All posts by Peter Allen

Solar’s Double Agent

In a column posted earlier this week on San José Inside, I looked back on the energy battles of 2013, as big utilities launched attacks on policies like net metering to stifle innovation and maintain their profit margins, only to be turned back at every turn by an organized coalition of solar companies.

Led by The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), the top rooftop solar companies successfully preserved net metering in Idaho, Louisiana, Arizona, and California. And following TASC’s lead, the 40-year-old Solar Energy Industries Association (or SEIA) took on a stronger tone in its advocacy. The shift at SEIA coincided with the naming of Nat Kreamer, CEO of Clean Power Finance (CPF), as Vice Chairman of SEIA’s Board of Directors.

Kreamer’s typically aggressive tone toward big utilities behind the scenes contrasts with a relatively amicable public front. As reported in my earlier article, according to a CPF spokesperson, CPF works with TASC while not identifying as an official public member.  Publicly they have taken “a more measured approach with utilities” because of their unique business model as the confluence between supply and demand.

In my column, I referenced Kreamer’s military background and suggested that he may see himself and CPF as a “double agent” in the struggle for our energy future. CPF seemed to embrace this image by re-posting the column on their website.

As if to drive the point home, this week CPF announced a new partnership with midwest utility investor Integrys that creates “a residential solar finance fund through the CPF Market, an online platform that empowers electric power companies to invest in residential solar.” You can read more in this CPF press release.

Typically, CPF will allow their partners on the solar installation side to promote their own brand through the CPF Market. Indeed, in a note sent to those partners, CPF talks about how other vendors “put their brand first,” and goes on to say, “We support your brand by being ‘white-label’ to your customers.” Conversely, the deal with Integrys puts the utility company front and center, which Kreamer makes clear in the press release:

“CPF is currently the only residential solar finance company that allows a retail energy company such as Integrys Energy Services to set the parameters of its fund, promote its brand to consumers and own 100 percent of the asset.”

Perhaps influenced by Kreamer’s leadership, the SEIA called the development “very good news,” citing the boost that big utility investment can deliver to the residential distributed generation (DG) solar sector. Because recent energy battles are happening mostly in the public eye thanks to expanded press coverage, it’s hard to think of CPF as a double agent in the traditional, covert sense. Instead, it may be more accurate to label their tactics as a “carrot and stick” approach.

Regardless of what you call it, time will tell if the approach bears fruit in the long term. At the very least, it will be an interesting story to watch in the year ahead.

Rentseekers of Los Angeles

In the latest chapter of the “Rentseekers” of Big Energy stifling growth in the disruptive rooftop solar industry, consider for a moment the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which is trying to change the rules on rooftop solar customers in the middle of the game.

Since 2009, thousands of LADWP’s customers have signed lease agreements with third-party providers and had systems installed. These contracts were approved by DWP. Now, LADWP is trying to force hundreds of the city’s most recent solar customers to re-sign their contracts, attempting to force solar companies to insert amended language even though the utility acknowledges they had approved the contracts on no less than three separate occasions.

On precisely none of those occasions did their reviewers catch what they suddenly perceive to be language that may in fact violate their own standards for contract language.

By slowing the progress of solar energy and creating such a difficult consumer and business experience, LADWP is acting in direct contrast to the city’s goals for solar growth. Regardless, without re-signed contracts, LADWP says it will not allow these customers to interconnect their solar systems to the grid. This prevents them from accessing the benefits of local, clean power, and from lowering their electricity bills.  

The re-signing process has been extremely confusing and off-putting, especially for those who already have systems built on their rooftops. It, once again, puts the rooftop solar industry – a major source of job growth – at odds with the municipal utility. (See previous criticisms of LADWP, their delays, and inefficiencies here.)

Solar companies and constituents are in the process of contacting L.A. council offices, so there is hope that a policy fix is be on the way. Moreover, Mayor Garcetti has made his plans for increased distributed generation in L.A. clear. After all, the City did approve the original contracts that solar companies have used.

Meanwhile, interconnection is on hold for hundreds of families. Consumers are trying to do the right thing, and solar companies and customers have complied throughout the process, yet the utility is forcing everyone to jump through hoops despite approving the original course.

Let’s hope L.A. moves forward and changes the course.  

David 3, Goliath 0

As a sports fan, a question always pops to mind whenever I consider the story of David and Goliath: Who would take this match-up in a best-of-seven series? That’s because, in most sports, over time, the laws of averages come into play, the inherent advantages of one competitor win out over the disadvantages of the other, and a true champion is crowned.

So how do we explain the recent run of success that has the blossoming solar industry (i.e. David) routing monopoly utilities (Goliath) all across the country? Well, like they say in sports, they don’t play the games on paper. And the same would seem to apply in the world of competitive energy.

Since the beginning of summer, solar supporters have racked up a 3-0 record against big utilities


In late June, the Louisiana Public Service Commission voted to maintain the policy that gives rooftop solar customers fair credit for the excess electricity they deliver back to the grid. This policy is known as net energy metering. It is a critical piece of revolutionizing our energy grid because it supports and encourages customer choice and private investment in rooftop solar.

As you might expect, the entrenched utility industry has been trying to kill net metering policies across the country since solar benefits like this put their profit margins at risk. But with net metering on the books in 43 states, the playing field may be too large for even big money special interests to execute a cohesive game plan. Which brings us to…


Shortly after the landmark decision in Louisiana, Idaho Power tried to alter their net metering rules and lost huge when the Idaho Public Utilities Commission released its net metering decision, denying the utility most of its proposed changes. Among the highlights from that decision are that there will be no cap on net metering moving forward, no modification to the existing pricing structure, and no expiration of excess generation credits. All three points are huge victories for the solar industry.


But the big dog in any national policy debate will always be the Golden State. As the most populous state in the nation and the 8th largest economy in the world, decisions made on the left coast tend to wash over the rest of the country in time. So, it’s big news for solar energy that the California Legislature passed a bill (AB 327) in the final days of this year’s session that protects our state’s net metering policy. And in a coup for solar advocates, it had the support of the utility industry.

Originally seen as a solar killer, AB 327 received a makeover with amendments to: 1) lift a suspension order on net metering that would have gone into effect at end of next year; 2) provide certainty around how the current net metering cap is calculated, 3) provide a framework for removing the cap altogether and 4) remove the existing ceiling on California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which means the Public Utilities Commission can require utilities to get more than just 33% of their electricity from renewable energy sources.

By all accounts, this is a policy unique to California, and it encourages continued development of renewable resources on all fronts.

Kudos for this impressive run of victories is due to advocacy organizations like The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and the nonprofit group The Vote Solar Initiative. For the sake of our environment and consumer choice, we should hope their successes continue.