300 Reasons Utilities Should Do These 3 Things For Distributed Solar

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

In the next decade, over 300 gigawatts (GW) of unsubsidized solar energy could be deployed across the United States, generating electricity for the same or less-than retail electricity prices. But many utilities remain blissfully unaware of the coming solar storm or how to handle it, as evidenced by a Public Utility Commission hearing in Minnesota last fall.

In October, the Xcel Energy presented their long term planning process (called an Integrated Resource Plan) to the Commission and the public. In their plan, the state’s largest electric utility indicated an interest in adding 20 megawatts (MW) of solar power to their Minnesota system (in comparison to a current statewide capacity of around 13 MW).

If that seems small, consider that ILSR’s recent report on commercial solar grid parity indicates an opportunity to construct 940 MW of commercial rooftop solar at a price (without subsidies) that matches or beats retail electricity prices in Minnesota. The opportunity for residential solar is 2-3 times greater. Combined, 4400 MW of unsubsidized rooftop solar could compete with utility retail prices statewide by 2022.

In other words, Xcel’s plan is a remarkable under-estimate of Minnesota’s likely solar market in the next decade, and many other utilities are similarly unaware. I gave the following presentation to a joint meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners shortly after the Minnesota hearing, and it explores why utilities had better integrate more distributed solar in their resource planning.

[slideshare id=15105936&doc=fercnarucdgvaluejffweb-121109151423-phpapp01]

Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution!

It’s not just about preparedness. Like 29 other states, Minnesota is a utility-regulated state. In other words, its privately-owned utilities are a government-sanctioned monopoly with guaranteed customers and a guaranteed profit. Being a public utility means having a public responsibility to the citizens of Minnesota, many of whom will want to take advantage of the chance to generate their own power, cut their electric bills, and keep their energy dollars local.

There are several ways utilities could meet that public responsibility:

  • Conduct and publish a study of the solar rooftop potential in their service territory on all public and private buildings, as has been done in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and many other places.
  • Publish an interactive, publicly accessible map of available capacity on the distribution system to help guide local distributed generation into locations most beneficial to the grid (as has been done by all three major investor-owned utilities in California).
  • Provide a long-term, but declining incentive for solar power (and other distributed renewable energy) that helps create a stable market for steady growth from today until price parity is reached (like Germany’s feed-in tariff or California’s Solar Incentive).

As a government-sanctioned monopoly, utilities should enable their customers to make energy decisions that reduce their bills, generate clean energy, and keep their energy dollars local. It’s the least they can do for their guaranteed shareholder return, their cooperative members, or their citizens.

This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

Front Page Photo Credit: CoCreatr

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica TV Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

John Farrell

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

John Farrell has 518 posts and counting. See all posts by John Farrell