Published on January 23rd, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer10
Utility-Scale Distributed Solar Gets Blast-Off in California
The California Public Utilities Commission has just voted unanimously to approve Southern California Edison’s plan to install scores of tiny (for a utility) 1 MW to 2 MW grid-connected systems scattered across the rooftops of commercial buildings throughout the utility’s Southern California service area – to eventually add up to a half Gigawatt of distributed solar power.
SCE had already installed the first module of the many distributed power plants in 2008, without knowing if the long term 500 MW plan would be approved. With the approval this week the project ramps up; the SCE will now add another 50 MW each year in what will create a boom for local solar businesses.
The first mini-utility came online at the end of 2008, just 2.4 MW. The second was running in time to supply the power for summer’s air conditioning, and the third brought the total supply to 5 MW by Christmas. Now the SCE envisions adding 50 MW each year and will be looking for bids this summer.
Ultimately there will be 500 MW of solar scattered across Southern California rooftops supplying the good people of California with green, reliable energy that keeps the environment healthy and ensures a secure energy future.
Solar on large flat commercial roofs in every neighborhood is cheap. It costs about half that of individual home installations with the economy of scale – and it also obviates the need to build extra transmission – at least for now.
It will be a jobs boom, too. This summer many medium-sized solar companies will be able to bid on building the first 250 MW of rooftop PV systems that SCE will buy, a few megawatts at a time.
Other states could benefit from adapting this innovative idea. Distributed solar could be a way that cities with regions of urban blight could re-purpose all those empty big box stores so their roofs could supply neighbors with power, and in the process, meet their Kyoto agreements to lower greenhouse gases, bring about urban renewal and add lots of local clean energy American jobs. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has already begun to expand its solar apprentice training program in California.
CPUC officials are very enthused about the very unique and imaginative solution to the delays California faces getting its many signed contracts for mega solar projects turned into actual production.
“This decision is a major step forward in diversifying the mix of renewable resources in California and spurring the development of a new market niche for large-scale rooftop solar applications,” said the author of the decision, Commissioner John Bohn.
“Unlike other generation resources, these projects can get built quickly and without the need for expensive new transmission lines. And since they are built on existing structures, these projects are extremely benign from an environmental standpoint, with neither land use, water, or air emission impacts.
SCE was able to use the Federal 30% tax credit which was extended to utilities in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help them invest in building their own supply of clean, renewable energy. That provided a “carrot,” or to those who opposed it “Omnibus-bill pork.”
The state level Renewable Energy Standards provided a “stick”, because utilities are penalized if they fail to achieve milestones (like 20% by 2010) along a long term goal of a permanent and climate-safe electricity supply.
The combination of both the legislative “carrot/pork” & stick” plus some flexible out-of-the-box thinking by SCE and the CPUC all contributed to this very good governance outcome.
Kudos to the Democrats in congress who extended their 30% renewable energy tax credit to utilities, and to the Democrats in the state legislature for voting for the Renewable Energy Standard, who between them provided the carrot and stick. Kudos to SCE for being open to distributed solar, and to the CPUC for seeing the good in this world-changing idea.
Image: Power & Light & Power