valley clean energy alliance

Valley Clean Energy is here: Choice is good for solar homeowners

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Change can be a good thing. Or, it can be bad. Or, somewhere in between.

Choice, however, is good. If you had one option — for anything you do or buy — you’re stuck. You have no choice and must opt for the sole solution.

Choice enables consumers to make a decision, to weigh options and decide what’s in their best interest. Choice makes markets healthy and efficient, thus benefiting consumers.

For the past few generations, Yolo County residents have not had a choice regarding their electricity: PG&E, the de facto monopoly, was it. That ceased in June with the debut of Valley Clean Energy (VCE). Though nothing changed with our electricity delivery, customer service and billing, VCE was a change that confused some. This is understandable: Consumers now had a choice.

As we’ve shared in prior posts (here, here and here), if you do not have solar panels, VCE is a no brainer: Participate and you’ll save a few bucks each month while reducing your carbon footprint. Or, stick with PG&E and pay more to an investor-owned utility for dirtier energy. Case closed.

Furthermore, if you have solar or are considering going solar, VCE is a viable option. It provides solar homeowners with a choice for how to net-meter their electricity.

When VCE commenced its solar net-metering program in June, we identified and shared a few (in our opinion) flaws to their accounting methodology. In short order, VCE staff absorbed our input, consulted the public, and amended their solar program. This efficient, transparent and productive process evidences the virtue of a publicly-controlled program. (Imagine trying to get PG&E to modify their solar program … no chance.)

Effective January 1, 2019, VCE’s new net-metering program will take effect and homeowners with solar will have a choice. Here’s a quick summary:

  • If you installed solar before June 1, 2018 you will stick with your annual true-up date (that you currently employ with PG&E) and you will be enrolled in VCE’s program at your true-up.

  • If you went solar after June 1, 2018, your annual true-up date will be in March.

  • In both cases, your net-metering accounting will occur every month (versus once/year with PG&E). At the end of your 12-month solar accounting calendar, your true up ($) will be the same, except …

  • … with VCE, if your solar system generates more electricity than you use in a given month, you will receive an additional one-cent per kWh credit.

Importantly, when you go solar, you receive “permission to operate” from PG&E and you are grandfathered in for 20 years under the prevailing (California Public Utilities Commission mandated) net-metering program. Participating in VCE’s net-metering program does not impact your 20-year utility agreement. (This is critical; we received written acknowledgement from PG&E.)

So, congratulations, you now have a choice. Options are good and, for solar homeowners, VCE will put a few extra dollars in your pocket without harming your solar interconnection agreement.

Feel free to stop by our workspace or contact us with questions. Viva community choice!

Valley Clean Energy: Should I stay or should I go?

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We have fielded a few dozen calls, emails and text messages over the past week, primarily from Repower homeowners inquiring about Valley Clean Energy (VCE) piqued by recent VCE mailings. Simple questions: What is it? Should I opt out? What are the pros and cons?

Background: We had the privilege of serving on the City of Davis’ Community Choice Energy Advisory Committee. Over 14 months, our volunteer group deliberated yea/nae (should we do this?) and, if yea, in what form? Could be a curse of too much information, but we have been immersed since the start.

On June 1, all PG&E customers in the cities of Davis and Woodland and unincorporated Yolo County will be transitioned to VCE. By statute, this is how it works: You are automatically enrolled in the program; if you do not want to participate, you need to opt out.

What will happen? In simple terms, you will see a slight reduction in your electricity bill (about 2.5%, for starters) and you will enjoy, though it’s not tangible, cleaner electricity (i.e., electricity with a higher renewable energy content than what PG&E currently serves). Nothing will change with your service: PG&E will continue to manage the grid and provide customer service. In short, you will have cleaner electricity at a lower cost, with funds channeled through a community (Joint Powers Authority) organization. Here's a thorough FAQ from VCE's site.

What’s not to like? In our albeit biased opinion, nothing. And, the hallmark program (Marin Clean Energy) has proven that home and business owners can reduce their bills and their carbon footprints.

If you do not have solar panels on your home or business, do it. (In other words, do nothing … you’re enrolled.)

If you do have solar, the decision is a bit more nuanced. When you went solar, you received a 20-year commitment (Net Energy Metering Agreement) from PG&E to credit you for your solar-generated electricity for a period of 20 years. With VCE, this agreement is not broached: It’s between you and PG&E, regardless of who supplies your electricity. If your solar system was well-designed, it should eliminate/cover 90-100% of your electricity use. Hence, you are independently fulfilling the mission of VCE: Transition our community to clean, less expensive energy. And if you have solar, VCE will provide you with a bit more compensation that PG&E does. Click here for a thorough VCE overview for solar customers.

The wildcard: PG&E (and the other investor-owned utilities [IOUs] in California) are not happy. Community choice energy programs are a direct, competitive threat to their monopolies. Within a year, approximately 50% of IOU ratepayers will have access to community choice programs. PG&E has not dropped its shoulders, shrugged, and opined, “So be it.” They have (unsuccessfully and vigorously) fought community choice programs over the past decade, and their will is intensifying. What can PG&E do to solar owners (and all rate payers) in advent of community choice energy? 

With apologies for the ambiguity, feel free to contact us with questions: Click here, call 530-564-4292, or swing by our office (909 Fifth Street; the old Dairy Queen). We may not have definitive answers, but we are happy to elaborate.

108 degrees. In San Luis Obispo. In late October.

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San Luis Obispo is known for its beauty, SLO pace and mild climate. To me, admittedly biased because I attended Cal Poly three decades ago, it's Utopia.

Two weeks ago -- October 24, 2017 -- San Luis sizzled, blistering to a record high of 108 degrees. Coincidentally, my oldest son, Scott, a freshman at Cal Poly, gave a speech that afternoon. The topic: Climate change. Irony of ironies.

The day and my son's speech, which was inspired in part by TED Talks delivered by Bill McKibben and Amory Lovins, reminded me of the wealth of climate change comrades in arms in our community. I engaged three colleagues to share three simple, every day tips to combat our changing climate.

First, my tireless and delightful friend, Lynne Nittler, who has and continues to do more to make our community and planet a better place than anyone I know:

  1. Eat less meat!  Try just one day a week.  If we all replaced beef with beans, the U.S. would meet 75% of its Paris Accord commitment!  The fall season veggies are delicious!
  2. Leave the car at home and ride a bike these beautiful fall days!  It's a pleasure, it spares the air, and it's good for your health.
  3. Check your doors and windows for leaks now and replace insulation/weather stripping as needed.  Winter is coming...we think.  (I happen to have a door that shifted with the heat this summer and the weather stripping needs to be changed now, so I'm noticing this.)

Next, a new acquaintance and long-time Davis resident, Bernadette Balics, proprietor of the awesome, impactful Ecological Landscape Design:

  1. Idle off: Turn off your car engine when you are parked and using your cell phone.
  2. Ride your bike or walk to the grocery store once.  Just try it out, on a beautiful day, when you don't have to buy a huge carload of groceries.
  3. Pay your gardener more to rake and sweep instead of using a leaf blower.  Or gift him/her with a high quality electric blower.

And, no what-to-do-about-our-changing-climate conversation would be complete without input from THE GREAT John Mott-Smith:

  1. "Just do one thing." Many people are numbed by the number and variety of actions they can take and don’t know how to choose. Michael Pollan opined that doing just one thing, no matter what it is, gets people off the dime and moving towards doing more.
  2. Reduce heating and AC. Assuming this is for folks in Davis, this is the biggest thing that is easy to do and can involve several actions, one of which should apply to anybody, old young, renter, owner; set the thermostat, check/replace your filter, open windows at night etc, for the really ambitious look into a whole house fan.
  3. When the Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCEA) is activated in fall of 18, don’t opt out. Find out more now. Every household and business customer will be be at least 50% renewables by doing nothing other than staying in VCEA rather than opting out for PG&E.
  4. You only asked for three, but here is one more: Seriously consider solar. It is the best thing you can do. (Note: I swear we did not tickle this out of John!)

Your thoughts? Pragmatic and simple climate curing measures abound. Please share. Thanks.

PG&E just raised its rates (again!); what’s going on and what can I do?

Effective March 1, PG&E condensed the tiers of its E-1 residential rate schedule (the tariff most homeowners employ). And, again, electricity rates went up, this time by ~8%. What’s the story and what can I do, if anything?

First, a little background. Every few years, PG&E submits a three-year budget to the California Public Utilities Corp (CPUC), aka, their “rate case”. Therein, they propose myriad rate schedules for commercial, agricultural, residential and other customer groups. The CPUC eventually approves PG&E’s budget, but that’s not the end; over the ensuing three-year period, rate schedules are modified (read: rates are increased) to reflect contemporary PG&E expenses. Over the past two years, PG&E’s residential rates have increased ~43%. Ouch.

Like it or not, inflationary pressures on PG&E’s rates are somewhat just:

  • Replacement of aged infrastructure (e.g., natural gas lines; updated the grid);
  • Retirement of idled assets (e.g., “peaker” power plants; Diablo Canyon);
  • Reduction in generation of inexpensive hydro electricity (due to the drought);
  • AB 32 and the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS); and,
  • Long-term power purchase contracts.

And, living here, we have no choice but to love the one we’re with, at least until Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCEA) launches. (Side note: PG&E has commenced its fear-and-smear campaign regarding VCEA and community choice energy … it’s gonna get ugly.)

Homeowners have four rate schedules to choose from:

  • E1 (the most common rate): Electricity is priced based on tiers (monthly usage).
  • EV: Time-of-use pricing for electric vehicle owners.
  • E-TOU (A): Time-of-use pricing, with “peak” periods from 3:00-8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
  • E-TOU (B): Also time-of-use, with peak pricing from 4:00-9:00 p.m.

So, what’s a homeowner to do? Here are a few simple ways to reduce your utility costs:

1. Go to PG&E’s website, log in to your (or create an) account and select “Compare Rate Plans” in the right column. Based on the time and volume of your electricity use, PG&E — such kind souls! — will quantify your costs under the above scenarios and suggest the least expensive rate schedule. More than likely, one of the time-of-use plans will reduce your bill.

2. Change your behavior. No, not your comfort (or the way you live), but your electricity use. Simple things like doing laundry in the morning, on weekends, or after 9:00 p.m. will lower your costs. So too, if you have a pool, will changing the time your pump runs; start it at 11:00 p.m. And, in the summer cool your home in the morning and early afternoon, then turn off your AC at 3:00.

3. Replace incandescent and CFL bulbs with LEDs. This is not even low hanging fruit in the energy savings world; it’s fruit laying on the ground. 

4. If you have a swimming pool, install a variable speed pool pump. Thereby you can reduce the electricity consumed by your pool by ~70%. Davis Home Trends, Leslies and several other stores can lend a hand.

5. If you haven’t done so already, go solar and insulate yourself from future PG&E rate increases. (No duh, eh?)

And, of course, feel free to contact us or stop by. As Jackson Browne once mused, we may not have the answer, but we believe we’ve got a plan.

Thinking about going solar? Five key considerations

There’s a lot of sunshine being monetized by our community. In Davis alone, one in four single family residences have solar PV systems (versus approximately 5% in PG&E territory). Such rapid adoption is driven by four factors: PG&E’s ever-escalating electricity rates, a sharp decline in the cost of solar systems, the 30% federal tax credit, and (increasingly) grand concerns about our climate and planet.

The formative stage of the Repower program involved extensive research. We assessed the quality, reliability and pricing of solar equipment; the efficacy of solar installation contractors; the pricing (through a group purchase program) of solar; the most viable financing options; and, the most systematic installation methodology. Since pulling the pieces together and enabling the Repower program, we have had the fortune of helping more homeowners in our community invest in solar than any other solar provider.

If you are pondering going solar, here are five key considerations:

1. How long do you intend to reside in your home? If your horizon is less than five years, think twice; if more than five (and given you have a de facto agreement with PG&E to purchase electricity), dig deep.

2. What is the condition (and remaining life) of your roof? Solar systems have a 25-year production warranty. Though it is possible (and common) to replace a roof with an existing solar system, if your roof’s remaining life is less than 10 years, you should consider replacing all or part (i.e., the portion under the solar panels) of your roof.

3. What are the installation contractor’s qualifications? Thereby, it’s critical to speak with local homeowners who have worked with the contractor. Furthermore, you should seek a 10-year workmanship warranty and ensure the installation contractor is financially solvent. Finally, the contractor’s experience with your type of roof is paramount.

4. Who manufacturers the solar panels and inverter(s)? The assessment herein is twofold: What is the efficacy and reliability of the products, and what is the financial solvency (i.e., strength of balance sheet) of the manufacturer, and thus the validity of their performance warranty. Bloomberg qualifies a dozen or so solar panel manufacturers as “Tier 1” or “investment grade” … make sure you’re purchasing a product from this class.

5. Who will own the system and/or how will you pay for it? Frankly, leasing a solar system — whereby your solar panels are owned by a third-party, tax equity fund — is a raw deal for homeowners. You should own your system. Many homeowners employ a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or credit union financing (Yolo Federal Credit Union) to finance their solar system. (Contact us if you would like to learn more about Property Assessed Clean Energy [PACE] financing … we helped developed the first PACE programs in Sacramento and Yolo counties.)

 

At the end of the day, you'd like to know the likelihood your solar system will meet or exceed its energy forecast. Most solar companies use the same forecasting tools. It's the assumptions that feed these models that vary. You should feel confident the forecast presented is reasonable and not some pie-in-the-sky result. Hence, ask solar companies the proportion of systems installed that meet or exceed the originally forecast energy generation. (You should also ask the number of systems monitored to ensure it's a meaningful proportion.)

We do not have all the answers — there is no surefire, perfect solar solution — but we do have strong opinions and extensive experience in our community. Nobody wants to get a bad deal or make a short-sighted decision; filtering through the noise of pesky solar solicitations can be migraine-inducing. To wit, feel free to contact us if you need a hand.