California farmers are planting solar panels as water supplies dry up

by Sammy Roth, LA Times

Jon Reiter banked the four-seat Cessna aircraft hard to the right, angling to get a better look at the solar panels glinting in the afternoon sun far below.

The silvery panels looked like an interloper amid a patchwork landscape of lush almond groves, barren brown dirt and saltbush scrub, framed by the blue-green strip of the California Aqueduct bringing water from the north. Reiter, a renewable energy developer and farmer, built these solar panels and is working to add a lot more to the San Joaquin Valley landscape.

“The next project is going to be 100 megawatts. It’s going to be five times this size,” Reiter said.

Read more:

One simple chart shows why an energy revolution is coming

by Jeremy Berke, Business Insider

The cost of solar power is decreasing so rapidly, it’s now cheaper than coal, based on a new analysis.

A recent report from Lazard shows how the costs of producing electricity from various sources are changing. Energy from utility-scale solar plants — plants that produce electricity that feeds into the grid — has seen the biggest price drop: an 86% decrease since 2009.

The cost of producing one megawatt-hour of electricity — a standard way to measure electricity production — is now around $50 for solar power, according to Lazard’s math. The cost of producing one megawatt-hour of electricity from coal, by comparison, is $102 — more than double the cost of solar.

The dramatic change is clear in this chart:

Lazard’s analysis is based on a measurement known as the levelized cost of energy analysis (LCOE), which is a way of calculating the total production cost of building and operating an electricity-generating plant.

The rapidly declining cost of solar is a sign that the world may be on the verge of a dramatic change in how we power our buildings and vehicles. The price drop is likely to spur a shift toward renewable power sources like wind and solar and away from fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Changing our energy system to emphasize those clean sources is the only way to slow the process of climate change, since emissions from fossil fuels cause more heat to get trapped on the planet. But analysts have long pointed out the transition will only realistically ramp up once renewable energy sources become cheaper than traditional fuels — which now seems to be happening.

The rise of renewables is apparent when you look at which types of new energy generation capacity are getting added around the world. In 2017, there was m ore new solar power capacity created than any other type of energy, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

Renewable energy, including wind, hydro, and solar, supplied a record 12% of the world’s energy needs last year. In 2017 alone, the solar sector attracted $160.8 billion in investment, an 18% increase over 2016, according to the UNEP report.

While solar is getting much cheaper, Lazard notes that these sources of electricity are not a panacea. LCOE as a measurement does not take into account some external costs, like storing solar power for cloudy days, which is one of the lingering obstacles preventing the widespread adoption of solar. (Other sources of electricity like coal or natural gas don’t have the same problem, of course.)

That storage problem also makes it hard for developing economies to adopt energy systems that are fully renewable. Until battery and storage capabilities improve, the report says, countries will likely need to use a mix of traditional energy sources along with renewables.

In the US, solar still only provides 2% of the country’s total electricity needs, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But California is trying to change that: The state is seeking to mandate that most new homes be outfitted with solar panels. State lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the proposal on Wednesday.


How solar energy saved a Puerto Rican farm from Hurricane Maria

by Hugh Bronstein and Gabriel Stargardter, Reuters

BARRANQUITAS, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – While his competitors wait for diesel to restart generators knocked out by Hurricane Maria, flower grower Hector Santiago is already back in business because of solar panels powering his 40-acre (16.2-hectare) nursery in central Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory is in a near blackout, its electricity grid shredded by the storm that slammed into the island on Sept 20. But Santiago’s decorative plant and poinsettia nursery, set amid the jagged peaks of the Barranquitas farming area, has kept working thanks to the $300,000 he invested in 244 solar panels six years ago.

“Everybody told me I was crazy because it was so expensive. Now I have power and they don‘t,” said Santiago, whose flowers are sold in Puerto Rico, at outlets like Costco, and throughout the Caribbean.
While Santiago’s nursery was considerably damaged during the storm, many plants were destroyed and the roofs of some greenhouses blew off, he was able to regroup quickly, with electricity to keep pumping water from his two wells.

On Tuesday, as U.S. President Donald Trump surveyed damage elsewhere on Puerto Rico, some of the nursery’s 19 employees were busy repotting damaged plants and cleaning up.


Santiago’s experience has left him hoping that Puerto Rico will begin relying more on solar power and other renewable energy as it looks to fix its damaged grid. That view has gained traction among some Puerto Rican politicians, though it is probably unlikely in the short run given the need to restore power as quickly as possible.

The experience of people like Santiago could drive more individuals and businesses to invest in solar power. Henry Pichardo, who runs a solar installation firm in the city of Bayamon, thinks the storm could drive up his business 20 percent a year. He said he has been inundated with enquiries since the hurricane hit.

“People are going to become more conscious of how they are living, and invest more in solar,” he said.
Santiago’s business requires a high amount of energy. From May through August, he lights his greenhouses with a total of 2,520 electric bulbs from 10 pm to 2 am to stimulate plant growth.
Until Maria, Santiago sold excess electricity generated by his six by three foot wide panels back to Puerto Rico’s now-defunct grid. In the storm, however, 25 percent of the panels were damaged by flying debris.

Still, he said, that was enough to keep the power on, and the nursery did not “have to worry about trees falling on the power lines.”


We aim to put solar on every roof

By Geoffrey Smith, Solar Energy Program Coordinator

Solar Sonoma County (SSC), a program of The Climate Center, has the information you need to go solar now.

This fall we held our first Solar House Party. It went very well. On a recent Saturday morning in Santa Rosa’s Junior College neighborhood, our party host welcomed friends and neighbors into their home to see first-hand the new rooftop solar system they installed, with the help of our Clean Energy Advocate (CEA) program. The host explained how the Advocate (that would be me) answered their questions about solar energy and the available technologies – modules, inverters, and financing options. They shared the competing proposals that they received from some of our Qualified Vendors. And with a high degree of excitement, they explained how their electricity bill had dropped significantly since they had the solar system installed several months earlier.

This is neighbors talking to neighbors about an exciting clean energy solution. What better way to get an honest opinion about rooftop solar than from the neighbor down the street who has gone through the process?

This advocate is happy to report that a half-dozen of those Solar House Party attendees have themselves begun the process of going solar for their own homes, using our Clean Energy Advocate program. This is a very good thing for our climate as well as the local economy!

Learn more about our Solar House Parties here,  

A party is coming to a neighborhood near you soon! We’d love to see you there.

Community Choice Energy is a powerful rapidly spreading movement

As 2016 draws to a close, Community Choice Energy has spread to 26 out of 58 counties and over 300 cities in California as either operational, on track for launch of service, or at some stage of evaluation. Community Choice Energy has clearly become a powerful and rapidly spreading movement.

The Climate Center began advocating for Community Choice in 2005 and advocated strongly for the establishment of Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) as a replicable model for other communities in the state to follow. When SCP launched in early 2014, there were only about a dozen jurisdictions considering Community Choice.

Five Community Choice Energy agencies are now operational.  They all have renewable energy levels and greenhouse gas reductions that exceed the incumbent utility. These agencies are MCE Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, Lancaster Choice Energy, CleanPowerSF, and Peninsula Clean Energy. Silicon Valley Clean Energy is on track to launch in early 2017 with several others in the queue to follow in 2017 and beyond.

The Climate Center’s current work in the Central Valley has resulted in growing interest among city and county staff and elected officials and we expect local governments in the region to formally evaluate Community Choice in 2017.

This year The Climate Center launched the Clean Power Exchange, dedicated to providing resources and tools for emerging Community Choice agencies. One of the key features of the website is an interactive map that provides information and updates on Community Choice activity in all 58 counties and 482 cities in the state. One of our biggest challenges is to simply keep up with the daily news that comes in from around the state.

The movement, while impressive, is just beginning, and we anticipate accelerated growth based on the powerful impacts we’ve already seen.

Solar Wins the Day at CPUC

by Geoffrey Smith, CCP  |  February 11, 2016

The fate of rooftop solar has
been a cliffhanger for the last few months.

On January 28, the California Public Utilities Commission
(CPUC) voted on the future of Net Energy Metering (NEM) and its impacts on
rooftop solar in California.

The consequences of a ‘bad’ CPUC decision are proven. We
need only look at rate decisions recently made in Nevada and Hawaii, which devastated
the rooftop solar industry. Would California go the way of Nevada? Thankfully, that
was not the outcome.

In a 3-2 vote, the CPUC helped secure a future of growth for
rooftop solar by adopting a NEM successor tariff largely resembling the
original tariff (or “rate structure”), that governs how rooftop solar
generators are compensated for the energy they produce.   

What does this mean for you, the rooftop solar generator? First
and foremost, it means you will continue to be paid full retail rate (rather
than a lower wholesale rate proposed by the utilities) for all of the power you
produce and send to the grid. Additionally, no monthly fixed or transmission
access charges were imposed, and only a ‘reasonable’ one-time fee will be
charged for connection to the grid. Overall, the outcome was a big win for
rooftop solar. 

The Climate Center attended the CPUC session
to show our support and bring to you a report of the day’s events: 

Despite months – years, in fact – of aggressive lobbying and
grassroots organizing from the solar industry and climate activists, the
prevailing sentiment on January 28 was one of tension and uncertainty. 

More than twenty audience members presented public comments from
a variety of perspectives, almost all supporting strong NEM rules favoring
rooftop solar. Only one spoke against such rule-making: The California Chamber
of Commerce. 

At the close of the public comment period, CPUC President
Michael Picker opened the discussion among the commissioners. He noted that the
proposed decision (PD) from December to extend NEM would give customers more
choice as well as responsibility, and that the PD was moving in the right
direction. He voted YES (1-0). Commissioner Liane Randolph also spoke in
defense of NEM, saying that the PD strikes the right balance in a complicated
process. She voted YES (2-0). Commissioner Catherine Sandoval had enthusiastically
supported the PD leading up to the previous day’s amended proposal in which
transmission access charges were removed. She said she could not support the
proposal without those charges in place. She voted NO (2-1). Commissioner
Michael Florio largely echoed Sandoval’s comments, and voted NO (2-2). The
tension in the room escalated as the 2-2 vote and ultimate decision moved to
the last commissioner. ‘What if’ scenarios were playing out in everyone’s
minds. Commissioner Carla Peterman opened her remarks by acknowledging the wide
range of views on the matter and endorsed the PD as moving in the right
direction. She said she looked forward to working on the future of NEM, which
the CPUC takes up again in 2019. And then she cast a YES vote for the 3-2 final
vote in favor of NEM. 

Rooftop solar lives to power our communities for another

The mood in the room as the (mostly) rooftop solar
supporters stood to leave the chamber was one of relief. This was a hard-fought
battle over a complex set of issues governing an individual’s right to choose
how they power their lives. 

But the real winner was the climate. With new certainty now
established around rooftop solar rates, greenhouse gas reductions will
accelerate. Go solar!


Geoffrey D. Smith is
the Solar Sonoma County Program Coordinator for the Center for Climate
Protection.  He can be reached at or 707.654.4350.

(More) Action Needed Now to Save Rooftop Solar!

by Geoffrey D. Smith, CCP   |   January 12, 2016

We all want to keep
rooftop solar a viable, affordable option as a means of reducing greenhouse
gases, right? To do so, we need you to raise your voice and take action because
rooftop solar is under attack. Yes, again.

The solar community celebrated Christmas a week early last
year, when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a
preliminary decision (PD) to keep Net Energy Metering (NEM) rules largely
intact. This provided some assurance (uh, we hoped) that distributed rooftop
solar will remain a viable, affordable option for residential and small
business customers. Your help, last year, to influence that PD clearly made a
difference. [See my blog post ‘A Good Day for Rooftop

But wait, there’s a catch. In the days and weeks since the
preliminary decision on NEM, investor-owned utilities throughout the state (PG&E,
SDG&E, and SCE) have pulled out all the stops to pressure the CPUC to
reverse or significantly modify their proposed decision. A final vote on the
matter is scheduled for Thursday, January 28 in San Francisco.

What you can do

We need you to keep the pressure on by writing the CPUC
commissioners, and urging them to adopt the preliminary decision without
weakening changes. Please do this today.

Send a letter to the CPUC asking
them to adopt the proposed decision, and keep California moving forward as a clean
energy leader.  (Thanks to 350 Bay Area for this action tool.)

Geoffrey D. Smith is
the Solar Sonoma County Program Coordinator for the Center for Climate
Protection. He can be reached at or

A Good Day for Rooftop Solar!

by Geoffrey Smith, The Climate Center  |  Dec. 16, 2015

On December 15, the California Public Utilities Commission
(CPUC) largely rejected the Investor Owned Utility (PG&E, SDG&E, SCE)
proposals to dismantle the rules that make
rooftop solar viable. The CPUC’s decision, although preliminary, will
determine the fate of Net Energy Metering (NEM). NEM is the set of rules that
governs how rooftop solar systems are compensated by the utilities for the
energy they produce, and what connection fees and other charges are assessed.
It is the mechanism that has enabled several school districts around Sonoma
County to receive handsome paybacks for excess energy that their solar panels
generate. It has lowered the energy costs for thousands of Sonoma County

This is a huge victory for rooftop solar and a clean energy
future. However, it is only a proposed decision. We have our work cut out for
us over the next month to hold our ground against expected strong backlash from
the investor owned utilities.  

Here are the summary highlights of the proposed decision*:

  • Existing NEM is preserved with full retail credit
  • No reduced compensation rate
  • No demand charges
  • No capacity fees
  • No grid access fees
  • No monthly netting
  • No standby charges
  • Current exemptions from study fees and distribution
    upgrades remain
  • Virtual net metering (V-NEM) and meter aggregation
    continue with full retail credit
  • Market-rate V-NEM is expanded to allow participation
    behind multiple service delivery points on a single property.

While these are huge victories for rooftop solar, ongoing
vigilance is needed to secure, as quickly as possible, a future free of fossil
fuels. We at Solar Sonoma County will continue to work with our colleagues in
the distributed solar advocacy community to influence decisions affecting
future Time of Use (TOU) rates, application fees, charges for CARE (California
Alternate Rates for Energy program for low-income customers) and energy
efficiency programs, and community solar.

The final decision on NEM will be made at the CPUC meeting on
Thursday, January 28. Until then, we must keep the pressure on!

You can read all 148 pages of the proposed decision here (PDF).

*Much thanks to Brad Heavner, California Policy Director for
CalSEIA for a preliminary summary of the proposed decision.

Geoffrey D. Smith is the
Solar Sonoma County Program Coordinator for The Climate Center.
He can be reached at or 707.654.4350.

Don’t Wait to Install Solar – Costs Could Be Soaring Soon

by Geoffrey D. Smith  |  September 30, 2015

The time is NOW to install solar on your rooftop.  An unprecedented set of challenges to the
residential solar industry is threatening our ability to generate energy from
the sun in the future:

1)  The Federal
Investment Tax Credit (ITC) expiration
– The ITC is scheduled to expire at
the end of 2016 – The ITC offers a full 30% credit on your federal income tax
for costs associated with installing solar on your roof. Advocates are working
actively to extend the program.

2)  Net Energy
Metering (NEM 2.0) proposed changes
– A series of changes to this important
program, which have been proposed by the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOU), would
significantly lower incentives for homeowners to produce solar energy by:

a. Lowering the cost paid to the homeowner by the utility
for energy produced

b. Shifting the Time of Use ‘peak period’ to later in the
day, thereby lowering the value of solar energy produced when the sun is
shining most brightly

c. Charging for transmission & distribution of the
solar energy that is generated (currently no charge)

What you can do:

1)  You can raise your voice to Governor Brown and the
California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) now by signing this petition, provided by CREDO
Action, one of the many organizations that The Climate Center is
collaborating with to represent the interests of solar owners. It only takes a
minute. Our goal is 25,000 signatures.

2)  Contact us at the Clean Energy Advocate (CEA) program today
to find out how you can easily and affordably install solar on your rooftop. Call
707.654.4350, or write


Geoffrey Smith is the
Solar Energy Program Coordinator for The Climate Center. You can reach him at or 707.654.4350.