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Solar Austin’s mission is to accelerate the transition to clean, renewable energy in Central Texas to build a healthy community and a strong local economy.

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Following Community Advocacy, Austin Energy Rolls Out Community Solar for Low-income Residents

After two years of slogging through the permitting process, Austin Energy brought the La Loma solar project online last month—giving a massive boost to our city-owned utility’s Community Solar Program. But what is community solar, and how can you sign up? Can I afford to sign up as a low-income person/Customer Assistance Program (CAP) beneficiary? (Answer: YES!) How much does community solar cost for non-CAP participants, and what are the pros and cons of signing up? Keep reading and we will guide you through all of these questions.

Austin Energy’s recent press release on the completion of La Loma explains what community solar is on a very basic level and who can benefit: “Community Solar comes from a solar power plant where the electricity is shared by more than one household. Users do not need to own rooftops on which to place solar panels. Community solar provides solar power to renters, people with shaded roofs, and residents who can’t afford the upfront costs of rooftop solar. More than half of Austin Energy customers are renters and have limited access to rooftop solar.”

The La Loma Community Solar Project is a utility-scale array of “more than 9,000 panels, adding up to 2.5 megawatts, that will produce at least 4,400 megawatt-hours of [electricity] per year.” La Loma is located “just northeast of Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard and adjacent to the Utility’s Kingsbery substation,” and includes the exciting addition of “a 1.5 MW grid-scale battery at the Kingsbery substation to test solar and storage integration.”

Notably, the completion of La Loma comes with the announcement that Austin Energy will provide a discount for low-income community solar participants. As a result of advocacy from Solar Austin and the Springdale-Airport Neigh­bor­hood Association for programs that will improve access to solar, Austin City Council adopted a resolution directing Austin Energy to spend $500,000 in fiscal year 2018 on solar for “multi-family affordable housing, low-income residents, renters, and non-profits.” In order to meet this goal, Austin Energy is developing a shared solar feature in their billing system to allow access to solar benefits for multifamily housing residents and started this low-income community solar program.

Through this low-income solar program, half of La Loma’s capacity is reserved for CAP beneficiaries (those at or below 200% of the federal poverty level). This will allow about 200 CAP beneficiaries to “subscribe to 100 percent solar energy at a rate slightly below their current power supply rate.” CAP customers have until March 31st to sign up.

For the first time ever in Austin, not only can some low-income residents get access to solar, but they will also immediately save money by doing so—instead of paying an upfront coast. This is a huge step in the right direction from Austin Energy.

To register for community solar or the low-income solar program, all you need is your Austin Energy Utility Account Number before heading to Austin Energy’s community solar page to fill out the form where you can submit your interest. For more information on the low-income solar program check out the the La Loma press release or this Austin Chronicle article on the low-income solar program.

Now, what are the costs and benefits of community solar for Austin Energy customers who aren’t CAP beneficiaries? Benefits of signing up for community solar include:

  • Contribute to creating a cleaner environment, and slowing climate change.
  • Lock in a fixed rate for 15 years with the Community Solar rate, and avoid paying the Power Supply Adjustment (PSA) fee, which can be changed up to twice per year. This could result in money saved by community solar if the PSA increase.
  • Support the creation of Texas solar jobs.
  • Take a leadership role in supporting the Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan, and specifically the local solar goals (200 MW by 2025).

The cost, on the other hand, is that the Community Solar rate currently adds $10 -$18 to the average subscriber’s monthly energy bill.

The La Loma Community Solar Project is the most recent addition to Austin Energy’s community solar program, building on the initial 185 kW solar array on top of the Palmer Events Center. La Loma’s completion helped bring Austin Energy’s cumulative local solar capacity to 78 MW, enough to power 12,000 homes, on the way to the 2025 goal of 200 MW of local solar. Austin Energy officials hope that the expansion of community solar capacity, as opposed to a continued capacity-based residential rebate program, will lead to greater access to solar for renters, people’s whose homes are ill-suited for solar panels, and some low-income residents.

Solar Austin’s 2017 Accomplishments

This is a time of change in the solar industry and Austin is no exception.  Solar Austin stays engaged in policy discussions at City Hall, with Austin Energy and with the community.  We advocate for policies and programs that benefit solar customers, potential solar customers, and the local solar industry.  We do a lot with our small budget and can do even more with your help.

SOLAR AUSTIN’S 2017 ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

 
NEW COMMITMENT FOR SOLAR INCENTIVE BUDGET FOR FY 2020-2027
The Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025 stated that the utility would end solar incentives for new projects by 2020.  As part of the update to the plan this year, we were able to negotiate an extension of solar incentives through 2027.  While some of this budget would have already been required to cover past commitments for commercial performance based incentives (PBIs), there will now be an approximately $28.8 million in additional solar incentives for new projects between 2020 and 2027.

EXTENSION OF PER WATT RESIDENTIAL SOLAR REBATE
Austin Energy’s residential solar rebates were scheduled to end after three megawatts had been installed at the 50¢ per watt level.  Instead, an additional megawatt was added at the 50¢ per watt level and an additional two megawatts were added at the 40¢ per watt level.  This represents a $1.3 million commitment to the current residential solar program.

ADOPTION OF COMMERCIAL VALUE OF SOLAR
In 2015, Solar Austin initiated a conversation with Austin Energy staff about extending the Value of Solar tariff to commercial solar customers as a way to ensure that they are fairly compensated for all of the energy they produce.  This issue was subsequently taken up in the 2016 Austin Energy rate case, and as a result Austin Energy developed a proposal for a Commercial Value of Solar tariff.  Solar Austin negotiated to have the environmental benefits added to the calculation in the form of the social cost of carbon.  The social cost of carbon accounts for 1.5¢ per kilowatt-hour (22%) of the Commercial Value of Solar rate, which will be in effect January 1, 2018.

ALLOCATION OF FUNDS FOR LOW-INCOME SOLAR
Solar Austin believes that making solar accessible to as many people as possible will help to ensure long-term support for the industry.  We have advocated for policies and programs to expand access to solar for low-income residents and those in multifamily housing.  As a result of this work, the Austin City Council adopted a resolution directing Austin Energy to spend $500,000 in fiscal year 2018 on solar for “multi-family affordable housing, low-income residents, renters, and non-profits.” In order to meet this goal, Austin Energy is developing a Shared Solar feature in the billing system that Solar Austin has advocated for to divide value of solar credits from a single solar array among multiple residents.  Once implemented, this function will reduce the cost and complexity of installing solar at multifamily properties, and has the potential to be utilized for future community solar programs.  Additionally, Austin Energy is now recommending that half of the La Loma community solar capacity be offered to low-income customers at a reduced rate, with a small subsidy from existing low-income bill assistance funds.

LAUNCHING YOUTH SOLAR EDUCATION PROGRAM
In order to expand our educational outreach, Solar Austin is launching a program to teach elementary school kids about solar. We are crafting solar car kits and informational materials that we will take to classrooms and youth programs. In a 60 minute lesson, kids will learn about solar energy, assemble the cars, and then test them outside.

Solar Austin Happy Hour: Community Solar at PEC

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) is going big with community solar. By the end of 2018, the co-op expects to have 15 MW online at five sites throughout its service territory. These local solar installations will be used to provide power to participating co-op members (customers) at a set rate. This is great news for customers who don’t have access to on-site solar—whether it’s because they can’t afford it, don’t own their own homes, or don’t have roof or are on land that isn’t suited for solar. And since participating co-op members will reduce their electric bills compared to the regular PEC rates, it’s no wonder that over 1,000 members signed up in the first day that the program opened for subscriptions in December. If you’re a PEC member, you can sign up here.

PEC is investing in low cost solar to reduce more expensive power purchases from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which relies heavily on the coal-fired Fayette power plant. Once again, solar is benefiting the environment and reducing costs.

Solar Austin is excited to announce that Jim Spaulding, Director of Project Development Energy Services at PEC, will discuss the co-op’s new community solar installations at our February happy hour.

Tuesday, February 27th, 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd
RSVP here.

At PEC, Jim Spaulding is responsible for developing and implementing new value-driven energy products and services that will advance and improve the cooperative’s performance in meeting its energy demands and developing strategic goals. He is an experienced professional in the utility, energy solutions, and water markets, as well as wastewater facility enhancement, with a proven track record in team building, specialized sales recruiting, and driving growth.

We hope you will join us Tuesday, February 27th for this exciting discussion about PEC’s community solar initiative!

Solar Austin Happy Hour: Innovation in Solar Technology

These are exciting times in the energy world.  Utility-scale solar is cheaper than new conventional power plants—and sometimes even cheaper than operating existing coal and gas plants. Solar and wind energy continue to expand and become even more economic. There’s lots of buzz about energy storage and some utilities are starting to invest in it.  But what innovations are taking place in research laboratories, and what technology may soon leave these research labs and head to commercial use?

Several Central Texas institutions are part of the Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics—where industry and thought leaders are answering these questions. Solar Austin is excited to kick off 2018, a year certain to be filled with even more innovation in renewable energy, with a happy hour talk by Dr. Taylor Harvey from the Center and TAMU-Central Texas on innovation in solar technology. Dr. Harvey will share his outlook on the future of solar and discuss research into developing printed solar cells on paper and plastic substrates. He will also share some of his experiences running a printed solar startup based here in Austin.

Tuesday, January 23rd, 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd
RSVP here.

Dr. Harvey is the Chancellor’s Assistant Professor of Research at Texas A&M University—Central Texas. His primary area of research is solar energy with a focus on new solar materials (such as solar paints) and solar microsystems. He is the co-author of nine peer-reviewed articles and two patents. Before starting his current position, Dr. Harvey co-founded and led Lucelo Technologies, a printed solar start-up. Dr. Harvey received his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014 after spending four years as a reservoir engineer in the traditional energy industry.

We hope you will join us Tuesday, January 23rd for this fascinating discussion!

3rd Annual Solar Austin Holiday Party

Our Annual Solar Achievement Award goes to H-E-B Grocery Company, LP this year. We chose to honor H-E-B for their stand out Hurricane Harvey relief work and extensive adoption and support of clean energy. Tickets are $25, $15 for students with valid ID, or $30 at the door and include a drink and appetizers. Get yours now to join us for a fun night supporting clean energy and good local jobs while honoring H-E-B’s support for solar power and victims of Hurricane Harvey!

Friday, December 15th, 7 – 10 p.m.
Friends & Allies Brewing Company, 979 Springdale Road #124
RSVP here.

H-E-B immediately donated $100,000 for Harvey relief, subsequently providing other monetary and volunteer support, the company’s mobile kitchens, and more that 1,000 truckloads of water in the first 72 hours of the crisis to support victims of Hurricane Harvey—support estimated to be worth a total of $3 million. On top of H-E-B’s generous disaster relief support, the company has spent over $10 million implementing solar power systems in 20 of its Austin-area stores and 2 distribution centers, which will be able to produce 4.9 millions kWh of energy per year and brings the retailer’s overall solar energy production to 12.1 million kilowatt-hours per year. Additionally, H-E-B donated $1 million to the San Antonio River Foundation to help fund Confluence Park, a project which will serve as a learning destination to teach visitors about sustainability and conservation practices like solar power and rainwater harvesting.

Live music by Jenny Parrott and her band!

 

 

Please join us to celebrate!