Archive for the ‘California’ Category

RPS Evolving: States Take On U.S. Climate Goals

Posted April 19th, 2017 by SRECTrade.

This article by Allyson Browne was originally published in the American Bar Association’s Natural Resources & Environment Spring 2017 Issue: Science & The Law. It provides an in-depth look into how states across the U.S. are carrying the country’s torch towards Paris pledges with impactful RPS programs. In addition, the article breaks down the Clean Power Plan to illustrate how states could evaluate and implement similar obligations in harmony with existing RPS policies. These state actions will be increasingly important as the EPA endeavors to review the Clean Power Plan under President Trump’s recent Executive Order

As the Clean Power Plan (CPP) undergoes judicial review and faces a likely unsupportive Trump administration on the federal stage, states across the country are bringing their renewable portfolio standards (RPS) back to the top of their legislative agendas. Although the CPP is not the primary driver of today’s RPS reformation, its future will undoubtedly impact the future of RPS policies across the country, if not cause an RPS revolution—one way or the other. Historically, federal policies, including the federal production tax credit and the investment tax credit, have served primarily to support RPS programs and renewables deployment. Moreover, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) regulation of the wholesale electricity market has increased competition in the renewables sector by reducing barriers to project development and market participation, particularly with respect to requirements placed upon electricity suppliers and utility companies for renewables integration. Examples of such regulation are FERC Order 2003, Standardization of Generator Interconnection Agreements and Procedures (issued July 24, 2003), and FERC Order 764, Integration of Variable Energy Resources (issued June 22, 2012). As states look beyond their RPS target years and goals, the CPP has the ability to influence RPS program design much more heavily than did its federal predecessors. The CPP could prompt states to more closely align renewable energy goals with emissions reduction goals, thereby minimizing legislative and regulatory overlap and enabling states—and the nation as a whole—to recognize the maximum benefits of these broader climate change policies. But this is not to say that RPS programs will weaken if the CPP is struck down. Conceivably, the rejection of the CPP could lead to a great awakening of state leadership in our clean energy and climate future.

Renewables technology has progressed significantly since the first RPS was enacted in Iowa in 1983. Iowa Code § 476.41, et seq. And RPS programs, which require retail electricity suppliers to supply a minimum percentage or amount of their retail load with eligible sources of renewable energy, are constantly playing catch-up to these ever-evolving market dynamics. Technological innovations and the diversification of financial products have driven down project costs and broadened accessibility. States have provided incentives such as rebates or net metering credits. Project developers and service providers have adapted to meet the varied conditions of their markets. The result is a diverse portfolio of U.S. RPS policies, as states across the country have designed, implemented, revised, frozen, annulled, or otherwise modified their individual RPS programs as the renewables sector has matured over the course of the past 33 years.

Today, 29 states and the District of Columbia have compliance RPS programs. Altogether, the obligations apply to 55 percent of total U.S. retail electricity sales. See Galen L. Barbose, U.S. Renewables Portfolio Standards: 2016 Annual Status Report, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory No. 1005057 (April 2016). And these figures do not include states with voluntary renewable energy goals, such as North Dakota, Utah, and Virginia. See Jocelyn Durkay, State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, Nat’l Conf. of State Legislatures (Dec. 28, 2016).

Although most RPS programs share common elements (such as imposing penalties for lack of compliance and utilizing some form of tradable renewable energy credit (REC) to track compliance), no two states share an identical RPS. States differentiate their RPS policies with unique targets and time frames, entities obligated and exemptions, eligibility rules and definitions, carve-outs, contracting or procurement requirements, and the use of cost caps and floors. Barbose, supra. This differentiation has empowered states to design programs that best fit their needs, market dynamics, and renewables goals. Modifications can be made when and where the barrier to entry is too high, or if the RPS imposes exorbitant costs on ratepayers. Consequently, the majority of states with RPS have hit their targets, with 94 percent achievement in 2013 and 95 percent achievement in 2014. Id.

While few new RPS policies have been enacted in recent years, states continue to modify existing policies in response to changing market conditions, program success and end-dates, and federal policies. As states begin to approach their target years or achieve (or exceed) target goals, states are evaluating whether and how to extend targets into the future. Under currently enacted laws, 20 states will reach the terminal year of their RPS by 2026. Id.

Recent legislative activity evidences this period of reformation. State legislatures have introduced and enacted more than 200 RPS-related bills since the beginning of 2015. See EQ Research, available at http://eq-research.com/. Most notable are the five jurisdictions (California, Oregon, New York, Vermont, and D.C.) that have adopted policies requiring at least 50 percent renewables, and Hawaii—the first U.S. state to establish a 100 percent RPS goal. Id. In addition to extending and expanding RPS time frames and goals, states have modified RPS programs by introducing resource-specific or distributed generation carve-outs, refining resource eligibility rules and definitions, and relaxing geographic preferences or restrictions. Barbose, supra.

As we approach common terminal years in 2020 and 2025, we are likely to see continued legislative and gubernatorial action on RPS programs and renewables goals. But approaching targets are not the only reason why states are revisiting and revising their RPS policies. Endogenous factors, including compliance costs, legal challenges, and other state- and local-level market and policy conditions are the primary internal drivers of RPS reevaluation. On the federal front, continued FERC regulation and the impending decision on CPP are making states rethink—and redesign—RPS policies to ensure continued compliance with federal law. Even before CPP leaves the bench, some states are planning ahead to ensure that their RPS programs will support their CPP-compliance programs. Pennsylvania, for instance, is already designing its CPP state plan, undeterred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s February 2016 decision granting a stay on the CPP pending the resolution of legal challenges. See Susan Phillips, Wolf says PA will move forward on Clean Power Plan, StateImpact Pennsylvania (Feb. 10, 2016); and Chamber of Commerce v. EPA, 136 S. Ct. 999 (2016) (order in pending case).

The CPP is the first-ever national standard aimed toward reducing carbon pollution from power plants, the nation’s largest source of emissions. See EPA, Fact Sheet: Overview of the Clean Power Plan (2015). Recognizing that fossil fuels will “continue to be a critical component of America’s energy future,” the EPA put forth the CPP to ensure that fossil fuel-fired power plants operate “more cleanly and efficiently, while expanding the capacity for zero- and low-emitting power sources.” Id. The CPP establishes interim and final carbon dioxide (CO2) emission performance rates for two subcategories of fossil-fuel-fired electric generating units (EGUs): fossil fuel-fired electric steam generating units (i.e., coal- and oil-fired power plants) and natural gas-fired combined cycle generating units. Id.

Under the CPP, states and utilities can implement the standards and meet these goals through one of three methods: a rate-based state goal measured in pounds per megawatt hour (MWh), a mass-based state goal measured in total short tons of CO2, or a mass-based state goal with a new source complement measured in total short tons of CO2, also known as a state measures plan. States need to develop and implement plans which, when combined with other state or regional initiatives, will ensure compliance with the CO2 emissions performance rates over the 2022–2029 compliance period, and with the final CO2 emissions performance rates, rate-based goals or mass-based goals by 2030 (or later, if the CPP is further delayed). The EPA estimates that the pollution reductions required by the CPP will yield climate benefits of $20 billion, health benefits of $14–34 billion, and net benefits of $26–45 billion. Id. Complementary or additive RPS programs will amplify these benefits by incentivizing additional renewable deployment, implementing stronger energy efficiency standards, and more.

Under any of the three methods, compliance will be tracked via emissions trading. See Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, 80 Fed. Reg. 64,662 (Oct. 23, 2015) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. Part 60). How an existing RPS and its tracking mechanism will interplay with a state’s CPP plan and its emissions trading will depend on the state’s CPP compliance path. Under a rate-based state goal, renewable energy facilities, energy efficiency units, new nuclear facilities, or performance upgrades at existing nuclear, hydro, and natural gas combined cycle power plants will produce emission rate credits (ERCs), which represent one MWh of zero-emission generation. These ERCs will be added to the denominator of the pounds per MWh until the EGU (either individually or on a state average basis) satisfies the required rate.

A state with an existing RPS that uses RECs to track compliance will need to decide whether and how ERCs and RECs will be issued, tracked, and retired together or separately. In its guidelines, the EPA clarifies that ERCs were intended to be unique and separate from RECs, and that a single generating unit could produce both an ERC and a REC for each MWh generated where eligibility overlap exists. But in practice, managing ERCs and RECs in the same compliance universe will be no easy undertaking—there will be issues with double-counting, existing forward contracts, and whether a facility can still claim its renewable attributes if it keeps its RECs, but trades away its ERCs. Id.

Emissions trading under a mass-based state goal is much more straightforward—states will be issued emissions allowances, which can be auctioned (traded) or given away. Compliance will be determined solely on total tons of CO2 emitted. As designed, there is no direct relationship between a state’s CPP plan and its RPS; rather, the two plans would exist contemporaneously. Id.

States with RPS, energy efficiency standards, and other related programs are best suited for a mass-based state measures plan. The state measures plan allows a state to leverage its existing policies, programs, and compliance mechanisms to meet the standards imposed by the CPP. And, rather than being the primary enforcement mechanism, the mass-based emissions standard acts as a federally enforceable backstop that only kicks in if the state measures fail to achieve the required reductions. There are no ERCs under this plan, and states can continue to utilize RECs to track RPS compliance, focusing CPP compliance efforts on bolstering their existing RPS and other programs instead of establishing entirely new programs and tracking tools. Id.

It is evident that the EPA carefully crafted the CPP to exist in harmony with state RPS programs and to provide a path for all states to reduce overall emissions while incentivizing renewable energy development—including those already on the right track. And although the CPP or similar federal policies would be instrumental in accelerating America’s timetable for achieving its Paris Agreement goals, states have proven willing to push for progress on their own. Now more than ever, it is imperative that states renew their commitments to renewable energy, promoting a sustainable renewables industry that supports continued job creation, grid resiliency efforts, and energy independence. As we enter into the era of Trump—and with it, an uncertain federal position on climate policy—states will take hold of the power to determine and define the nation’s stance for renewable energy and against the threat of climate change. Will we stand united?

Allyson Browne, Director of Regulatory Affairs & General Counsel

© 2017. Published in Natural Resources & Environment, Vol. 31, No. 4, Spring 2017, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

Will the California RPS and TREC program promote solar and SRECs?

Posted November 30th, 2011 by SRECTrade.

Many solar advocates are hoping that the California TREC program will boost solar development the way SREC markets have in the country’s fastest growing solar markets on the East Coast. After much delay, the program is finally set to launch on December 10th. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against the distributed solar industry and here is why:

The first hurdle was whether or not the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) would allow distributed generation (DG) projects to be eligible for the state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). For the sake of clarification, DG is often referred to as smaller, commercial size projects, but in California, the technical definition extends to all projects that are considered onsite generation, meaning the electricity produced by the system is used locally, rather than transmitted through the broader electricity grid (think residential, small commercial and community solar projects. Based on recent proposed revisions (pdf), the CPUC will likely approve DG projects for RPS eligibility and has already started to layout the process for approving projects (a service that will be provided by SRECTrade).

The next hurdle centers around how DG TRECs are classified within the RPS. There are three categories used for RPS compliance:

  1. In-State: At least 50% of the renewable energy must be sited in California.
  2. Out-of-state: Up to 50% of the renewable energy can come from projects outside California that supply electricity to the California grid.
  3. TRECs: Up to 25% of the RPS can be met through the purchase of Tradable Renewable Energy Certificates, a cap that will be reduced to 10% by 2020.

This is a key battle for the relevance of TRECs in supporting DG projects in California. Proponents for DG have argued that TRECs from in-state distributed projects should be included in the 1st bucket. A few reasons supporting this position include the added benefits from reduced transmission costs inherent in DG projects and the fact that the state should favor supporting distributed renewable energy projects sited in California over utility-scale projects outside of California. In a rare occurrence, advocates for the solar industry and the major utilities in California share this opinion. The only opponents we can think of are regulators and lawyers choosing a strict interpretation of a poorly written portion of a legislative mandate and unfortunately, it appears the only way to fix this would be to go back to the legislature. It is likely that the legislature envisioned tradable RECs as those coming from systems sited outside of regional territories and/or outside the state of California, without proper consideration for what that meant for legitimate, local, distributed renewable projects. The CPUC is scheduled to vote on this issue tomorrow, December 1st ahead of the December 10 launch.

The impact of this decision will effectively curtail the ability for distributed solar projects to count towards the RPS, while also making TRECs a non-factor in the financing of distributed solar projects. The RPS incentive scheme will first favor utility-scale hydro, wind and solar from within the state borders, followed by counterparts outside California and then, TRECs produced by renewable facilities anywhere in the Western U.S. and a portion of Canada (WREGIS). This means TREC prices will be next to nothing and the market will be dominated by regional utility-scale hydro and wind projects able to produce at a much larger scale than local DG solar. To put that into perspective, the fastest growing solar markets in the U.S. today (SREC states driven by RPS laws such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts) are made up primarily of DG solar projects! As a result, California will need to find ways outside the RPS to encourage the growth of distributed solar energy. This most likely means a continuation of short-term, taxpayer funded, grant/rebate based programs like the California Solar Initiative (CSI).

Even if the CPUC decides to include DG in the in-state bucket, questions still exist around whether or not the potential TREC values will be enough to impact solar DG development. Compared to other states, California is backward in its approach to DG projects. Here we have an industry fighting to be on a level playing field with utility-scale renewables, where other states (16 at the most recent count) have DG or solar set-asides that recognize the value of distributed generation and favor it in their RPS incentive structure over utility-scale renewables. We have often written about the need for a solar carve-out specifically because of different cost structures and the need to support solar separately. The reality is that wind and other distributed renewables have traditionally been more cost-effective, and therefore more competitive within DG carveouts. In addition, the small-scale inherent with solar relative to wind or hydro add transaction costs that also favor the larger producers. Even in an ideal world, where California distributed solar is in bucket #1, the fear is that it will be crowded out by large scale producers with cheaper alternatives to solar and lower transaction costs. The hope has always been that the RPS and the TREC program could be a stepping stone towards a solar-only SREC program in California with long-term, sustainable growth targets similar to those seen on the East Coast.

TRECs approved by California Public Utilities Commission

Posted January 18th, 2011 by SRECTrade.

A segment of the California solar industry got a small boost last week as the CPUC approved the TREC program in California. This was essentially a re-affirmation of the original TREC order in March, 2010.

Unfortunately, the TREC market is geared towards large solar farms and not accessible to the rest of the solar industry. The biggest problem is that TRECs can only be produced by “RPS-Eligible” facilities and California currently excludes “Distributed Generation” from RPS Eligibility. The rules are loosely written to define Distributed Generation as coming from facilities where the energy is used close to the source. This pretty much limits the TREC market to solar farms and the companies that build a business out of creating more utility companies (the solar kind). This is somewhat counter-intuitive to the benefits that tradable REC markets bring to promoting local, distributed generation, a reduced reliance on the grid, and the safety of distributed power sources – not to mention all the small businesses that pop-up to support the growth. Either way, this is a decision for the California Energy Commission (CEC).

In addition to the RPS-Eligibility issue, a couple things need to change prior to this having a substantial impact on the solar industry in general. First, the $50/MWh cap on the price of TRECs will not be effective in promoting small-scale solar. The relatively minimal amount of energy generated by rooftop facilities and the amount of effort required to register and sell the TRECs makes it difficult to justify the benefits. The good news is that this cap will be removed in 2014.

The second issue with the legislation is that it creates a generic REC market where solar competes with wind, hydro and other renewable technologies that operate on a scale that is unmatched by solar. This makes it very difficult for the small players looking for access to this market in order to finance solar projects. The only “REC” markets that have been successful in promoting retail residential and commercial solar is an “SREC” market.

As with many states before it, California is taking a cautious approach to implementing TRECs. Hopefully by 2014, the state will make the necessary changes to make this a market that can serve as the foundation of the entire California solar industry. In doing so, it will take a step towards keeping pace with the SREC states on the East Coast. The 33% target in California is aggressive and if solar is going to be a big part of the mix, then the state will need to find a market-based, sustainable solution beyond the budget of the CSI and the pitfalls of the FiT mechanisms so often promoted by industry advocacy groups.

Meanwhile, California solar owners should keep an eye on the other SREC markets. North Carolina in particular is an open market that takes SRECs from out-of-state. The only issue is that, since it is open to everyone, it has gotten oversubscribed pretty quickly. Either way, the takeaway is that opportunities will develop, even if it is outside California, so it does make sense to register if you have a facility in the ground already.

Here is some more information on the most recent decision:

The TREC legislation had been held up by a joint petition of the utility companies essentially lobbying to allow them to procure the RECs from out-of-state, presumably at a cheaper cost. That petition has now been denied and California is back to implementing a TREC program, after a 9 months delay.

The new TREC order of January, 2011. includes the following rules:

1. TRECs can be created by RPS-Eligible facilities (Distributed Generation is excluded)

2. TREC trading begins on the effective date of the decision: January 13, 2011

3. TRECs can be created dating back to the beginning of 2008

4. TRECs have a 3-year life, so the 2008 TRECs will expire

5. All TRECs must be created and tracked in WREGIS

6. If your facility is in a bundled contract, you can unbundle the electricity and trade your RECs separately unless your contract was signed prior to 2005 with California RPS-obligated LSEs (unless stated otherwise in the contract) or if your contract is associated with RPS-eligible energy pursuant to the Federal PURPA Act.

7. TRECs have a 3-year life, inclusive of the year in which it was created

8. LSEs can procure up to 25% of their obligation from TRECs, the rest must come from bundled electricity sales from within their territory. This cap will remain in place until 2014

9. There is a $50 price cap on TREC purchases until 2014

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CA 33% Renewable Target Onward!

Posted October 20th, 2010 by SRECTrade.

At the end of September, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously to approve a measure that would require entities delivering power to the state to acquire one-third of their power from renewable resources.

This measure is different than the existing 20% target in that it covers both investor-owned utilities and publicly owned utilities. The existing RPS comes under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) while the CARB has a more far reaching mandate to regulated GHG emissions under A.B. 32.

Earlier in the month, the state legislature was unable to pass the 33% renewable portfolio standard into law. A spokeswoman for the governor’s office commented that the CARB’s approval carries the same legal weight as a bill passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.

CARB stated that the target is forecast to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12-13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2020. In addition to the environmental impacts, the CARB and Governor Schwarzenegger expect the measure to incentivize and attract more clean energy project development to California. The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently approved a 392 megawatt solar thermal power plant to be constructed by BrightSource Energy LLC. Other projects are hurrying to receive approvals before the end of the year when federal stimulus incentives expire.

CARB, CPUC, CEC and CA’s independent system operator will all work closely to help implement the new standard. The measure targets a phased approach with 20% by 2012, 24% by 2017, 28% by 2019, and 33% by 2020.

Click here for the full article.

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California TRECs – Making a Comeback

Posted September 13th, 2010 by SRECTrade.

TRECs in CA

On August 25th, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a Proposed Decision (PD) to lift the moratorium on Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) utilizing Tradable Renewable Energy Credits (TRECs) to meet California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). In addition to allowing IOUs to use TRECs for RPS compliance purposes, the CPUC’s PD increased the initial 25% TREC limit to 40%. Based on the petitions submitted by the IOUs and the Independent Energy Producers Association (IEP), the CPUC decided to take the IOUs’ points into consideration and increase the cap to 40% of the annual procurement targets. The utilities argument for increasing the cap was based on the thought that accessing a larger market for renewables will lead to a reduced overall cost.

The CPUC has maintained a December 31, 2011 expiration date for the 40% cap. Additionally, the temporary $50 limit of payments for TRECs is to remain in place through the same time period. The CPUC notes that at this point in time both the cap and the price limit are set to expire unless the CPUC takes action to extend or modify it.

Timing

The Proposed Decision will not be on the CPUC’s voting meeting agenda for at least 30 days from the date the PD was issued.

What this means for CA SRECs

Although the implementation of a TREC market in California is a step in the right direction for SRECs, it does not provide the same market dynamics created by a RPS solar carve out as implemented in the other SREC states. Typically, in a general REC program, as structured by the CPUC, larger capacity renewable energy projects, such as wind, dominate the market. Additionally, the current guidelines instituted by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and CPUC on RPS project eligibility do not include customer-side distributed generation (i.e. the majority of residential and commercial rooftop solar systems).

The CEC RPS eligibility guidebook states that both the CEC and CPUC play a role in determining RPS implementation for renewable distributed generation (DG) facilities. The good news is that both the CPUC and CEC allow system owners to retain 100% of the RECs associated with the energy produced even if the owner has participated in a ratepayer-funded program such as the CPUC’s California Solar Initiative (CSI) or the CEC’s New Solar Homes Partnership program. The bad news is that these systems are considered DG facilities and are not RPS eligible unless the CPUC authorizes TRECs to be applied to the RPS.

Now you might be thinking that the proposed decision issued by the CPUC is good news for distributed generation solar, but unfortunately like a lot of things in the REC world it isn’t that clear cut. The PD issued by the CPUC states that, “although there are technologies that can be used for customer-side renewable DG, most current installations are not in fact RPS-eligible because they have not been certified by the CEC.” Seems like a circular argument, but this is what the most recent documents state. The PD goes on to provide similar detail as the CEC that states, “in anticipation of the eventual use of customer-side DG for RPS compliance” the system owner will maintain full control over the RECs associated with their renewable energy generation.

Based on both the PD issued by the CPUC and the revised CEC RPS eligibility guidebook it appears that the groups intend to incorporate distributed generation into the RPS compliance program, but are not ready to make the commitment at this point in time. This appears to follow in line with the process California has taken in implementing a REC market. As indicated by our guest blogger, David Niebauer, California has taken its time in launching a REC program; SB 107 was passed in 2006 and gave the CPUC express authority to use TRECs for RPS compliance. It appears that the CPUC and CEC want to get a feel for how the existing structure of the TREC market will play out before approving DG projects or potentially creating a DG/Solar carve out.

Implementing a CA SREC Program

But couldn’t the CPUC and CEC approve distributed generation projects, create a carve out for these technologies, and slowly increase or reevaluate the requirements over time? From our perspective this would be great and act as a catalyst to continue pushing residential and commercial solar in the state of California. Not only would a solar carve out help increase the generation of renewable electricity, New Jersey is second to California in solar installations, but it would help push a strong solar economy in California. In the PD, the Alliance for Retail Energy Markets (AReM) states that, “…CSI will have provided incentives for approximately 1,100 GWh by 2011.” Based on 2008 electricity figures, 1,100 GWh equates to approximately 0.4% of California’s total electricity sales. This is 0.4% that will not be counted towards meeting California’s RPS targets. Hopefully the CPUC and CEC will consider the implementation of a solar/distributed generation carve out and help drive a strong solar industry in California while achieving the RPS requirements CA’s IOUs are required to meet.

CA RPS Eligible Solar

Solar systems that do not fall into the customer-side DG category may be RPS eligible and could be qualified to participate in the CA TREC market.

We are constantly staying on top of developments in the CA market and are currently working on solutions for both CA RPS eligible and ineligible solar generating units. For more information please contact us at 877-466-4606 or customerservice@srectrade.com.

For access to the CPUC Proposed Decision click here. For access to the revised, draft CEC Renewables Portfolio Standard Eligibility guidebook click here.

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California – State Senate Unable to Pass 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard Target

Posted September 2nd, 2010 by SRECTrade.

On August 31st, the California state senate was unable to vote on the country’s most aggressive renewable portfolio standard (RPS) program due to the session coming to at close at midnight. The bill, SB 722, which passed the state assembly, would have required California to produce 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Governor Schwarzenegger had made it clear he would not have signed the bill even if it passed the senate. The governor’s main concerns were that SB 722 did not allow for enough electricity to be imported from out of state. Additionally, the Governor wanted the bill to include a solution to streamline California’s siting and permitting process for renewable energy projects. Back in June, the Governor commented that he would not, “sign legislation mandating a higher requirement without ensuring that the necessary projects can be built.”

The two main arguments here have to do with developing a vibrant renewable energy market in the state of California while also maintaining competitive electricity pricing. Importing electricity from outside of California doesn’t help increase the number of in state jobs required to build the renewable energy projects needed to meet the 33% RPS target. On the other hand, allowing for greater amounts of electricity to come from out of state will increase competition and hopefully keep prices down, something to be mindful of considering the current economic environment in California.

While Governor Schwarzenegger signed an executive order to reach the 33% target, the order could be over turned by any future governor. Although SB 722 didn’t pass, the governor could call a special session of the legislature to pass the bill before the upcoming election. This could be the only chance for the ambitious 33% target as both California Governor candidate Meg Whitman and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina are opposed to it.

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California TRECs – Will They Ever Materialize?

Posted August 25th, 2010 by SRECTrade.

Every now and then we come across an explanation of an aspect of the SREC market that could not be described in any better way.  The most enlightening piece on the California TREC market to date was authored by San Francisco Attorney David Niebauer. It was originally posted on the CleanTech blog and with the author’s permission, we have copied the post below for our readers.

Our brief summary is that California has passed legislation allowing for the creation of a Tradable REC or TREC market. This market is not specific to solar and will likely be dominated by wind and hydro RECs. However, we are optimistic that this is a precursor to an SREC market in California, especially considering FERC’s recent ruling against Feed-In Tariffs. It seems that the legislation passed earlier this spring has been held up over one issue: the importing of RECs from out-of-state.  Utilities want to be able to purchase RECs from out of state as it increases the available supply and will lower the cost of the RECs. The California Energy Commission, in the interest of promoting an in-state renewable energy industry, wants to limit REC purchases to in-state facilities. There are benefits to both sides of this issue and it really comes down to balancing the goal of cheap renewables with the goal of supporting a California renewable energy industry. Either way we hope the parties come to an agreement soon so that the TREC market can commence and we can begin to focus on how to bring an SREC market to California!

California Tradable RECs – Will they ever materialize?
by David Niebauer

California has led the nation in solar development on many fronts for a number of years, but there is one area where California has lagged significantly – the implementation of tradable renewable energy certificates (or TRECs).

As of this writing, there are five regional renewable energy tracking systems operating in North America, one national registry and three state systems. As early as June 2007, the California Energy Commission launched the Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System (WREGIS), which was designed to track renewable energy generation and create and track renewable energy certificates (RECs) for that generation. TRECs are an important tool for utilities in other states striving to meet their renewable portfolio standard (RPS) goals and help developers finance renewable energy projects in other parts of the country where TRECs are available. So why not in California?

The Basics

In California RECs are not yet tradable – all electric utility renewable energy purchases are “bundled” transactions. That is, the environmental attributes (e.g., RECs) are tied to, or bundled with, the energy itself. Therefore, the only way for utilities to comply with RPS requirements is to purchase renewable energy in bundled transactions from a qualifying renewable energy facility.

In States with unbundled or tradable RECs, electric utilities have two ways to meet with RPS goals: purchase renewable energy in bundled transactions (like in California) or purchase RECs on the open market. In States with TRECs the REC has been “stripped” from the energy and is traded separately. The energy is sold separately and is still supplied to the grid. The utility purchasing the REC may be and likely is completely different than the purchaser of the energy. Only the REC purchaser can count that energy toward its RPS goals.

Proponents of tradable RECs point out that the scheme will assist the State in achieving its RPS goal by balancing out geographical and transmission constraint differences from utility to utility. In California, for example, the State as a whole has considerable renewable resources, from geothermal to wind to solar – but these resources are not evenly distributed geographically throughout the State. Further, some areas with strong renewable resources have significant transmission constraints, making grid connection prohibitively expensive. A tradable REC regime would allow resources to be developed where cost and fit are most appropriate, and allow the environmental attributes (the RECs) to be traded among the utilities (and through intermediaries) to balance out these geographical and transmission constraint issues. As stated in the April 2006 California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Staff White Paper: “Importantly, under an unbundled and/or tradable REC framework, [a utility] can purchase RECs from renewable facilities largely irrespective of where those facilities are located or where the energy is ultimately delivered.”

From the energy developer’s perspective, RECs can provide an advantage for developing renewable energy sources. The ability to sell RECs in an unbundled transaction would mean that a developer would be able to negotiate with any utility or other buyer of RECs, rather than negotiating with only one utility in a bundled transaction. In states with TREC developers contract with one utility to provide energy at a relatively low cost and then sell the RECs to another utility or other buyer to enable his project to be economically viable. Where the developers must sell the energy and the REC to the same utility, the price of the energy might be too low to justify development. For this reason, tradable RECs can be a way to speed the development of renewable generation.

The California Log Jam
California has been taking slow, halting strides in the direction of permitting tradable RECs. In 2006 the California legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 107, which gave the CPUC express authority to allow the use of tradable RECs for RPS compliance.
Three and half years later on March 11 2010 the CPUC issued a decision authorizing TRECs for RPS compliance in California (Decision10-030-021). The proposed scheme had a number of limitations but appeared to be a workable model. Most notable of the limitations was a maximum cap for IOUs of 25% of RPS compliance targets that could be met with TRECs. This limitation was to last only until the end of 2011 and was intended as a way to monitor the program before allowing unfettered use of TRECs. The other significant limitation was a price cap of $50 per REC. Again, this limitation was scheduled to expire at the end of 2011 unless the CPUC determined to extend the cap at that time based on further market studies.

The CPUC decision was made after conducting numerous workshops and receiving comments from interested parties. However, the entities that would have been most impacted by the Decision were not at all happy with the final outcome. Notably, the State’s IOUs and the Independent Energy Producers Association (IEP), whose members make up most of the merchant power producers in the State, filed objections and forceful motions to stay the decision. Prior to its implementation on May 6, only a few weeks after issuing the Decision, the CPUC granted an indefinite stay of Decision 10-03-021. This stay in still in effect.

The reasons for the stay, and the larger implications, are not at all clear. On its face, the stay was implemented in order to resolve objections raised by the IOUs and the IEP. Neither party liked the 25% limitation on use of TRECs to meet RPS requirements. Further, the IOUs, in particular, argued that the CPUC’s definition of a REC-only transaction would limit access to most out-of-state renewable resources, making implementation the TREC scheme unworkable.

Commissioner Grueneich’s Dissent

Commissioner Dian M. Grueneich filed a dissent to the stay that may shed some light on what is really going on. Commissioner Grueneich focused on the motion by the IOUs and claimed that the modifications urged by the IOUs would cause the “outsourcing of California’s renewable economy.” She points out that nothing had changed in the 60 days or so between the Decision and the Stay other than “the relentless lobbying by the utilities at this Commission and in Sacramento to overturn a decision they dislike.”

She continues:

“Since the RPS mandate was first signed into law, one message that has been repeated again and again from developers, from investors and from members of this Commission itself, is that market players need certainty and consistency in decision making in … order to make long term investments in California. This decision will disrupt renewable energy markets, threaten financing for existing and future projects, and compromise the careful work of the Governor’s office to ensure that renewable energy projects obtain their CEC permits and break ground expediently.”

Conclusion

Perhaps this is the (cynical) goal of the IOUs: to entangle the entire RPS movement in delay and uncertainty so that their own foot-dragging can be explained away and excused. Without clear guidance on a TREC program, the argument might go, how can they be expected to meet the State’s aggressive RPS goals? The IOUs have a long way to go to even comply with the 2010 RPS requirement of 20% renewable generation. In 2009, the IOUs collectively served 15.4% of their load with renewable energy. The CPUC estimates that the IOUs are expected to be at about 18% in 2010 and 21% in 2011 – assuming that existing contracts can be converted into operating facilities within that timeframe.

Or it may just be a bureaucratic quagmire that still requires time to work out. After all, the IOU’s fundamental argument in support of the stay, that out of state bundled transactions should not be defined as REC-only transactions and counted toward the 25% cap, makes sense.

California needs to get this right. Whatever system gets developed in California will be followed by other states, especially those in the WREGIS System, so a region-wide system must be supported by the final CPUC decision. We need a workable final decision soon so that we can move forward on the larger goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions and building a truly sustainable energy infrastructure.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on clean energy and environmental technologies. www.niebauer.net.

FERC Rules Against Feed In Tariffs

Posted August 19th, 2010 by SRECTrade.

Several states have been exploring an alternative to solar renewable energy credits with laws establishing feed-in tariffs (FIT).  A FIT law works by requiring utilities to purchase electricity from certain sources, like solar, at a fixed rate.  This rate is higher than the utilities normal wholesale electricity purchase price in order to subsidize their higher cost.  Unlike SREC laws, the FIT is a relatively blunt policy instrument.  By setting a fixed tariff, the state legislature must exactly calculate the cost needed to incentivize new solar installations.  If the rate is set too high, ratepayers unnecessarily oversubsidize solar (remember cash for clunkers?) and if it is set too low the solar build-up is too slow.  An SREC program, by contrast, allows the market to determine the exact price necessary to incentivize solar, leading to the desired amount of solar at the minimum cost to ratepayers.

State FIT laws were recently dealt a setback by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) who determined that a California  Feed-in Tariff for combined heat and power (CHP) was preempted by Federal Law.  The ruling specifically determined that  FERC has exclusive jurisdiction to set rates, terms, and conditions for the sale or resale of electricity, and that feed-in tariffs are a means of setting rates for the sale or resale of electricity.  The ruling goes on to state that feed-in tariffs would be allowed for certain facilities in certain circumstances, but not at rates above the utilities avoided cost.  Since avoided cost is far below FIT levels, this ruling effectively ends solar FITs in the U.S.

Existing programs in California, Oregon, Connecticut, and Vermont will probably be impacted immediately, while pending legislation in several states will have to be re-examined.  The  good news is that most of these states have existing renewable portfolio standard laws, they only lack a solar carve-out.  By adding a solar component to these existing laws, they can join states like NJ, MD, DE, DC, PA, OH, and MA using a market based approach to drive solar growth.

Some other coverage:
Full ruling can be found at FERC’s website under dockets EL10-64 and EL10-66

FERC deals blow to above-market rates (Feed-In Tariffs)

SEIA makes plans to appeal to congress to give states authority to implement FITs

California Sues Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Posted July 22nd, 2010 by SRECTrade.

Last week, the state of California filed a lawsuit against mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. California’s Attorney General, Jerry Brown, hopes the legal action will realign the momentum of the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program. Earlier this month the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) instructed the mortgage lenders to avoid homes or tighten lending standards in geographies with PACE financing in place.

The lawsuit filed claims that the FHFA violates California law, which approved the PACE programs, and “severely hampers California’s efforts to assist thousands of California homeowners to reduce their energy and water use, help drive the state’s green economy, and create significant numbers of skilled, stable and well-paying jobs.”

Additionally, the lawsuit states, “the actions of these government-sponsored, shareholder-owned private corporations have placed California’s PACE programs – and the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money supporting them – at immediate risk while benefiting their own pecuniary interests.”

The FHFA’s response focused on the additional credit risks PACE programs could impose in the event of a mortgage default. The PACE financing structure puts the clean energy loans in a position ahead of the home mortgage. If a property were to go through a foreclosure process, the PACE loan would be paid off prior to the home mortgage.

In addition to the California lawsuit, representatives from the California Public Utilities Commission and the U.S. House of Representatives took action against the FHFA’s decision. Click here to see the full blog post from the New York Times.

Importing and Exporting SRECs across Registries

Posted July 21st, 2010 by SRECTrade.

With the launch of the North Carolina Renewable Energy Tracking System (NC-RETS), North Carolina is paving the way for what could be the future for SREC markets. For the first time, an SREC created in one region’s registry will be transferable to a buyer in another region’s registry. This cooperation amongst registries could be the first step towards a permeable nationwide SREC market.

North Carolina is currently working with other renewable energy certificate tracking systems to approve a process for importing and exporting SRECs. The approval of exporting SRECs from other tracking systems and importing them into NC-RETS would allow solar system owners located in states without viable SREC markets to sell into the North Carolina SREC market. This is all possible because almost all of the registries were built with similar technology developed by APX.  More information on all of the registries can be found here: APX Primer on REC Registries.

NC-RETS is working with the parties responsible for maintaining the other regional registries to develop the importing and exporting process.  Here is a list of those registries and an update on the status of importing and exporting:

NARR: The North American Renewables Registry (NARR) was developed by APX to serve the needs of states and regions that have not implemented a REC tracking system.  This covers most of the Southeastern U.S., Alaska and Hawaii.  NARR has already established importing/exporting procedures with NC-RETS.

MRETS: The Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System (M-RETS), the registry that tracks the generation of SRECs in 8 Midwest U.S. states and the Canadian province of Manitoba, has approved the exportation of SRECs and is implementing the necessary software upgrades.

GATS: Generation Attribute Tracking System covers the Mid-Atlantic states and currently tracks the majority of SREC volume due to member states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.  GATS is expected to allow importing/exporting soon.

WREGIS: The Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System (WREGIS), the registry that tracks the generation of SRECs in 14 Western U.S. states, Baja California, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, is capable of managing exports and is in the process of making a policy decision to allow the system to export SRECs.

ERCOT: Texas, the sixth state to adopt an RPS in 1999, was the first to implement a procedure for meeting the RPS.  The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) was the first registry of its kind.  Unfortunately, it does not currently have the capability to export SRECs and it may require legislative approval to make the necessary changes to the system’s software. However, NC-RETS and APX are working with ERCOT to come up with a solution.