FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff: Solar ‘Is Going to Overtake Everything’

The FERC, GTM and SEIA predict that solar installations will double every year as prices continue to decline. Herman Trabish’s article for the GTM  Newsletter below notes that solar’s continuing growth will require a reformulation of distributed generation rate structures.
By Herman Trabish

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. 

Indeed, as GTM Research’s MJ Shiao recently pointed out, in the next 2 1/2 years the U.S. will double its entire cumulative capacity of distributed solar — repeating in the span of a few short years what it originally took four decades to deploy.  

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.” 

And those other resources have not seen declining prices like solar has. “Solar PV is $0.70 or $0.80 per watt to manufacture. Residential rooftop is $4 to $5 per watt. But they are going to drive that down to $2 and then to $1 per watt.” 

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.”  

Wellinghoff was a consumer advocate early in his career and has not changed sides. “Even though the FERC oversees wholesale markets, utilities, and other jurisdictional entities at the wholesale level, the consumer needs to be our major concern,” he said.   

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.


PSC facing key decision on solar and wind energy incentives

Paralleling Tom Content’s article for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mike Ivey’s story for the Capital Times offers his interpretation of the opinions and events influencing the PSC’s deliberation over whether or not to finalize the decision to suspend Focus on Energy incentives for wind and solar. Commenting in this article, RENEW’s Tyler Huebner notes that “Judging by the extraordinary outpouring of support for continuing
incentives to solar and small wind, it’s clear that the PSC’s move to
suspend incentives struck a nerve with the public”. 

By Mike Ivey

Will Gov. Scott Walker’s Public Service Commission reverse course on renewable energy development in the state?

energy advocates hope so and are reporting a “massive outpouring” of
support for continuing incentives for residential solar or wind projects
in Wisconsin.

Under its Focus on Energy Program, the state is authorized to spend up to $10 million per year on renewable energy incentives.
But the PSC voted 2-1 in July to suspend the incentives through the end of 2013.
move stems from a previous directive from the commission to shift more
renewable energy incentives to biofuel projects — such as manure
digesters or waste wood burning — which some analysts say offer greater
energy savings.

A final ruling is expected in the coming weeks,
but since July, more than 630 comments were submitted to the PSC urging
the panel to maintain the incentives. The three-member commission has
two Walker appointees and one holdover from former Gov. Jim Doyle.

by the extraordinary outpouring of support for continuing incentives to
solar and small wind, it’s clear that the PSC’s move to suspend
incentives struck a nerve with the public,” says Tyler Huebner,
executive director of RENEW Wisconsin.


Why US power companies don’t want you putting a solar panel on your roof

In his article for the Quartz Daily Brief Tim Fernholz debunks electrical utility claims that increased solar panel reliance to off-set electrical costs will lead to increased rates for all customers. While the “death spiral” of increased solar energy use leading to increased electrical rates is revealed to be little more than a panicked response from power companies, Fernholz identifies that a regulatory solution must be crafted to facilitate our transition to a solar powered future.

By Tim Fernholz

In the US, electrical utilities are in a charged battle—complete with negative political ads—against solar panel distributors over rules that both sides say could put them out of business. Consumers are caught in the middle. 

A relatively new swathe of companies like Verengo, Sunrun, Sungevity and SolarCity have spent millions leasing solar equipment to homeowners and businesses. The cost of the lease is offset by savings on their electrical bill. Those savings come not just because of free power from the sun, but also through tax credits—and, most importantly today, because states allow those who have solar panels to sell any excess power back to the grid. 

The more than 200,000 “distributed solar generators” in the US produce less than 1% of the country’s electricity. But that’s growing thanks to the falling cost of photovoltaics and financing from investors like Google. And this worries the big power companies, particularly two of the country’s largest, Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison.


Monona’s Solar Project Underlines the Importance of the Ongoing Debate Over Third Party Renewable Energy Installations

In what could be the first third-party-owned solar electric system installed this decade in Wisconsin. Monona’s proposed four-array 156 kilowatt project could test the legality of third-party renewable energy installations in the state. Wisconsin’s murky policy regarding third party ownership combined with the economic growth experienced by states that expressly support it, emphasizes the need for clarification. Dan Haugen’s informative article with comments from RENEW’s Michael Vickerman provides a snapshot of the current debate in the context of the Monona project and what RENEW’s Clean Energy Choice proposal could do for projects like it.

By Dan Haugen

Can a Wisconsin city buy solar power from someone other than its electric utility? A Madison suburb may soon find out the answer. 

The Monona City Council discussed Monday what could be a first-of-its-kind solar project in Wisconsin. 

A private company would install solar arrays on four municipal buildings at no upfront cost to the city. The installer would then own and maintain the systems over the life of a contract and sell the renewable energy credits they earn to the city of Monona. 

“The city has committed to being an energy-independent community and increasing our use of renewables,” Monona project manager Janine Glaeser said, “and this looks like a good way to do that without the upfront capital costs.” 

One possible hitch: Wisconsin law is unclear about whether so called “third-party-owned” solar systems, in which neither the customer nor their utility owns the panels, are legal in the state.


Utility Data Confirm Retreat from Renewables, Policy Rollbacks Slow Installation Activity

Utility Responses submitted to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission report that the electrical providers received far fewer requests to connect renewable energy systems to the energy grid in 2012 than in previous years. Read the press release below to learn what this means for utilities, energy consumers, and ultimately the future of renewable energy in Wisconsin.

Immediate Release — 

In filings submitted to
the Public Service Commission (PSC), most of Wisconsin’s electric providers
reported that they handled far fewer customer requests in 2012 to interconnect
renewable energy systems to the grid than in previous years. Last year’s
decrease followed several years of steady growth in customer-sited renewable
energy installations.

 The solar and small
wind energy sectors were hit hardest by this slowdown, while biogas installation
activity remained steady through 2012. Solar electricity systems account for
more than 90% of customer interconnection requests.
        “These reports confirm
our fears that ongoing utility resistance to customer use of clean energy is
sucking a lot of oxygen out of Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace,” said
Michael Vickerman, program and policy director for RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide
renewable energy advocacy organization.
        According to data
submitted by Milwaukee-based We Energies, the utility processed only 56
interconnection requests in 2012, compared with
120 requests in 2009, 146 in 2010, and 172 in 2011.

   Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service and
Madison Gas & Electric also reported declines in customer-sited renewable
systems since 2011. According to Madison-based Wisconsin Power & Light,
interconnections involving renewable energy peaked in 2009 and 2010, and have
fallen off since.

“The slowdown in
Wisconsin stands in stark contrast to solar’s rapid expansion in other states.
This contraction is occurring in spite of declining installation costs and
higher electric rates,” Vickerman said.

attributed the fall-off in installation activity to a number of policy changes,

  •   Service
    changes adopted by several utilities to make net metering a less economically
    attractive option for customer-generators;
  •   Across-the-board
    elimination of special buyback rates for solar-generated electricity; and
  •   Recently
    adopted restrictions to the amount and availability of Focus on Energy
    incentives for solar and small wind.

“Solar is a proven
generator of jobs as well as electricity. Lately, it seems that utilities are
doing their level best to keep solar out of their resource mix,” Vickerman

     “Other states such as
Minnesota and Georgia are warming to solar, because they see how this clean
resource drives business start-ups and investment opportunities. What will it
take for Wisconsin to see the light?” Vickerman asked.
utility filings were submitted as part of a PSC investigation to determine
whether the state’s interconnection rules should be modified to facilitate more
customer-sited renewable energy systems. The docket number is 05-GF-233.


RENEW Wisconsin
is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that leads and represents
businesses, organizations, and individuals who seek more clean renewable energy
in Wisconsin.  More information on
RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.