New Solar Deal, Like Everything Else in Texas, Is Big

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - To say that we’ve seen a broad range of responses from public utilities to the “onslaught” of rooftop solar would be an understatement. On the one hand, you have the Florida Public Service Commission voting to gut their energy efficiency program and terminate all solar rebate programs, eliciting  a surprising response from, by all people, the Tea Party. They say the state needs more solar, not less. The battle down there in “the Sunshine State” has led to some unusual alliances, like the Christian Coalition joining hands with Greenpeace, and the Libertarian Party linking up with Sierra Club. It stems primarily from the extraordinary influence wielded by the major power companies in the state.

Over in Texas, on the other hand, the local utility in Dallas has taken more of an “if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em” approach. Here, you’ll find MP2 Energy in a partnership with Solar City to help facilitate the rapid spread of solar power. Solar City, if you’ll recall, is also participating in a joint venture with Tesla Motors on batteries for energy storage that can be integrated with solar generation.

This Texas partnership will feature full net metering, and will bring the cost of solar down below the cost of utility power, without any local incentives. This is a big deal, especially in Texas, where previous net metering implementations had restrictions such as requiring homeowners to forfeit unused electricity at the end of each month. Considering that Texas is the nation’s largest energy producer and the fifth largest energy consumer, it is also one of the sunniest states.

Says Jeff Starcher, chairman and CEO of MP2 Energy, “With an average of 240 sunny days per year, Texas is often considered a sleeping giant when it comes to its potential for solar power, and unlocking this state has huge implications for the solar industry at large,” said. “To date, solar has only worked where there are local incentives. With this new partnership, we are making solar a practical option for residential customers in Texas.”

Under the new program, Solar City will provide the solar panels. MP2 provides the grid connection and power monitoring. The utility will credit customers full retail value for excess generation with no cap. MP2 will also allow customers to “lock in” their electric rates for up to 24 months.

Starcher says, “MP2’s pure ‘net metering’ program is truly the first of its kind in Texas, finally making solar a viable option for residential customers. The terms of this program can allow customers to see immediate savings on solar, and make government and local incentives – which have decreased in the past few years – less important. It demonstrates that the value of solar to electricity providers is increasing and is aligned with retail rates.”

The last sentence is critical. According to researchers at  Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, most utilities have not valued solar generation properly. Their study found that utilities often overlook or underestimate  solar capacity value, or “the avoided costs from reducing the need to build other capacity resources, often combustion turbines (CTs), to meet peak demand reliably.”

Clearly, Starcher and his colleagues get it, at least for Texas. Now, what about you folks in Florida?

Image credit: Larry D. Moore: Wikimedia