As a provision of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, IRA Charitable Rollover was extended through December 2013. This allows individuals who are 70 ½ and older to make a direct transfer totaling up to $100,000 per year to 501(c)3 organizations, like the TSEA, without having to count the transfers as income for federal income tax purposes. With funding, this organization could reach out to the citizens of Tennessee in promoting clean energy for our lives and the lives of our children and their children. Help us make Tennessee cleaner than ever by supporting the American Solar Energy Society as well as Tennessee Solar Energy Association.
Archive for Political
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.
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.
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
As Debbie Dooley co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party explains, “I’m a grandmother, and I want to be able to look my grandson in the eyes and tell him I’m looking out for his future. Conservation is conservative, and protecting our children and our natural resources is a conservative value.” Those who believe in the free market need to reexamine the way our country produces energy. Giant utility monopolies deserve at least some competition, and consumers should have a choice. It’s just that simple, and it’s consistent with the free-market principles that have been a core value of the Tea Party since we began in 2009.
“In Georgia, we have one company controlling all of the electricity production, which means consumers have no say in what kind of power they must buy. A solar company could not start up and offer clean power to customers because of restrictions in state law. Our Constitution does not say that government should pick winners and losers, but that is what government is doing when it protects the interests of older technologies over clean energy that’s now available at competitive prices. I say, let the market decide” says Debbie.
She goes on to explain, “Georgians are currently and unjustly denied this opportunity, and will continue to be unless a law is passed to change the system. That is why the Atlanta Tea Party supported Senate Bill 401 in the past legislative session. Georgia Power opposed it and it never made it out of committee. We will try again when the Georgia legislature reconvenes in January 2014. All states should allow their citizens the opportunity to generate and sell their own solar power.”
So I ask our elected state and federal officeholders, “Why hesitate in voting for extending the Master Limited Partnership to renewables?” Level the energy playing field. Here in Tennessee, our citizens have the same demands as our neighbors in Georgia. TVA board serves the people in the valley, why not listen to their demands for cleaner energy?
Postscript: Americans for Prosperity, which like the Tea Party have been nurtured and sponsored by the Koch brothers oil billionaires, is dismissing the Georgia faction as an aberration, or even more damming, as a “green Tea Party.” It has sought to turn the issue of rights on its head by arguing that rooftop solar will “infringe upon the territorial rights to the distribution grids” of the network operators.
Property taxes can be an ongoing cost for PV system owners and a determining factor in whether a solar system gets installed. In Connecticut, for instance, residential systems are exempt, and sometimes assessors choose to include commercial and industrial systems, and sometimes, probably in detriment to the finances of the project, they don’t.
A 3rd party investor was very interested in renting ground locations in Tennessee for solar and offering a good deal for the property owner. Their financial model was okay until they checked on the property tax they would have to pay. It was so high in some places and so confusing in other locations that the investor decided not to invest in Tennessee.
Justin Barnes, a Keyes, Fox & Wiedman Senior Policy Analyst and the lead author of the DOE Solar Outreach Partnership’s report Property Taxes and Solar PV Systems: Policies, Practices, and Issues stated that ” there are three generally accepted property tax valuation methods used by assessors: the comparable sales method widely used in residential real estate, the cost-based method in which a replacement cost is estimated, and the income method.”
According to Barnes, “Property tax issues don’t affect the value proposition of third-party ownership, but they figure in on what the property owner owes on taxes,” Barnes explained. “The assessment will affect what the third party owes to property taxes, and that filters down to what the customer pays in a lease or PPA rate.” He goes on to say “Colorado may have the most exemplary property tax system, and Ohio’s is noteworthy for its simplicity: “Systems below 250 kilowatts are exempt and those above 250 kilowatts pay a set fee. Simple. Easy.”
For years, power companies have watched warily as solar panels have sprouted across the nation’s rooftops. Now, in almost panicked tones, they are fighting hard to slow the spread. And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid. The battle is playing out among energy executives, lawmakers and regulators across the country. At the heart of the fight is a credit system called net metering, which pays residential and commercial customers for excess renewable energy they sell back to utilities. Currently, 43 states, the District of Columbia and 4 territories offer a form of the incentive, according to the Energy Department.
Many utilities cling to their established business, and its centralized distribution of energy, until they can figure out a new way to make money. It is a question the Obama administration is grappling with as well as it promotes the integration of more renewable energy into the grid. “I see an opportunity for us to recreate ourselves, just like the telecommunications industry did,” Michael W. Yackira, chief executive of NV Energy, a Nevada utility, and chairman of the industry group the Edison Electric Institute, said at the group’s convention. But utility executives say that when solar customers no longer pay for electricity, they also stop paying for the grid, shifting those costs to other customers.
Utilities generally make their profits by making investments in infrastructure and designing customer rates to earn that money back with a guaranteed return, set on average at about 10 percent. A handful of utilities have taken a different approach and are instead getting into the business of developing rooftop systems themselves. Dominion, for example, is running a pilot program in Virginia in which it leases roof space from commercial customers and installs its own panels to study the benefits of a decentralized generation.
Featured in the July/August issue of Solar Today Magazine is our remedy for this issue. Solar energy through micro-investing could be a solution for both the utility company and the customer. The individual or business would invest in solar energy with a small monthly purchase, perhaps $5 per month, using the micro-investment plan. This would provide opportunities to for all rate payers to invest in solar projects that would directly benefit them through lower electricity rates and return on investment. It overcomes the financing and siting obstacles that can keep would-be investors on the sidelines. As an example, if all TVA ratepayers became micro-investors at a rate of $5 per month, each year TVA would generate $135 million for constructing solar farms. This model protects everyone’s interest.