Archive for West Tennessee News

Home Owners Associations and Your Solar Rights

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.

Conclusion
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.
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Steve Wright works for Whirlwind Steel Buildings

Trainings, Workshops, Courses and Seminars

EVENT DATE CITY EVENT NAME
Mon, 09/09/2013 JOHNSON CITY Free NABCEP Entry Level Training and test
Mon, 09/16/2013 JACKSON Free NABCEP Entry Level Training and test
Wed, 09/18/2013 Memphis Solar PV Installer Boot Camp Training + NABCEP Entry Level Exam Prep Cost $1,295

More details on free NABCEP training, go to earlier blog
For the Memphis course go to this site

TVA proposed Solar Aggregated Value and Education (SAVE) Initiative

TVA will install at least 500 kWs of solar PV at TVA facilities, TVA directly served customer locations, or another government-owned facility (including all local public power companies served by TVA), and shall maintain the PV installations for a minimum of twenty years following approval of project plan. The objective of SAVE is for TVA to partner with the regional community to raise solar energy awareness and education, reduce solar energy costs, and to test the market for upfront Renewable Energy Credit (REC) purchases. The SAVE initiative is based on a community solar business model which brings together individual donors, organizations, and investors to leverage community engagement and maximize stakeholder value.

for more information, go here

Author’s comment:
1. it does not address distributor’s concerns; 2. It does not address soft costs; 3. It does not avoid borrowing of money; 4. It may not locate the solar where it can be best incorporated; 5. It is too small to make an impact on increasing consumer demand; 6. Who manages the overall program(s)? 7. Continue the concept of asking for donations?

Tea Party Joins with the Sierra Club to Promote Solar in Georgia

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.

TSEA August Newsletter Editorial

TSEA Editorial

Disputes over the use of small-scale solar power are flaring across the nation. At issue in an Iowa lawsuit is whether solar-system marketers can sell electricity in territories where local utilities have exclusive rights to customers.

In TVA territory distributors are forbidden from generating electricity and that extends down to small installations on residential homes. The overall concept of an individual providing some of its own power and selling the rest to the utility company is called net metering.

Net metering or net energy metering (NEM) allows electricity customers who wish to supply their own electricity from on-site generation to pay only for the net energy they obtain from the utility. NEM is primarily used for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at homes and businesses (other distributed generation (DG) customers may have access as well). Since the output of a PV system may not perfectly match the on-site demand for electricity, a home or business with a PV system will export excess power to the electric grid at some times and import power from the grid at other times. The utilities bill customers only for the net electricity used during each billing period. Alternately, if a customer has produced more electricity than they have consumed, the credit for that net excess generation will be treated according to the NEM policy of the state or utility.

Benefits of distributed solar include:

• PV systems generate the most electricity during the middle of the day when demand is the highest.
• Net metered PV systems reduce the need to expand transmission grid capacity
• Net metering allows for the development of a solar energy market and the jobs that come with it

Currently 44 states plus D.C. have implemented net metering policies. The following map shows the six states that forbid net metering.


Utilities “are proponents of renewable energy,” said Barry Shear, president of Iowa’s Eagle Point Solar LLC, but only “if they own the energy assets and the electrons flow through their grid and they can bill you.”
“The electric utility industry’s preservation of revenues and investor capital will be determined by its success in aligning with the following five consumer mega-trends reshaping the U.S. economy” says Bill Roth President of NCCT, a nationally recognized business coach, economist, ranked as a top-five writer on sustainability and business best practices. To paraphrase his proposed trends as:
1. Consumers are in active pursuit of lower bills,
2. The electric utility industry’s revenues are at risk with a generation that views the industry as missing in action,
3. Today moms manage the household budget. They expect the companies they do business with, including their utility, to provide products and services that align with their values,
4. Electric utilities need to mimic CEOs of major corporations who are adopting sustainability to reduce their operating costs, increase customer alignment and mitigate risks, and
5. Consumer acceptance of cost reducing disruptive technologies that challenge existing utility economic models.

The issue being brought up in this Iowa dispute is the question as to who supplies electric power to residential customers. The dispute can be resolved with changing the economic model of how solar can be integrated into the existing business models of TVA and independently owned utilities. Nobody has to lose. The existing model in our state can be preserved allowing TVA to generate all the electricity selling the power through their distributors who connect the electricity to the residential commercial customers.
The issue now is not who owns the power sources, but how we raise the funds for solar farms and distributed solar needs. The answer maybe to apply the economic model of micro-investments.
The model published in the July/August issue of Solar Today, addresses the existing barriers through the following channels.
• The income will be generated by residential customers who are interested in improving their environment as well as income generation.
• TVA will manage all future solar installations in cooperation with their distributors.
• Income from the sale of solar power will be channeled from TVA and it’s distributors to the residential investor.
• TVA and its distributors will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of all solar generation where the cost for the O&M will come from the profits of solar sales.
• Home owners and businesses that sign up for the program will agree to compensate the distributors for the cost of maintaining and upgrading the distribution system.
• For distributed generation TVA will compensate the owner of the property for renting their roof.

The essence of the model is discussed in the Solar Today article which can be retrieved at the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) website

On Rooftops, a Rival for Utilities


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.

Arizona leads states in per-capita solar energy

The report notes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have enacted effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.


Arizona leads the nation in per-capita solar energy, according to a report released Thursday.

Following Arizona, in descending order, are: Nevada, Hawaii, New Jersey, New Mexico, California, Delaware, Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Maryland.

The details are in a report titled “Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States,” released by the Environment America Research & Policy Center. The organization — online: www.EnvironmentAmerica.org — is a public interest group that advocates for strong environmental policy.

“The sky’s the limit on solar energy,” Rob Sargent, energy program director with Environment America, said in a news release. “The progress of these states should give us the confidence that we can do much more. Being a leader in pollution-free solar energy means setting big goals and backing them up with good policies.”

The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have enacted effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.

Reference: http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20130725/BUSINESS/130725020/Arizona-leads-states-per-capita-solar-energy-report-says

TVA’s Solar Balance Limits Have Riled Some Providers

Some solar providers are chafing at limits TVA has set as it attempts to balance large solar farm installations with more smaller home rooftop solar installations. (Lance Murphey)

Solar providers in Tennessee are chafing at the limits TVA has set as it attempts to balance large solar farm installations with more smaller home rooftop solar installations. Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division is the authority’s largest customer and solar installations in the Memphis area are dominated by the large solar installation at Agricenter International and the solar farm in rural West Tennessee along Interstate 40. “We’ve actually got a balance that we are looking for,” said Chris Stanley, spokesman for TVA. “TVA overall is looking to balance our portfolio and move into cleaner energy sources. We are looking at natural gas. We’ve had a lot of hydro this year thanks to some rains earlier in the year. … We’re looking to just change the balance so we are running cleaner by 2020.”

That solar power is also more expensive for TVA, which buys it at market rate plus a premium rate of 8 cents. The premium above market rate goes directly from TVA to the providers that sell it to a local utility.
For the 2013 slate of projects, TVA has decided to reopen applications for 2.5 megawatts in the Green Power program.
The Tennessee chapter of the Solar Energy Industry Association is urging TVA directors to drop the system of caps based on the calendar year in both programs.

Steve Johnson, the president of LightWave Solar, the provider that has an office in Memphis, estimated the 2.5 megawatts is enough capacity to last about a day. The association had been hoping for 5 megawatts to be back on the market as what it termed “a stopgap measure to prevent workforce erosion and business impacts in the short term.”
“Consumer demand for solar energy has grown faster than TVA’s ability to adjust, therefore leaving the market underserved, restricting the investment of private capital and creating unnecessary uncertainty for businesses,” said Gil Hough, president of the Tennessee chapter in calling for a “fair and market driven” approach to solar energy development.

But there are market pressures TVA is taking into account that are also factors for those in the solar energy industry. TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said that, just because TVA has filled its capacity in Green Power Providers does not mean TVA is turning down any further solar generation.

“It just means we don’t have any more money for incentives this year. We still have plenty of capacity to buy solar power at market rates,” he said.

Mansfield noted that TVA recently signed agreements with Pickwick Electric Cooperative to develop the two largest solar energy installations in the state in Selmer. The two 20-megawatt solar farm projects will sell electricity to TVA at a market rate of 8 to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour instead of the 19 cents per kilowatt-hour that TVA pays through Green Power Providers.

Do we want to control our energy future, or continue to rent it from other countries?

We will choose, either actively or subjectively

Do we want to control our energy future, or continue to rent it from other countries? This is the overarching question that we, the citizens of these United States, have to answer. It is decision making time. If we do not express our individual feelings about how our country moves forward to meet the energy challenges of today and of tomorrow, then we have only ourselves to blame. This question was raised by Hal Harvey, the chief executive of Energy Innovation, in an article by NY Times Thomas L. Friedman Op-Ed Columnist in a July 2, 2013. As Mr. Friedman so acutely points out. “We also have to ensure that cheap natural gas displaces coal but doesn’t also displace energy efficiency and renewables, like solar or wind, so that natural gas becomes a bridge to a clean energy future, not a ditch. It would be ideal to do this through legislation and not E.P.A. fiat, but Republicans have blocked that route, which is pathetic because the best way to do it is with a Republican idea from the last Bush administration: a national clean energy standard for electricity generation — an idea the G.O.P. only began to oppose when Obama said he favored it.”

Such a standard would say to every utility: “Your power plants can use any fuel and technology you want to generate electricity as long as the total amount of air pollutants and greenhouse gases they emit (in both fuel handling and its electricity conversion) meet steadily increasing standards for cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gases. If you want to meet that standard with natural gas, sequestered coal, biomass, hydro, solar, wind or nuclear, be our guest. Let the most cost-effective clean technology win.”

Is this consistent with the position that Senator Alexander has publicly stated, let the most cost-effective technology win? The one word omitted from the Senator’s message was the word “clean” which I am sure he would agree with having fought these many years for our natural resources such as preserving the environment of our own Smokies. Why not resurrect the Republican idea for a national clean energy standard for electricity generation? You must decide: “Is this in the best interests of our nation?”

Times article

US Utility Business Model Woes

Jennifer Runyon is managing editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com

Jennifer Runyon, managing editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com, had a three minute conversation with Dr. Stephen Chu, former Energy Secretary that emphasized the need for electric generators and distributors to change their business model to reflect the addition of renewables, particularly solar PV, as a significant addition to the energy mix. Chu feels that utilities ought to own solar panels and energy storage systems that they put on their customers’ roofs and in their garages. He said if utilities could outfit homeowners with solar panels and a 5-kW battery system, they could continue selling that customer power just as they do now. The utility would own the system, maintain the system and the customer would have no out-of-pocket expenses for it other than continuing to buy power at the same rate or at perhaps an even lower rate. This would nicely fit into the TVA distributors future business model for distributed solar installations while preserving the distributor’s mission of providing their customer base with high quality, reliable electric power.

When it’s just a quarter or a half of one percent of a utility’s customers that have their own PV and are selling their solar power to the grid at the retail rate, the utility doesn’t care. But energy storage and PV panel costs are dropping, and once that percentage of utility customers’ that are zeroing out their bill goes to 5, 10 or 15 percent then “it’s a big deal” said Chu.

Chu said he told utilities that PV and energy storage is going to come and they should “form a new business model” NOW so that what today is a potential revenue loss, could become an area of growth for them in the future. Plus, he said this model would eventually lead to a more stable grid for us all.

TSEA’s suggested micro-investment model suggested for TVA would complement the distributor’s suggested model, supplying solar energy at the most affordable prices with ownership of large solar farms in the hands of the ratepayer investors. The TSEA model avoids having to loan money from banks; instead, it will earn interest on the monies deposited in investments increasing the income the ratepayer investors make. The question is whether TVA and its distributors will accept these business model changes.

Runyon’s article