CPUC OKs 500 MW Solar Rooftop Plan

By Published On: June 19, 2009

State regulators approved Southern California Edison’s request to own and build 250 MW of commercial rooftop solar systems over five years. The California Public Utilities Commission June 18 also required the utility to solicit a like amount of power from independent developers. “This fosters competition and allows [the commission] to compare different forms of ownership,” said John Bohn, CPUC member, whose alternate decision was adopted. The commissioners unanimously embraced the proposal largely because the systems at issue--1-2 MW solar units expected to be placed atop large warehouses--will feed into the existing distribution system and avoid the environmental and economic hassle and costs of new transmission lines. The commission found Edison’s proposed $962 million capital cost estimate reasonable. Program costs, however, are to be monitored. The Department of Ratepayer Advocates opposed the 500 MW solar proposal for its lack of ratepayer protections. “The commission should have considered [Edison’s] program within the context of the other distributed generation programs, such as, California Solar Initiative and feed-in tariff, rather than the piecemeal policy making that this decision represents.” stated DRA director Dana Appling. The solar initiative is a ratepayer-subsidized program seeking 3,000 MW of small rooftop solar units. A feed-in tariff requires utilities to pay owners of renewable systems a guaranteed, long-term price for the power output, along with standardized contract terms. Bohn and CPUC president Mike Peevey pointed to utilities missing the 20 percent renewable standard by 2010. Edison’s 500 MW solar proposal, they said, was in response to their call for investor-owned utilities--which call the shots on alternative energy solicitations and deals--to own and develop renewable resources. Bohn’s decision declined to increase by 1 percent Edison’s current 11.5 percent rate of return on the solar project. He rejected the utility’s claim that the higher return was justified because rooftop photovoltaic systems are “experimental.” The approved decision also did not accept the cost estimates Edison provided of its 250 MW utility-owned proposal and the costs of solar power under the California Solar Initiative, formerly known as Million Solar Roofs. The commission plans to monitor the commercial rooftop program, and “examine ways in which the program can be improved and fine tune the program when and where appropriate” states the decision. Edison is required to file annual compliance reports on its program. In other news the commission agreed to ease the process for utilities seeking approval of renewable deals 10 years or less in duration. This new advice letter filing is limited to projects that are on line or are operational within six months. It is also limited to standard offer contracts priced within 150 percent of the reasonableness benchmark set by the market price referent. “It is good for renewables and ratepayers,” Peevey said. During the public participation segment of this week’s meeting, Peevey was solicitous to members of the public in contrast to previous meetings. He acknowledged speakers’ concerns and their nervousness. Also, he and commissioner Dian Grueneich thanked those who took the time to raise concerns.

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