Solar Rollover Credits: The Right Thing for California
Very quietly, California utilities are threatening to undermine the dream of widespread clean energy in our state. If this happens, the state will lose jobs, our booming solar industry will suffer a major setback and our progress at cutting emissions and displacing dirty energy will stop in its tracks.
At issue is a proposed ruling that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is slated to consider on May 24, which would increase the number of rooftop-solar installations that qualify for "net metering." Net metering is like the rollover credits on your cellphone. It enables utility customers with solar panels connected to the grid to receive full credit for all of the electricity they produce. Excess power generated during sunny daylight hours gets fed back to the grid, and the customers earn a credit that helps offset their electricity costs during the times when they're using more power than they are generating.
Net metering is fair, and it's a critical part of the equation for making rooftop solar installations affordable for thousands of homeowners and small businesses. Thanks in large part to net metering, California has one gigawatt of customer-owned clean energy (more than 100,000 rooftop solar systems). In addition, clean energy fed back onto the grid by net-metered systems makes it possible for California to turn off more "peaker" power plants—the state's dirtiest and least-efficient—which are typically powered by diesel or gas and sited near poor neighborhoods.
Most California consumers probably take it for granted that they should receive the full value of energy they generate and put back into the grid. Why would they choose to buy or lease rooftop solar panels if they will be forced to give away a significant percentage of the power they generate to the same utility that's sending them a bill every month?
But we can't take net metering for granted, because when California passed its net metering law in 1996, it included restrictions. Most alarmingly, under the current law, utilities can refuse to accept new net-metering customers altogether once the amount of power coming from those customers reaches five percent of "aggregate customer peak demand."
The utilities have chosen to interpret "aggregate customer peak demand" as meaning the highest overall system demand for energy in California history, which was on July 25, 2006 during a record heat wave that killed more than 100 people. Under that interpretation, California will reach its five percent net-metering cap at approximately 2.5 gigawatts—which could happen as soon as early next year. The CPUC has proposed that a more sensible way to calculate "aggregate customer peak demand" is to add up (aggregate) the peak demand of every individual utility customer. If you calculate it that way, California will reach its net-metering cap at approximately 4.6 gigawatts of capacity. To put that in context, Gov. Brown has said the state needs to reach 12 gigawatts of installed local clean energy sources such as rooftop solar panels, small wind turbines and fuel cells by 2020.
Clean, renewable, locally generated energy is not a luxury for California nor, for that matter, the rest of the world. Failing to use clean energy translates to continuing to use dirty, polluting fossil fuels that threaten our health, our economy and our climate. We cannot afford to stumble when we should be running as hard as we can to take full advantage of the energy that rains down on our rooftops day after day—most of it wasted as we burn more coal, frack for more natural gas and drill for more oil. California is a leader—not just in the U.S., but in the world. It would be shameful if utility companies in this forward-looking state succeeded in making it harder for their customers to harvest the clean solar energy of the future.
The customers who want to buy or lease solar systems wouldn't be the only ones affected, either. At a time when the residential construction industry is still struggling, the boom in solar-rooftop installations has created thousands of badly needed jobs, which would be put in jeopardy.
Utility companies can't have it both ways. They cannot boast about how much they love clean energy while simultaneously working to undermine it. If the utilities don't like net metering (which, clearly, they don't), then the proper response is to propose something better—not to sabotage the current system and derail the transition to clean, locally generated power.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.