Glendale Community Solar Program

Glendale Water & Power (GWP) presented their proposed budget for the Public Benefit Charge (PBC) in a special city council budget meeting on May 8th.  The PBC is a state mandated tax on our electric bills that goes into a separate account that is to be spent on things that will be benefit the public in general around energy usage.

Items in this budget include things like solar panel subsidies, efficient appliance rebates, and bill discounts for low income households among other things. Here’s the 2017-2018 budget to give you an idea of the programs.

Budgeted for 2019 is $1 million for Community Solar. Community Solar is a term for putting solar on a public building or over a parking lot and then selling the generated solar to community households who cannot put solar on their own building (ie: renters, people who can’t afford solar, people who live in buildings in shade). This is a great idea.

Also budgeted for 2019 is $2.3 million for a $15/mo discount on low-income households’ bills. Roughly 15% of Glendale households are on this program (12,750 households) which is better than the statewide average of 33%.

Glendale can do better than this. Instead of just giving discounts on bills, GWP could build Community Solar for low income customers. Not only would this give low-income households a discount on their bill but for the same money it would build a public asset for Glendale. Also, dollar for dollar putting the money into Community Solar gives a 17% bigger discount to these households.

Here’s how it works. In the first year, the $1 million for Community Solar builds a .54 Megawatt (MW) solar panel installation. The energy generated from these panels gives 721 households a $15/mo discount on their bills. Then in year two, the money set aside for those 721 households in the low-income discount budget is transferred to the Community Solar budget and that $1.1 million builds .61 MW of solar and helps another 816 households. This continues, year after year, until by year 10 all of the low income households are on Community Solar and the budget for the low-income subsidy is eliminated. After year 10, the Community Solar budget maxes out at $3.3 million and continues adding 1.78 MW of solar per year which GWP can offer to everyone in the community for purchasing solar at a discounted rate.

Low Income Community Solar Budgets
Chart showing Low-income Subsidy and Community Solar budgets

So in ten years, all low income customers are getting a discount and have been all along and GWP is producing 17,034 MWh of local renewable energy. Additionally, I’ve factored into the calculation a 2% annual increase in the cost of electricity and an increase in the subsidy. So by 2029, the subsidy has increased up to $18 per month per household.

The Community Solar program means a reduced load on the system. This means a smaller power plant is required. If the solar is put onto fire stations and schools and combined with energy storage then the system could be providing emergency backup services for critical infrastructure.

This plan requires no additional money from the city. It’s already in the proposed budget. The City Council only needs to require that the Community Solar goes first to eligible low-income households and that the budget for the low income households subsidy transfers to the Community Solar budget as customers move to Community Solar.

City Council is voting on the Public Benefit Charge budget soon. Please contact them and ask them to support the Low-Income Community Solar program.

Here’s a spreadsheet of the numbers that allows you to play around with the numbers if you want to dig a little deeper.

3 Tipping Points and Grayson

There are three major tipping points coming for the US electric market and this is how they will affect Glendale if we put in a new $500 million dirty power plant that is financed over 30 years.

These three tipping points are going to revolutionize the electricity industry and they will happen in the next 22 years:

2025: When electric vehicles become affordable for all

2031: Generating and storing your own power will become the same price as buying from utility (solar is already cheaper but home storage isn’t)

2040: Self-generating 100% of your power becomes cheaper than delivery via the grid

The proposed Grayson plant would go online in 2021 just before electric vehicles become affordable for all and there will be a wide adoption of them. This will increase off-peak power demand as users charge their cars overnight. This will also lead to a surge in solar installations as solar will be the go-to method to lower one’s electric bill. Plus, all new homes in California are going to be built with solar starting in 2020 there is going to be a huge influx of solar into Glendale.

So far, so good. Grayson is sized way over capacity, demand is down but things are ok.

In 2030, all utilities in California will have to produce 50% of their power from renewable energy. None of the power produced at Grayson will qualify as renewable. With GWP’s contracts with dirty power plants in Burbank and other places, Grayson at best will only be able to supply 35-45% of the demand.

In 2031, when generating and storing your own power is the same price as buying from GWP every household is going to start installing solar and battery to avoid time-of-use fees and reduce their electric bill. They will still connect to the grid for the occasional top-up but they will supply 80 to 90% of their own power. This is going to affect peak demand enormously. Since Grayson will only be able to supply 35-45% of the electricity at most, the Grayson plant will be sitting idle for much of the year.

Demand will be down and so revenues will be down. How is GWP going to pay for this? They’ll raise rates, driving more people to switch to self-generation, which will lead to less revenue, which will lead to raised rates… It looks like the utility death spiral for GWP’s electric division.

In 2040, as solar and batteries continue to become cheaper and more efficient, it will actually be cheaper to self-generate 100% of your own power than to buy from GWP. Customers will start to go off-grid en mass to avoid the monthly service fee.

Now GWP is stuck with a $500 million dollar dirty fuel plant that is barely going to be used and they will still have another 11 years of payments of $29 million per year to make on it.

I was born last century and 2031 has always sounded so futuristic – like we’ll be in flying cars and living on Mars, right? Well, it’s only 13 years away. If you think about how fast time flew by since 2005 (13 years ago) you’ll appreciate that this is really right around the corner.

Repowering Grayson is the wrong choice for Glendale. We need a solution that we can keep using 100% after 2030 and that gets us through the next 20 years, not a dirty power plant that we can’t even use at capacity after 2030 and that will be a cause for bankruptcy in 2040.

Solar power savings chart
The solar savings start today.

Scholl Canyon Biogas Alternative

Glendale Water & Power has been working on a Biogas generation project to be built at Scholl Canyon. They want to spend $35 million on landfill gas (LFG) treatment equipment that cleans up the LFG and feeds into four reciprocating GE Jenbacher Model J 620 GS-16 engines. This will create onsite emissions and noise 24/7.

The emissions from these engines is significantly worse than other methods of converting the LFG to electricity. GWP could instead clean up the gas to pipeline quality and burn it in the much more efficient turbines or convert it directly to energy in a fuel cell.

GWP claims that they have looked into alternatives to burning the LFG in those reciprocating engines but it’s clear that they have not. For example, at the recent Glendale Planning Commission meeting, GWP’s subject expert testified that “there is no commercially available technology” to clean up this gas to pipeline quality.

This is simply untrue. A company called Morrow Renewables has built at least five Landfill gas to pipeline stations on landfills around the country. I’m certain that they and their competitors would be happy to bid on a project like this if they were given the chance. I compared their costs for similar sized projects and it looks like they could build such a plant for roughly $20 million.

Here are the benefits of the LFG to Pipeline from their website:

  • “Shorter development time. Morrow Renewables can build a facility within 9 months of a notice to proceed, compared to over 2 years for a power project.

  • Delivering the gas into a nearby pipeline for distribution so that electric generation can be maximized off-site, utilizing a high efficiency combined cycle power plant.

  • Lower noise levels and emissions than an electric generation plant, thereby creating greater community support.

  • Less permit requirements due to negligible air emissions.”

That is exactly what the community wants – less emissions and less noise.

Glendale Water & Power decided on this plan because they want to continue generating power from the LFG as it makes up 25% of their Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) credits. When GWP tears down the old Grayson power plant where the LFG is currently being burned they will lose those RPS credits unless they are able to turn it into electricity elsewhere.

GWP argues that they if they clean up the gas to pipeline quality, they would lose the RPS credit for this gas. This is not true. According to the RPS Eligibility Guidebook (9th Edition) they could keep the renewable credits by either burning the cleaned LFG at Grayson via the existing Scholl to Grayson pipeline, by burning it at Grayson via injecting it into SoCalGas’s “Common Carrier Pipeline”, or they could convert the LFG directly into electricity using near zero pollution fuel cells like the ones made by BloomEnergy.

Unfortunately, GWP is pursuing approval of this project under the Mitigated Negative Declaration designation that specifically allows them to *not* look at other options.

In March, the Glendale Planning Commission rejected GWP’s proposal and asked them to do a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) specifically because it would include alternatives. GWP is appealing the decision on the grounds that regardless what the commission says, GWP is not required to look at alternatives. This appeal will go before the council soon.

From the outside, it seems like the problem stems from bad advice GWP received during the creation of their Integrated Resource Plan. Siemens, who wrote the IRP, advised GWP to burn the LFG at the landfill in reciprocating engines. So, GWP went to market asking for solutions to burn LFG at the landfill with reciprocating engines.  They should have asked the market to provide solutions to their LFG and RPS problem. An more open ended ask would have gotten more creative solutions in addition to the reciprocating engine solution.  Now, instead of correcting their mistake, they are doubling down and refusing to even pursue alternatives unless forced to by the council.

GWP behaves like an investor owned utility in their relationship with the people of Glendale – doing what best suits GWP rather than what best suits the people of Glendale.

Xebec Biogas to Pipeline
Xebec’s LFG to Pipeline Flow

GWP, Rooftop Solar, and the RPS

Glendale Water & Power (GWP) likes to say that they don’t get any Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) credit for rooftop solar. They use this to downplay rooftop solar but it’s really only half the story.

It turns out that rooftop solar does help the renewable standard but it lowers the utility’s profit margins.

The RPS is California law that requires all utilities in the state to sell a certain percentage of renewable energy to their customers. The law is currently 25%  today, 33% by 2020, and 50% by 2030.

Rooftop solar that is not owned by the utility supplies electricity to the home or business without going through the utility and therefore doesn’t count towards the utility’s RPS.

That makes sense on the surface, but let’s do the math. Say a utility provides 1,000,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of power to it’s ratepayers per year. 470,000 MWh of that energy comes from remote renewable sources so the utility is at 47% of renewables for the RPS.

The ratepayers install a bunch of rooftop solar on their own and those panels produce 200,000 MWh in the first year. Now the utility has only supplied 800,000 MWh of energy.

Let’s assume the utility continues to source the same 470,000 MWh of renewable energy to supply that 800,000 MWh of energy. Now they are at 59% of the RPS.

So, under normal conditions rooftop solar actually raises a utility’s RPS percentage even though they don’t get direct credit from the energy.

There is another scenario, the utility leases rooftop solar panels to the customers and sells them the panels’ electricity at a steep discount. This is what the solar leasing companies do for the no money down solar panel plans. Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) is doing a similar plan for low income customers.

In this second scenario, the utility is supplying the full 1,000,000 MWh of electricity. It gets RPS  credit for the 200,000 MWh of leased rooftop solar plus the 470,000 MWh renewable energy they were already supplying. Now they are at 67% renewables.

Wow, either case is great for the utility, right? Then why is GWP downplaying rooftop solar by saying they won’t get credit for it?

Under scenario one, after the rooftop solar installation, the utility is selling less electricity and is therefore taking in less money. Under scenario two, they are selling more electricity than scenario one but at a lower rate. This means a big shakeup in their budget. For an investor-owned utility, I could understand the concern – they’re in it for a profit after all. But GWP is a public owned utility. According to the California Energy Commission their mission is supposed to be to “Optimize benefits for local customer owners usually in the form of lower energy rates.”

But there is more at play. Both scenario one and two assumed that the utility would continue to provide the 470,000 MWh of renewable energy. But what if the utility had just built a $500 million dollar natural gas plant? Under either scenario it would be cheaper to produce power at that gas plant than import the renewable energy. This will be especially important when their revenues start declining from either scenario.

Keep in mind that legally, they only have to be at 33% renewables in 2020. So, under scenario one, to balance their budget they would reduce the amount of purchased renewables and supplement it with power from their plant. To achieve the 33%, they would produce 616,000 MWh from natural gas and buy only 264,000 of remote renewables rather than the 470,000 MWh they were purchasing.

Under scenario two, they would produce 770,000 MWh from natural gas, 200,000 MWh from leased rooftop solar and buy only 130,000 MWh of remote renewables rather than the 470,000 MWh they were purchasing.

In either case, the decision to build an over-sized gas plant at a time when the law is pushing utilities to increase their renewables percentage seems more and more ill-advised. The more rooftop solar customers install the worse it’ll look for the utility.

In a third scenario where the utility discourages rooftop solar by playing down it’s RPS contribution, under-funding it’s rebate program and making installations more difficult to minimize the growth of rooftop solar. They would start out delivering 1,000,000 MWh with 470,000 MWh purchased renewables and 530,000 MWh of generated power. With the debt burden of the new plant, they will also choose cheaper local generation and produce 770,000 MWh from natural gas and purchase 330,000 MWh of renewables.

Reducing solar installations maximizes the amount of revenue generated by the utility

Also, when the inevitable reduction of imported renewables starts happening, the minimum rooftop solar option reduces purchased renewables by only 29% whereas scenario 1 reduces purchases by 44% and scenario 2 reduces purchases by 72%. Clearly, reducing imported renewables by only 29% is going to look the best for the utility.

Rooftop solar is a win/win for GWP’s renewable portfolio and the ratepayer’s bottom line. We own the utility and we should hold them accountable to their mission. They are overseen by the Glendale City Council.  Join us next Tuesday, April 10 at 5:30pm at Glendale City Hall for a rally to stop the Grayson Expansion and ask for clean energy alternatives. Go here for more information.

Do the best you can until you know better
http://cleanenergyaction.org
Rooftop Solar Installation
(Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com)

Los Angeles can do 100% renewables, so can we

A newly released study shows that Los Angeles can reach 100% renewable energy by 2030! Using energy efficiency, increased energy storage, smart electric grid management, and rooftop solar, they can make a rapid transition to renewable energy that will actually save ratepayers money over the business-as-usual plan.

For some perspective on the scale of that change, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) supplies 23,000 GWh of electricity per year and 13,500 GWh of that is from fossil fuels. So, the report shows that they can replace 13,500 GWh with renewable power by 2030 and save ratepayers money! Glendale Water & Power (GWP) served 1.7 GWh of power in 2017 and of that .612 GWh was from fossil fuels (using the 2016 power content label for calculations).  So, the study shows that Los Angeles can replace 22,000 times as much dirty energy as Glendale needs to do and they can do it by 2030!

How can they do it? They need to need to invest in energy efficiency to reduce overall load, encourage  demand response programs to reduce the strain of peak hours on the system, build storage capacity to store and spread solar generation throughout the day, and install rooftop solar on three-quarters of all available rooftops (4GW).

This plan turns out to be less costly for the ratepayers than the business as usual plan that LADWP has been pursuing.

GWP can do this, too. GWP can also reduce demand, increase storage, and build rooftop solar to meet it’s goals and we could do it faster than the time it would take to expand Grayson.

How did this report come about? The independent report by Synapse Energy Economics, was paid for by Food and Water Watch. The city has expressed interest in 100% renewables but LADWP has pushed back and claimed that it would take until past 2040. So, Food and Water Watch commissioned the study to show the city viewpoints that they are not hearing from their utility.

The Glendale City Council needs to commission an similar independent study of the renewable alternatives for Glendale and find out how they can avoid spending $500 million on a new larger fossil fuel plant that will pollute more than the old one and saddle us with debt for the next 30 years. Plus, if the state decides to go to 100% renewables, Grayson might have to be shut off early and we’d still have to pay to convert to renewable power.

If a giant utility that distributes more power than 13 entire states can go 100% renewable by 2030, then Glendale can do it too.

2030 Los Angeles 100 percent renewables
Los Angeles 2030 hourly generation on a representative peak day, Distributed Energy

Demand Reduction Works

GWP wants to spend $500 million on a new expanded methane power plant that will pollute our air and drain our pocketbooks for the next thirty years. They say they need this much larger plant so they can provide power for the peak summertime demand on the hottest  of the hot days of the year. The rest of the year, if they aren’t using it to sell power to other utilities, it will be practically shut down as we have power purchase agreements to import power to cover winter demand.

There is a better way! Reduce peak demand. That way we lower the highest energy demand and don’t need to design a solution for extreme spikes in power consumption that only happens on a few days of the year.

As the old saying goes, the cheapest power plant is the one you don’t have to build because you reduced demand.

Here is the power usage of a home with solar panels (blue) compared to a normal house (black) and an “efficient” house (green).  See how the house’s demand drops to zero all through the summer? That is peak load reduction in operation.

Power demand for solar powered homes drops to zero in the summer
Demand from the grid for this house drops to zero on the hotest days of the year – that’s when solar is producing the most.

Plus, that house has a plug-in hybrid car, electric hot water, electric oven, electric heating, and inefficient air conditioning! All for $7000 out-of-pocket for solar panels from a Glendale solar installer. The system pays for itself in 5 years from reduced electric bills and it’ll keep powering for 20 years.

Now imagine if half the homes in Glendale had solar panels installed. GWP wouldn’t need to build a $500 million dollar 250MW plant. They could probably get by with the one functional unit (unit 9), landfill gas power, and their existing power contracts. But why stop at half? We can put solar on all the buildings in Glendale and we’ll become a clean energy supplier to LADWP – charging them for our clean energy!

Plus think of all the money that would go into the local economy when people don’t have electric bills to pay anymore.

Google’s Project Sunroof estimates that there is over 450MW of solar potential on Glendale roofs (and they’ve already accounted for trees, roof angles, mountains, etc).

This really is an option.

Unfortunately, Glendale hired as consultants two companies that will make millions on the the construction of a methane plant. They we’re supposed to “help” us figure out how to replace Grayson.  Sure enough, they recommended the path that will give them the most money and saddle Glendale with debt and pollution for 30 years. We need to hire independent renewable energy experts who don’t stand to make money on the outcome. The council needs independent advice.