"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you,
then they fight you, then you win."
-- Mohandas Gandhi
Back in October 2010, I posted a link explaining Phase 1 of our photovoltaic system.
Back in August 2013, we completed Phase 2 of our system. Here’s what it looks like:
These are nine new ground mounted 230 watt capacity panels connected to the same inverter to which the original six 230 panels are connected. Below is a picture of what our inverter looks like with the charge controllers from each of our two arrays on either side. The charge controller for our Phase 2 array is the one on the left and the one for the original array is on the right.
The total capacity of our system is now 3.45 kilowatts. With our net metering interconnection with Mon Power, we are now able to produce enough electricity to completely offset the electricity we buy at night and when the sun isn’t shining.
In fact, our expanded system now produces electricity even on the cloudiest days at the darkest time of year. Today, December 8, we had constant rain or snow and our system still produced 1.5 kilowatt hours. On sunny days in September, we produced 19 kwh per day, almost enough electricity to cover three days of our normal consumption. Our last two electric bills “zeroed out” our electric usage, and we have a small carryover of kwh credits into the next month.
If you are interested in installing your own power generation system, post a comment on this post and I’ll answer any questions you may have.
Our plan was to buy our panels in two stages, because we figured the price of panels was falling so quickly that we would save a lot of money. We did. The new panels we installed in August 2013 were half the price of the panels we installed in October 2010.
Many of you have been reading lately about news coming from the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Washington, DC. Most accounts have given a brief mention of ALEC’s advocacy of state legislation that would put new charges on net metered solar power producers around the US.
Readers of The Power Line know the background of this story very well from an excellent explanation by Ivy Main in East Virginia and from stories here dating back to my account of the Edison Electric Institute’s initial strategy paper on crushing small scale solar generation in the US.
Most of the recent accounts of ALEC’s plans seem to indicate that ALEC is the initiator of the attack on solar power. ALEC is just the political vehicle of industry groups pursuing their own agendas. ALEC operates in secrecy to disguise its business motivators behind its tax exempt structure.
In fact, as you know from reading The Power Line, the “free rider” propaganda started in the electric industry back in January 2013. Look at the members and supporters of ALEC. You will see the following electric companies: Ohio-based AEP, owner of WV’s Appalachian Power, Dominion Resources owner of Dominion Energy in East Virginia and Arizona Public Service Company which just succeeded in adding fees to solar power generators in Arizona.
ALEC is pursuing a strategy hatched in the board rooms of the US electricity industry, not the other way around.
On Friday, the WV PSC staff and the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division filed their testimony in preparation for the hearing on the FirstEnergy billing investigation starting on December 17. Those of us in the Coalition for Reliable Power were glad to see that both the staff and the CAD supported our solution to the wildly inaccurate estimation that Mon Power and Potomac Edison have been doing with our electric bills. The Coalition has pushed for the PSC to order FirstEnergy to read all meters every month for a year. This is the only way for FirstEnergy to stop the crazy practice of generating new estimates based only on past bad estimates. Because FirstEnergy created this problem in the first place, Coalition members believe that the additional costs of this corrective measure should be paid by FirstEnergy shareholders and not passed on to WV rate payers.
Here’s what the PSC staff economist Michael Fletcher recommended in his testimony:
If the changes recommended by Staff and/or those by EPRI are not sufficient to address the recurring and significant level of complaints or should the Companies report to the Commission that the FirstEnergy billing system cannot be modified by MP and PE in ways to correct existing problems, then Staff believes the Commission would need to reconsider the current approval of monthly billing and bimonthly meter reading. The two most important functions of a utility are to provide reasonable service and bill customers properly. If all fails to address the current problems affecting MP and PE customers, the Companies should be required to bill and read meters monthly. Based on the Companies’ response to Staffs First Data Request Question No. 1, the average MP annual meter reading costs for 2010-2012 was approximately $3.9 million and the average PE annual meter reading costs for 2010-2012 was approximately $1 .0 million, If the Companies were required to perform actual meter readings every month the estimated increase in meter reading costs for MP and PE would be about double. However, an increase annual meter reading costs of $3.9 million for MP would be a percentage increase in total operation and maintenance costs of about 0.4% based upon MP’s 2012 Commission Annual Report. For PE the prospective increase as a percentage of 2012 reported total operation and maintenance costs would be about 0.5%.
Mr. Fletcher leaves the issue of who is to pay for these increased costs of monthly meter reading up in the air, implying that he might accept passing these costs along to rate payers.
Utilities Analyst Suzanne Akers recommended in her testimony for the Consumer Advocate Division:
The CAD is concerned that unless the Companies take necessary steps to obtain accurate historical data for all customers, the problem with inaccurate estimates will continue in a never-ending cycle. The Companies acknowledged the need to read some meters that they “deemed necessary” every month for a certain period of time to help address the situation, but the CAD recommends that the Companies increase their number of meter readers in order to perform actual reads every month for at least a year to obtain months worth of actual reliable data for every customer. Once there is reliable customer usage data, it can be determined whether there are systemic problems with the new FE software estimation procedures that should be addressed.
Like Mr. Fletcher, Ms. Akers did not identify who should pay for fixing FirstEnergy’s estimation system.
Mr. Fletcher provides specific estimates of the costs of reading every meter every month for both Mon Power and Potomac Edison. These increased costs would be about 1/2 of one percent of each company’s annual operations and maintenance spending for a year, for Mon Power about $4 million and for the smaller Potomac Edison about $1 million. Those companies’ rate payers have clearly already paid more than $5 million in aggravation over the past three years of FirstEnergy’s billing failures. Why should those rate payers be forced to pay that amount again for problems they didn’t cause?
Mr. Fletcher provides a detailed analysis of the information Ohio-based FirstEnergy has provided to the WV PSC throughout the investigation. His testimony is worth a look if you want to see how bad the situation has gotten for FirstEnergy and its customers.
Both FirstEnergy and the WV PSC initially claimed that all of the company’s billing problems happened in 2012 and were not subsiding. That’s not what FirstEnergy’s reporting has shown.
Here is what Ms. Akers testified:
It is important to note that although the number of meters with 2 or more consecutive estimates fell during the summer months of 2013, there was a significant increase in October 2013. The total number of meters with 2 or more consecutive estimates rose from 12,439 in September 2013 to 30,935 in October 2013 (i.e., a nearly 150% increase).’’
Furthermore, the number of increased in October 2013, as well. The number of complaints had fallen complaints handled by the customer contact center. Similar to the number of estimated meter readings, during the summer months of 2013, but increased in October by nearly 14 percent. Although the Companies provided a partial explanation for the increase in the number of meters with 2 or more consecutive estimates in October, there was no explanation provided by the Companies for the increase in both formal and informal complaints. According to the Companies’ Monthly Report, billing disputes were up by 12 percent in October and complaints about customer credits and deposits rose by75 percent from September 2013 to October 2013.
It appears that FirstEnergy’s billing and service have continued to deteriorate throughout the PSC investigation. The Commissioners need to take decisive action to fix the financial distress that FirstEnergy has caused many of its West Virginia customers. As Mr. Fletcher stated, “The two most important functions of a utility are to provide reasonable service and bill customers properly.”
Here is a story from The Financial Times about how solar and wind power generation has rejuvenated farming communities in Germany. Unlike in the US, where speculators and merchant generators control grid scale solar and wind development, in Germany, farmers and local communities have built new projects themselves.
Laws passed in the 1990s, known collectively as the Renewable Energy Act or EEG in German, encourage the creation of locally managed cooperatives that manage development and retail distribution of electricity from renewable projects. These laws are now under assault by the big electric companies whose business has been undermined by real competition.
The big companies such as E.on complain about subsidies to farmers and citizens, saying that they place an unfair burden on other rate payers. This, of course, is the same propaganda that is beginning to pop up in the US, and renewables are nowhere near as widespread as in Germany.
The Financial Times buys right into the propaganda by pointing to the fact that farmers can now make decent income from selling renewable power. The FT reporter dwells on a farmer who has sold much of his livestock and now runs a local power consulting firm and tries to portray him as getting rich from subsidies imposed on urban residential customers.
The FT article never mentions the real unfairness of Germany’s electric rate structure. All of the renewable power surcharges fall on residential customers because all of Germany’s industrial customers are exempt from paying those charges. The problem is not the farmers, it is the big corporations who don’t pay their fair share. No surprise there. THAT is Germany’s problem, not renewable power.
Larger capacity, less expensive battery storage is the key to building more microgrids in the US. Here is a story about one new company, Solar Grid Storage, that is developing new grid storage systems. The article also gives you a good overview of new microgrid systems that are popping up on the East Coast.
Solar Grid’s primary focus is commercial customers, but it also works with utilities and municipal governments. Among its customers are a school system in New Jersey and a utility in North Carolina. It partnered with Standard Solar Inc. on the installation of a solar system at the Konterra Realty Corporation that opened last month.
He says grid operators like PJM, a regional transmission organization, pay Solar Grid an installation fee and a monthly fee based on the hourly market rate of access to its battery system.
Leyden says the company is currently in talks with utilities in the Maryland-Washington, D.C. area on solar storage. He declined to identify them but the major operators in the District are Pepco and Washington Gas.
FirstEnergy announced on Nov. 20 that its shell subsidiary Monongahela Power is issuing $1 billion in first mortgage bonds. Proceeds from these bonds will be used as follows:
(i) repay at maturity $300 million of its First Mortgage Bonds, 7.95% Series due December 15, 2013,
(ii) redeem $120 million of its First Mortgage Bonds, 6.70% Series due June 15, 2014 (2014 Bonds),
(iii) repay a $572.7 million short-term promissory note originally issued on October 9, 2013 to its affiliate, Allegheny Energy Supply Company, LLC in connection with MP’s acquisition of the remaining ownership of the Harrison Power Station, and
(iv) for working capital needs and other general corporate purposes. [emphasis mine]
Here’s what FirstEnergy told the Securities and Exchange Commission about how it financed the Harrison Power Station deal:
The transaction resulted in AE Supply receiving net consideration of $1.1 billion and MP’s assumption of a $73.5 million pollution control note. Currently, the $1.1 billion net consideration was financed by MP through an equity infusion from FE of approximately $527 million and a note payable to AE Supply of approximately $573 million.
It is the note to AE Supply described in the SEC filing that Mon Power will pay off with the newly issued bonds. We also find out that Mon Power will be assuming $73.5 million of the debt for Harrison’s scrubbers. That’s even more interest that will show up on our electric bills.
FirstEnergy has already tried to bust the Utility Workers Local 304 at the Harrison Power Station. Despite a ruling by the NLRB that FirstEnergy was engaged in unfair labor practices, workers there are continuing to work without a contract.
Now comes news from PA that FirstEnergy is refusing to negotiate with another UWA local and has locked out 140 linemen, meter readers, substation electricians and clerks at Penelec, another FirstEnergy subsidiary.
MonPower’s linemen and meter readers in WV are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. FirstEnergy is moving ahead with closing at least one Mon Power service center in WV. How long will it be before FirstEnergy goes after these union workers’ livelihood?
Thanks to the efforts of our friends in the Eastern Panhandle, we know FirstEnergy has a long term plan to reduce customer services and meter reading for Mon Power and Potomac Edison. FirstEnergy started cutting jobs in PA back in 2011, shortly after the merger with Allegheny Energy was approved. FirstEnergy clearly played the WV PSC for chumps when they told the Commission back in 2010 that the merger would be good for everyone.