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The successful history of democratized energy

We’ve had democratized energy for billions of years, already. Non stop. Me, you, plants and puppies, no down time and without a single service call. The sun shines on all of us and that is the basis of distributed generation.  Centralized, proprietary generation is simply out of style, so last century.  One would think that in a republic, or any form of democracy really, people would work with their government to democratize energy.  Unfortunately, as we’ve learned in Nevada, the economic viability of self-generated solar energy can be voided completely, in a single day, by regulatory bodies acting against the will of the majority and government mandate.

In U.S., the price for solar components and equipment continues to come down, which increases the opportunity for more people to generate energy from the sun.  It’s time to stay informed my friends.  State policies, whether legislated by state representatives or simply approved by regulators (elected by YOU) can either build or burn the growth of solar adoption around the country.

Currently, some utilities insist that distributed solar costs non-solar rate payers more money and have convinced policy makers to slow solar adoption.  Other states see the benefits, and find ways to grow the industry and create jobs. It’s working for the most part.  According to Advanced Energy Economy,  clean, alternative energy has become a $200 billion industry in the U.S., which is twice the size of the BEER industry!

HOWEVER, states can enact policies that protect the status quo, (one company) i.e. incumbent power monopolies like NV Energy company, or encourage the development of distributed solar, (many companies) like California and New York.  As we can see in Nevada, the problem isn’t solar, it’s allowing private citizens to have control over the generation of solar energy. Check out this video for the backstory on this utility regulation drama, (check out the color of burning coal in the sky) and then read the next section of this article to better understand the benefits of distributed solar.

Minnesota adopted a policy that gets around the net metering issue.  In their proposed Value of Solar program, customers will be paid for solar in a separate transaction, utility will pay for all the solar generated, and allow the customer to retain their solar renewable energy credit (SREC).  The study shows the value of solar to utilities to be around $0.15/ kWh while many other studies conclude that distributed solar creates a net benefit for utilities when calculating costs.

Here are some of the main benefits that distributed solar has over large-scale solar:

  1.  LOWERS ENERGY LOSSES:  Electricity loses energy when it travels over long distances in something called line loss that costs utilities money.
  2. REDUCES POWER VARIABILITY:  Clouds can reduce solar generation, but when it’s spread out all over the place, it doesn’t have as large an effect on the grid as it does when it’s packed into a single location.
  3. THE SUN SHINES EVERYWHERE:  Why dedicate acres of open land for solar arrays, making it unavailable to people or wildlife, when rooftops everywhere can collect sunshine.
  4.  CUSTOMER EMPOWERMENT:  Yes, as my friends over at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance like to point out, “Solar enables a transition from energy monopoly to energy democracy.  When customers become producers, they also become decision makers in the grid system.”
  5. ENERGY STORAGE MIGHT CHANGE EVERYTHING:  Solar + Storage can create a future that both customers and utilities will love.  In this future, customers will hold the key to our energy future.  It will also solve demand management issues that utilities hate.

Many cities, including Santa Fe, would like to go 100% renewable and break away from the utilities.  In Nevada, a single utility scale solar array can create all the energy Las Vegas can use.  If the city approves the move, the city will partner with the utility to provide 100% renewable energy.  See Nevada PUC greenlights Las Vegas.

However, “… three of the city’s major casinos exited from Nevada Power’s service as they look to procure energy on an open market, saying the utility’s rates were too high. But such a move earned them some $125 million in exit fees, which they are trying to fight, reports Vegas Inc. ”

Hey, we don’t want to dog on the utilities.  According to Utility Dive’s 2016 State of the Electric Utility Survey, many utilities are changing their view.  Instead of seeing renewable energy as a threat to their existence, some now view advances in technology as opportunity to develop new revenue streams.  For example,  66% report pursuing services like offering energy management and efficiency services to customers.

The one constant in the PUC’s decisions this year, has been an effort to maintain the bottom line for NV Energy.  But as you saw in the video, that could be easier said than done.  People in a democracy have power.  Don’t forget that, please.

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