Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Solar stocks seeing sunny days

With heightened awareness of the detrimental aspects of nuclear generation, investors are seeing the (sun)light, and solar company outlooks are brighter than recent days.

Stocks aside, investing in community pays off. Investing in community energy pays off with the lights on.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Islanders Protest to Stay Off-Grid

I wish there were a picture of the t-shirts, it sounds much like what we have in the San Luis Valley - though SLV has yet to stage a good, old fashioned protest over the La Veta Pass transmission line.

Joy Hughes
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting Company
Founder, Solar Gardens Institute

Friday, March 25, 2011

Edmonds City Council approves community solar project – with conditions

Read more: 
Under Creative Commons License: 

After nearly two hours of debate, the Edmonds City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to approve a site lease for the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative to install a solar project on the city-owned Frances Anderson Center roof in downtown Edmonds. The lone “no” vote came from Councilmember Lora Petso, who said she wanted more time to study the proposal.
It’s estimated that the project, initiated by non-profit citizens group Sustainable Edmonds, will produce 75,000 kilowatt hours annually – a significant share of the Frances Anderson Center’s electrical use – and will save the City of Edmonds more than $30,000 over the next 10 years.

California: Community Supported Solar Power is Booming

From Do Your Part Eco-news:

Solar power is growing at light speed in California where state officials last year approved a record amount of new solar energy. Traditionally there are two types of solar projects: huge solar farms that cover hundreds of acres and small rooftop installations. But there’s a growing market for mid-size solar projects, many of which are community supported...

Read more

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Colorado Town Moves Towards Community Solar

    The town board of Saguache voted  to explore a solar array called a Community Solar Garden.  This quiet mini-power plant, built with ordinary solar panels, would be located on an acre or two of reclaimed land at the old town dump, out of view.  Brandon Williams of the Solar Gardens Institute presented the plan to the trustees.  The 7-0 vote will allow the board to consider a letter of intent between the town and the Solar Gardens Institute in the future.

    A Solar Garden is owned by community members, and can provide power for "subscribers" with shaded property, or who qualify for LEAP.  Here in Tree Town USA, with the best sunshine in the state, this would be an attractive option for the Town buildings and for many homes.  We would use local contractors and workers whenever possible.

    The Saguache Alliance for Green Energy (SAGE), a partnership between the town and ScSEED (Saguache County Sustainable Environment and Economic Development) has been working closely with the Solar Gardens Institute to make this a reality.  I founded SGI here in Saguache just last year - now it is becoming a national organization.

    This would be a grassroots solar plant that we build and own ourselves, that supplies power and jobs for our own town.

-Joy Hughes

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fukushima Solar Plant - No Additional Crisis After Earthquake

     The Japanese prefecture of Fukushima hosts power plants other than the one we know so much about.  Rengo's corrugated board plant in Yabuki, in normal times, receives all its daytime power needs from the Sun.

    See a photo of the 1.5 Megawatt photovoltaic (PV) rooftop and ground-mount array.

     I don't know the extent of the damage to the array or factory, which was away from the coast.  I hope the workers and their families were safe, and can get back to work soon.  The following can, however, be easily surmised:

- Damage to the Fukushima solar PV plant did not result in an explosion

- No one was required to evacuate due to damage to the Fukushima solar PV plant

- No radioactive or chemical contamination resulted from damage to the Fukushima solar PV plant

- The Fukushima solar PV plant may still be operational or can be restarted after repairs

- The Fukushima solar PV plant will not have to be entombed in concrete for centuries

- Damage to the Fukushima solar PV plant did not cause any health risk to humans or wildlife

- No heroes in radiation suits will have to risk their lives to make sure the Fukushima solar PV plant is safe

- The rescue and recovery effort for the earthquake and tsunami was not complicated by the Fukushima solar PV plant

     As the nuclear crisis progresses, we will likely find more bad things that did not happen at the solar plant.

     Let's take a look at forms of energy that explode:

Coal - Upper Big Branch mine explosion, West Virginia, 2009

Oil - Deepwater Horizon explosion, Gulf of Mexico, 2010

Natural Gas - San Bruno Explosion, 2010

Nuclear - Pripyat, Ukraine, 1986

Geothermal - Explosion at Innamincka, South Australia, 2009

Concentrated Solar Power - Daggett California explosion and fire, 1999

Wind - Denmark, 2008 and many others

Hydroelectric - Teton Dam Collapse, Idaho, 1976

For ordinary solar panels? The only thing exploding is the jobs!

Solar PV - Solar Jobs Explosion, Ontario, Canada, 2010

The nuclear energy debate is over, and fossils are running out.  Solar PV panels involve no fuel, moving parts, or high temperatures.  It's time for Obama to make that speech and for America to follow the lead of Germany and Ontario with consistent support for solar on every roof.

Joy Hughes
Founder, Solar Gardens Institute

Mount Pleasant Solar Co-op

     A new article in Solar Today discusses the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative, a group in Washington, D.C. organizing their neighborhood for rooftop solar installations.  (The article mentions ... hooray!)

     In 2006, then 12-year-old Walter Lynn attended a screening of Al Gore's "An Incovenient Truth", and asked his mother, Anya Schoolman, "Can we go solar?"

    In a testament to the Power of Mom, Anya replied "We've already looked into solar [...] If we are going to do all the work to figure this out, we might as well do the whole neighborhood."  And that's just what they did... the Mount Pleasant neighborhood recently celebrated its 100th rooftop solar installation.

     Anyone who does this will find what we all find - shaded roofs, old roofs, apartments, and tenants who pay the electricity bill, giving no incentive for the landlord to install solar.  Anya has been working with the Solar Gardens Institute and Vote Solar's community solar effort to establish solar gardens laws in the District of Columbia and Maryland.  Even beyond that, Anya has become a key organizer in the burgeoning Community Power movement, leveraging her skills and connections from working with government, foundations, and non profits.

    I hope she succeeds and solar gardens sprout in our nation's capitol!

Joy Hughes
Founder, Solar Gardens Institute

Friday, March 18, 2011

Xcel told to continue Solar Rewards

After a furor in the sustainability community in the wake of Xcel Energy's announcement that it was cutailing the Solar Rewards program for rooftop solar, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission told the investor-owned utility that the program must be reinstated.

The Colorado PUC approved a settlement March 18 that will restart Xcel Energy’s solar incentive program next week, while reducing the amount of subsidies that will be paid up front for solar installations at residences and businesses.

The settlement is a short-term bridge to restore the solar incentive program until it is fully reviewed by the PUC within the next 12-14 months. Xcel Energy had filed an application with the PUC last month seeking to reduce its solar rebate from $2 per watt to $1.25 per watt, and suspended the program the following day.

The approved settlement allows Xcel Energy to accept up to an additional 60 megawatts (MW) of solar installation applications, while capping 2011 expenditures at $97.3 million. The agreement establishes a series of step-downs to reduce the up-front solar rebate for small customer-owned systems from $1.75 a watt to zero as more solar installations are added.

Production-based incentives, spread out over 10 years, will increase from 4 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) to 14 cents per kwh for small customer-owned systems as the rebates are phased out.

Community Solar Gardens can save utilities generation and transmission and distribution costs.

In 2010, Xcel announced that meeting the Colorado renewable energy standard was "not impossible."

Locally generated electricity, such as from solar gadens, can help utilities meet and exceed requirements for renewable energy in the distribution mix while saving utilities upfront costs and get renewables online far faster than through large projects in remote areas.

Colorado Solar Gardens - Comment Period Extended

     At today's hearing, an administrative law judge heard oral comments in the rule making for Colorado's Community Solar Gardens Act.  (He fixed glitches in the audio system himself, all in his judical robes!)  The comment period was extended until April 8, and the community has been asked to provide addional comments on the minimum capitalization of solar gardens.

     The Solar Gardens Institute offered comments (summarized below) to support middle and lower income subscribers, community groups, local solar integrators, and smaller installations:

- In general, make the PUC process more accessible for those who are neither attorneys nor utility specialists

- The proposed allocation for "low-income" subscribers is only 5% of the solar gardens program - only about 100 people per year.  According to a study by the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), in 2007 22% of Colorado households earned less than 185% of the poverty line and thus would qualify for the program.  Since the Solar Rewards program has no provision for low income inclusion, and generally benefits fairly well-to-do people, Solar Gardens should be more inclusive - more than 22% low income.

- The proposed real-time reporting requirements (once per ten seconds) may be hard to achieve technically with smaller inverters.  Only larger systems (over 1 Megawatt) are currently required to report to the Western Regional Electric Generation Information System (WREGIS).  Systems under 1 Megawatt  Certainly, reporting requirements should be no more rigorous than the Solar Rewards program, and should be flexible enough to take into account future smart grid standards.

- Solar gardens should be able to connect via multiple meters in order to allow complexes of multi-unit buildings to take advantage of the program.  This and other smart grid implementations should not be precluded by PUC rules.

- Solar gardens should be able to grow over time.  People within a community will learn about a facility and want to join.  The Ellensburg Solar Community in Washington State has added new phases each year.  From the Judge's questions, it appears that I'll need to have a conversation with XCEL about how incentives could be planned ahead.

- In earlier comments, the Solar Gardens Institute suggested a separate allocation for solar gardens between 10-100 kilowatts, at least for the first three years of the program.  We believe it is important to have a separate allocation for smaller systems, as some community groups have been working on their ideas for a few years.  This will likely be addressed in XCEL's program rules.  There were concerns the carve-out might lead to unallocated capacity, but I noted the program will likely be greatly oversubscribed.

- Make sure the program rules do preclude not a lease or lease-to-own model, essential for lower and middle income people who don't have all the money up front.  PUC Staff cross examined me- I noted that most existing systems around the country use leasing.  I also noted that a program similar to SMUD Solar Shares (where the customer purchases a block of kilowatt hours) would not be allowed by the statute, since the customer must have an interest (ownership or lease) in generation capacity.  We sell kilowatts, not kilowatt hours.

     We would love to hear questions and comments from the community!

Joy Hughes
Founder, Solar Gardens Institute

Monday, March 14, 2011

Community Solar Gardens Hearing

The Colorado PUC will be holding a hearing on the proposed rules for the Community Solar Gardens Act on March 18, 2011 at 9:00 a.m. at the Commission Hearing Room, 1560 Broadway, Suite 250 in Denver.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

180 Attend Solar Gardens Panel in Boulder

Photo Credit - Doug Gringbergs
     On Monday, March 7, the Sierra Club hosted a well-attended panel in Boulder, featuring Rep. Clare Levy (D-Boulder), Greg Ching, Chief Sustainability Officer of the Solar Gardens Institute (pictured), Paula Connelly of XCEL Energy, and others.

     Lots of people learned more about community solar - and there are more events to come.  Keep your calendars open for the end of April!

     You can see a copy of the presentation on Google Groups at

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Colorado Community Solar - Delta-Montrose

Delta - Montrose Electric association recently announced a 10 kilowatt community solar array.  It has a $10 minimum purchase for 2.7 watts of capacity, or about $3.70 a watt.  Let's welcome this new entry to the solar gardens world!

DMEA Community Solar Site

Solar-generated electricity is about to become much more affordable for members of the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA). Two community solar arrays—one at the co-op's Montrose headquarters, the other at its Read service center in Delta County—have recently been completed, in part with grant funding from the Colorado Governor's Energy Office.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Time to Plant a Solar Garden

     See Greg Ching's article in Denver Green Streets:
     This includes some interviews with residents of the Southern Colorado town of Saguache.  Greg Ching and Brandon Williams of the Solar Gardens Institute made a presentation to the local Saguache Alliance for Green Energy, showing how the Institute can help create a solar garden for the town.

Video Interview of Saguache Residents

     Kate Vasha, Saguache Town Trustee, 63, described her community. "Saguache County is the second poorest county in Colorado. In our little town of 550 people, we have a lot of low income people and a lot of elders who are also low income. And to me, this is an important pivot point for solar - that is solar going to be an industrial model or is solar going to be a community model? And if it's going to be a community model, we have to take low income equity into account."