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Solar Ideas for Alabama Legislation

Here is an updated version of the Solar Ideas for the Alabama Legislature originally written 11/2/06

Dear Representative Elwyn Thomas and Paul Kennedy,

In responding to your request for ideas for solar legislation, I am sending two parts.  The first part, "Global warming solutions for Alabama, The Big Picture", is being sent in another email and presents the energy and environmental context for solar and other renewable energy sources.  That part looks at both the supply and the demand side of our state's energy situation.  I can't emphasize enough that the demand side is the most important!  The fastest, easiest and most economical solutions lie on the demand side.  We do not need to be using nearly the amount of energy that we are to maintain our quality of life.  Solutions on the demand side are likely to mean local jobs and local investment.

While we are reducing our excessive demand for energy, lets also look at the supply side.

Solar is a very reasonable way to meet a significant portion of the needs of energy in Alabama.

Passive Solar Building Design
Passive solar buildings are comfortable and healthy.
At little additional cost,
they are a good investment, often cutting heating and cooling bills in half.
Passive solar design incorporates three basic elements:
1) Maximize south windows for winter heat gain.
2) Provide shade from summer sun with overhangs, etc.

3) Stabilize temperatures with thermal mass.

Buildings account for roughly half of greenhouse gas emissions. 
http://architecture2030.com/  is also the 2030 Challenge.  It lays out a requirements that new buildings to be built so that in use, they emit 50% of greenhouse gasses of today's average. It requires upgrading a portion of older buildings, and by 2030 requiring that new buildings produce zero greenhouse emissions.
This would be a great standard for the state of Alabama to embrace.

Active Solar Systems
Active solar systems harness the sun's energy for specific tasks, such as heating water or generating electricity.  They can be integrated into a structure, or added to it.  Active solar systems could be used to provide a large portion of Alabama's energy needs.

As we have worked across the state helping people install active solar systems for their homes and businesses, my colleagues and I have encountered barriers to the installation of these solar systems. Many other states have removed these barriers by means of legislation and regulations.  The result is a significant increase in solar installations in those states. 

Listings by state of renewable and energy efficiency legislation and regulations can be found at http://www.dsireusa.org/

Below, arranged by type of solar systems, are barriers we have found to their implementation, and proven solutions for removing these barriers. The barriers and solutions for solar hot water would often also apply to solar pv.

Solar Hot Water Systems
Water heating is a significant portion of a family's or institution's power bill.  Solar can provide an energy and cost effective way to heat water. Solar is by far the least costly way to heat swimming pools and the return on investment for these systems is very high.  Heating domestic hot water has the second highest return on investment for active solar systems. Solar water heating can reduce fossil fuel or nuclear energy inputs by 80 to 100 percent.

Solar water heating today is a time proven, cost effective, and mature technology.  Properly designed and installed solar water heating systems have been operating well for 25 years with little or no maintenance. 

barrier 1):  Cities and housing developments have regulations severely limiting or prohibiting the installation of solar collectors on roofs or other locations.
solution 1):  Pass legislation prohibiting such restrictive laws, regulations and covenants. ( Remove restrictions on clothes lines too?)

barrier 2):  Businesses must file sales tax forms for every town and county in Alabama in which they sell something. Some of these forms are sent to central location, but others are not. A follow-up filing is usually required each month for the next year even if no additional sales are made in that locality. The clerical cost of separately filing local tax forms (and processing them at the other end) can easily be many times the cost of taxes paid, and a very significant burden to small businesses. Many businesses in Alabama across the spectrum of activities, stop selling, or don't begin because of this bureaucratic burden.
solution 2A):  Make solar systems exempt from the collection of state and local sales (and property) taxes.  This would also provide a modest incentive with minimal administrative costs.
solution 2B):  Institute mandatory state collection and distribution of local sales taxes.  I've been told Georgia has such a system.  This could result in significant cost savings for Alabama businesses and local governments.
solution 3C):  Do both the above.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Electricity Generating Systems
Solar PV systems have developed greatly during the past 25 years.  PV systems are coming down in price and are cost effective for remote and portable applications.  As the costs of pv drop and the costs of grid electricity rises, world demand for pv is growing rapidly.  Inverter technology and safety standards have developed to the point where interconnection with the utility grid can be safe and simple. 

Grid interconnected systems are a win-win-win proposition. 
1) They are a win for the homeowner with a solar pv system since homeowners are able to sell the excess power they produce, and can reduce or eliminate costly and toxic batteries.
2) They are a win for the utility companies which are provided with solar power during the day when loads peak and power is the most expensive for them to produce.  That power is replaced at night when utilities have excess capacity and power is cheaper.
3) They are a win for the general public since this pv generated electricity offsets fossil fuel or nuclear power thereby reducing emissions which cause global warming, public health and environmental problems.  Distributed generation reduces power losses associated with grid transmission, and reduces the load on the power grid.

Alabama has very few grid interconnected solar pv systems partly due to the following barriers:

barrier 3):  Local utility companies have no or varying standards for grid interconnected systems.
solution 3): Institute statewide maximum standards for grid interconnection.

barrier 4): Some utilities charge significant initial and on-going intertie fees, require redundant equipment, and/or costly liability insurance.
solution 4): Require utilities to allow fee-free connection without redundant equipment or extra liability insurance for home scale systems that meet UL1741 standards.

barrier 5): Some utilities if they do allow grid intertie, pay a fraction of the retail rate for it.
solution 5): Require utilities to provide a no-cost net metering option.  The US Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires net metering be established.

Solar incentives could include legislation requiring the use of solar in government facilities including schools.  These institutions could significantly decrease their operating costs and instead use those funds for program needs. Funding is available that pays for these renovations out of  future cost savings.

Resources for further information:
1)  Kilowatt Ours video from http://www.kilowattours.org/   The most accessible presentation of energy efficiency and solar energy as alternatives to fossil and nuclear energy.  This film inspires action through understanding.  We have a copy to loan, but you should make a donation and get your own!
2)  North Carolina Sustainable Energy Alliance http://www.ncsustainableenergy.org/ see their attached list of legislative priorities.
3)  Southern Alliance for Clean Energy http://www.cleanenergy.org/
4)  Florida Senate Bill 888 http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/energynews/2006/2006-03-energybill.htm
5)  TVA Green Power Switch Generation Partners program http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/partners/index.htm
is a pilot program purchasing pv or wind generated power from homeowners at 15cents/kWh - about twice the retail rate.
Guaranteed buy-back rate subsidies have serious advantages over installation subsidies.  The systems have to keep working well in order to earn the subsidy. Currently, Sheffield Utilities is the only Alabama Utility participating in this program.
6)  The American Solar Energy Society report, Tackling Climate Change in the U.S. Potential Emissions Reductions from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 2030, addresses human-caused climate change solutions through energy efficiency and renewable energy using current off-the-shelf technologies. http://www.ases.org/climatechange/

This is a first take on suggestions,  I encourage others receiving this email to add theirs.

Toward a world that works for all,

Daryl Bergquist
Earth Steward Solar Consulting
442 Red Maple Road, Blountsville, AL 35031
earthsteward@urisp.net  (205) 429-3088
NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer
AET Certified Solar Hot Water Installer