Archive for 1603

Solar facility that could power 500 Marin homes

By Janis Mara, Marin IJ

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Roy Phillips, president of REP Energy, leads a tour of an abandoned quarry on June 9 in Novato. His company, REP Energy, wants to build a solar energy facility at the site near the McIsaac Dairy west of Novato. The quarry, no longer in use, was mined for the mineral serpentine, a source of asbestos. (Frankie Frost — Marin Independent Journal)

A proposed solar facility just outside Novato that could generate enough electricity to power more than 500 Marin homes is up for approval at the Marin Planning Commission meeting Monday.

Located on the isolated grounds of a former rock quarry, the solar farm would have 4,272 solar panels up to 6 and a half feet high on 11.5 acres of the 952-acre quarry. The $6 million project would generate 1.98 megawatts of electricity, delivered to Marin Clean Energy via nearby power lines.

The quarry was once mined for serpentine rock, which contains asbestos. Quarry operations shut down in 1990.

Installations like the solar project “are a good way to use formerly disturbed locations” like the quarry, said Andrew Campbell, the executive director of the Energy Institute at Haas, a research and teaching facility at the University of California at Berkeley.

Campbell said the proposed location also was beneficial because it is close to the people who would use the energy.

“Having the generation close to an area where consumers are also has benefits, since some power is lost when it is transmitted over long distances,” the executive director said.

The site is west of the city of Novato, east of Stafford Lake and about a mile north of Novato Boulevard. It is not visible from the road. County staff has recommended that the permit be granted, with some qualifications.

Crawford Cooley and Beverly Potter, who own the former quarry, would lease the land to San Rafael-based Danlin Solar, along with San Rafael-based REP Energy. Those two companies would own and build the solar installation.

“That’s a pretty typical arrangement,” Campbell said.

“Solar is a green energy source, no doubt about it. There is no pollution or greenhouse gas emitted at the place where you are generating the power,” the executive director said.

“This would be quite a win if it happened. The people who are very concerned about seeing beautiful agricultural land taken up with solar panels have a valid point. You’d hate to lose a lot of natural Marin. That makes this an ideal project because it’s sitting in an abandoned quarry essentially on bare rock,” said Bob Spofford, vice president of Sustainable San Rafael.

“Solar is in some ways the most ideal of all alternative energy because it doesn’t make noise, it doesn’t pollute, it produces power close to the time when it’s most needed, and it does not harm wildlife,” said Spofford.

Addressing Spofford’s last point, “Photovoltaic panels definitely do not kill birds,” said Michael D. McGehee, a Stanford University associate professor and a senior fellow at the university’s Precourt Institute for Energy. McGehee teaches classes on solar cells. Wind turbines such as the ones at Altamont do pose a danger to avian life, perhaps causing some to confuse the effects of this alternative energy source with those of solar, McGehee said.

No letters of opposition to the project had been received by the staff by Friday.

The state Office of Mines Reclamation and the Department of Public works oversaw the reclamation of the land since the 1990s, according to the county staff report. The project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act because it will not cause environmental impacts, the staff report said.

“My job is to work with clients to help them avoid environmental impacts,” said Dana Riggs, a project biologist with San Rafael-based WRA Environmental Consultants. “We planned it (the project) in a manner to avoid impacts on sensitive resources including species and habitat,” Riggs said.

If the permit is granted, construction could begin as early as mid-August and wrap up by November, according to Frank Gobar of Danlin Solar.

Can Ontario require ‘domestic content’ for FIT eligibility?

By:  Cheryl Kaften

Just how important is “home advantage” to players in the renewable energy sector? It could be a game changer, according to Japan and the European Union, both of which have brought complaints against Canada for violating the rules of fair competition.

80MW Sarnia Solar photovoltaic thin film Ontario project

Nothing in the renewable energy industry has challenged the scale of the iPhone to date. However, Corning Glass represents proof positive that, yes, it matters where the components are manufactured.

First Solar

Specifically, Japan and the EU have protested to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva that the Canadian Province of Ontario is breaching international convention by stipulating that new solar and wind facilities must be built with a certain amount of domestically manufactured components. For example, solar arrays must be 60 percent “Made in Ontario” in order to participate in the province’s feed-in-tariff (FIT) scheme.

Both nations claim Ontario is discriminating against its global trade partners and giving preferential treatment to local providers. The two cases in all likelihood will lead to a landmark ruling on the legitimacy of “domestic content requirements” in international commerce.

To grasp the implications of insisting on largely domestic-made products, consider how much U.S. manufacturers would gain by the passage of a 60 percent domestic content regulation applying to the components of the Apple iPhone alone, which today is manufactured chiefly in China.

Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, Corning Glass has manufactured the scratchproof face of the phone out of a factory in Kentucky. Not only has Corning created jobs and profits by becoming a domestic supplier to California-based Apple, but, after the iPhone became a success, Corning received a flood of orders from other companies hoping to imitate Apple’s designs. Its glass sales have grown to more than US$700 million annually, and it has employed about 1,000 Americans to support the emerging market.

Nothing in the renewable energy industry has challenged the scale of the iPhone to date. However, Corning Glass represents proof positive that, yes, it matters where the components are manufactured.

Imports on the outs?

Japan and the EU claim that Canada is in violation of three international trade agreements, because:

  • Ontario’s domestic content regulations accord “less favorable treatment to imported equipment” and are “being applied so as to afford protection to Ontario production of such equipment” (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT]: Art. III:4, III:5, XXIII:1);
  • Ontario’s domestic content stipulations appear to be trade-related investment measures that are inconsistent with the provisions of Article III of the GATT 1994 (Trade-Related Investment Measures [TRIMs]: Art. 2.1); and
  • A subsidy had been granted … that would confer a benefit, “contingent [on] the use of domestic over imported goods” (Subsidies and Countervailing Measures: Art. 3.1(b), 3.2, 1.1).

Tensions – and world interest – ran high when the two nations faced off with Canada for oral arguments on March 27 and 28 in Geneva. The key issues to be considered: Was Canada liable to the world court for the independent actions of its province, Ontario?; Were the content requirements of the FIT Program a barrier to fair trade?; and Did Ontario discriminate in favor of domestic goods with subsidies designed to promote production in the province, rather than designed to advance the renewable energy industry?

Canada responded with a rationale that was geared to render all three questions moot. It characterized the FIT scheme as a form of “government procurement, designed to ensure the affordable generation of clean energy in Ontario” – and, by doing so, attempted to shield the FIT and its domestic content mandate from both the GATT and TRIMs provisions. (Government procurement is also exempt from the WTO Subsidies and Countervailing Measures agreement, provided that it does not confer a benefit.)

And although governmental purchases are covered under another WTO pact – the plurilateral Government Procurement Agreement – Canada argued that the GPA represents a purely national commitment. Therefore, Ontario was under no obligation to grant access to its energy procurement market.

However, Tokyo and Brussels insisted that the program provides a subsidy. “The defining aspect of FIT contracts is that they ensure renewable energy generators payments in excess of those that they would [otherwise] receive,” argued the Japanese Member, adding, “That excess is best confirmed by examining the difference between the FIT rates and HOEP [Hourly Ontario Energy Price], as HOEP represents the entire rate” on the open market.

Ottawa was quick to eliminate any associated wiggle room. The Canadian Member characterized the HOEP as “an inappropriate benchmark” and opined that “the focus of any benefit analysis must be on the recipients of the benefit – wind and solar energy producers – not consumers.”

Court of public opinion

Industry reaction to the WTO hearing has been mixed. David Robinson, president of Senergy Solar Corp., LLC, based in Haverton, Pennsylvania, supported Canada’s mandate for domestic content. He told pv magazine, “I wish that the U.S. government would impose the same sort of content requirements here. Then, we would have solar companies moving here, instead of up north to Canada.”

Stephen Morgan, CEO of American Clean Energy, a Saddle Brook, New Jersey-based firm that designs and builds photovolatic arrays, came out against the content requirements. He commented to pv magazine, “The use of content restrictions has nothing to do with promotion of environmentally sustainable energy; rather it is about … subsidizing job creation in a non-transparent manner through otherwise higher-than-necessary alternative energy costs.”

By contrast, Matthew Ayres, managing director of Sydney, Australia-based Growth and Innovation Asia-Pacific, advised a more measured approach, telling pv magazine, “A strong bias toward import may reduce the domestic capability base. A strong domestic focus may limit the use of new (international) technology and skills. So, we are left with a prudent balance that respects the domestic economy, the ability to build a sustainable domestic capability in renewable energy; then bringing the best skills and technology to the table in a way that expands the market in a structured and staged manner.”

Getting the proper FIT

There are now more than 35 FIT programs worldwide. Will this case have repercussions for any other feed-in tariffs currently in place?  That’s unlikely, unless they invoke a domestic content clause. Canada’s Province of Nova Scotia, for example, has its own FIT scheme, but has not been named in any complaint.

How the case plays out remains to be seen. By the end of April, the parties must submit written rebuttals to the panel, which will then schedule a second oral hearing. A ruling on the case is not expected until late October 2012.

Watch out for the May edition of pv magazine, which will discuss the issue in more detail.

Spain suspends FITs

28. January 2012 | Top News, Applications & Installations, Industry & Suppliers, Global PV markets, Markets & Trends | By:  Oliver Ristau

In a surprise move, the Spanish Council of ministers has implemented a temporary suspension of the renewable energy feed-in-tariffs (FIT) for new installations in Spain.

Spanish flag

No further renewable energy projects, which includes photovoltaics, will receive FITs.

Solarpack

As a reaction to the financial crisis in the Mediterranean country, the new Spanish government, under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has approved a new law, by which the current system of remuneration for renewable energies will be discontinued.

As the Council of Ministers announced on Friday, the government won’t give any economic incentive to fund new renewable installations, and the relevant administrative and funding systems will be suspended.

While it was said that the suspension will be temporary, the government did not disclose any timeframe for when the FITs may be resumed.

In a statement released, it argued that “to maintain the current system of remuneration is incompatible to the current economic crisis.” It did stress, however, that the new measures will not be retroactive. They won’t effect “either the installations in operation, or those that are already registered.”

What’s New on Feed-in Tariffs

By Paul Gipe

 

  • Pakistan Regulator Seeks Approval of Feed-in Tariffs for Wind–Feed-in tariffs for wind energy have been submitted to the Water and Power Ministry from Pakistan’s National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA). NEPRA has proposed a novel two-tier system of tariffs depending upon ownership. Pakistan will pay foreign wind developers less than domestically-owned companies. . .
  • Maldives May Launch Solar Feed in Tariff–The Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago of 300,000 inhabitants, may be moving towards a system of feed-tariffs for solar photovoltaics (solar PV). . .
  • Updated Tables of Feed-In Tariffs Worldwide–Updated tables include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and suggested tariff in the Maldives. . .
  • Palo Alto Proposes Limited Solar Feed-in Tariff–Palo Alto’s municipal utility has proposed a limited feed-in tariff program for solar photovoltaics (solar PV) only. . .
  • Reuters: Green energy sector cheers Ontario election result–Ontario’s renewable energy industry breathed a sigh of relief on Friday and manufacturers looked forward to a surge in demand after voters in the province returned the Liberal Party to power, albeit without a majority. . .
  • Tyler Hamilton: Liberals re-elected in Ontario: Green Energy Act and feed-in-tariff program live on–Happy to report that the re-election of the Ontario Liberal government last night means the province’s landmark Green Energy Act, which gave birth to the continent’s first comprehensive Euro-style feed-in-tariff program, has survived its first major challenge. The opposition Progressive Conservative party vowed to scrap the FIT program if elected and neuter the green energy legislation that has brought billions of dollars of investment to Ontario, thousands of jobs, and a new economic pathway for a province that needs to reinvent itself for the 21st century. . .
  • Summary of Sophisticated Sri Lankan Tariffs–In 2010, Sri Lanka launched a sophisticated program of feed-in tariffs. Sri Lanka now has some of the highest feed-in tariffs for wind, hydro, and biomass in the developing world. . .
  • Snapshot of Feed-in Tariffs around the World in 2011–[Updated 10/06/11] Feed-in tariffs are the world’s most popular renewable energy policy mechanism. Despite the economic recession, more and more jurisdictions are turning to feed-in tariffs to spur not only renewable energy development but also industrial development and the attendant jobs that it creates. . . The following article is a snapshot of where feed-in tariffs are being used, and the prices that are being paid. While extensive, this article is not comprehensive. It does not include every tariff for every technology in every jurisdiction, but it does give a flavor for the breadth of this policy mechanism with the odd name. . .

 

More California farmers invest in solar power

By Kate Campbell

Editor’s note: California farmers and ranchers lead the nation in use of solar power. At the same time, government renewable-energy mandates have added pressure for conversion of productive farmland for utility-scale solar energy projects. In a two-part series, Ag Alert® looks at the effects on agriculture from solar power. This week: how farmers have embraced solar power on their operations.

With harvest in full swing, trucks laden with bell peppers, watermelon and onions unloaded at a rapid pace last week at Morada Produce near Linden. Crews washed and packed the produce into boxes before a chain of forklifts carried the market-bound food to coolers.

Harvest activity is being played out across California right now, but there’s something different about Morada Produce: The company’s energy-intensive packing and cooling activities are costing a fraction of what electricity bills totaled in the past.

Skip Foppiano, owner of Morada Produce, pointed to a newly installed two-acre, 390 kilowatt solar energy system outside his office. The once-unpaved employee parking lot is now shaded by four canopies of solar photovoltaic panels that measure more than 40,000 square feet.

The company spent nearly a year researching solar technology to determine the best system for its needs and carefully analyzed the investment decision to determine cost benefits and eventual payback. Foppiano said the new system supplies 60 percent to 70 percent of the energy needed for the farm’s packing and cooling activities.

The solar energy is delivered from the onsite system when utility rates are at their highest, he explained.

“Our family has been farming here since the Gold Rush,” Foppiano said. “We’ve always tried new technology to stay competitive. Solar helps us do that and it’s the right thing to do for the environment.”

Foppiano said the farming operation worked very closely with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., county government and the equipment vendor to complete the project. An investment tax credit and historically low interest rates helped make the system “pencil out,” he said, adding that payback will take about nine years—or less—depending on future energy prices.

An increasing number of California farmers are doing the math and deciding that 20 to 25 years of reduced energy costs makes sense, solar experts say.

Already, California agriculture leads the nation in renewable energy production. But with state government incentives aimed at generating 33 percent of the state’s generating capacity from renewable energy sources by 2020, agriculture has been investing in solar technology at an increasing rate.

Many wineries, nut processing and packing operations have installed photovoltaic panels during the past decade. But now, lower-priced equipment and technological advances have encouraged more farms and agricultural businesses to consider solar power.

A 2009 U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that California leads the nation in on-farm renewable power generation in all categories: wind turbines, methane digesters and solar panels. But when it comes to using solar panels, California farms account for about 25 percent of the total installed on farms nationwide.

“It all comes down to finding the technology that makes financial sense,” said Holli Tamas of Granite Bay Energy, which designs and installs solar energy systems, including projects for agricultural customers.

“Farms are unlike many of our commercial customers who look at shorter payback times,” Tamas said. “Farmers whose families have been in business generations are more likely to think ‘I’m still going to be here in 10 or 20 years.’ Farmers are very savvy about these kinds of investments.”

There is a distinct difference between energy generated on-site for equipment operation and heating and cooling. This is different than power generated for sale and distribution on the electric grid.

In Sierra County, hay grower and cattle rancher Dave Roberti has been putting the finishing touches on a 500 kilowatt system that tracks sunlight to power nine 100-horsepower irrigation pumps.

“Originally, we looked at wind power because we thought we were in a windy spot,” Roberti explained. “But instead, at 5,000 feet, we found we’re in an ideal location for solar energy production year-round, even when it’s cold and snowy. After we ran the complete analysis, we found solar gave us the best bang for the buck.”

He said the technology offered a way to lock in costs for operating the ranch’s irrigation pumps.

“When the system goes online, we’ll be producing power for just about what our retail rates are,” said Roberti, who is a California Farm Bureau director. “It’s a no-brainer. In about 10 years, the system will be paid off. I’m trading payments to my utility for payments on an equipment mortgage. The difference is, there’s a payoff on the equipment.”

Because Roberti buys power from a rural electric district, he was not eligible for incentives from the California Solar Energy Initiative, which is overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The 10-year, nearly $3 billion program provides incentives for solar system installations to residential and commercial customers of the state’s three investor-owned utilities: PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.

Incentive funding for solar projects in PG&E and SDG&E service territory is no longer available for non-residential projects. Officials at the CPUC said commercial applicants will be put on a wait list.

Ventura County lemon grower Limoneira installed a 900 kilowatt solar array next to its processing facility about three years ago. Harold Edwards, Limoneira CEO, said the company had been exploring solar power generation for about 10 years, but couldn’t find a way to justify the investment economically.

“But, as the price of the panels has come down, and with a sale-and-lease-back arrangement, we began to see that the cost benefit was adequate,” Edwards said. “But it’s not just about dollars and cents. Not only is it good for the environment, but as we have the opportunity to host tours and school groups, it’s also a great opportunity to talk about agriculture and how it works with the environment.

“It’s amazing the way our investment in solar technology is working out,” he said.

Next week: Renewable-energy mandates touch off a new land rush, as developers of utility-scale solar projects propose to convert productive farmland.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

Spurned By DOE, First Solar Hunts For Solar Farm Buyer

By Cassandra Sweet and Ryan Tracy

-DOE says First Solar is not eligible for $1.9 billion loan guarantee for 550-megawatt Topaz solar farm

–First Solar says it is in “advanced talks” with potential buyers of the Topaz facility

–Shares close down 9% at $66.85, lowest level seen in more than four years

(Adds response from Royal Bank of Scotland in 9th paragraph.)

First Solar Inc. (FSLR) said Thursday that the Department of Energy will not provide a loan guarantee to help finance construction of a large California solar farm, but the company is in “advanced discussions” to sell the project.

The Tempe, Ariz., solar-panel maker and solar-farm developer said that the DOE informed the company that there was not enough time to process the company’s $1.9 billion loan guarantee application for the 550-megawatt Topaz solar farm to meet a statutory Sept. 30 deadline for closing the transaction.

“We weren’t able to meet the requirements in time for the deadline,” First Solar spokesman Ted Meyer said in an interview. He added that the company was in “advanced talks with potential buyers” to sell the solar power plant and would “utilize a different transaction structure that does not require a DOE loan guarantee.”

Meyer declined to name the potential buyers or provide details on the sale.

The DOE’s disqualification of First Solar’s Topaz project loan guarantee comes as the department faces intense scrutiny following the bankruptcy of solar-panel startup Solyndra Inc., which obtained a $535 million loan guarantee and a $527 million government loan to build a factory in Fremont, Calif. Solyndra is the subject of a federal criminal probe into whether the company misled the government in connection with the 2009 loan guarantee. It filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month.

The loss of the Topaz loan guarantee sent First Solar shares tumbling 9% to close at $66.85, their lowest close in more than four years.

In June, the DOE offered First Solar conditional commitments of guarantees for $1.93 billion in loans to help finance the Topaz solar farm. Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (RBS.LN, RBS) and a group of unnamed institutional investors and commercial banks agreed to make the loans, which were to be guaranteed by the DOE.

It was unclear whether RBS planned to abandon the project or work on a new financial package with different terms.

An RBS spokesman said the bank declined to comment.

A DOE spokesman declined to comment directly on the department’s disqualification of First Solar’s loan guarantee for the Topaz project, but said that closing such transactions is a rigorous process.

“We have consistently said that we will not close any deal until all of the rigorous technical, legal, and financial review has been completed,” said the DOE spokesman, Damien LaVera. “Failure to close a loan application does not indicate that a project doesn’t have merit or a strong business case to succeed, but rather that all of the extensive due diligence and legal documentation simply cannot be completed by Sept. 30.”

First Solar has two conditional loan guarantees still pending, a $1.8 billion guarantee for a 550-megawatt solar farm in Riverside County, Calif., called Desert Sunlight, and a $680 million guarantee for a 230-megawatt solar farm in Lancaster, Calif., called Antelope Valley.

Company spokesmen declined to comment on the outlook for obtaining loan guarantees for the remaining projects. Some analysts expressed hope that First Solar would snag the latter two loan guarantees, although they acknowledged that investors remained jittery following the Solyndra bankruptcy.

“The Solyndra fallout has created a black cloud around the company that is unlikely to clear until projects are announced as sold,” said Jesse Pichel, an analyst at Jefferies Group.

First Solar obtained a $967 million loan guarantee for the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente solar farm in Yuma County, Ariz., which the company sold to NRG Energy Inc. (NRG). PG&E Corp.’s (PCG) San Francisco-based utility has signed a long-term contract to buy the output from the facility, which currently is under construction.

Together, the four projects are expected to create about 1,750 construction jobs and 53 permanent jobs, and generate enough electricity to serve about 470,000 homes.

In July, First Solar obtained a key construction permit to build the Topaz solar farm on previously disturbed land in San Luis Obispo County, California. PG&E has signed a long-term contract to buy the output from the Topaz facility.

In August, two local citizens groups filed a lawsuit against the Topaz project with the San Luis Obispo Superior Court. The groups did not file a request for an injunction that could delay construction, allowing the company to start building anytime.

First Solar initially planned to start construction on Topaz Sept. 30 to qualify for the loan guarantee. But the company said Thursday that it does not have a timetable for starting construction.

The company is likely to start construction for most, if not all, its shovel-ready projects by Dec. 31, when a key government incentive for renewable energy projects currently is set to expire.

Pending DOE loan guarantees must be closed and construction must be started on funded projects by Sept. 30, under Section 1705 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

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