Renewable Energy Update -- March 27, 2012

New bipartisan bill proposes two-year PTC extension for wind power

North American Windpower - Mar 16

After failed attempts to attach an extension to the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy to the payroll tax bill and the recent transportation bill, a bipartisan group of senators is trying again with another bill that would renew the wind PTC. The legislation would extend the wind energy PTC for an additional two years. It also would extend the renewable energy tax credits provided by Section 45 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for biomass, geothermal, landfill gas, hydropower, marine and hydrokinetic energy until the end of 2014.

Issa report uncovers fraud in DOE loans

Institute for Energy Research - Mar 20

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), released the full report on its investigation of the DOE’s loan guarantee program. The most immediately troubling findings of the report concern the riskiness of the DOE's current loan portfolio. The report also finds that the DOE's favoritism of solar technology yields an unbalanced portfolio. Furthermore, it reports that its officials, on numerous occasions, apparently disregarded the safeguards that were originally built into the program. 

Related News:
First Solar loans criticized

Federal renewable energy advisor told not to deal with NextEra

Los Angeles Times - Mar 17

The chief architect of the Obama administration's renewable energy policy has been instructed to refrain from any dealings with the country's largest renewable energy company because of a romantic relationship with the firm's Washington lobbyist. Steve Black, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's alternative energy advisor, discussed his relationship with a NextEra Energy lobbyist with officials in the department's ethics office last fall, an Interior spokesman said. To avoid a conflict of interest, Black was later told to recuse himself from matters involving NextEra, which has more than a dozen wind and solar power projects in California.

U.S. sets 'surprisingly low' China solar panel duties

Reuters - Mar 20

The U.S. dealt a blow to American solar panel manufacturers and boosted shares in Chinese rivals when it imposed unexpectedly low duties on imports from China, though the move still drew fire from China industry representatives. The action adds to trade tension between the world's two largest economies and threatens cooperation in the burgeoning clean-energy sector. Energy analysts had expected Chinese imports of solar panels to be hit with preliminary duties of 20% to 30%, but the rates announced ranged from just 2.90% to 4.73% -- although these could be raised in future.

Related News:
China plays down U.S. trade row over solar products
Will Chinese solar tariffs hurt California?

Solar's 15% returns lure investments from Google to Buffett

Bloomber - Mar 20

U.S. solar developers are luring cash at record rates from investors by offering returns on projects four times those available for Treasury securities. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, together with Google, KKR, MetLife and John Hancock Life Insurance poured more than $500 million into renewable energy in the last year. That is the most ever for companies outside the club of banks and specialist lenders that traditionally back solar energy, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data. Once so risky that only government backing could draw private capital, solar projects now are making returns of about 15%, according to Stanford University's center for energy policy and finance. That has attracted a wider community of investors eager to cash in on earnings stronger than those for infrastructure projects.

Solar's cruel twist for California power firms

MarketWatch - Mar 21

Marc Ulrich, an SCE executive who oversees its renewable and alternative power efforts, says that while meeting California's renewable energy goal may seem easy enough for the state's utilities, the math involved in reaching the goal is not that simple, for many internal and external reasons. Projections show power demand will keep increasing, meaning if utilities do not add more renewable sources to the grid over the next eight years, their share of power coming from renewables would shrink from 20% to as low as 16%. On top of that, utilities cannot include individual solar power systems serving homes and businesses in their 33% because rooftop panels and solar farms use completely different metering systems. The rule represents a cruel twist of sorts for the utilities because leasing companies have made obtaining sun power for the average consumer almost a moot point.

Audubon official calls for moratorium on Altamont solar arrays

Heartland - Mar 16

Rich Cimino, conservation director for the Ohlone Audubon Society, says new solar arrays near Altamont Pass, Calif., will worsen serious environmental impacts already being imposed by existing wind turbines. The wind turbines at Altamont Pass kill approximately 5,000 birds each year. At a February meeting of the Alameda County Planning Commission, Cimino said local birds face a new threat from a deadly combination of proposed solar power projects and existing wind turbines. According to him, clearing area lands to erect solar arrays will chase away rodents, a prime food source for an assortment of raptors that frequent the area. Many of the rodents, he predicts, will relocate near the Altamont Pass wind turbines, and will be pursued by hungry birds. Those birds will in turn face higher risks of being chopped up by the spinning blades of wind turbines.

Chinese company eyes solar site in Glendale

Glendale News-Press - Mar 16

China's Solar Valley -- a green-tech version of California's Silicon Valley -- wants to cozy up to Glendale. Government officials there are interested in sending staffers to work at Glendale City Hall for a year, at no cost to the city, to see how planning is done in the city, Mayor Laura Friedman said. A businessman who developed much of the clean-tech metropolis is also eyeing Glendale for a possible 8.5-acre manufacturing site, she said. Friedman said she wanted Glendale's economic development team to reach out to the businessman, Huang Ming, board chairman of China Himin Solar Co., who is interested in developing a solar panel facility at a location near Los Angeles to manufacture and display the technology. While she said the potential opportunity was exciting, "This is all very preliminary."

Westinghouse Solar launches fully integrated solar panels

Westinghouse Solar - Mar 19

California-based Westinghouse Solar announced the release of Instant Connect, a line of solar panels that makes rooftop installations faster and easier. Instant Connect is the first plug-and-play solar panel that completely eliminates panel-to-panel wiring for both residential systems and commercial systems. A set of electrical connectors are integrated directly into the sides of each solar panel, allowing the solar panels to automatically plug together when they are mounted on the roof.

CPUC approves PPA for 110MW Catalina solar PV plant

SolarServer - Mar 16

The CPUC has approved a 25-year PPA between SDG&E and a subsidiary of enXco for the output of the 110MW Catalina solar PV plant, which will be built in Kern County, Calif. Project developer and owner enXco plans to commission an initial 50MW phase of the plant by the end of 2012, and the full capacity by July 2013. The project will be financed through a combination of debt and equity, and has also received a cash grant through the now-expired Section 1603 Treasury Grant Program.

State committee holds renewable energy hearing in El Centro

Imperial Valley Press - Mar 16

Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez held a public hearing for the select committee on the renewable energy economy in rural California. Various local and state leaders, as well as utility company officials and renewable energy experts filled a room in El Centro to hear what is being done. The purpose of the hearing was to go over issues like transmission, the cost of financing a project and resource adequacy, Pérez said. The other part is to listen to residents about their concerns regarding habitat and sacred sites. Renewable energy has a potential to be a huge force here, he said. A number of different panels were held, covering topics that included the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, issues publically- and independently-owned utilities face to meet state renewable goals, and the renewable industry's perspective on energy development.

Roseville Electric must find new sources for renewable energy

Roseville Press Tribune - Mar 16

Roseville's electric rates will likely increase over the next two decades as the city's public utility provider wrestles with regulatory changes in California. An official with Roseville Electric predicts the costs associated with transitioning to more renewable resources -- as required by state law -- will result in a rate jump of about 5%. The utility's cost will increase $120 million over 20 years, said power supply manager Mike Wardell. Roseville Electric is updating its Integrated Resource Plan, which is a 20-year strategy for meeting energy needs.

California jail gets microgrid powered by wind, solar, fuel cell

Environmental Leader - Mar 19

The Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif., teamed up with Chevron Energy Solutions to create its own microgrid. The microgrid is powered by solar panels, wind turbines, a fuel cell and a giant battery pack. It allows the jail to cut itself off the main grid during a blackout. The system also allows the jail to cut its utility bills by charging the battery pack using off-peak rate electricity from the main grid. The project was funded by an $11-million federal grant and is a demonstration of how other large facilities such as military bases, colleges and hospitals could also reduce their reliance on the grid.

Tribes fight Ocotillo Wind Express Energy Project

KPBS - Mar 22

Several Native American tribes in the Southwest are fighting a large wind farm planned near the town of Ocotillo, in Imperial County, Calif. The tribes say there are more than 400 archeological sites on the land where the turbines would be located. The Ocotillo Wind Express Energy Project would produce up to 356MW of electricity and is one of the largest renewable energy projects planned on public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. It is one of 18 priority projects designated in 2011 by the bureau.

CPUC approves SDG&E's Baja California wind contract

UT San Diego - Mar 22

A 20-year, $820-million PPA between project developer Sempra U.S. Gas & Power and SDG&E was approved by the CPUC, despite concerns about pricing. The Energia Sierra Juarez wind power plant would provide enough electricity to power the equivalent of about 65,000 homes within SDG&E territory. Several hurdles remain for the wind farm, including presidential approval for a cross-border tie-in line and construction of a substation to access U.S. transmission lines. The project is the first stage of more extensive plans by Sempra to install turbines along a hundred-mile stretch of windswept highlands atop the Sierra Juárez in Baja California.

Proposed San Onofre wave farm halted by feds

Los Angeles Times - Mar 20

An Orange County entrepreneur's controversial proposal to build one of the nation's first hydrokinetic wave farms off San Onofre State Beach is not quite dead, but it is definitely treading water. Federal regulators terminated the licensing process for the project after Chong Kim, general manager of JD Products, told them that without federal grant money or a business partner, he could not prepare baseline information and conduct the studies necessary to apply to build and operate the generators. "Based on the information you provided...it is clear that you are not able to proceed with the licensing process at this time," the FERC wrote. The decision deals a blow to Kim's ambitious goal of harvesting 3,186MW of electricity by installing thousands of ocean wave power generators a mile offshore. The idea has not sat well with environmental groups, anglers and surfers who treasure San Onofre.

Obama Administration announces $35M funding for biomass R&D

DOE - Mar 22

The Obama Administration announced up to $35 million over three years to support research and development in advanced biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products. The projects funded through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative will help develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products that can help replace the need for gasoline and diesel in vehicles and diversify the nation's energy portfolio.

California renewable energy goals to drive geothermal growth

Reuters - Mar 19

The Salton Sea region is emerging as a key location for a venerable but unsung technology that could be crucial to California's renewable energy goal: geothermal power. The first new geothermal plant in the Salton Sea area in two decades, Hudson Ranch I, fires up in March. At just under 50MW, the plant is small, but there is plenty more to come. Subir Sanyal of GeothermEx said the Salton Sea region has the potential for 1,400MW more on top of the 326MW produced by 10 existing projects there. CalEnergy is pressing ahead with a 160MW project known as Black Rock after years of delay. Also, Ormat, an Israeli-run company with 349 MW of capacity at eight geothermal plants in California and Nevada, is building nearby.


Notable Renewable Energy Projects and Deals

Solare Energy introduces financing option

PR.com / Solare Energy - Mar 18

Solare Energy, a high-efficiency solar energy solutions company, introduced a new financing option to make it more affordable for clients in California to upgrade their energy production systems by integrating high-efficiency solutions. The company's PPA is designed to provide customers with the incentive to commit to high-efficiency solutions for the long-term. The PPA ensures that customers can buy their electricity at $0.18 to $0.23 per kWh from their solar energy provider. This offer amounts to a saving of up to 23% to 44%. By signing the PPA, customers will be provided with the installation of solar panels within their home, as well as a 20-year agreement with service providers for the supply of solar power at the predetermined rate that is set within the agreement.

BrightSource seeking up to $182.5M in solar-thermal IPO

Bloomberg - Mar 21

Oakland, Calif.-based BrightSource Energy is seeking as much as $182.5 million in an IPO. The company is offering 6.9 million shares at $21 to $23 a piece, according to a regulatory filing. BrightSource plans to use proceeds to develop additional solar-thermal power plants. The company has 13 contracts to sell power from projects totaling 2.4GW of capacity to electric utilities of PG&E and Edison International. The offering is expected to be priced on April 11, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

SDG&E's move to renewables may result in rate hike

Patch - Mar 15

South Orange County is receiving a renewable energy upgrade that will help reduce carbon emissions but may result in higher electricity bills for its customers. SDG&E has entered into two long-term contracts with Manzana Wind and the Mount Signal Solar Project, purchasing 300 MW of renewable energy for the south Orange County and San Diego areas. These contracts are still awaiting approval from the CPUC. If approved, an increase in retail pricing is inevitable. Currently, solar and wind power are generally more costly than obtaining energy through fossil fuel. Another downside to switching to these renewable energy sources is the unreliability of wind and sun exposure. However, SDG&E will still have enough capacity from traditional fuels to keep the grid live when the weather is gloomy or calm.

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Published In: Administrative Agency Updates, Energy & Utilities Updates, Environmental Updates, International Trade Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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