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Utilities launch campaign against home-based solar

If your house has panels or you are considering having them installed, here’s what you need to know.

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis at partner site Money Talks News, and was also posted at here.

Home solar panels, not usually a subject of controversy, have become a hot issue in statehouses around the country.

Utilities and advocacy groups have launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to end what they say is an unfair advantage some states give to homeowners with rooftop solar panels.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation’s largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.

Another group working to repeal solar laws and green energy requirements is the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which brings conservative state lawmakers together with business and industry representatives to write draft legislation.

ALEC has written model legislation targeting net metering, the LA Times says.

The utilities and allies also are challenging laws in Washington, California and South Carolina.

It’s all about net metering

The campaign centers on a practice called net metering. Laws in many states let solar homes send excess electricity back to the utility. Those homeowners are compensated with credit on their bills.

Carrie Hitt, an official with the Solar Energy Industries Association, an industry group, told Money Talks News that 46 states have some form of net metering.

Some states, like Kansas, require utility companies to get a share of their power from renewable sources.

The utilities claim net metering dumps unfair costs on customers who don’t have solar panels. It leaves fewer households covering the costs of keeping utility systems running, they say.

The state net metering laws and state and federal tax credits for home solar installations are credited with helping reduce the load on the nation’s aging electric system.

The Washington Post wrote about a 2012 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers:

(The report) described the nation’s electrical grid as a patchwork system that ultimately will break down unless $673 billion is invested in it by 2020.

If investment isn’t increased by at least $11 billion a year, the report said, the electrical service interruptions between now and 2020 will cost $197 billion.

report from the Edison Electric Institute (.pdf file), an industry advocate, however, calls solar panels “threats to the centralized utility business model.”

The score so far

After months of lobbying and debate over the issue in California, the Legislature ordered the state’s public utility commission to act by 2017 to create a plan that examines rate structures and ensures non-solar households don’t pay extra.

Arizona responded to the campaign by allowing utilities to charge solar customers a $5-a-month fee — considerably less than the $50 fee the lobbyists wanted.

Utilities and their allies were unsuccessful in their attempt to repeal a Kansas law that says 20 percent of the state’s electricity must come from renewable sources.

You won’t get rich off of net metering

Are solar households freeloading by sending electricity back to the grid?

The LA Times says:

The arguments over who benefits from net metering, meanwhile, are hotly disputed. Some studies, including one published recently by regulators in Vermont, conclude that solar customers bring enough benefits to a regional power supply to fully defray the cost of the incentive.

Utilities deny that and are spending large sums to greatly scale back the policy.

You’ll never get rich selling your electricity back to the grid. In fact, you can’t make money at all, just credit. Utilities put limits on how much electricity they’ll accept from customers. The best you could possibly do is to reduce your electric bill to zero.

However, without net metering, the LA Times writes, “solar power would be prohibitively expensive.”

Costs and return

The hope of recovering a solar investment eventually with credits is an incentive for many homeowners. It takes 5.6 years on average to break even on the cost of buying and installing a household solar system, according to Boston Solar, an installation and sales company.

Here’s a look at how the costs and returns break down.

Powering a home. At least 8,000 kilowatt-hours a year are needed to supply electricity to a 2,000-square-foot house without electric heat or an electric water heater. It takes about 6.5 kilowatts of solar panel capacity (energy produced at any one time) to meet that need, MSN Real Estate says.

The costs. Trinity Solar, a solar design and install company based in New Jersey, explains how to calculate costsof purchasing and installing a home solar system. According to Trinity Solar’s website, a 6.9 kilowatt rooftop solar system costs roughly $16,800. That includes:

  • $24,000 purchase and installation cost.
  • $7,200 one-time federal tax credit.

The payback. Trinity Solar says this system would earn roughly a 12.5 percent return:

  • $1,242 in electric bill savings annually.
  • $863 more in savings on your bill from net metering, or returning your excess electricity to the utility.

Or, go solar for free

A household’s installation cost can vary enormously from Trinity Solar’s example, depending on state laws and incentives. Also, where it’s available, an option called third-party financing lets homeowners install home systems for a reduced cost or even free.

In exchange, the third-party operator gets the electricity and sells it back to the household at a contracted rate that’s usually lower than the local utility’s, says the website of the Solar Energy Industry Association, an industry group.

In these arrangements, a homeowner’s costs are determined by type of agreement. The association’s website says:

Third-party financing of solar energy primarily occurs through two models. A customer can sign a traditional lease and pay for the use of a solar system or the customer can sign a power purchase agreements (PPA) to pay a specific rate for the electricity that is generated each month.

It’s unclear how much the loss of revenue due to third-party providers is spurring the utilities’ campaign. But the association says that, in California and Colorado, third parties have become the dominant way for households to go solar. Forbes describes the third-party industry’s rapid growth.

What’s your experience with home solar panels? What do you think of the arguments that net metering costs non-solar households more?

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Delaware Moves to the Head of the Class on Grid Interconnection

Vote Solar Institute cites state’s leadership on connecting clean energy

Delaware State SealDOVER  – The Vote Solar Institute has moved Delaware to “the head of the class” when it comes to connecting renewable resources to the grid in the 2011 edition of its report, “Freeing the Grid”. Delaware was one of three states to earn an “A” grade for both net metering and interconnection policies that support renewable resources such as wind and solar energy, with the report ranking its policies “among the strongest in the country.”

Under Governor Jack Markell’s leadership, Delaware adopted a progressive net-metering law with strong bipartisan support in 2010 (Senate Bill 267, sponsored by Senators Harris McDowell and Gary Simpson and Representatives Dennis Williams and Michael Mulrooney) that makes it easier for utility customers to sell excess renewable energy to the grid.

Delaware is adopting leading-edge interconnection policies that allow small renewable resources to connect to the grid without requiring redundant and restrictive review from PJM Interconnection, the regional grid manager. The Vote Solar report praised the state’s collaboration with local electrical utilities along with the efforts of the Public Service Commission to implement model interconnection standards.

The report highlights Delaware’s progress, noting that the state moved from an “F” to an “A” in the category of interconnection policy:

As of mid-2011, Delaware is poised to adopt interconnection procedures that are among the strongest in the country and have received a score of “A” in Freeing the Grid 2011. In addition, the adoption of rules for aggregate metering and community renewables has greatly expanded opportunities for investment in renewable energy among customer groups who previously would have been unable to fully utilize the state’s solid net metering program. Most importantly, Delaware’s renewable energy policies are finally aligned to bring significant investment in renewable energy to the state.

DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara welcomed the news, saying, “Under Governor Markell’s leadership, Delaware is taking significant steps to transition towards cleaner sources of energy. Through the innovative clean energy policies recognized in this report, including virtual net-metering, community aggregation, and interconnection policies, Delaware is emerging as one of the best places in the U.S. for clean energy investments.”

“Integrating more clean energy into the grid puts more people to work, supports capital investment, and promotes a healthier environment,” Gov. Markell said. “Through strong bipartisan support, Delaware has demonstrated repeatedly that we can strengthen our economy and improve our environment at the same time.”

Vote Solar cites Delaware’s progressive polices including simplified interconnection procedures, aggregate net metering that allows customers to link several meters on a farm or college campus, and allowing communities to link multiple home meters to one jointly-owned renewable resource.

The report is available at

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Roxana Volunteer Fire Company Goes Green with Solair LLC

With the help of Solair LLC, Roxana Volunteer Fire Company is now Green.  Really Green!

Solair LLC installed this 73 kilowatt solar array using Motech “Made in Delaware” solar modules.  Solair then paired these 312 solar modules with 312 Enphase micro inverters for a system that outperforms traditional solar arrays.

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Read more about this innovative fire company at

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Refining solar power UD student’s research may help increase solar cell efficiency

1:39 p.m., April 12, 2012–Stephen Mulligan, a University of Delaware senior studying mechanical engineering, has co-authored a paper explaining the effects of gas flow on newly developed solar cells. The paper, entitled “Hybrid Effect of Gas Flow and Light Excitation in Carbon/Silicon Schottky Solar Cells,” appeared recently in the Journal of Materials Chemistry.

Written during Mulligan’s two-month student exchange trip to Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, last summer, the paper investigates the behavior of carbon/silicon solar cells and how the presence of gas flow results in enhanced cell efficiency. These cells could then act as improved gas flow sensors.

Research Stories

Monitoring our water

Researchers with the Delaware Geological Survey are drilling wells to improve monitoring of the state’s groundwater supply.

Other co-authors include Guifeng Fan, a doctoral student at Tsinghua University; Hongwei Zhu, Mulligan’s adviser abroad and laboratory supervisor; and Bingqing Wei, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mulligan’s UD adviser.

Using a solar simulator, Mulligan and his team shined artificial sunlight on a series of solar cells to obtain a source of power, or voltage. They then blew gas, such as nitrogen, over the solar cells and noticed that their temperature lowered. This lower temperature, in turn, increased the solar cell’s efficiency by 5-10 percent, which is “quite the jump,” according to Mulligan.

At Tsinghua, Mulligan had the opportunity to assemble the solar cells used in tests, an important aspect to the research’s results and success.

“We were specifically working with carbon/silicon cells,” says Mulligan. “I would assemble graphene, a flat, single-layer of carbon atoms, onto a silicon wafer. The cells’ flat membrane acted as the ideal structure for the tests we were running.”

First produced in 2004, interest in graphene use has exploded in recent years. Mulligan takes pride in working with such young, up and coming science.

“Graphene and nanotubes aren’t commonly used today but will increase capability and efficiency years down the road in the industry,” says Mulligan. “It was like experimenting with new technology.”

Experiences abroad

Challenges in the lab were not Mulligan’s only obstacles. He had to adjust to working in a foreign environment where the culture was new and communication was difficult.

“The summer was definitely a culture shock. The East and West are amazingly different,” remarks Mulligan. “We sometimes got lost in translation, but it all worked out in the end.”

However, Mulligan is no stranger to international travel. Last Winter Session, he studied economics in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of his minor, but also has dual citizenship in Ireland where he spent his childhood.

“Stephen was selected as one of three, very qualified mechanical engineering students to implement into the Undergraduate Student Exchange Program in Beijing last summer,” notes Wei. “He is an avid world traveler and truly enjoys exploring and surrounding himself in new cultural environments.”

With graduation approaching in May, Mulligan plans on starting a career as soon as possible, preferably in manufacturing. He still retains interest in returning to China and is currently learning Chinese in his spare time. A return for Mulligan this summer may include additional research on nanomaterials, university enrollment, and further exploration of the Chinese language.

Article by Zac Anderson

Photo by Ambre Alexander

Markell and Municipalities Sign Agreement to Reduce Municipal Electric Rates to Attract New Jobs May 10, 2012

Governor and Municipalities Sign Agreement to Reduce Municipal Electric Rates to Attract New Jobs
– Municipal electric rates in Delaware should start to go down by at least 10 percent under an agreement signed today. Gov. Jack Markell joined Patrick McCullar, President and CEO of the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation (“DEMEC”), and the Mayors or town officials of Newark, New Castle, Middletown, Clayton, Smyrna, Dover, Milford, Lewes and Seaford to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) that underscores their shared commitment toward making municipal energy rates more competitive in order to spur job creation, while preserving the core functions and services provided to residents and businesses in the municipal service territories.

“Over the last three months, DEMEC and the towns rolled up their sleeves and worked diligently with us to find a way to lower electric utility rates without shifting the cost to the other essential and valuable services the towns provide, “ said Governor Markell.  “This memorandum of understanding strikes that balance. It sends a clear signal to businesses that Delaware and our towns and municipalities are ready to compete for jobs.”

Under the Memorandum of Understanding, the nine DEMEC municipalities have agreed to lower retail electric rates by at least 10% in the next three years, starting this year.  In addition, to the extent they have not done so already, each municipality will authorize an “economic development rate” for the purpose of incentivizing job creation in the DEMEC municipalities and attracting new employers to locate in Delaware municipalities.  Finally, each municipality has agreed to photo: Governor and Municipalities Sign Agreement to Reduce Municipal Electric Rates to Attract New Jobscap for the next five years at FY ’12 amounts the revenue that they transfer from their electrical utility to their general fund budget.  In return, as long as the DEMEC municipalities abide by the MOU, the Governor has agreed to oppose any legislation that would allow third-party supply in the municipal electric territories.

”DEMEC and its member communities share Governor Markell’s goal of making Delaware one of the most attractive and competitive locals in the world,” said Patrick McCullar, CEO of DEMEC.  “We recognize how important lower energy costs are to Delaware and appreciate the opportunity to work closely with the Governor toward our common goals.”

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Governor and Mr. McCullar, who is authorized to sign on behalf of the DEMEC municipalities via a resolution enacted in each DEMEC municipality.  A copy of the final MOU is below.







This Memorandum of Understanding between the Honorable Jack Markell, Governor of the State of Delaware (“Governor”), and the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation, a body corporate and politic formed pursuant to Title 26, Delaware Code, for itself and on behalf of the nine duly chartered municipalities comprising its membership, being New Castle, Newark, Middletown, Smyrna, Clayton, Dover, Milford, Lewes and Seaford (collectively, “DEMEC”, or the “DEMEC Municipalities”).

WHEREAS, the Governor and the DEMEC Municipalities are fully committed to and engaged in the task of attracting new businesses to Delaware and expanding existing Delaware businesses in order to provide job opportunities  for all Delawareans; and

WHEREAS, DEMEC and the DEMEC Municipalities are potential beneficiaries of the Governor’s job creation initiatives and accordingly, are fully  committed to aiding and supporting such initiatives consistent with the responsibilities vested in them by their charters; and

WHEREAS, the Governor has identified the commercial and industrial electric rates charged by certain of the DEMEC Municipalities-owned electric utilities as a potential disincentive for the recruitment of new businesses to, and the expansion of existing businesses in Delaware; and

WHEREAS, historically, the DEMEC Municipalities have used varying percentages of their return on investment in their municipal electric utilities to supplement general fund revenues in order to assure adequate funding for various essential and valuable municipal services provided to all of their residential, commercial and industrial customers, including sewer, water, public safety and street maintenance; and

WHEREAS, the Governor recognizes and appreciates both the critical importance to each of the DEMEC Municipalities of the supplemental revenues provided by their electric utilities to the provision of cost-effective funding for the full complement of municipal services, as well as the sovereign right of each of the municipalities pursuant to their home rule charters to control their respective budgetary processes and their exclusive right to provide electric power to their residential, commercial and industrial citizens; and

WHEREAS, the Governor and DEMEC find and determine that it is in the best interests of their respective constituencies to advance the shared goal of creating economic opportunity for all Delawareans without unduly encroaching upon the home rule authority of the DEMEC Municipalities.


  1. Each of the DEMEC Municipalities will, prior to the conclusion of the three (3) year period commencing January 1, 2012  , reduce their retail electric rates by not less than an average of ten percent (10%);
  2. Each of the DEMEC Municipalities shall, by appropriate action of its governing body, if not previously accomplished, authorize an economic development rate, or a process for permitting the negotiation of an economic development rate, to be fixed and determined in the sole discretion of each such municipality.  The primary purpose of such economic development rate shall be to incentivize job creation in the DEMEC municipalities by providing for a discounted electric rate;
  3. Each of the DEMEC Municipalities shall to the extent possible within the constraint of the needs of the municipalities to maintain efficient and reliable utilities and services, including coverage of capital costs and related debt service costs of providing those services, by appropriate action of its  governing body, agree to maintain for a five year period commencing with their 2012 fiscal year a limit on the transfer of revenues from its electric utility into its general fund which limit shall for each municipality be equal to the actual dollar amount of such transfer in Fiscal year 2012; provided, however, that, prior to the start of its 2015 fiscal year, and for each of the two fiscal years that follow, each municipality shall, upon a determination by its governing body of a compelling and unanticipated municipal financial need, notice of which shall be provided to the Governor, have the right to transfer revenues from its electric utility in excess of the amount of revenue transferred by such municipality during the 2012 fiscal year into its general fund as it deems necessary to meet such need.
  4. For as long as the DEMEC Municipalities are in compliance with paragraphs 1 through 3 of this MOU , the Governor will actively oppose any effort to interfere with the exclusive right of the DEMEC Municipalities to provide electric power to all residential, commercial and industrial customers within their respective service territories.  Specifically but without limitation, the Governor shall actively oppose any legislative initiative which would grant to any such customer the right to freely choose an alternate source of electric power.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, AND INTENDING TO BE MORALLY BOUND HEREBY, the Governor and DEMEC have respectively executed and caused this Memorandum of Understanding to be executed this 9th day of May, 2012.

Jack Markell, Governor of Delaware

Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation

On behalf of its members

Patrick E. McCullar

Largest solar farm in TN officially opens Thursday

Solar farm in Stanton, TN, will add a visitor center next year


Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved.

Largest solar farm in TN officially opens Thursday

Largest solar farm in TN officially opens Thursday


The state’s large solar farm in Stanton, Tenn., will officially open with a 3 p.m. ceremony on Thursday.

The state of Tennessee and University of Tennessee are hosting the event at the 25-acre, 5-megawatt West Tennessee Solar Farm. It features about 21,000 ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels and is estimated to provide enough energy for 500 homes and offset use of 250 tons of coal per month.

The generated electricity is distributed through purchase agreements with local utility Chickasaw Electric Cooperative and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Next year, an information and welcome center is planned there to to house Spectrum,an educational solar exhibit. Since Interstate 40 passes nearby, officials are counting on lots of visitors stopping by and learning firsthand about solar energy.

The solar energy industry has been a rapidly growing sector of the state’s economy, with 180 for-profit companies in its solar value chain and 6,400 people employed in solar-related industries, a release about the project said.

Among those expected for the ribbon cutting are Dr. David Milhorn, executive vice president, University of Tennessee; Paul Fassbender, assistant commissioner, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development; John Schroer, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Transportation; Franklin Smith, mayor, Haywood County; Ben Fischer, president, Signal Energy; and John Collins, president, Chickasaw Electric.

In 2009, the state allocated $62.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus funds to the Volunteer State Solar Initiative, including the West Tennessee Solar Farm and the Tennessee Solar Institute.

Working through the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, the University of Tennessee is responsible for installation and operation of the power-generation facility. Signal Energy LLC of Chattanooga designed and built the solar farm.

— Staff Reports

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