Fire at primary school in Leigh was ‘most likely’ caused by faulty solar panels

Improperly installed solar panels can be a major fire risk to homes, schools, and businesses. It is important for regulators to ensure minimum safety standards are in place to protect solar customers. Make Solar Safe supports consumer safety standards for solar installers to prevent fires like the one in Leigh.

Fire at primary school in Leigh was ‘most likely’ caused by faulty solar panels

The fire service said the blaze started in the roof at Westleigh Methodist Primary School

A huge blaze at a primary school was ‘most likely’ caused by a faulty electrical solar panel.

Firefighters were called to Westleigh Methodist Primary School in Leigh after flames were seen coming from the building just before 11am on Sunday.

Upper levels of the Westleigh Lane building were ‘well alight’ at the height of the fire.

A statement on the school’s Facebook page said the it will be closed until further notice.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) bosses believe the blaze was caused by electrical solar panels on the roof of the hall at the school.

The fire originated where the panels are embedded. It is thought there was a fault with one of the devices.

An eyewitness said they saw four solar panels on fire.

Station manager Chris Roberts said: “A fire investigation officer examined the fire burn patterns and determined that the source of the fire was at roof level.

Fire at Westleigh Methodist Primary School (Image: Manchester Evening News)
Fire at Westleigh Methodist Primary School (Image: Manchester Evening News)

“The fire started on the right hand side of the roof, where a number of solar panels were in place – causing the fire to spread resulting the whole roof being ablaze.

“The pattern of the fire burn would also conclude that the fire’s origin was in the vicinity of the solar panels.

“Examination on the inside of the main hall found charring on the top of the wooden beams which were situated under the roof of the building which would only occur if the fire was above the beam.

“Due to the intense heat of the fire, wiring from the panels were burnt away so we are unable to determine if or why an electrical fault occurred.

“An eyewitness account that was given to the emergency services when the fire first started stated that they saw approximately four solar panels on the roof of the school on fire.

“These panels were located on the right hand side of the roof area. This account also supports the outcome of our investigation in determining the area of origin where the fire started and in identifying any materials that could possible cause a fire to start.”

A school statement read: “Due to the fire the whole of the school building will be closed until further notice. This includes preschool, Honey Bears Nursery and the Startwell Centre.”

Read More

Why Am I Paying $65/year for Your Solar Panels?

California’s net metering laws are increasing the cost of electricity for non-solar users by shifting the cost of grid upkeep to a smaller and smaller pool of rate payers, while the use of the grid is shared by all users. The shift in cost has already reached $65 per year for normal utility customers and will continue to increase if California doesn’t reexamine the state’s net metering policy.

Why Am I Paying $65/year for Your Solar Panels?

700,000 California homes now have solar panels; what does this mean for everyone else’s rates?

“This is the future,” one of my neighbors recently told me, proudly showing off his rooftop solar panels, “Forget the old, inefficient utility.” The panels do look great, and, for a moment, I got caught up in my neighbor’s “green glow” of eco-righteousness. Should I be doing “my part” for climate?

But wait a second. I already am! As Severin Borenstein has been pointing out for years, a big part of the reason why rooftop solar is so popular in California is our electricity rates. And because of the way rates work, every time another neighbor installs solar, my rates go up. I’m tired of it. Why should they get all the “green glow”? Why should I be paying more for their rooftop solar, particularly given that grid-scale renewables are so much cheaper?

Almost 700,000 homes in California have installed solar, about 5% of all homes in California. Today I want to figure out what this means for the rest of us. No fancy econometrics, no complicated model. I just want to do a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation to try to figure out how big of a deal this is.

Utilities have a lot of Fixed Costs

It is helpful to take a step back and think about what it takes to deliver electricity. Utilities have lots of what economists call “fixed costs”. For example, utilities have to maintain all the transmission and distribution lines used to deliver power. These costs are fixed (not marginal) because they do not depend on how much electricity is consumed.

Who pays for these fixed costs? We all do. Every time you use electricity, you help pay for these fixed costs. There is a long history in the United States of regulators setting electricity prices equal to average costs.  Economists have argued that it would be more efficient to set prices equal to marginal cost. But the truth is this didn’t matter much in the past, in part because people didn’t have much choice about whether or not to consume electricity.

Until now. Rooftop solar is an opportunity for consumers to radically reduce the amount of electricity they buy from the utility. In Hawaii there is a lot of talk of “grid defection”, but in 99.9%+ of cases solar homes continue to be connected to the grid. Solar homes use the grid just as much as other households, as they are always either importing or exporting electricity, it’s just that they consume much less grid-electricity.

What this means is that good people like my neighbor contribute much less to paying for utility fixed costs. The fixed costs haven’t gone away, but my neighbor now has a lower electricity bill so pays far less of them. This leaves the utility with a revenue shortfall, and it is forced to raise prices. So who pays for the fixed costs my neighbor used to pay? Everyone else.

A key subtlety here is “net metering”. Households who install rooftop solar pay only for the electricity they consume “on net” after solar generation. This is easy and simple, but also wrong. Implicitly, this means that they get compensated for their solar panels’ sales to the grid at the retail electricity rate. This is too high, significantly exceeding what the utility saves from not having to supply that electricity. Under an alternative rate structure, in which households were paid the wholesale rate, you would not have this “cost-shifting” away from solar households.

Cost Shifting 

Ok, but how much cost shifting is actually happening? Outside California, Arizona, and Hawaii, probably not much. But California has a lot of solar, about half of all U.S. rooftop solar. How much have California electricity rates increased due to the 700,000 homes with solar?

This is tricky because we don’t actually know how much electricity is being produced by rooftop solar. Almost everyone is on net metering, so we only observe net consumption, not solar production. Fortunately, the California Energy Commission has poured over solar radiation information and other data and estimated that total annual generation from California behind-the-meter solar is 9,000 GWh. About two-thirds of this is residential, so about 6,000 GWh. To put this in some context, total annual residential electricity consumption in California is 90,000 GWh.

So how much “cost shifting” does this imply? The average residential electricity price in California is $0.185/kWh, while the average wholesale price is about $0.04/kWh. Accounting for electricity that is lost during delivery to the end customer adds about 9% more per kWh delivered. Thus, each time a California household produces a kWh, the utility experiences a revenue shortfall of about $0.14. Multiply this by total residential distributed solar generation, and you get $840 million annually. California utilities receive $15 billion annually in revenue from residential customers, so the total shortfall is about 5%.

This is a crude calculation, and it could undoubtedly be refined. For example, distributed solar proponents argue that local generation allows the utility to avoid distribution system upgrades, which would represent an additional benefit. These impacts have been found to be relatively small, but this continues to be an area of active research. On the other hand, I’ve also made an assumption that significantly decreases my estimate of cost shift. In particular, I’ve used the average residential retail price, but California customers actually pay increasing block rates so most solar customers face a marginal price well in excess of the average price.

Conclusion

The total revenue shortfall works out to about $0.01 per kWh, or $65/year for the average California household. This is more than I expected. And, I’d bet most Californians are not even aware that this cost shift is happening.

So why am I paying $65/year for other people to have solar? It doesn’t make sense. Sure, I’m concerned about climate change, but my $65/year could go a lot farther if it was used instead for grid-scale renewables. Moreover, this is almost certainly bad from an equity perspective, as we know that high-income households adopt solar much more often than other households. Rooftop solar isn’t getting rid of the utility. It’s just changing who pays for it.

Reat at: https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2018/03/26/why-am-i-paying-65-year-for-your-solar-panels/

Read More

It’s time to plan for solar panel recycling in the United States

As solar panels begin to reach the end of their useful life, current recycling systems are not designed to handle the proper recycling of the panels. Without a proper plan for disposing of panels, old and damaged units could end up in landfills. Damaged panels can leach dangerous materials if disposed of in a landfill.

It’s time to plan for solar panel recycling in the United States

End-of-life panels might not need recycling for another 15 years, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the growing issue today.

In 2017, the United States installed 10.6 GW of new solar energy. Using rough math (if every panel was 300 W), that’s 35.3 million new solar panels installed last year. In about 30 years, a wave of 35.3 million panels may reach the end of their lifespans, not counting the hundreds of millions of panels that flooded the U.S. market in the last decade that may need to be disposed of sooner.

What to do with this future solar waste has been bothering many in the industry, especially Sam Vanderhoof, owner of consulting firm Solar CowboyZ and former president of Schott Solar.

“I’ve been working in solar since 1976. I’ve been doing it a long time, and that’s part of my guilt. I’ve been involved with millions of solar panels going into the field, and now they’re getting old,” he said. “The industry seems to think—myself included—that there isn’t a problem yet. The reality is that there is a problem now, and it’s only going to get larger, rapidly expanding as the PV industry expanded 10 years ago.”

Solar panel disposal and recycling isn’t a huge issue right now in 2018 because there isn’t a big enough volume to cause concern. Solar panels are warrantied to perform more than 25 years, and once the warranty expires, panels will still produce energy, albeit not at their advertised peak. Solar installations in the United States didn’t really take off until 2010. Any influx of panels needing replaced today happens after freak weather events or other accidents.

But where are those damaged panels going now? With no dedicated national program or requirement to safely dispose of solar panels, some unfortunately find their way to landfills. If the system owner is green-minded and has the money, panels may get shipped to a recycling facility. Other industry players are warehousing damaged or old panels until a practical recycling program is established.

That’s why Vanderhoof and a few colleagues recently started a new recycling program in the United States—Recycle PV—modeled after Europe’s successful program. The program is still in its early stages, but Vanderhoof hopes his efforts will start a movement.

“Who is responsible for it? In the U.S., nobody is,” he said of solar panel recycling guidelines. “It is important for the industry to step up to address it. Solar is supposed to be renewable and clean energy, but there is this dirty side to it. There is a waste stream after time that hasn’t been addressed.”

Vanderhoof isn’t alone in these concerns. There are many U.S. players trying to get plans in place before safe panel disposal becomes a national issue. Determining guidelines now will make things easier when panels reach the end of their useful lives.

Economics vs. regulations

Cara Libby, senior technical leader of solar energy at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), has been doing solar PV recycling research on behalf of the organization’s utility members. Libby said utilities asked for EPRI’s help understanding the feasibility of recycling in the United States since many own solar arrays approaching 20 years old. Libby and her research partners have been looking at various recycling technologies, whether modules should be classified as hazardous waste and how other countries have already approached recycling regulations.

“It’s still a little premature for dedicated PV recycling facilities [in the United States],” Libby said. “In the future, maybe around 2030, there will be a surge in PV waste volumes. Then we’ll have to start thinking about a better way to collect and recycle efficiently.”

EPRI found that most panel recycling in Europe through the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive—which established rules for solar panel recycling in 2012—happens at glass recyclers. Panels are crushed or shredded and then glass and metals are separated. Other chemical and thermal processes may be used to recover high-value material like silver or copper.

System owners recycle their panels in Europe because they are required to. Panel recycling in an unregulated market (like the United States) will only work if there is value in the product. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) detailed solar panel compositions in a 2016 report and found that c-Si modules contained about 76% glass, 10% polymer (encapsulant and backsheet), 8% aluminum (mostly the frame), 5% silicon, 1% copper and less than 0.1% of silver, tin and lead. As new technologies are adopted, the percentage of glass is expected to increase while aluminum and polymers will decrease, most likely because of dual-glass bifacial designs and frameless models.

CIGS thin-film modules are composed of 89% glass, 7% aluminum and 4% polymers. The small percentages of semiconductors and other metals include copper, indium, gallium and selenium. CdTe thin-film is about 97% glass and 3% polymer, with other metals including nickel, zinc, tin and cadmium telluride.

There’s just not a large amount of money-making salvageable parts on any type of solar panel. That’s why regulations have made such a difference in Europe.

“In Europe, we’ve seen that when it’s mandated, it gets done,” Libby said. “Either it becomes economical or it gets mandated. But I’ve heard that it will have to be mandated because it won’t ever be economical.”

There’s nothing yet mandated at a national level, but there are a few states trying to get the required recycling ball moving. In July 2017, Washington became the first state to pass a solar stewardship bill (ESSB 5939), requiring manufacturers selling solar products into the state to have end-of-life recycling programs for their own products. Manufacturers that do not provide a recycling program or outline will not be able to sell solar modules into the state after Jan. 1, 2021. Regional takeback locations will be set up to accept solar panels at no cost to the system owner, and the state may charge manufacturers for the program. Final plans are still being decided.

Washington-based solar panel manufacturer Itek Energy assisted with the bill’s writing.

“Most of us here at the company feel strongly about being strong environmental stewards,” said Evan Bush, special programs coordinator at Itek. “It’s important to spearhead these efforts before there’s a big volume that will need to be disposed. With this in place, we’ll be more prepared.”

Itek’s modules are already in compliance with the new bill; the company uses a recycling partner in Idaho to take damaged panels and manufacturing scrap. Itek has been accepting back other brands of modules just to keep them out of landfills.

“There are reasons beyond just doing the right thing that should encourage others to [recycle panels],” Bush said. “Given the value of the component materials in modules, this shouldn’t be a burden to us or other participants.”

New York has a similar bill on the Senate calendar this year. Bill S2837A would require solar panel manufacturers to collect end-of-life panels for recycling. Critics argue that panel manufacturers should not bear the burden of recycling panels alone, although that is how the WEEE Directive works in Europe.

California SB 489 passed in 2015 and encourages safe disposition of old panels. California designates end-of-life solar panels as universal waste, a type of hazardous waste that is widely used in homes and businesses (like TVs or batteries). By California law, universal waste cannot be trashed or landfilled, but no guidelines are given on the proper way to recycle solar panels.

A U.S. recycling veteran

One U.S. company that has recycling figured out is CdTe thin-film module manufacturer First Solar. In 2005, the company made a commitment to extended producer responsibility. First Solar execs understood that in order for a renewable energy technology to truly be green, it was important to consider its end-of-life management. First Solar’s recycling program was established at the beginning of production to responsibly recycle manufacturing scrap, warranty returns and end-of-life panels. This environmental decision also had a financial perspective—tellurium doesn’t just grow on trees.

“There is a finite amount of tellurium,” said First Solar global recycling director Sukhwant Raju. “They wanted to make sure there was a way to recover the valuable stuff so it becomes sustainable growth for First Solar. It’s not just about being green, but how do we stay sustainable in the long term?”

First Solar recycling plants are attached to its manufacturing facilities—in Ohio, Malaysia and under construction in Vietnam. There’s also a stand-alone recycling plant in Germany.

“We have the capacity to recycle 2 million panels globally on an annual basis,” Raju said. “As more panels start reaching the end of their 25-year lifetimes, recycling will increase drastically.”

The company only recycles CdTe panels currently, even if the panels are not manufactured by First Solar (other CdTe panel manufacturers include Calyxo of Germany and Advanced Solar Power (ASP) of China). Raju said the company may develop techniques to handle crystalline silicon panels.

“We have a decade’s worth of experience in recycling, and we want to utilize that to broaden our efforts,” he said.

As with the decommissioning of other energy technologies, there’s still a financial obligation on behalf of the system owner. The company’s initial recycling program was pre-funded. When a First Solar panel was sold, a portion of that money went into a fund that could only be used for end-of-life recycling. In 2012, the company switched gears but continues to honor historical commitments under the prefunded module collection and recycling program.

“We realized we were not doing anyone any favors by charging customers 20 to 30 years in advance for end of life recycling,” Raju said. “The better approach was to do pay-as-you-go since it is more cost-efficient to finance PV recycling through later-year project cash flows instead of upfront funding. Now when we sell our panels, we offer a global recycling services agreement. Customers have the option to use our services when the panels get to the end of life stage. We’ll do the recycling, and they’ll pay the price at that time.”

This customer-funded recycling effort is dependent on system owners willing to pay the price to do the right thing. Raju thinks that as volume increases, recycling costs will come down and the greener option will be more attractive than just throwing panels away. First Solar is also taking steps to reduce recycling costs to ensure recycling becomes the preferred end-of-life management approach.

“Limited land availability and regulatory requirements will only increase the costs of landfilling,” he said. “Meanwhile, recycling costs will continue to go down. While customers may only be sending 100 panels today for recycling, by the time most of their panels get to end of life, our cost ratio will be way lower. They see the value in getting on the recycling bandwagon.

“But at the end of the day,” Raju continued, “there is nothing to force them, other than in places where there are regulations.”

The need for crystalline recycling

For c-Si modules needing recycling now in the United States, there are a few scattered options. Various glass and electronics recyclers have taken on solar panel recycling, but usually not on dedicated lines or on a grand scale. Industry advocacy group SEIA has begun organizing recycling efforts through its PV Recycling Working Group. SEIA will choose preferred recycling partners that offer benefits to SEIA members. ECS Refining and Cleanlites Recycling have recently been approved as SEIA recycling partners.

Cleanlites began in the early 1990s as a light bulb recycler, taking on other items like batteries and electronics, until it found a niche with “difficult to recycle” items. It has been catering to a solar crowd for the last few years and recycled 1.5 million lbs of solar panels last year (again, using rough math of 50 lbs per panel, that’s 30,000 panels).

“I saw the impending need for solar panel [recycling]. Those coming out of commission from now to the next 10 years is astronomical,” said Tim Kimmel, Cleanlites vice president.

Cleanlites uses optical, magnetic and hand sorting to separate aluminum, other metals and electronics from c-Si solar panels at its Cincinnati-based facility. The company is hesitant to accept other types of panels right now until it can determine safe processes. The leftover glass and silicon wafers (which may also have copper and silver mixed in) are sent to a smelter for further extraction. The process works for now, but it could be improved.

“We’re looking to put a new process line in that will be able to separate all the components and recover the silicon wafers and recycle the units 100%,” Kimmel said. “The goal is to avoid landfilling all these units, which is going to be a vast number here shortly.”

As solar panels are processed on the current lines, Cleanlites collects the scrap and sends 45,000-lb loads out at a time.

“At times, we get thousands of panels in a month, and on those times, we process twice a week, making the material and sending to the smelter on a consistent basis,” Kimmel said. “Other times, they come in slowly and we build them up until we are able to process a whole shipment.”

It costs money to send “solar scrap” to a smelter, and Cleanlites incorporates that cost and the cost of transportation into its recycling prices.

“There is a cost, so you have to weigh… do you want to be an environmentally sustainable company, or do you want to landfill thousands of pounds of material and have that show up?” Kimmel said. “The benefit of sending it to us, we’re able to receive it, ensure that the metals are recovered, and we recycle it. You’re not creating any waste or hazardous waste.”

A solar panel’s level of hazardous waste is up for debate. If panels are just old, there are usually no reasons to worry. EPRI research found the chance of chemical leaching grows if panels are damaged.

“We’ve conducted some toxicity testing on modules, and we have seen results showing that the presence of lead is higher than the threshold allowed by the TCLP (toxicity characteristic leaching procedure). There is a lot of variation between module types,” Libby said. “There is a potential for leaching of toxic materials such as lead in landfill environments. If modules are intact, it’s a low risk, but as soon as they’re broken or crushed, then the potential for leaching is increased.”

Recycling panels is the safest way to dispose of them, and SEIA and recycling centers are trying to make it easy to do the right thing.

Planning for future volume

There are clearly recycling options available now to U.S. solar owners, but their fragmented nature is what led Vanderhoof to form Recycle PV.

“There’s a little effort for sure, but it’s not concentrated. The information isn’t out there,” he said. “There’s not a good, simple flow of information and processes and procedures to deal with the waste stream.”

Recycle PV went straight to the pros, partnering with PV Cycle (the successful non-profit organization that offers waste management help to solar companies in Europe) and German panel refurbisher Rinovasolfor the U.S. market. Slightly damaged or underperforming panels can find a second life on the refurbished market. Rinovasol will take care of those, and PV Cycle sets up memberships to get recyclable panels to partner facilities. Thus far, Recycle PV has shipped two containers of panels to Germany for recycling, which is expensive but the only way to fully take advantage of the PV Cycle process right now.

The plan for Recycle PV is to get volumes large enough to build a dedicated solar recycling plant in the United States. Vanderhoof said once Recycle PV is processing 10,000 panels a month, a U.S. facility will make more sense.

“It’s not an outrageous goal,” he said. “Right now in Europe, they can recycle that much a day, but it’s been going on for a long time already.”

It’s a lofty goal for Vanderhoof and his partners to start a brand new operation, but he felt he had to do something.

“We’ve gone to a lot of waste management and EPA meetings. You look around the room and it’s all waste management people, not solar people,” he said. “Those guys are in there trying to work on the policies that affect all of us, and they’d like it to be a more expensive policy because they make more money off it. The solar guys aren’t as engaged as they could be.”

The most promising solution for the United States is if SEIA can successfully tap into the PV Cycle model and pick up recycling plants across the nation willing to invest in solar processing. If more states adopt Washington’s requirements to have all panels backed by recycling programs, national recycling plans might automatically form. A big solar name may be willing to forgo Washington sales, but it’d have a harder time losing out on California sales just because it doesn’t have a recycling plan in place.

Time is ticking. The United States has about 15 years before solar panel recycling becomes a major issue. Plenty of time to figure out the best course of action, but also plenty of time to procrastinate. Here’s hoping we set early deadlines.

Read More

Solar panel company goes out of business, leaves customers with unfinished installs

After Sundurance Solar LLC went out of business, many of its customers were left with unfinished systems, or the wrong systems installed. What many homeowners believed was a smart investment for their homes turned into a major hassle. In some cases the installed equipment would have created a fire hazard had the panels been turned on. Without safeguards for consumers this type of situation will continue. We encourage all states to put consumer protections in place to stop this type of bad installation from happening in the future.

Solar panel company goes out of business, leaves customers with unfinished installs

Orlando-area woman informed what she paid for is not what was installed

By Adrianna Iwasinski – Investigative Reporter

Homeowners across Central Florida and across the state are having their solar panel systems checked after the solar panel company that installed them went out of business.

Some of those customers were left with unfinished installs and were stuck paying for equipment that didn’t even work.

Cyndie Chase, of Apopka, was one of those customers.

Chase said she put Solar panels on her home to increase the value of her home and to save money on her bill. She said she shopped around and picked a company called Sundurance Solar LLC to install the panels and get her switched over.

“I felt that they were reputable,” Chase said. “They offered good payment options, better than the other plan I was looking at.”

Chase said she signed the contract for the solar panels and was approved for the financing last summer. Since then, she has been making her monthly payments, but the solar system is still not connected.

She said she kept calling the company to come out and finish the job, and kept getting put off and then she learned Sundurance Solar LLC went out of business.

A quick internet search shows Sundurance has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau and a list of complaints and reviews before they closed up shop.

But Chase said she had no idea how bad things really were until the company stopped returning her calls.

Chase said she then called the finance company named on her contract to try to get results. She said they told her they would get another solar panel company to check on the status of the install and see what else needed to be done, but weeks went by with no action.

That’s when she called News 6.

Within a week of us calling, the finance company put Chase in touch with All American Solar LLC, of Orange City, to finish the job.

But what they discovered shocked Chase and them even more. Not only was it the wrong equipment, but it was poorly installed and if someone powered up the system, it could have caused a major fire hazard.

“The inverter wasn’t the right inverter that the homeowner purchased based of the agreement,” said Brandon Bing with All American Solar. “There’s been over 14 customers as of late that we are aware of as of right now. And if the list continues to compile, we are just trying to work diligently with the homeowners and come up with an amicable solution.”

Bing said they have been all over Florida fixing the mess Sundurance Solar LLC left behind. They warn all homeowners to do their homework before signing on the dotted line and said Sundurance definitely preyed on these customers.

All American Solar is working with Chase to get the correct equipment installed within the next 30 days.

“You know you have a lot of fly-by-night companies,” Bing said. “You have these outfits that are coming from different states —  and then you have a lot of individuals that are just doing sleazy unethical sales tactics.

News 6 is continuing their investigation into the principals involved in Sundurance Solar LLC.

View original article at: https://www.clickorlando.com/news/solar-panel-company-goes-out-of-business-leaves-customers-with-unfinished-installs

Read More

FBAE opposes South Carolina net metering bill

Today, FBAE sent a letter to the South Carolina House of Representatives opposing HB 4421. This bill would have shifted the burden of grid maintenance from all consumers to non-solar users. This extra subsidy to solar users is an unfair shift in the cost of South Carolina’s electrical infrastructure. A copy of the letter is available here: FBAE – Oppose South Carolina HB4421

Read More

If cost of solar has dropped so much, why are subsidies still needed?

Kentucky Representative Jim Gooch writes in the Lexington Herald Leader about his plan to lower subsidies for solar users that are currently being paid for by all utility customers. Representative Gooch is a proponent of lowering Kentucky’s electricity rates for all customers. His plan would update the state’s Net Metering law to ensure all customers are paying for the upkeep of the grid.

If cost of solar has dropped so much, why are subsidies still needed?

As chairman of the Kentucky House of Representatives Energy and Natural Resources Committee for more than 19 years, I have seen both the highs and lows of energy policy in Kentucky.

I chaired the committee when coal production was at its all-time peak in Kentucky, and I fought the federal government as it tried to take down one of Kentucky’s signature industries. Electricity rates in Kentucky have increased by 30 to 40 percent over the past decade. Many of the factors driving those cost increases were outside the control of the General Assembly.

At every turn, I have kept as my core principle what is best for affordable energy for Kentuckians. I firmly believe that low-income Kentuckians should not pay any more on their electric bills, if it can be avoided.

This is why I’m sponsoring House Bill 227, a bill to modernize Kentucky’s outdated net metering law. The net metering “subsidy” or “mandate” is not a utility issue and it’s certainly not a partisan issue. It is a cost issue for all electric customers who choose not to install solar panels.

Kentucky is a cost-of-service, regulated utility state. The costs of Kentucky’s electric infrastructure are shared by all customers — as are the benefits. When one class of customers avoid paying the costs of the system, those costs must be paid by others to ensure around the clock reliable service.

Solar-produced energy is no more valuable than any other type of energy. For those who say otherwise, I would argue that coal-produced energy provide more benefits to Kentuckians.

For supporters of solar power and solar contractors, HB 227 would not affect larger scale private solar projects, which do not fall under Kentucky’s net metering law. It would not prevent those who choose to install private solar to do so for their own benefit and be fairly compensated. And the bill clearly grandfathers allcurrent net metered customers for 25 years, whether they sell their house or rent it.

That timeframe exceeds the life of all private net metered solar installations currently in Kentucky. Those systems already installed have been sold by contractors on the promise of paying off in 10 or 15 years. Another guaranteed 10 years of return absolutely will not hurt those customers’ investments.

HB 227 will not put solar contractors out of business. By rewarding net metered customers for their excess energy at a market price, it merely stretches out the time needed for a net metering customer to earn a return on their investment. Those who want to go solar can still choose solar and will still make a return.

Solar advocates are the first to point out that the costs of solar panels have come down 70 percent over the past decade. Who knows what the next decade will hold for them? As this market grows, other utility customers cannot afford to continue paying new net metered customers 300 percent of the market value of their electricity.

Net metering was always meant to help someone who wants solar panels to afford them. It was not meant to turn net metering customers into energy marketers, and it was not meant to enrich them with other customers’ money.

If the cost of solar is 70 percent less today than when we enacted this law, at what point do the subsidies end?

The executive director of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, Ashley Brown, calls rooftop solar net metering and the returns they provide, ”Robin Hood in reverse” meaning it is “a wealth transfer from less affluent ratepayers to more affluent ones.”

Charles G. Snavely, secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, also supports the bill. “It is about not paying more for something than is necessary, yet also paying the solar generator customer for the equitable value of the excess solar produced,” he said.

Now is the time to address this inequity. We cannot delay this any further. We have a chance to head this off in Kentucky before it becomes an even bigger issue. Every year we don’t fix this structural problem with our electric rates, it gets harder and harder.

Every year we don’t address this issue, more and more grid reliability costs are pushed onto Kentuckians who can least afford it.

Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, represents parts of Daviess and Hopkins Counties as well as all of McLean and Webster Counties.

Read original article at: http://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article200855654.html

Read More

Utah officials recommend revoking Legend Solar’s license due to lack of financial responsibility

An in-depth review of Legend Solar reveals the top managers have used deceptive and unethical behavior in business practice. The company lacks incentive to pay off debts and follow-up on promises made to customers. Customers are being left with unfinished projects the solar company cannot afford to finish. Oftentimes forcing customers to hire a different company for repairs without a refund from Legend Solar. Revoking Legend Solar’s business license would be a win for Utah’s consumer safety.

Utah officials recommend revoking Legend Solar’s license due to lack of financial responsibility

By Spencer Ricks

ST. GEORGE — In a report by state regulators, actions taken by a Southern Utah solar company were described as unprofessional, unlawful and showing a “failure to take financial responsibility.”

The Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing issued a report March 20 in which state officials recommend revoking the license for Legend Solar, a solar energy company with headquarters in Washington City. The report also cited Legend Electric, Legend Energy and Legend Ventures, which are all other arms of Legend Solar.

The agency’s report found 15 separate tax liens filed against Legend Solar in Utah courts, all of which are still unresolved. Based on the company’s financial history, Utah officials wrote in the report that Legend Solar “failed to demonstrate and maintain financial responsibility.”

Legend Solar’s business licenses have been revoked in Nevada since August, where Legend Solar representatives reportedly never showed up to a financial responsibility hearing with the Nevada State Contractor’s Board. The company’s license is being investigated in Oregon as well.

After being founded in 2012, Legend Solar reported a 400 percent growth in 2015 — from $3.7 million to $18.7 million — and was listed by Utah Business Magazine in its 2017 “40 under 40,” which honors successful entrepreneurs in Utah under the age of 40.

Now, some of Legend Solar’s ex-employees and customers are attesting to the financial responsibility issues emerging from the company. Legend Solar’s main solar panel supplier, SunPower, has also started to refuse to sell panels to Legend Solar, citing expectations for its affiliates to show honesty in their business dealings in a statement.

Cody Fullmer, Legend Solar’s former purchasing manager, told St. George News that he saw “a lot of deception and unethical behavior coming from the top management” of Legend Solar when he worked there. Fullmer said his job was to order solar panels and other equipment from suppliers.

Problems from within the company started with “cashflow issues” when Legend Solar wasn’t able to keep up with paying vendors, Fullmer said. That caused supplies to be sent to out late, which slowed projects and made customers angry.

“The company kind of had a culture that stemmed directly down from the top management that whenever there was a problem to always blame it on someone else,” Fullmer said. “When they couldn’t pay for the solar panels, they would blame it on the supplier, but in fact, we just couldn’t pay for them.”

While he worked for Legend Solar, Fullmer told company management that he wasn’t going to lie about what why the company couldn’t get solar panels, which he said then prompted his bosses to ask him to be “vague.”

“My direction exactly from the upper management was to be very vague with project managers and not give them truthful reasons why we didn’t have solar panels on time,” Fullmer said. “It didn’t make me feel super ethical.”

Fullmer said he was laid off in October 2016 due to cutbacks at the company. He said many employees have also been laid off since then because of cutbacks and blame from the owners.

The biggest reason Legend Solar has experienced so many problems with finances is because of the unchecked ego of its owners, Shaun Alldredge and Shane Perkins, Fullmer said.

“They wanted wild growth within the company and just wanted it to happen without taking any responsibility,” Fullmer said.

When Fullmer worked for the company, he said he was promised a raise if he hit certain benchmarks. But when it came time for his review, he said he was told Legend Solar didn’t have enough money to allow him to have the promised raise. At the same time, Fullmer said it bothered him that the owners were buying expensive new cars and taking “lavish” hunting trips around the world.

“They were obviously burning through money like it was nothing, but they weren’t being financially responsible with the company,” Fullmer said. “And all of that was happening when the company was having so much financial difficulties where we couldn’t even buy the materials to install.”

Alldredge and Perkins made a $10 million donation to Dixie State University in April 2016, which was a payment Fullmer said the company could not afford to give at the time.

Dixie State announced earlier this month it would be removing Legend Solar’s name from the stadium and ending its relationship with the company. Jyl Hall, a Dixie State spokeswoman, said the university has not received any payments toward Legend Solar’s original $10 million donation since 2016.

“Dixie State recognizes the need for Legend Solar to focus on their company and customers at this time, and once those responsibilities are taken care of and the company is on strong financial footing, the university would welcome the opportunity to discuss re-establishing the partnership,” Hall said in a statement.

Jason Williams, a Legend Solar customer, said he signed a $24,000 contract with the company in April 2017 and struggled to get his solar system completed. Williams said Legend Solar delayed his project, installed refurbished parts that still do not function and has not yet refunded him for the faulty solar panel system.

“I have never had such a horrifying experience,” Williams said. “The entire transaction was plagued with deceit, lies and false promises.”

Williams said he doesn’t expect to be reimbursed anytime soon because of the current problems with the company. He has since had to employ a different Utah solar company, Solaroo, to complete the project Legend Solar started.

A spokeswoman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes confirmed there were several complaints about Legend Solar from the St. George area, but could neither confirm nor deny an ongoing investigation by the attorney general’s office.

In a statement on Legend Solar’s website in January, Legend Solar officials blamed Rocky Mountain Power for reducing incentives for solar customers and an “impending national solar panel tariff” that caused the company to experience the cashflow problems.

Legend Solar’s statement goes on to read:

We are committed to fulfilling all of our commitments to customers, but cannot provide a specific timeline at this time. We appreciate the patience of all awaiting action on our part as we work each day to remedy our cashflow needs. Resources to respond to customers, as well as other vital functions in the company, have been dramatically scaled back, resulting in delayed response times.

Legend Solar co-owners Perkins and Alldredge have not responded to St. George News’ requests for comment about the allegations of unprofessionalism or the report by Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. A visit to the Legend Solar office building in Washington City Tuesday at 2 p.m. found the doors to the building locked and the parking lot mostly empty.

According to state agency’s report, Legend Solar has 30 days since the mailing of the report to file a response to it before a final decision on Legend Solar’s license is made. Jennifer Bolton, a representative for the agency, said it has not received a response from Legend Solar.

Read post here.

Read More

FBAE Supports Kentucky Net Metering Legislation – House Bill 227

In January, Kentucky Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jim Gooch introduced a bill that would amend the compensation rate for solar users who sell the excess power they produce back to the utility companies. The 14-year-old system compensates solar users at the full retail price of the electricity, versus the wholesale price for these sales. This practice ultimately shifts costs to non-solar customers. While criticisms of net metering often center around the adverse effects on low-income individuals, evidence shows that the problem also extends to the majority of small businesses who don’t want or can’t afford solar. FBAE all business owners should fairly share in the fixed costs necessary to maintain the energy grid.

FBAE drafted a letter to the Kentucky Legislature, supporting Chairman Gooch’s legislation, H.B. 227. The bill will amend Kentucky’s net metering compensation system by paying producers at the wholesale rate instead of the full retail rate they currently enjoy. Additionally, the bill is not retroactive, and will not affect current users in the state.

Kentucky Net Metering Letter March 2018

Read More

Utah-based Legend Solar has ‘misrepresented’ itself and should lose its contractor’s license, state regulators say

Legend Solar is facing “unlawful conduct by obtaining a license by misrepresentation” after their “extreme cashflow problem” led officials to investigate the companies past. Investigators found that Legend Solar has a troublesome past throughout the U.S. The company faced disciplinary action in Nevada resulting with the revoke of their license. Solar Legend owes a lending firm in New York state more than 300,000 dollars. Currently, the solar company is on the verge of losing their license to operate as a contractor in Utah. Eliminating the licensing of fraudulent solar companies for consumer protection remains a top priority for Make Solar Safe.

Utah-based Legend Solar has ‘misrepresented’ itself and should lose its contractor’s license, state regulators say

By Emma Penrod

State regulators are pursuing disciplinary action against Utah-based Legend Solar, saying the company apparently tried to mislead them.

The Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing has recommended that the St. George-area company lose its license to operate as a contractor in Utah. According to a complaint issued earlier this week, division investigators concluded that Legend Solar had apparently submitted misleading information last November, when it applied to renew that license.

The complaint comes as Legend Solar, once a top company in Utah’s burgeoning solar industry, has been struggling in recent months with what it calls an “extreme cashflow problem” stemming from a downturn in sales. Scores of customers are still waiting on unfinished residential solar arrays as the company copes with several rounds of layoffs.

Those financial woes recently led Dixie State University to rescind a deal naming its sports stadium after Legend Solar, after the firm was unable to follow through on a promised $10 million donation to the St. George school.

In documents filed Tuesday, state regulators contend that Legend Solar indicated on its Nov. 2017 renewal application that it did not have any judgements or tax liens filed against it, but investigators found it had at least 15 outstanding tax liens.

They also found that the New York state Supreme Court had order Legend to pay TVT Capital, a lending firm, more than $300,000 in Dec. 2017, documents said.

Regulators further allege that Legend Solar reported that it had not been subject to disciplinary action in any other state, when in fact the State Contractors Board of Nevada had revoked the company’s license in that state in Aug. 2017.

The state regulators’ action is filed against the company under its various operating names, including Legend Solar, Legend Energy and Legend Ventures. It gives company leaders 30 days to respond.

Those inaccurate statements, regulators said in their March 20 filing, amount to “unlawful conduct by obtaining a license by misrepresentation.”

A spokeswoman for the division would not provide additional comment.

Shane Perkins, one of the co-owners of Legend Solar, said the allegations were the result of a mistake made by the company’s electrician, who he said “checked the wrong box.”

Perkins said he was confident that the matter would be cleared up shortly.

Read more here.

Read More

It’s time for solar to clean up its act

Bad actors in the solar industry are making it harder for residents of New Mexico to use solar power on their homes. The state’s Attorney General has filed 17 civil complaints against Vivint Solar including fraud, racketeering and unfair business practices. Cracking down on bad actors sends a message to the industry to clean up its act.

 

It’s time for solar to clean up its act

By Daniel Stevens / Executive Director, Campaign for Accountability
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Last week, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a 17-count civil complaint against Utah-based Vivint Solar. Included in the litany of charges against the company – which sells and leases rooftop solar panels in New Mexico and other states – were fraud, racketeering and unfair business practices.

Regrettably, irresponsible and even criminal actions by some in the rooftop solar industry could deter consumers from moving toward solar energy and away from fossil fuels as part of the effort to slow the pace of climate change.

As residents of the “Land of Enchantment” know, New Mexico has the good fortune to be one of the sunniest states in America. Consistent sunshine and favorable public policy are helping fuel the state’s huge boom in rooftop solar. Not only can solar power be good for the environment, but it can also boost New Mexico’s economy. According to The Solar Foundation’s recently released Solar Jobs Census, employment in New Mexico’s solar industry increased an incredible 48 percent in 2017. In short, the rooftop solar industry is doing well in New Mexico.

Nevertheless, as more door-to-door salesmen pitch rooftop solar, it is important for consumers to be aware of the risks. For more than a year now, my organization, Campaign for Accountability, has been documenting how some rooftop solar companies exploit vulnerable consumers. In December, we released a report detailing our analysis of thousands of complaints from across the country. We found that some rooftop solar companies have misled consumers about the true costs of installing solar panels, have poorly installed panels damaging homeowners’ roofs, and left many with long, expensive leases and higher monthly utility bills, rather than the reduced rates promised.

CfA’s research reveals that two of the worst offenders are SolarCity, now owned by the car company Tesla, and Vivint. Together, these two companies were the focus of more than half of all the rooftop solar complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) between 2012 and 2016. The Better Business Bureau (BBB), which has not accredited Vivint, also has received hundreds of complaints against the companies.

Last year, New Mexico joined Florida, Nevada and California in requiring solar companies to disclose costs and other critical contract details to potential customers. This is an important step to limit some of the most predatory practices, but our investigation suggests more needs to be done to protect consumers.

AG Balderas’ findings mirror our own. For example, his complaint alleges that Vivint has bound New Mexico consumers into 20-year contracts that require them to purchase the electricity generated by their rooftop solar system at rates that increase by more than 72 percent over the course of the contract. And it’s not just a few bad actors. He found that Vivint’s sales model systematically requires salespeople to falsely tell customers that if they sell their homes, the company will remove the solar system at no cost and cancel the contract (they won’t), and to use high-pressure techniques to coerce customers into signing contracts without carefully reading them. Also troubling, he found Vivint’s actions sometimes cloud homeowners’ title, making it difficult for people to sell their homes.

The attorney general’s lawsuit should force rooftop solar companies operating in New Mexico to clean up their acts, but it remains to be seen whether other states will follow New Mexico’s lead.

Until the industry cleans up its act, government regulators must work to ensure that consumers are protected from the clearly shady business practices in which Vivint has engaged. The industry as a whole needs to self-police and rid itself of bad actors to ensure that consumers don’t lose faith and walk away from this important source of clean energy. After all, the proliferation of solar panels across New Mexico and the nation can protect the environment and create economic opportunity.

Campaign for Accountability is a government and business watchdog.

Read More