Sacramento Utility 2011 Budget Paints Bright Picture for Solar

The new Sacramento utility district budget is out and there is something in it for all you solar fans. To start with, SMUD is funding solar incentives to add 13.6 megawatts of new solar capacity in the Sacramento area. This program allows homeowners to contract direct with Sacramento solar installers for the installation of their own grid tied solar electric system. SMUD then offers the home or business owner a rebate based on expected system performance.

The installation of more than 100 electric-vehicle charging stations in Sacramento County. Now EV charging stations are sexy, but not sexy as solar-powered EV charging stations. Solar powered charging stations are enticing.  One solar company preparing many solar canopies and parking lot panel solutions is Sanyo. They believe a 10 ft. by 20 ft. solar canopy parking space cover can generate enough electricity to run the electric vehicle annually. Almost every major automotive manufacture is coming out with an electric car. The national grid has nowhere near the capacity to hand the added electric load. Solar charging stations are the answer. Localized solar energy right where it is need without the additional cost or power loss of transmission lines.

$186 MM to build Solano Wind turbines. Yea … it not solar, but wind energy is also very cool. (Well, actually, it is kinda solar since wind is generated by the warming of the earth.) SMUD proposes to build and run the third phase of the Solano Wind Project, which will add up to 128 megawatts of clean reliable energy to SMUD’s solar and wind generation portfolio. The wind turbine project area is located within 4,244 acres of SMUD owned property south of Montezuma Hills Road and east of Stratton Lane. The project is bordered to the south and southeast by the Sacramento River. The project includes the construction and operation of wind turbine generators, an associated collection system, access roads, meteorological towers, an operation and maintenance Building, and related facilities.

California has a long list of huge solar power projects in the pipeline that will produce hundreds of megawatts to help the state’s three major investor-owned utilities. (source; Earth Tech) Solar is part of an aggressive renewable portfolios standard, but these complex solar projects take a long time to build and come freighted with hefty transmission costs. So now the state Public Utilities Commission is moving to spur small and mid-sized solar development projects up to 20 megawatts (MWs) in solar capacity that could feed the utilities’ needs quickly and at the lowest possible cost to ratepayers.

In a plan recently approved by the commission: PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric will hold biannual auctions into which solar installers and solar developers can bid. Utilities must award contracts starting with the lowest cost viable project and moving up in price until the megawatt requirement is reached for that round. The two-year pilot program established for this “Renewable Auction Mechanism” (RAM) would add 1 gigawatt of fresh solar power to the utilities’ totals, enough to power around 750,000 homes.

In its decision, the PUC said RAM “will promote solar competition and elicit the lowest costs for ratepayers, encourage the development of resources that can utilize existing transmission and distribution infrastructure, and contribute to RPS goals in the near term.”

That’s a view echoed by activists and small to mid-sized solar developers. In a Vote Solar press release, Sara Birmingham of the Solar Alliance applauded RAM, saying it will “open up a significant solar market potential in California for simplified renewable energy procurement.” And on its search blog, Vote Solar said RAM would lead to development of solar resources that could be incorporated into existing utility distribution infrastructure and be easier to finance, all the while avoiding the problems some governments have had Spain, most notably with feed-in tariff programs that attempt to encourage solar development by fixing a price for the solar power.