Solar for Ukiah and Mendocino County (Update)


FITs( feed in tariffs, REPs(renewable energy payment) & So Forth…
Or, How to Create Jobs So We Can Operate Our Own City and County Energy

Another update on providing solar/renewable energy for Ukiah and possibly even Mendocino County:
When we left this last April Gainesville Florida had become the first US city to try the feed in tariff system to jump-start the solarization of that city…

From an article in the Alliance for Renewable Energy website:

March 08, 2009
Gainesville Solar REPs Program Meets Target Before Launch

On March 1, Gainesville, FL officially became the first city in the U.S. with a solar REPs law. Utilities in the city are required to purchase solar energy from registered producers for $0.32 per kilowatt hour through 2010. This 2009 tariff rate will be adjusted over time but program profits are guaranteed for 20 years. At the commencement of the program, Gainesville now sees an influx of completed applications to request connection to the electricity grid that would sum up to a total of 4MW of generated solar energy, which is the first-year target of the program.

GRU modeled the their gross feed in tariff program on similar strategies that have been successful in European countries such as Germany. Under the program, the utility will buy all of the electricity produced by registered solar power systems at an initial fixed rate of USD $0.32 per kilowatt hour. The program offers guaranteed payments for 20 years. GRU’s experience has by no means been an isolated case, demonstrating the incredible popularity of gross solar feed-in tariff programs and their potential to rapidly increase the uptake of renewable energy in any country by home owners and businesses. Ontario, Canada’s feed in tariff program experienced a similar response where a 10 year target of 1,000 megawatts was reached within a year.

This sounded so good to me, I wrote about it and wondered why it wouldn’t work here as Ukiah owns its own utility like Gainesville. As the months rolled by, I continued to read about this way of energizing a shift to solar energy, I became more convinced that this could work in our county.

The City was going to look into it, but didn’t get back to me, so I decided to call up Gainesville and see how this really worked. How happy were they with the system and did it really create jobs?

I talked to a woman in the Gainesville Regional Utility office and mentioned there was some interest out here in Mendocino County(at least I was) and that I would write about this interview. Could I ask her some questions?
“Of course”
Is GRU happy with the FIT results?
“We sure are,” she said, “The program is full — clear out to 2016.” She then explained that they limited the program to 4 megawatts a year, to keep the costs down.
(The rule of thumb in California is that one megawatt can power 750 homes during peak hours, – Sean Gallagher, Sterling Energy Systems.)
Is this working to provide jobs, I asked.
“It has provided work for hundreds of jobs and the installation companies are still hiring”.
How about local manufacturers?
“Not Yet”.
How did you finance this?
“We stopped our rebate program which wasn’t working as quickly as we wanted, then added about 84 cents a month to our electric bill so the cost would be small and spread out. We did a customer survey asking about $1 a month increase for this ability to go solar and it was completely positive.”

Now the income paid to a solar electric producer in Gainesville is 32 cents a kWh. That is around $300/month on the average, with electrical usage of about $100. That leaves $200 profit or $200/month to pay off a loan for the solar system. Feed-in tariffs like this have long been the primary tool for financing renewable energy projects in Europe, and they are the reason Spain and Germany have become world leaders in wind and solar. Advocates say the system is simpler, more effective and less expensive than traditional U.S. incentives for renewable energy, which are often a Byzantine mix of tax incentives, rebates, state mandates and utility programs. They simply don’t work as well. Who needs a tax rebate in this economy?

In Gainesville, solar projects abound. Paradigm Properties, a residential real estate company, plans to install photovoltaic arrays on fifty local apartment buildings and its downtown headquarters. Achira Wood, a custom carpentry outlet, is plastering the roof of its workshop—roughly 50,000 square feet of galvanized steel—with solar panels. Interstate Mini Storage is doing the same with its sprawling flat-roofed compound. Tom Lane, who owns ECS Solar Energy Systems, a local solar contractor, told me he’s planning to expand his staff from eleven to at least fifty. “The activity we’ve seen is just explosive,” he said. “I’ve been in the business thirty years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Would this really work here in Mendocino County? Why not? Especially if the City of Ukiah and the County and possibly PG&E, would get together and set up the system. It works everywhere.

“People hesitate to call anything a panacea,” says Toby Couture, an energy and financial markets analyst at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “But if you’re interested in creating jobs, getting capital flowing, and expanding renewable energy, feed-in tariffs get the job done—often more cost effectively than other policies.”

Then… Local banks can invest and create low-interest loans. The college can train installers and entrepreneurs in solar technology. Jobs can be created for installation and possibly manufacturing. Taxes from good jobs begin to help our local economy.

Let me once again echo the Florida folks:
“… We call on the Ukiah City Council and the Mendocino County Supervisors to make Ukiah and our County the solar gem of California. We do not need to look any further than the Gainesville or German experience to see what really works. All we need and expect is leadership.”