Sunday, August 30, 2009

School Reformulation

Solar Learning Blocks

The Arizona Corporation Commission has been asked to reclassify Arizona schools as residences for the purpose of qualifying for Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) program funds. The REST divides funding between the commercial and residential sectors. The commercial program is becoming rapidly subscribed while the residential program lags.

Even though it is tardy, bringing solar into all the schools would benefit Arizona. However, a haphazard approach that brings solar only to the schools in the more economically fortunate neighborhoods will only repeat what is already occurring in (and across) the residential and commercial sectors where those least able to afford rising energy costs are also the least able to avoid them. The funds collected by the REST program are received from all utility ratepayers, but are only distributed to homeowners and to generally larger businesses; leaving renters and small businesses to continue paying.

This situation exacerbates the long-standing, hidden energy tax on small businesses in Arizona that is forwarded onto Arizona’s consumers. This hidden tax is a result of rate schedules that repress the value of solar energy and other energy management strategies.

Schools must also endure this burden. While they might be reclassified for the purpose of funding, they will continue to purchase energy under the repressive commercial rate schedules. These rate schedules will prevent the schools (i.e. the taxpayers) from realizing the savings they would under more equitable rate schedules.

In order to realize the maximum savings from a solar electric energy system, it must be part of a comprehensive technological, operational, and economic solution. Too few of Arizona’s solar providers offer comprehensive energy solutions that integrate energy generation and energy management into an optimal whole. Even fewer understand how the commercial rate schedules work to defeat the value of such measures.

While reclassifying schools in order to ensure funding has obvious short-term benefits, it is only a palliative. Rather than treating only the symptoms, the priority should be to develop a program that provides equitable funding to all Arizonans, and that leads to the rapid adoption of solar energy and the efficient use of energy across all economic sectors.

More fundamentally, the market manipulations that lead to inequity must be corrected.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Late to School

Arizona Late to School

For many years, advocates for solar energy in Arizona have encouraged schools to adopt solar energy. For several reasons, schools are excellent candidates for solar energy. School hours of operation coincide with the hours of sunshine. Schools are closed during the hottest months when the highest demand for energy occurs. School energy systems are responsive to load balancing and other energy management strategies that further enhance the value of solar energy. School buildings frequently provide nearly ideal sites for solar energy systems. The low, broad roofs not only provide ample area, but they also provide a secure, yet visible platform on which to showcase the technology for our young and their parents. What a lesson! Perhaps the greatest benefit is that the schools could avoid paying for electricity at the high and rapidly increasing commercial rates they now endure.

Sadly, when it comes to schools, Arizona’s solar advocates (including myself) have been stymied for many years. We have been deterred by the arcane and highly political funding and allocation system for schools. The excellent returns of a low-risk investment in solar energy have been a surprisingly hard sell to school administrators and boards. However, some leaders are seeing the light, or have been newly inspired by Arizona’s rapidly increasing energy costs.

Just this past week, Shari Zara, the Chief Financial Officer of the Queen Creek Unified School District filed a utility complaint with the Arizona Corporation Commission requesting that the Commission reclassify schools as residences for the purposes of the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) rebate program. As Ms. Zara states, “Recently it has become apparent that due to the overwhelming interest in the commercial solar sector, it is highly uncertain whether any rebate incentive funds will be available for the systems proposed for Arizona's schools.” The REST divides funding between the commercial and residential sectors. The commercial program is becoming rapidly subscribed while the residential program lags.

While the REST is an important first step towards a solar future for Arizona, it fails miserably at delivering an equitable distribution of the funds that are contributed to by all Arizonans and collected by the utilities. Like all our first steps, it has been tentative and not without challenge and falter. Still, confidence is gained with each step forward and with the growing consensus that an energy gap is looming.

Every Arizona school should have had on-site solar energy many years ago. Ensuring that all of Arizona’s schools have a source of funding to help them acquire solar energy would benefit all Arizonans.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Oil Drum

The Oil Drum : Discussions about energy and our future

It’s been a busy few weeks.

Last week, Rate Crimes had its story, Rate Crimes: Impeding the Solar Tipping Point published on The Oil Drum, the renowned energy blog. Many thanks to the always extraordinary Robert Rapier of the R-Squared Energy Blog for posting the story on TOD and for previewing it on his blog.

Please visit TOD or R-Squared to read the article and the comments. You are invited to add any comments you may wish to share.

Other writings were submitted elsewhere. If they’re not picked up there, you will see them here on Rate Crimes.