2016 Energy Review

by Anna Gretz
January 3, 2017

2016 was a big year for energy legislation, renewable energy growth, and the solar and wind industries. Here’s a review of what went down in 2016, so you can catch up on everything you missed before we dive into a brave, new 2017.

JANUARY: California Re-Evaluates Net Metering

At the beginning of 2016, San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric, and South California Edison got together to propose a new alternative to net metering. The proposal came in response to another proposal by the CPUC, which was in favor of keeping retail rate net metering (with a few tweaks) for California rooftop solar customers. While the CUPC was trying to pacify both the investor-owned power companies and the solar lobbyists, the utilities weren’t satisfied.

SDG&E felt that the CPUC’s proposal didn’t take into account the growing cost burden that solar has on their ratepayers, so they banded together with other utilities to push extra fees and sub-retail compensation onto solar customers to make up for this cost.

This conversation in California was a big one for the state, and had other states in the country watching to see how CA, a leader in solar and renewables, would handle the conflict.

FEBRUARY: Maine Tries New Innovations to Grow Solar

Maine may not be a major solar state, but new legislation shows that they have high solar hopes. Maine followed California in taking a second look at their net metering program, looking to accurately value solar, and work on helping it grow.

Under the new bill proposal in Maine, current solar customers who enjoyed net metering could keep their current arrangement for up to 12 years. Otherwise, they could join new new program for a 20-year contract. What does the new program look like? A regulated price paid by aggregators that would aim to cover solar homeowner costs.

The bill would require 118 MW of solar generation from residential and small business customers to built up over time.

MAY: Illinois’ Next Generation Energy Plan Rocks the Nuclear Power Plant Boat

In May, Illinois’ Exelon and ComEd backed the Next Generation Energy Plan, which would affect pretty much every aspect of the Illinois power industry. Among other things, the bill called to form a Zero Emission Standard that would take a huge cut from the Clinton and Quad City nuclear plant earnings, two plants that were already struggling to stay afloat. The plants called for compensation, but this would only be provided after a full and thorough review of the costs and benefits of the nuclear power plants. Without support, both nuclear plants would fall off the grid within the next two years.

In addition, the Next Generation Energy Plan would push for a $140 million fund to accelerate solar development in Illinois, a state where there are currently very few installations (about 500).

The Illinois bill is modeled after others in states like New York, hoping to move the state into a position of more renewable energy power.

AUGUST: Florida Votes to Eliminate Property Taxes on Solar Panels

In August, Amendment 4 was on the Florida ballot, backed strongly by both parties. The Amendment would eliminate personal property taxes on solar panels installed at commercial and industrial facilities. It was accepted with an overwhelming majority vote.

Sean Gallagher, the vice president of state affairs at the Solar Energy Industrial Association, said that “This vote sends a strong signal that Florida is open for business and the well-paying jobs and economic benefits that solar provides. Amendment 4 removes the financial barriers to smart local investment. It’s clear, Floridians want better access to affordable, clean energy options and this vote is a significant step in the right direction.”

Florida still has some barriers ahead when it comes to renewable energy issues, but Amendment 4 gave hope and momentum to those working towards more solar penetration in the states.

OCTOBER: Hillary Clinton Endorses Linking the US Grid to Mexico

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made a bold endorsement during the third presidential debate when she mentioned the idea of integrating the US and Mexican power grids. In her words, Clinton wanted the US “to have an electric grid, an energy system that crosses borders.” In a debate that otherwise didn’t mention many energy or climate topics, the “hemispheric energy market” stood out as bold endorsement on Clinton’s part.

The topic itself was only brought to light after Wikileaks published a transcript of a speech Clinton gave to a Brazilian bank in 2013, where the “hemispheric market” was first mentioned. Clinton said she was talking about trading energy with our neighboring countries for mutual benefit.

Though it hasn’t been widely publicized, there are already efforts underway to integrate the US and Mexican power systems more closely, as well as the Canadian grid. In October, Mexico’s grid operator openly considered linking its energy market with Southern California to expand their regional common market.

The United States, Mexico, and Canada are already linked by the Three Amigo Pact, which binds each nation to aim for a 50% clean energy mix across the continent by 2025. We will have to see how a new presidential administration directs the completion of this pact.

NOVEMBER: Obama Administration Scrambles to Approve Clean Energy Initiatives

With the end of his presidency in sight, President Obama has been working around the clock to secure a greener, more renewable future for America before the change in leadership. The following initiatives came to light in November:

A partnership (USAID, Dept of State, National Renewable Energy Lab) with the goal of identifying clean energy entrepreneurs in developing countries.
$4 million in awards to residential solar firms under Power Africa Scaling Off Grid Grand Challenge, adding up to a $36 million boost for sub-Saharan Africa. $11 million raised through the Efficiency for Access Coalition for off-grid technologies. Partnership in rural India to promote efficient appliances. US support for the first ever Solar Decathlon competition in Africa.

These global initiatives are some that Obama would like to leave as part of his renewable resource rich legacy, especially in the wake of a drastically different set of values that will follow him into the white house.

DECEMBER: Trump Considers Kathleen Hartnett White for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Kathleen Hartnett White, the head of the Texas Public Policy Foundation that is pushing to end renewable subsidies, is on the short list for Donald Trump’s Head of EPA cabinet position.

Mr. Trump has made it clear that he plans to push the coal sector back into the spotlight, reducing regulations and industry costs. Kathleen Hartnett White would back this agenda.

According to White, the United States needs to “very carefully look at the risk involved” with phasing out fossil fuels. Instead, she is in favor of renewable energy sources “competing on their own terms,” that is, without subsidy or financial motivation.

Also running to lead the EPA is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whose website reports that he is “a leading advocate against the EPS’s activist agenda.” Either pick would have a huge impact on the EPA’s future, if it has one.*

2016 was a banner year for solar and renewable growth, and the industry has high hopes as we enter into 2017. Stay tuned to The Swell for breaking news about energy developments locally, and around the world.

[*Note: Trump eventually chose Scott Pruitt for the post.]