TrueSolar Deal Caught in Agency Catch-22

By Published On: January 24, 2004

The controversial photovoltaic deal between TrueSolar and Southern California Edison remains a hot potato for state regulators. The California Public Utilities Commission approved the $0.44/kWh contract for renewable energy last month but tossed it over to the California Energy Commission (CEC) to decide whether the deal would fly. The CEC has made it clear that the funds targeted by the pact to cover most of the cost of the 5 MW commercial project are not meant for large systems. In addition, funds for which TrueSolar is eligible will not be allocated until the CPUC nails down rules and evaluation criteria for new renewables bids. CEC spokesperson Claudia Chandler said the agreement does not qualify for the $29.7 million emerging technologies program because the money is earmarked for small on-site renewables projects. The TrueSolar facility, planned to be built near Barstow, would be the world?s largest solar plant (see <i>Energy Circuit</i>, December 1, 2003). TrueSolar fits the new centralized facilities program, according to Chandler. But this $76 million pot will be tapped only after the CPUC establishes criteria and rules for utilities? new renewables solicitation?a process expected to be wrapped up by spring. Chandler added that she does not know TrueSolar?s project price tag and whether it would drain that pot of funds. Edison hopes the CEC will find the contract in compliance with current rules, said utility spokesperson Gil Alexander. ?However, if they find otherwise, we hope the commission might consider modifying those rules, finding there is potential benefit to customers of both applications of [photovoltaic] technologies?individual rooftops and large centralized installations,? he added. TrueSolar and Edison will face a ?wall of opposition if they try to get new [renewables] account funds,? responded Matt Freedman, attorney for The Utility Reform Network. Edison would need to provide evidence that the deal is ?least cost, best fit,? a term Freedman noted that the utility had coined. Earlier this month, TURN filed a petition for a rehearing of the CPUC decision approving TrueSolar, arguing that Edison violated its own selection criteria when it picked the project. The California Solar Energy Industries Association (CSEIA), which backs TURN?s move for rehearing, argued that the renewables bid review process is ?broken and should not be repeated? because of a lack of transparency. As for changing the rules, Jan McFarland, CSEIA executive director, suggested that Edison and TrueSolar ?do their homework? regarding the regulations. Emerging technology funds are not set aside for utilities to meet renewables requirements, she stressed. TrueSolar has not yet filed an application with the CEC, according to Edison?s Alexander, because the CPUC needs first to resolve TURN?s rehearing appeal. But CPUC press secretary Terrie Prosper disputed this assertion, saying no resolution is needed for TrueSolar to proceed at the CEC.

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