Texas Utility Helps Homeowners Buy Solar Panels
TXU Energy, a Texas utility with two million customers, is making it possible for homeowners in the Dallas area to lease or buy rooftop solar-power systems in one of the first programs of its kind.
The energy provider said Wednesday that it had signed a deal with SolarCity, a Silicon Valley start-up that finances and installs residential rooftop arrays, to manage the initiative. "Our vision is to supply solar power to millions of homes and businesses," said Lyndon Rive, SolarCity's chief executive. "The only way to achieve this is by partnering with companies that are providing power today. If we can partner with energy providers, adoption will happen much faster."
Homeowners will sign up for the TXU Energy Solar Program through the utility, and SolarCity will design and install the solar-panel systems. Under the lease program, the owner of a three- to four-bedroom house would typically pay about $35 a month after tax incentives, according to TXU Energy.
SolarCity retains ownership of the photovoltaic arrays and responsibility for their maintenance. The solar-power system could be bought outright for about $26,000, TXU Energy said. SolarCity will pay a referral fee to TXU Energy for each system leased or sold. "We're launching this new solar program because solar energy is gaining interest among consumers," John Geary, vice president for innovations at TXU Energy, wrote in an e-mail message.
The program will initially be limited because of a small solar rebate program offered by Oncor, a company that operates utility infrastructure in Texas. (The state has a deregulated utility system with separate electric infrastructure companies like Oncor and electricity retailers like TXU Energy). Oncor offers a rebate of $2.46 a watt up to $24,600 for a residential solar installation. Money is currently available to include about 400 homes in the program, according to TXU Energy.
Mr. Rive said Texas's abundant sunshine, high air-conditioning costs and huge subdivisions make the state a natural solar market. "It'll start off small, but over next five years, Texas could become one of the largest solar markets in the country," he said.
Michigan will see an influx of jobs and investment dollars thanks to two new "green" initiatives from Dow Chemical Co. and its partners.
Dow Kokam MI LLC, a joint venture between Dow and South Korean firm TK Advanced Battery LLC, will work on a facility in Midland to construct lithium-polymer batteries, as well as a facility to power electric vehicles. A second project between Dow and Oak Ridge National Laboratory would develop a facility to work on carbon fiber for wind turbine blades.
The first plant would work on batteries for electric vehicles and is expected to operate for at least 15 years. The company estimates it will create at least 320 full-time jobs by 2014. Besides an investment from Dow Kokam, the project received a boost from $3.4 million in annual Michigan Business Tax breaks from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
The carbon fiber facility is being built with the help of a $5 million investment from the Department of Energy. Dow will also look for funding from the Center of Energy Excellence, which funds alternative energy projects in the state.
MEDC praised both projects for bringing jobs to the state and diversifying Michigan's economy.
At least 10 times a day Andrew Kin clicks onto the Internet for the pure joy of watching his electricity meter run backward. The 30-year-old business consultant placed an array of rooftop solar panels on his Westwood duplex last fall, and thanks to a website provided by his installer he has watched his monthly electricity bills drop, in real time, from $50 to about $10. "I make up a little chart every day," Kin said. "This past week was sunny, so I was electricity neutral about every other day, which I'm excited about."
Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign legislation that will make it possible for more Californians to sell the electricity they produce back to their utilities at retail prices. The legislation, written by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), doubles to 5% the overall amount of energy that California's investor-owned utilities must buy back.
Previously, state law required electric companies to sign so-called net-metering contracts for up to only 2.5% of their load. Solar advocates said the net-metering boost would allow consumers to recoup their investment faster, which is critical to California's goal of installing a million rooftop arrays by 2017.
A troika of California regulators state leaders of efforts to regulate greenhouse gases are coming to the defense of EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. The head of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the California Energy Comm. and the state's Public Utilities Commission wrote California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, defending EPA's right to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. "We believe that EPA is proceeding in deliberate and legally defensible fashion to meet the demands of administrative necessity and to avoid the absurd results that some critics fear," they wrote.
In an interview, CARB chairman Mary D. Nichols said that while she and other state regulators are still hoping Congress passes climate legislation, the timeline for climate regulation Jackson outlined this week shows EPA can curb greenhouse gases in a way that will not prove burdensome. "We wanted to make sure that our two senators were aware of the fact that our concerns are being heard by EPA," Nichols said, noting that Jackson indicated the agency will target big greenhouse emitters before small ones, and won't start until 2011.