The holidays are upon us – and time for some good cheer! Still, the world keeps on spinning on matters we hold dear. December has been a busy month, with developments good and bad. Here’s one on the sunny side, and two that may make you sad. Is this progress we are making to build a better world, or is our flag to beat back climate change yet to be unfurled? Here’s our take on the latest developments:
Uncle Sam Is Putting Lots of Money on the Table
Good tidings! Passage of a major infrastructure bill last year (a.k.a., the American Rescue Plan), and the Inflation Reduction Act this summer have created a treasure trove of new financial incentives for buyers of solar power and home battery storage systems. A dedicated federal tax credit has been raised from 26% to 30% and now extends through 2032. Qualified buyers can also claim a $7,500 rebate on purchases of new electric vehicles, and a $4,000 rebate on used EVs.
More funding goodies are in the works as the federal government rolls out hundreds of targeted spending programs under these two massive stimulus bills. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has just announced funding for the “Rural Energy for America” program that includes $3.3 million in grants and loans for Vermont farms and small businesses for investments in green energy and energy efficiency improvements. In a key change, project applicants can now receive up to 50% of a project’s funding assistance in the form of grants rather than loans.
“This is an opportunity for Vermont to put a solar panel on every business and a digester or a solar panel on every farm,” according to Sarah Waring, the Vermont and New Hampshire state director for USDA rural development. “We will have enough money to do that, literally, for a small state like ours. This is an incredible opportunity,” she told WPTZ 5 News.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation has posted a new website listing 69 federal programs dedicated to building EV charging infrastructure in rural areas like ours. One of these new programs, called “Renew America’s Schools,“ is providing $500 million to support infrastructure improvements in public schools that qualify as rural and/or impoverished, including funding for school purchases of EV charging equipment and on-site renewable energy systems. With a matching grant of up to 95% for qualified applicants, this program may be the closest thing to getting a free government handout from Uncle Sam!
So, why not requisition one or more Solaflect Trackers to provide EV charging at school and town properties, outdoor venues, and for emergency access when the grid is down? Preliminary applications for the first $80 million of funding in Renew America’s School program are due on Jan. 26, with initial grant awards to be issued next summer.
Power Transformers Are Attracting the Wrong Kind of Attention
Bah humbug! Speaking of blackouts, heavy weather (like the big snowstorm we got last weekend!) is not the only source of large utility service outages. Three weeks ago, 45,000 customers in North Carolina lost power for three days when someone shot up a Duke Energy substation. Four substations in Oregon and Washington came under similar attack in November. While “a drunk with an attitude” may use power pole transformers for target practice, these shootings are a “different ballgame,” commented Commissioner Mark Christie of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Substation transformers often are as large as a railcar and are mainly manufactured overseas, making them expensive and hard to replace. Whether the recent events were simple acts of vandalism or signs of an emerging terrorist threat, FERC has ordered a review of security standards at the nation’s 50,000 substations, which convert 700,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines into low-voltage wires for residential and commercial use.
This security review comes two years after FERC issued a separate order urging electric utilities to invest more to protect the grid against cyberattacks – with a sanctioned 2% increase in consumer rates to help fund this effort. This new review underscores just how vulnerable our 20th century grid has become to 21st century adversaries – and the need to build a more modern, decentralized and resilient grid that fights climate change, cyberattacks and whatever other acts of vandalism or terrorism that might be thrown against it.
California Regulators Turn Scrooge-like in Their Latest Treatment of Solar
More bah humbug! But, in a closely watched ruling, the California Public Utilities Commission voted this month to hit the brakes on residential solar power development, after leading the nation for many decades. Starting next April, California homeowners who install new solar arrays will receive 75% less compensation from utilities than existing customers who sell power into the grid under a payment scheme known as “net metering.” Originally, this program was set up to promote residential solar power installations by offering generous utility buyback rates of up to $0.30 per kWh. As of April 2023, the offering price will drop to only $0.08 per kWh for new solar customers.
Such a drastic cut in payments will tilt the economics of solar power in favor of adding batteries to most new residential installations in California. That way, excess solar power produced in the middle of the day can be stored and used at home later in the day or sold back to utilities at times of peak demand (typically in the early evening). Time-of-use rates, which charge customers according to these daily fluctuations in demand, also favor more deployment of batteries. However, the added up-front costs of such installations will put some solar projects out of reach for California homeowners on limited budgets.
Here in New England, utilities have been charting a similar course by cutting net-metering rates even as they charge residential customers up to 50% more for increased costs of burning natural gas and maintaining the region’s aging grid. The recent California PUC decision will only add fodder to this trend.
Happy Holidays from Solaflect Energy!
While such ups and downs have made this “the best and worst of times” for solar power, 2022 was another record year for installations by Solaflect Energy. As we work through some remaining supply chain issues on the heels of the Covid pandemic, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks to all of our customers for their confidence, patience and support this year. Solaflect has more exciting plans in store for 2023, which we’ll share in future posts.
For now, we wish everyone under the Sun a joyous holiday season and many positive returns for the New Year! Solaflect Energy is your trusted home energy management partner. We help you install clean and affordable solar electricity for a more resilient and climate-friendly future. For more information email us, or call (802) 649-3700.