Archive for August, 2010

New Hampshire Solar Ups and Downs – Cut to Residential Rebate Proposed, Commercial Rebates Introduced

Monday, August 30th, 2010

New Hampshire State Solar RebatesNew Hampshire is becoming a renewable energy leader in the Northeast thanks to increasingly progressive energy policies and generous incentives for solar installations.

Homeowners have been able to enjoy a $3/watt system rebate up to $6,000, which takes a big bite out of the cost of a solar electric system and brings the ‘simple’ return on the system to under 7 years in many cases (see more on solar electric ROI).

However, in a recent order of notice (DE10-194 – full details here (PDF)), New Hampshire’s Public Utilities Commission has proposed reducing the rebate from $3/watt, $6,000 max to $1.5/watt, $3,000 max.

Here’s an explanation:

The incentive payments are funded through the Renewable Energy Fund (REF), which is supported by alternative compliance payments (ACPs) made by electric service providers who cannot meet their Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) obligations through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) …

the REF [has] an uncommitted balance of approximately $1.5 million. Given that the small residential renewable incentive program experiences an average of 20 incentive applications per month, totaling an average of $12,800 per month in incentive payments, or, $1.5 million annually, and assuming this rate of participation will continue at that level, the fund could be exhausted by this program before the end of fiscal year 2011 and would likely exceed the portion of funding that should go to residential programs …

Based on these factors, the Commission proposes to halve the incentive payment to $1.50 per watt and the per-system maximum to $3,000 for small residential electrical renewable energy facilities. Lowering the incentive payment and per-facility maximum amount will allow for the same number of systems that are currently processed for rebates to be eligible for incentives, thus providing continued business for installers of small residential renewable generation systems.

In other words, the program has been a victim of its own success!

UPDATE: According to the PUC at a September 1 public hearing, in the 13 months that the program has been in place, they’ve received 443 applications, of which 296 have been successfully completed and 147 are pending.  While they average 20 approved application per month, recently they received 27 new applications on as single day!

The upside of the drop in the residential rebate is that New Hampshire plans to introduce a business rebate very soon.

Commercial Rebates on the Way

The great news for business owners and anyone interested in cleaner New Hampshire air is that there will soon be commercial, nonprofit and municipal cash incentives for both solar electricity and solar hot water.

We attended a technical session on August 19 to review the PUC’s renewable energy rebate design considerations. There is an additional opportunity for public comment on August 30 at 10AM and opportunity for written comment until Sept 3.

There may still be changes yet, but the suggestions under consideration:

  • the… incentive payment for PV systems will begin at $1.25 per Watt for the first 20 kW and would decline to $1.00 per Watt for the next 35 kW and to $0.75/Watt from 55 kW up to 100 kW. In addition, the C&I rebate for a PV system would be capped at 25% of the cost of the facility, or $50,000, whichever is less. The $50,000 cap would be reached at a system size of45 kW under these incentive levels.
  • The [solar hot water] base rebate would be $0.07 per rated or modeled kBtu/year, capped at 25% of the cost of the facility or $50,000, whichever is less, as a one-time incentive payment.

Details in the full order of notice (PDF).

We’ll be attending this session and will write up the results and likely changes as soon as we have more details!

L.L. Bean Goes More Green with Solar Hot Water

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
LL Bean - Freeport, Maine
The solar collectors atop L.L. Bean’s flagship store are a visible symbol of their commitment to using sustainable energy whenever possible.

Photo courtesy of L.L. Bean

L.L. Bean, the iconic Maine outdoor apparel and equipment retailer, took one more step towards their corporate goal of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2012 with the installation of a solar hot water system on their flagship store in Freeport, Maine.

The system consists of 180 evacuated tube solar hot water collectors which heat twin 80 gallon Stiebel Eltron solar hot water storage tanks.

The closed loop system contains non toxic antifreeze which pumps from the tanks to the collectors, where it is heated by the sun, and then back to the storage tank where it passes through a heat exchange coil to heat the domestic hot water supply.

From May to September the array will provide nearly 100% of the hot water used for the flagship store’s employee shower, custodial basins, 2 cafes and 29 sinks.  Beans’ existing propane hot water heater serves as a backup.

“This system can heat enough water on sunny days so that we won’t need to fire up the water heaters in the store,” says George Croston, HVAC Senior Supervisor in Facilities and the project manager for the solar panel installation. “On overcast days and on cold days in the winter, the system will still preheat water so that we’ll use less energy to get it up to the right temperature of 120 degrees F.”

Here is a video of ReVision cofounder Fortunat Mueller (who designed the system) explaining how it works:

L.L. Bean: Showing People Solar Works

“We want visitors to see these solar panels and make the positive connection that L.L.Bean is investing in and promoting renewable energy,” says L.L.Bean Senior Public Relations Representative Laurie Brooks. “The more businesses that make these types of changes, the better. It’s our hope that eventually green technology will become mainstream, and prices for solar technology will become more affordable.”

The solar hot water investment is part of larger environmental stewardship efforts by L.L. Bean, which include upgrading lighting systems throughout the company, converting heating systems to natural gas (from oil and propane) and implementing a corporate energy policy.

“In concert with additional energy efficiency projects, [the solar hot water system] will allow us to achieve our EPA Climate Leaders goal of reducing our greenhouse gases 20 percent by 2012,” adds Laurie. Climate Leaders is a voluntary partnership between industry and government that encourages companies to develop long-term strategies that reduce CO2 emissions.

L.L. Bean has also committed to build all new structures according to the US Green Building Council’s LEED standards and has converted their heavy-duty truck fleet to biodiesel fuel.

You can learn more about L.L. Bean’s environmental commitment on their website.

Making Solar Affordable

L.L. Bean expects to use 850 fewer gallons of propane each year with the new system, resulting in a savings of nearly $1,900 in fuel costs in the first year alone, and more than $51,000 in fuel savings over the warrantied 15-year life of the solar heating system. The system should last much longer than that—the solar panels L.L. Bean installed on the roof of their Taylor Building in the 1980s are still producing hot water for that building’s restrooms and employee showers decades later.

“In addition, use of renewable energy, in concert with additional energy efficiency projects, will allow us to achieve our EPA Climate Leaders goal of reducing our greenhouse gases 20 percent by 2012,” adds Laurie. Climate Leaders is a voluntary partnership between industry and government that encourages companies to develop long-term strategies that reduce CO2 emissions.

The project was made possible in part thanks to an Efficiency Maine Commercial Grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The stimulus funding reduced payback projections for L.L.Bean’s new hot water solar system to less than 5 years, with immediate cost savings. 

Next time you visit Freeport, be sure to keep an eye open for the system, which sits to the right of the legendary Bean Boot on the flagship store (on the roof of the camping area).

NREL: Feed in Tariffs Drive Competition, Costs Down for Renewables, While Increasing Growth

Monday, August 16th, 2010
Feed in Tariff Policy Implementation in United States
This NREL map shows the states in the United States where feed in tariff legislation has been passed – only 14 states so far

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released the largest report on feed in tariffs ever produced by a US Government Agency.

The 144 page document, called A Policymaker’s Guide to Feed-in Tariff Policy Design (PDF Download), analyzes the results of Feed in Tariff legislation in over 75 countries, including the efforts so far in the United States.

What is a Feed in Tariff and Why Should I Care?

A Feed in Tariff (FiT) is an alternative to taxpayer-subsidized incentives for renewable energy programs. With a FiT, the government mandates electric utilities to pay a certain above-market rate for electricity generated by net-producers. Meaning, an individual with a good solar location can install solar panels and turn a profit.

There are a number of reasons that a FiT is more effective than cash and tax incentives towards spurring renewable growth:

  • The FiT is a performance based incentive – Quality of system design and performance is determined based on a need for return on investment.
  • The FiT does not depend on taxes – Since incentives rely on tax money, at some point those coffers will empty and the incentives run out.  A FiT can be financed many ways, usually in the electric market. This takes a burden off of strapped state and federal budgets, and permits renewable growth to scale.
  • The FiT offers a predictable return on investment – Solar energy systems offer a predictable rate of production whose value increases as the cost of electricity increases. Given the state of the economy, a renewable investment can be more secure than the stock market!

Key Findings of the Report

The NREL report does a good job of debunking feed in tariff myths, while also critically examining policy challenges faced abroad. Some of their more interesting findings:

  • “FITs are responsible for approximately 75% of global PV and 45% of global wind deployment” (5)
  • “The arguments in favor of a FIT policy are primarily economic in nature. These include the ability to … stimulate significant and quantifiable growth of local industry and job creation … [and] only cost money if projects actually operate” (27)
  • “RE developers benefit from the long-term stability of the revenue streams generated from electricity sales, which helps foster a high level of investment security.” (121)
  • “Another benefit is the direct competition for market share that is occurring under FIT policies in countries such as Germany, France, and Spain. This can drive greater private R&D investment, while helping spur further innovation and technological cost reduction” (121)

The report cites a number of primary, secondary, and tertiary benefits (pg. 18-20) for growing the renewable energy with FiT policies, such as:

  • Increasing local jobs and developing the economy
  • Reducing greenhouse gases
  • Displacing load (to phase out coal fired power plants)
  • Peak shaving (i.e. reducing the peak load conditions which CMP cites as the reason for the $1.4 billion grid upgrade)

The report then goes on to discuss in great detail the pros and cons of different models of feed in tariffs and the variety of ways they can be made into policy. Variations include payouts based on fixed rate prices vs. premium rates which fluctuate based on the market, to sliding scale rates based on economic conditions and those that vary based on resource quality and location.

You can read this in-depth report for free. (PDF Download)

Will a Feed In Tariff Make it to Maine (and New Hampshire)?

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ve seen our coverage of Maine’s own attempt to establish feed in tariff, which was voted unanimously “Ought Not To Pass” in May, 2009.

A watered down version of the bill, providing for pilot community-owned electricity generation with caps on tariff payouts, was later passed in June 2009. The Midcoast Green Collaborative has a great write-up of the legislation as well as a history of Maine’s slow road towards a feed-in tariff.

For the moment, no concrete, meaningful feed in tariff legislation for Maine homeowners is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire has just passed legislation that will require utilities to pay customers that are net-generators of electricity for their surplus.

The rates to be paid for this electricity are yet to be determined – whether they are truly market rates or a lesser “avoided costs” rate, but should the legislation be successful in spurring renewable energy growth it is possible that true feed in tariff legislation will follow.

We’ll keep you posted as feed in tariff legislation continues to develop in Northeast!

Special thanks to Clean Technica and Renewable Energy World for information about this new NREL report.

More Reading

Learn more about feed-in-tariffs and how other states and countries are using them to move solar energy forward:

Dayton Town Hall Solar Electric System to Reduce Power Bill to Nearly Zero

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Town of Dayton, Maine - Solar ElectricThe Town of Dayton, Maine will now enjoy electric bills of nearly zero year-round thanks to a 15 kilowatt grid-tied solar electric system commissioned the first week of August.

The system, which received funding from Efficiency Maine as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

An article about the project was featured in The Journal Tribune:

The solar panels will produce 21,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, according to an e-mail from Town Treasurer Angela Cushman.

Last year, the town used about 24,600 kilowatt hours of electricity for the municipal building, which includes heating and cooling, at a cost of about $3,600, said Cushman.

The system uses real-time data monitoring so that the town can track performance of the system.

Read more about the system in the full article from the Journal Tribune (PDF Download).

More Photos, from Our Commercial Solar Project Gallery:

Maine Boats Homes and Harbors Show

Friday, August 13th, 2010
Time: August 13-15, Friday & Saturday: 10AM – 6PM, Sunday: 10AM – 4 PM
Location: Rockland, Maine, Harbor Park on the Waterfront (Map and Directions)

Maine Boat ShowIf you love the coast of Maine, you won’t want to miss this show, where Tradition Meets Innovation™. Come see Maine’s finest artists, architects, boatbuilders, furniture makers, craftsmen, designers, marine gear vendors, and musicians.

There’ll be a model yacht pond, live music, an area for children, exhibits, fine food, the running of the 8th Annual World Championship Boatyard Dog® Trials, some wacky zucchini boat racing, and more! As the only in-water boat show in the state, with more than 70 boats in the water and 150 exhibitors on land, there is something for every member of the family.

ReVision will be there exhibiting different solar energy options for the homeowner and business owner. Price is $12 for the day(tax included), kids under 12 FREE. Two and three-day passes available.