Monday, March 14, 2016

PG&E's Solar Choice Program

... does it make sense?


I'll let Wikipedia do the first part of the intro for me:
The Pacific Gas and Electric Company, commonly known as PG&E, is an investor-owned utility that provides natural gas and electricity to most of the northern two-thirds of California, from Bakersfield almost to the Oregon border. It is the leading subsidiary of the PG&E Corporation.

PG&E was founded in 1905 and is currently headquartered in the Pacific Gas & Electric Building in San Francisco.
It's major "competitors" are Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.  Scare quotes because, like many public utilities, PG&E and its cohorts have had virtual monopolies in the regions they serve.  Being investor-owned (publicly traded on the NYSE, ticker = PGE) and not publicly owned, it not surprisingly has a history of dubiously taking advantage of California's ballot initiative system to maximize shareholder value at the expense of its customers' choices and pocketbooks.

One of the more recent and contentious was the attractively-named Taxpayers Right to Vote Act, which went to the June 8, 2010 ballot as California Proposition 16, Supermajority Vote Required to Create a Community Choice, whereupon it was defeated.  And for good reason:
If Proposition 16 had been approved by voters, it would have henceforward taken a two-thirds vote of the electorate before a public agency could enter the retail power business. This would have made it more difficult than it is currently for local entities to form either municipal utilities, or community wide clean electricity districts called Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs). Forming a local municipal utility or a CCA, if Proposition 16 had been approved, would have required the approval, through election, of 2/3rds of the voters who live in the area of the would-be local municipal utility or CCA.[1]

Pacific Gas & Electric was the primary financial sponsor of the initiative, having contributed $46.1 million. That made PG&E the Goliath in a David-v-Goliath battle, since Prop 16's opponents had access to less than $100,000.
In short, the thing was not about giving voters (consumers) more choice, it was about creating barriers to entry for local utilities with administrative red tape, albeit in the unusual form of requiring public elections.  A late-2009 op-ed in the LA Times has some further details.

More recently, PG&E and the aforementioned other two of the Big Three California utilities have been trying to make it difficult for customers with grid-connected solar PV installations to augment their system with storage batteries.  I don't know much about this one, but on the face of it, the utilities' concern seems reasonable:
Since this spring, those utilities have been requiring any net-metered solar power projects that include batteries to go through a lengthy and expensive process to prove their batteries aren’t feeding stored grid power back to the utility, while getting credited for delivering green, solar-generated electrons.
I could dig into it more to drive home the point.  However, I think it should be obvious that for-profit utilities aren't going to like incentives for renewables to their customers unless they themselves can get a kickback from public funds as well.

On the other hand, smart business folk recognize a growing market ...

... when they see one.  And in a largely "green" state like California that also gets a lot of sun in places, it should be no surprise that the Big Three utilities have made California first state to generate more than 5% of electricity from utility-scale solar:

Go Golden State, go!

With all the above in mind ...

PG&E Does Something New

... well not exactly, but apparently new for them.  They're calling the the initiative, PG&E's Solar Choice Program (PG&E's Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program):
PG&E's Solar Choice program, known as the Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program (GTSR) under Senate Bill (SB) 43, was established by the CPUC in Decision 15-01-051 on February 2, 2015. This program was established to expand access to renewable energy resources, and to create a mechanism by which institutional customers, commercial customers and individuals can meet their electrical needs with generation from renewable energy resources.

The decision requires that the IOUs begin advanced procurement for the program under the sixth Renewable Auction Mechanism (RAM 6). PG&E filed and received approval on modification to the existing RAM Program Protocol and Appendices which included components specific to PG&E's Solar Choice program.

Additionally, D.15-01-051 requires that PG&E's Solar Choice program seek Green-e Energy certification from the Center for Resource Solutions. Green-e Energy is a leading independent certification and verification program for renewable energy that provides assurances to customers and businesses that they are reducing the environmental impact of their electricity use. For more details on Green-e, please visit their website:
Links in original.  Hitting the "choice" note again, though "tariff" is a potentially off-putting word.  On the other hand, the attractive thing is that it's a voluntary program by which consumers can choose to pay higher rates per unit power with statutory assurance that the additional revenues actually go into expanding the supply of renewable energy on the grid.

What's not to love?

Leave it to a Rabble-Rouser to "Find" Something

It sometimes amazes me how much potentially good news I read with the exact opposite spin over at WUWT:
Ridiculous offer from PG&E asks if I want to pay MORE for electricity to ‘demonstrate my commitment to sustainability’

Anthony Watts / March 14, 2016   

From the Department of Retarded Economics and the Pacific Gas and Electric company comes this unbelievable offer that asks if I want to pay more for electricity to be part of the “in” green sustainability crowd. No, really. I thought this was an early April Fools joke, but instead, it’s an actual solicitation to fools.


I’m currently paying about 14 cents per kWh, so with this new plan to help me be sustainable and part of the cool kids crowd, I can pay up to 17.1 cents per kilowatt hour, so that I can ease my conscience that the electricity I use is from “clean California sunshine”. Good luck sorting out those clean from dirty electrons as they flow through the grid to my office.

I’m just speechless. There’s a term used in science:  “Not even wrong” its not only that, but weapons grade stupidity.
Regardless of whether the PG&E program ends up working as planned, this is yet another example of Anthony's widely-known, well-established, weapons-grade Dunning-Kruger.  I couldn't help but bring out the pointy stick and poke at the hornets:
Good luck sorting out those clean from dirty electrons as they flow through the grid to my office.
There’s a term used in science:  “Not even wrong” its not only that, but weapons grade stupidity.
Yeah, because free market solutions which give consumer choice to invest in alternatives is SO much dumber than gummint imposed taxation.

Wake up.
Posted over an hour ago, now being 7:00 PDT, and it hasn't come out of moderation.  Wonder if mod will even bother to let it surface as a [snipped] comment.

Talking points established, his grumpy horde of roused-rabble take it up with a will:
Bob Greene
March 14, 2016 at 4:21 pm

All the utilities have been offering the opportunity to purchase “green” energy at an additional price for years. You can buy certified green energy (Green-E certified). The cute part is the electricity you buy can be generated anywhere. Anthony’s green electrons could be generated east of the Appalachians. The renewable energy generators market their electricity. They sell it to anyone who wants to be green: colleges, utilities, companies. The purchaser is quite unlikely to get any of the green electrons, but he will feel just so much better. How else, other than scams like this, can the green energy companies survive making electricity that costs more than the typical market price of dirty electricity.

March 14, 2016 at 4:40 pm

…Wagen, above, believes you can separate ” GREEN ” electrons from ” DIRTY ” electrons …unfortunately, he has not figured out what electrons are yet !
Bob makes a fair point that this isn't exactly a novel scheme.  But no, you insufferable twits, the point is not to ensure that one only uses "green electrons" but rather to voluntarily facilitate increasing the percentage of them on the entire grid.  Oi vey.  Hey dummies, let two of your own 'splain it for me:
March 14, 2016 at 3:41 pm

You know, I’m actually going to defend this. Asking people to pay extra for supporting a political belief is how it’s supposed to work.

Yes it’s all pipeline, The energy you get is from the nearest source. You are simply paying more to buy more solar panels for that power company.

However, that’s the point. You are paying them to build more solar panels. Optionally. Without force or coercion. It’s not an optimum solution because they are idiots, but at least it’s honest folly.

March 14, 2016 at 4:20 pm

I’m going to agree with Ben from Houston above. I see this as honest and possibly a way for the utility to let its customers know that “green” costs more money all while seeming to go along with the smart kids. It may have a huge effect in a way that greens might not anticipate.
Emphasis added.  Bravo guys.  If I may be permitted a quibble, there's nothing necessarily dishonest about taxation but I understand the legitimate concern that they're not always above-board either.  Certainly, a "greenie" advocating taxes is ALSO nominally putting themselves on the line to pay them.

That said, I'd certainly prefer a more free-market, consumer choice mechanism to legislation.  Unfortunately, markets are notoriously bad at properly pricing external costs.  I'm fairly sure we're gonna need gummint intervention.

And to be absolutely clear, thinking of this in terms of, "it's either free-market solutions or legislated taxes, tariffs, subsidies and incentives" is a fallacious dichotomy.  There's NO reason why both cannot or should not be done in concert with each other.

Thus far, PG&E's proposal makes sense.

Yabbut, Isn't Solar PV Supposed to Save Me Money?

Cue Anthony:
Full disclosure, I already have solar on my home. It’s my third solar project, and not a one of them had anything to do with sustainability, but trying to keep escalating power costs under control.
Link in original.

What a putz.

No, not because he did an environmentally-responsible thing, but because a good portion of his cost savings surely came from taking advantage of the publicly subsidized incentives and rebates afforded him by the aforementioned The California Solar Initiative (CSI).  And as the webpage notes (formatting in original):

Do I qualify?

Rebates for PG&E customers have been exhausted and the program is closed.
Rebates for residential customers of SDG&E and for SCE have been exhausted and the program is closed.
 ... is no longer available to the majority of California electrical consumers.

This is the exact sort of thing his readers object to because it amounts to him ...
... or so they think because, you know, AGW is a fraudulent hoax.  Contrast the PG&E proposal by which consumers voluntarily pay extra for something they think will eventually benefit EVERYONE ON THE PLANET, US taxpayer or no.

Fornicate me running, the man is such a dunder-headed, obliviously inconsistent nitwit sometimes.

I'll stop shouting now.  Had to be done.

No, Reali ... WHUTTabbout Cost?

Depending on your location in California (or without as the case may be), it could be more cost-effective to have an installation on your own property.  I also suppose it's possible to do that in conjunction with the new PG&E program and have an offset.  Maybe even break-even or come out a bit ahead.

On the other hand, you'll still need to lay out some capital either as a down payment on a loan or, if you're well-heeled, a full payment to cover the equipment, permits and installation.

Then there's maintenance.

And did I mention location?  I did.  Where your property is located not only determines the mix of subsidies and incentives available, it determines how much Sun you get and how much space you have to take advantage of it ... or not.

My small patch of dirt isn't optimal.  Slopes of my roof face East-West when what's best is South.  Lotsa trees in the way.  Located directly downwind of San Francisco's famously fog-enshrouded Golden Gate.

So I can't answer the cost/benefit/feasibility questions of doing your own installation.  I can say that if environment is more the concern than personal finance, the new PG&E program looks worth looking into.

Does That Mean You're Going to Do It?

Put my money where my mouth is?  Are you crazy?  I'm a hypocritical let-everyone-else-pay-for-it-but-me wingnut liberal AGW alarmist.  Get real!

I kid, I kid.  I'm thinking about it.  Stay tuned.

Update 3/15/2016

Sou at HotWhopper has posted her take on Anthony's idoicy.

None of my comments at WUWT have been released from moderation, not even my complimentary reply to billw1984 for agreeing with benofhouston on their sensible consistency advocating a more free market approach to expanding renewable electricity generation.

One commentator at WUWT wrote something worth checking out:
March 15, 2016 at 11:40 am

Unfortunately, PG&E probably doesn’t want to do this either. I would seriously guess it has something to do with the California Public Utility Commission forcing the utilities hand. I know Iowa has a similar situation, where these programs are coerced.
He may be correct in the sense that PG&E might not have done this had not the CPUC been bound by state law:
Timeline of California's Renewables Portfolio Standard
  • 2002: Senate Bill 1078 establishes the RPS program, requiring 20% of retail sales from renewable energy by 2017.
  • 2003: Energy Action Plan I accelerated the 20% deadline to 2010.
  • 2005: Energy Action Plan II recommends a further goal of 33% by 2020.
  • 2006: Senate Bill 107 codified the accelerated 20% by 2010 deadline into law.
  • 2008: Governor Schwarzenegger issues Executive Order S-14-08 requiring 33% renewables by 2020.
  • 2009: Governor Schwarzenegger issues Executive Order S-21-09 directing the California Air Resources Board, under its AB 32 authority, to adopt regulations by July 31, 2010, consistent with the 33% renewable energy target established in Executive Order S-14-08.
  • 2011: Senate Bill X1-2, signed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., codifies 33% by 2020 RPS.
The California Energy Commission has also published a short history of renewable energy programs in the state.  Some excerpts (links and formatting from original):

Renewable Energy Program Funding 1998-2001

Assembly Bill 1890 AB 1890 - Statutes of 1996, Chapter 854, Brulte) was the initial electricity industry deregulation legislation and was signed into law by Governor Pete Wilson in September 1996. It required California's three major investor-owned utilities (Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and San Diego Gas & Electric) to collect 540 million from their ratepayers via a "public goods surcharge" on electricity use.


Renewable Energy Program Funding 2002 to 2006

In September 2000, the legislature adopted the Reliable Electric Service Investments Act as the result of legislation: Assembly Bill 995 (AB 995, Statutes of 2000, Chapter 1051, Wright) and Senate Bill 1194 (SB 1194, Statutes of 2000, Chapter 1050, Sher). These two pieces of legislation mandated the three major investor-owned utilities to collect 135 million annually for 10 years beginning in 2002 to support the Renewable Energy Program.
Surely giving consumers the voluntary option to pay a higher rate is less draconian than "coercing" utilities into collecting funds from all ratepayers by way of mandatory surcharges.

As I said previously, I'd prefer the voluntary way over the legislated route.  That some of my Luddite friends across the aisle can't even get behind a consumer option program because the oh-so-benevolent and struggling utility companies must have been held at gunpoint to do it speaks volumes about their insular, cloistered, self-centred, anti-social and just plain backward attitude about how liberal democratic republics were designed to work.

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