Johnson, President of TVA, said that all four of those units were taken out of service after the discovery of cracks in the rotors. “There’s a similar plant in Europe where the cracks were first discovered, and when we inspected here we found the same thing. We are having new rotors manufactured in Europe. I would expect the first unit to be back online around July of this year, and the other three probably in the next ten to twelve months. We’re actively working on that. While the plant was down, we’ve done a lot of other things: replaced transformers, did some other things, but I would hope that we’ll see the first unit coming back in the July timeframe.”
Legislation Expands U.S. Hydropower Production Which Will Benefit Pumped Storage and Solar Dispatchability
Legislation designed to expand hydropower production in the United States by improving and streamlining the licensing process for small hydropower projects is now law. “President Obama’s signature on hydropower legislation is terrific news for expanding renewable energy and creating jobs across the country,” said Voith Hydro President and CEO Kevin Frank.
The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act will require FERC to examine a 2-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed loop pump storage. TVA should give top priority to increasing their pumped storage using no longer active mine, coal washing stations and converting them to closed pumped storage facilities. First, these are environmentally damaged facilities that need attention. Second, by adding a surface reservoir to receive the water from the elevated tailing ponds, TVA could increase its pumped storage first with closed pumped storage, then modifying existing dams to create a lower pond below the dam receiving stream. According to one source at TVA the issue with increasing pumped storage is the objection on environmental grounds. The answer is to select those sites that would have the lowest environmental impact using groups like the Sierra Club to help with the selection and the environmental impact study.
We need to increase pumped storage for both renewables and for nuclear plants. TVA has 47 dams listed on their website. There is a good chance that some of these dams would lend themselves to pumped storage. That is where TVA should invest.
If anybody doubts that federal energy regulators are aware of the rapidly changing electricity landscape, they should talk to Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
“Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything,” Wellinghoff told GTM last week in a sideline conversation at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.
If a single drop of water on the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium is doubled every minute, Wellinghoff said, a person chained to the highest seat would be in danger of drowning in an hour.
“That’s what is happening in solar. It could double every two years,” he said.
Geothermal, wind, and other resources will supplement solar, Wellinghoff said. “But at its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player. Everybody’s roof is out there.” Advanced storage technologies also promise lower costs, he said. “Once it is more cost-effective to build solar with storage than to build a combustion turbine or wind for power at night, that is ‘game over.’ At that point, it will be all about consumer-driven markets.”
If FERC does not ensure the grid is ready to integrate the growing marketplace demand for distributed solar and other distributed resources, Wellinghoff said, “We are going to have problems with grid reliability and overall grid costs.”
Transmission infrastructure will be able to keep up with solar growth. The big changes will be at the distribution level where FERC has less influence, he explained. But the commission has been examining the costs and benefits of distributed generation (DG) in wholesale markets.
“Rate structures need to be formulated in ways that fully recognize the costs and benefits of distributed resources,” Wellinghoff said. “In many utility retail rates, a disproportionate amount of the fixed costs are recovered through a variable rate. That is problematic when a lot of people go to distributed generation.”
The net metering controversy this has caused at utilities like Xcel and Arizona Public Service, he said, can only be resolved by “the fully allocated, fully analyzed cost and benefit study of distributed resources.”
This blog is the result of many calls to TSEA regarding homeowners rights when their home owners associations prevent homes in their association from installing solar panels. The original article is thanks to the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and their solar citizen newsletter. Join TSEA and ASES to create a strong ally in promoting solar in our state and in our country.
By Steve Wright
The benefits of residential solar panel arrays are becoming clearer with each passing year. Rooftop solar panels reduce energy expenditures, carbon emissions and infrastructure-related inefficiencies. There’s also mounting evidence that solar increases the value of the home. Unfortunately, homeowner associations across the country continue to ignore the overwhelmingly positive body of evidence and impose onerous restrictions on residential solar panel installations. Read on to learn how to fight back.
Rights of the HOA
Well-established legal precedents support efforts by HOAs to impose “reasonable restrictions” on their members’ attempts to install solar panels. Generally speaking, courts have been reticent to overturn specific HOA bylaws unless they are found to be arbitrary, unconstitutional or blatantly illegal.
Because an outright ban might look arbitrary (or illegal in many states), HOAs often make rules that restrict the visibility and size of solar panel arrays. Ostensibly designed to promote health and “peace of mind” by reducing glare and rendering “eyesores” less visible, these restrictions often compel homeowners to move their panels to shady, fenced-in yards or to first-floor roofs that can’t be seen from the road.
Unfortunately, HOAs can also use certain legal caveats to deny solar panel installation outright. These often take the form of restrictive covenants designed to preserve or increase property values. They may purport to preserve a community’s “brand” by standardizing the appearance of its homes. Unlike restrictive covenants that come with “sunset clauses” or “express termination” windows, bylaws that restrict solar panel use tend to be permanent and must be invalidated by legal challenges or law changes.
Solar Access Laws
With this in mind, several states have enacted common-sense legal protections for homeowners who want to go solar. While these generally don’t interfere with the “reasonable restrictions” guideline, they prevent persnickety HOAs from making punitive demands on well-meaning members.
California’s Solar Rights Act serves as the model for most of these state laws. Although it was originally intended to prevent HOAs from imposing arbitrary restrictions or outright bans on solar panel arrays, it has since been expanded to cover municipal and regional government bodies. The law has also been amended to ensure that homeowners retain access to state-sponsored solar energy grants and to protect inhabitants of multi-unit dwellings like high-rise apartments and condominiums.
Florida’s own Solar Rights Law offers similar protections. Without interfering with the commonly accepted “reasonable restrictions” allowance, the law prohibits HOAs from banning solar panel arrays and specifically overrides any HOA bylaws that curtail the installation of rooftop solar panels. In other words, Florida homeowners can use most or all of their roofs’ square footage to install arrays.
Even wintry Massachusetts has gotten in on the action. The state’s Solar Access Law nullifies existing and future HOA prohibitions and expressly permits solar easements on residential land. Even better, it prohibits HOAs from restricting the trimming and clearing of vegetation that obscures solar panels on members’ properties.
Remedies for Homeowners
Most homeowners start by attempting to persuade their HOA to refrain from unreasonable restrictions on solar panel installation. This requires an age-old persuasion tactic: the power of credibility. Homeowners often point to credible sources that support the efficacy of solar power. They might cite the U.S. Energy Department’s estimate that a single 10,000 square-mile patch of the Nevada desert receives enough sunlight to satisfy the entire country’s energy needs, or multiple studies that have found a positive correlation between residential solar panel arrays and home values.
Such persuasive efforts must focus on the positive aspects of solar power and cite concrete evidence from non-controversial sources. You could argue that solar panels would reduce homeowner electricity bills and the frequency of peak-period blackouts. Use a politically-neutral source for your facts — the U.S. Department of Energy has a website rich with good data. It’s hard to argue with concrete evidence.
If these efforts prove insufficient, homeowners generally attempt to negotiate a compromise agreement. Since aesthetic concerns often drive these restrictive covenants, successful agreements may require homeowners to keep front-facing portions of their roofs free of solar panels. As a compromise, HOAs might allow solar panel users to trim trees that shade these arrays. Magnanimous homeowners might even volunteer to divert a portion of their panels’ production to commonly held equipment like public-area sprinkler systems or streetlights.
In the worst case, a homeowner may be forced to take legal action against a stubborn HOA. Pro-solar organizations advise homeowners who pursue this course of action to focus on HOA-initiated actions that a court might find to be arbitrary, punitive or “unreasonable.” Ultimately, litigants must be prepared to cite facts that refute common arguments about negative home-value and aesthetic impacts. Those who wish to pursue legislative remedies often use stronger solar-rights laws, like those in Massachusetts and Florida, as templates.
Despite widespread legal protections for homeowners, many HOAs go to great lengths to restrict members’ rights to install solar panel arrays on private property. In a world beset by rising fossil-fuel energy costs, weakening electric infrastructure and a deteriorating natural environment, tension between an HOA and its members is counterproductive. Fortunately, commonsense legislation and a growing body of pro-solar legal precedents have made it easier for homeowners to fight back against overzealous HOAs.
Steve Wright works for Whirlwind Steel Buildings