Sun Continues to Shine on Florida; Solar Lease Gets Green Light

Do you want to power your home with a rooftop solar system, but don’t want to spend the upfront cash for a system, or don’t want the responsibility of maintaining the system? Then here’s some good news:  you may soon have the option of using a solar equipment lease to power your home! The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) just approved  a petition by Sunrun, a major solar company, that gives the company a green light to start offering its residential solar lease here in Florida.

What is (or is not) a solar equipment lease?             

A solar lease is not a retail sale of power from a solar provider to the homeowner. Instead, the customer leases the solar system equipment and makes payments for the use of the system over a period of years. Solar leases can be structured so customers: pay no up-front costs; are provided maintenance for the system; and have the option  to purchase the system at the end of the lease term. Similar leasing structures are commonly used in many other industries, including automobiles and office equipment.

In Florida, the solar lease can’t be structured as a sale of power, nor be construed as selling power to a customer. A sale of power to a retail customer is the exclusive purview of the incumbent electric utility.  The prohibition is found in state statute that defines a utility as supplying electricity to and for the public. The Florida Supreme Court held in 1988 that the “public” includes supplying electricity to even one retail customer. Care is required in drafting a Florida solar equipment lease as payments based on the output of the system or performance guarantees are surely to be construed as a retail sale of power.

Why is a solar equipment lease just coming to the Florida market now?

Prior to this year, Florida had a burdensome tangible personal property tax – assessed on non-real estate business property. The tax was applied to a number of items – including leased rooftop solar systems – which priced leased systems out of customers’ reach. Florida voters changed all that in 2016 – when they overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4. The approval of Amendment 4 by voters, and the passage of SB 80 by the Legislature last year, significantly reduced tangible personal property taxes – including on leased residential solar equipment. With the tax burden lifted, the solar lease is a now an economically viable solar product in the Sunshine State.

Kudos to Sunrun for being the first solar company out of the gate to seek the regulatory green light for a state-wide solar leasing program. Sunrun, in late 2017, filed a declaratory statement petition asking the PSC to approve the structure of a proposed solar lease to be offered in Florida – specifically to find that it does not constitute a retail sale of power. The Commission first considered Sunrun’s petition at its March 1st Agenda Conference – and Sunrun got a cool reception. The Commission defied its staff recommendation and refused to approve the proposed lease structure without first reviewing of the actual lease. Sunrun subsequently filed its proposed Florida lease on March 19th.

During the recent April 20th Agenda Conference, the commissioners were gracious to Sunrun and thanked them for filing the lease for the PSC’s review. At the end of a short question and answer session, the PSC unanimously approved Item 5, Sunrun’s petition.

PSC Chairman Art Graham stated in a press release that  “[r]esidential equipment leasing makes solar more attractive for some customers, and today’s decision confirms that.  In its declaratory statement, the PSC found today that:

• Sunrun’s residential solar equipment lease does not constitute a sale of electricity;

• Offering its solar equipment lease to customers in Florida will not cause Sunrun to be a public utility under Florida law; and

• The residential solar equipment lease will not subject Sunrun or its customer-lessees to Commission regulation.

Sun continues to shine on the Sunshine State Read more…

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Primary Voting Begins Soon: Are You Ready to Support Clean Energy Champions?

What’s the connection between the upcoming primary elections and a climate-resilient, clean energy economy? To have climate-friendly and clean-energy policies we need climate-friendly and clean-energy supporting leaders. Primary elections begin across the Southeast next month, so the opportunities to support clean-energy champions start now!

From May 8th when North Carolinians go to the polls until August 28th when Sunshine State voters do, Southerners will have the chance to cast primary ballots on local, state, and federal races as well as constitutional amendments and ballot measures. Do you know the date of your state’s primary? Are you registered to vote at your current address? Check the list and the links below:

  • North Carolina: May 8 (check the voter registration records here)
  • Georgia: May 22 (check the voter registration records here)
  • Alabama: June 5 (check voter registration records here)
  • South Carolina: June 12 (check voter registration records here)
  • Tennessee: August 2 (check voter registration records here)
  • Florida: August 28 (check voter registration records here)

Read more…

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MLK 50: Our First Family March in Memphis with NAACP

It is hard to describe what I felt in Memphis, TN on April 4th, 2018. This date marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To start, this was my first “march”. I have always wanted to march, but never did. I was born and raised in Nashville, TN, a place of training for many of my heroes from the civil rights era.

Yet, the PTSD of the civil rights movement has muffled the cry of this extraordinary era of American democracy in Nashville. My grandmother’s generation lived through it and, like war veterans, don’t speak often on their experience or the importance of engaging today. My mother’s generation, in an attempt to avoid perpetual conflict, tried to live as if it didn’t happen and just get along. Consequently, the banner was dropped. The mantle was not passed. There was no excitement in my home, church or neighborhood around organizing and advocating.

I have always understood why we are where we are, but I have never accepted the previous generation’s seemingly nonchalant attitude toward civic engagement. Although I learned quite a bit of civil rights history from my family, my church, the library, etc., I never marched…until April 4th, 2018. Until then, there was always something in the way, whether real or perceived. Still, I was ashamed because I felt I owed John Lewis, Diane Nash, Michael Schwerner, and many more, more than just my participation in voting.

I believe it was all God’s plan. My first march was as a lifetime member of the NAACP with my family in tow. Both my kids got to lead the march by helping hold the banner and I was able to walk with NAACP President Derrick Johnson holding the NAACP seal. I chanted for the first time and led chants.

Later, we toured the National Civil Rights Museum. It was important that my family was with me. We will always have that as a point of reference for important discussions in the future. The trip made me feel like I was finally stepping into my place in civic history; like I was now contributing to the progression of democracy. There is a difference between reading about these things and doing them, participating. There is no superior way to participate, but there is a difference.

I saw, in Memphis, how diverse groups must come together to show strength. I saw how noisy it can be, but how beautiful that noise is when it has purpose. I saw the police presence. A half century ago it was in opposition to the march, but on April 4th, 2018, it was in protection of the marchers. It felt great to march with people I didn’t know, but felt akin in our appreciation of Dr. King. It was great to have tired feet (we stood for hours before marching), but to be able to share that discomfort with fellow marchers and laugh.

Through my own journey in life, I am now engaged in advocating for clean energy in the Tennessee Valley. I know now that it will be noisy, exhausting, and exhilarating work, but I also understand that if diverse groups will unify, mobilize and endure, we can make a difference. For 50 years now, April 4th has been an important date in American history. It now has increased significance for me and my family. Thank you, Dr. King, thank you.

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It’s Volunteer Appreciation Week: Here Are a Few of Our Clean Energy Volunteer Superstars!

It’s volunteer appreciation week and SACE has so much to be grateful for. Since the start, we’ve depended on Southern citizens to support our work – whether that means signing onto a letter, tabling for us at an event, or showing up at utility board meetings to speak out. But it wasn’t until the launch of Floridians for Solar Choice – a coalition dedicated to bringing more solar to the Sunshine State – that I had the chance to experience a SACE campaign that absolutely could not succeed without massive grassroots support. In 2016, with the help of hundreds of volunteers across the state, we were successful in two major solar ballot victories despite being severely underfunded and understaffed. The Solar Choice campaign went toe to toe against a $26 million utility-backed campaign and won! It’s not enough to say that volunteers helped us succeed. Volunteers were the main reason we succeeded. 

Now, SACE is launching campaigns all over the region that will again require People Power to push clean energy forward. We already have volunteer leaders stepping up to support this work, and we could not be more grateful. So, this week, we want to celebrate you.

If you’ve made a phone call to a local representative on one of our issues, thank you.
If you’ve attended a local event or rally, thank you.
If you’ve shared our blogs or actions on social media with family and friends, thank you.
If you stood outside a polling location to advocate for our issue, or driven a far distance to speak a utility board meeting, thank you. 

While we can’t feature our entire army of volunteers, here are a few superstars that have gone above and beyond to support clean energy in the South:

Read more…

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Electric Vehicles: Driving Reduced Demand for Offshore Oil, Part 3 of 3 – “Findings and Conclusions”

This is Part 3 of our blog series, “Electric Vehicles: Driving Reduced Demand for Offshore Oil,” which shows that given the advancements in vehicle electrification, expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas into protected areas, as  is intrinsically risky and unnecessary. Today’s section of the series explains analysis demonstrating that much, if not all, of the oil that could be produced by opening all of our nation’s protected offshore areas as proposed by the Trump Administration may be be offset by the rise of electric vehicles in the U.S. Part 1, which covers the risks of offshore oil drilling, is available here. Part 2, which covers the benefits of electric vehicles, is available here. This series commemorates both Earth Day and the 8th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Tragedy. To learn more, please see the recording of the webinar that summed this series up here.

Given the advancements in vehicle electrification, expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas is intrinsically risky and unnecessary.

The United States Department of Interior estimates that the United States’ offshore areas contain approximately 90 billion barrels of oil that are technically recoverable. However, only a total of 71 billion barrels of oil are undiscovered and economically recoverable at $100 per barrel ($/bbl). Today’s oil prices are near $60-$70/bbl. Of that 71 billion barrels of oil, some 57 billion barrels (or 80%) are already accessible from the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Region, Western Gulf of Mexico, and Central Gulf of Mexico Planning Areas. New, protected offshore areas–namely the Atlantic, Straits of Florida, and Pacific OCS Regions and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico Planning Area–would only supply an additional approximately 14.4 billion barrels of economically retrievable oil reserves at $100/barrel. To put that in perspective, given the current oil consumption rates in the United States, the protected ocean areas contain about two years’ worth of oil supply. Broadening the scope to include onshore oil as well, opening the currently-protected offshore areas to new oil drilling would increase access to only 5% of our nation’s oil resources.

Total United States Recoverable Federal Offshore Oil Reserves ($100/bbl), Source: Dept. of Interior, 2016

Total United States Recoverable Federal Offshore Oil Reserves ($100/bbl), Source: Dept. of Interior, 2016

Does the U.S. Need More Oil? 

The amount of time necessary to permit, evaluate resources, and connect infrastructure in the offshore oil and gas industries may take 15 years or more. If the economically viable oil resources from the currently protected offshore areas become available in 2030, and last for 20 years, the areas would produce 720 million barrels per year, or roughly 2 million barrels per day.

The Energy Information Administration is already projecting that total oil demand in the United States is anticipated to decline. The largest decline in oil consumption is anticipated to take place in the light duty vehicle sector (LDV), with oil consumption declining from 8.31 million barrels per day equivalent (MMb/d oil eq) in 2017, to just 6.33 MMb/d oil eq by 2030, and 5.89 MMb/d oil eq by 2050 – a 30% decline in oil demand. Given that expanding oil drilling into previously protected ocean areas will not occur overnight, new oil supplies would likely arrive at the same time when oil demand begins to decline. As such, oil demand is already expected to decline in the LDV sector by about the same amount as would be potentially available by opening up the protected offshore areas by 2030. Read more…

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Electric Vehicles: Driving Reduced Demand for Offshore Oil, Part 2 of 3 – “The Advancement of Electric Vehicles”

This is Part 2 of our blog series, Electric Vehicles: Driving Reduced Demand for Offshore Oil, which shows that given the advancements in vehicle electrification, expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas into protected areas (covered in Part 1) is intrinsically risky and unnecessary. Part 3 of the series, coming tomorrow, will provide analysis demonstrating that the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S. is projected to offset oil demand more than could be produced by opening all of our nation’s protected offshore areas. This series commemorates both Earth Day and the 8th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Take the #NextCarPledge and support electric vehicles today! To learn more, please see the recording of the webinar that summed this series up here.

Part #2: Advancement of Electric Vehicles

Americans drive approximately 3.2 trillion miles annually, predominately using internal combustion engines that require gasoline or diesel fuel to operate. But technological advancements in light and heavy duty vehicle electrification over the past decade require a reassessment of future oil demands and a reevaluation of the assumed benefits of offshore drilling.

The electric vehicle (EV) market is quickly growing. Between 2010 and 2017, U.S. consumers purchased nearly 800,000 EVs, with sales expected to accelerate as new vehicle makes and models become more widely available. More and more drivers nationwide are making the switch to drive electric because EVs are cleaner, more convenient and save consumers money. Despite this sales growth, however, EVs currently represent less than 2% of the market in the U.S. There is significant market growth potential. Read more…

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Electric Vehicles: Driving Reduced Demand for Offshore Oil, Part 1 of 3 – “The Risks of Offshore Drilling Outweigh Potential Benefits”

This is Part 1 of our blog series, “Electric Vehicles: Driving Reduced Demand for Offshore Oil,” which shows that given the advancements in vehicle electrification, expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas into protected areas is intrinsically risky and unnecessary. The first  part of the series explains the risks of offshore drilling and why it would harm the Southeast region. Part 2 of the series, coming tomorrow, explains the advancement of vehicle electrification in the U.S. Part 3 of the series, coming Wednesday, will provide analysis demonstrating that the amount of oil that could be produced by opening all of our nation’s currently protected offshore areas is projected to be offset by the rise of electric vehicles in the U.S., thus lessening oil demand. Additionally, a set of policy recommendations is provided as means to expedite this transition to an electrified fleet, and protect our coastal communities and oceans. This series commemorates the 8th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Tragedy and Earth Day. To learn more, please see the recording of the webinar that summed this series up here.

Part 1: Risks of Offshore Drilling Outweigh Potential Benefits

Overview

The Trump Administration's proposed offshore drilling areas in the lower 48 states.

In 2017, the Trump Administration announced that the United States would pursue an agenda of “energy dominance” and to that end would greatly expand the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas drilling program. In January 2018, the first draft of this new program was released, setting forth a timeline for unprecedented expansion of offshore drilling, encompassing 90 percent of the nation’s offshore area. The new proposal even includes many areas that lack significant oil or gas resources and areas with longstanding opposition to nearby offshore drilling.

The risks associated with permitting offshore oil and natural gas drilling in protected offshore areas outweigh the benefits. Hundreds of thousands of citizens, 190 East Coast local governments, more than 1,200 elected officials, almost all the Atlantic state governors, and an alliance representing over 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have officially and publicly called for no offshore oil and gas drilling and/or seismic airgun exploration for oil and gas in the Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Read more…

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Write A Letter to the Editor To Protect Florida’s Shores from Drilling

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC)’s oil drilling ban in state waters is up for a final vote in the full commission next week! It has a new proposal number (6004) and has been combined with the issue of prohibiting vaping in indoor enclosed indoor workplaces, meaning both issues will appear in the same proposal number.

SACE has made the following letter-to-the-editor toolkit to make it easy for you to submit a letter to your local newspaper, encouraging the CRC to support the offshore drilling ban. Please consider writing a letter to your local paper supporting this ban. Feel free to take inspiration from the talking points below, and adapt them to your liking. Then, below, find the links to your local paper’s instructions on how to submit your letter.

Time is of the essence since the vote is next week! Read more…

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Guest Blog: New Role for Forest Bradley-Wright in the Southeast Region

This is a guest blog originally posted here by the Alliance for Affordable Energy.

Since joining the Alliance for Affordable Energy in 2005, Forest Bradley-Wright has been a tireless force working to improve Louisiana’s energy landscape in nearly every way imaginable.

From his early days running post-Katrina energy efficiency re-building efforts, while organizing renewable energy and energy efficiency industry groups and launching job training programs; to his leadership spearheading the development of numerous policies that have increased investments in clean energy throughout the state; Forest has been a champion for lowering customer bills while moving Louisiana towards a brighter energy future.

​In the coming months, Forest will be expanding his scope to the regional level as he transitions to a new role as the Energy Efficiency Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

SACE was founded in 1983 and the Alliance was founded in 1985. Both organizations share a strong alignment in history, mission, and strategy. As Forest assumes his new role, we at the Alliance look forward to continuing our working relationships, leveraging our shared strengths and finding new opportunities for collaboration with SACE to further energy efficiency policies across the Southeast. Read more…

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Is TVA ignoring how a proposed new fee could put vulnerable customers at risk?

For low-income households (at or below 80% of area median income) an average of 12.6% of income is spent on energy costs. Estimates of energy costs are based on cross-tabulations of housing data. The weighted average reflects the distribution of different household types: type of unit, year built, heating fuel, and renter vs. owner. Source: Low-Income Energy Affordability Data (LEAD) raw data at: https://openei.org/datasets/dataset/celica-data

SACE has already revealed how TVA’s existing mandatory fees favor industrial customer at the expense of residents. Now, a new policy change could make this problem even worse. TVA is proposing a grid access charge that would disproportionately harm low-income households. Adding this charge to the rate structure could worsen income inequality in the Valley by making energy costs a truly unaffordable economic burden. The typical threshold for energy costs to be considered unaffordable is above 6% of household income spent on energy. So just how high is this number for TVA’s low-income customers?

TVA Customers at Low Income Levels Have High Energy Burdens, Especially in Rural Areas

On average, low-income households in TVA’s service territory  spend 12.6 % of their annual household income on energy costs. We calculated the average energy burden, defined as a percentage of household income spent on energy, by census tract (left) for all households meeting federal low-income guidelines. Overall, the findings are consistent with expert analysis such as ACEEE’s report that shows how customers in the Southeast tend to have much higher energy burdens than other regions. The average low-income TVA customer pays more than double the level that is considered unaffordable (the same data & map displayed as unaffordable vs. affordable looks something like this) and nearly four times the national average.

The highest burdens occur in municipal utilities in rural areas. This is unsurprising given TVA’s history. The original justification for creating TVA was rooted in a stark disparity in terms of access to electricity: in the most rural parts of the Valley, customers had little or no access to electricity while other parts of the country had been electrified for years. Unfortunately, our findings indicate that this disparity is still alive in many ways today. In general, rural customers are more likely to make sacrifices in comfort and health in order to maintain a below average energy bill. Read more…

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