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, the local solar industry and the community at large.
HELPING TO ESTABLISH AUSTIN ENERGY’S SOLAR INCENTIVE PROGRAM
One of Solar Austin’s first efforts was to get Austin Energy to offer rebates for on-site solar installations, which the utility began doing for residential customers in 2003. It now offers incentives to commercial customers as well.
GETTING LOCAL AND ON-SITE SOLAR GOALS ESTABLISHED FOR AUSTIN ENERGY
In order to ensure that Austin Energy remains motivated to continue pro-solar policies and programs, Solar Austin advocated for specific capacity goals for local solar in general and customer-sited solar in particular. The local solar goal for 2020 is 110 megawatts (MW), with at least 70 MW customer-sited. The goal for 2025 ia 200 MW, with at least 100 MW customer-sited. These goals only represent a small fraction of the on-site and other local solar potential in the Austin area, so Solar Austin continues to advocate for higher goals.
EXTENDING TIMELINE FOR AUSTIN ENERGY SOLAR INCENTIVE
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 in 2017, Solar Austin was able to negotiate an extension of solar incentives through 2027. This amounted to approximately $28.8 million in additional solar incentives for new projects between 2020 and 2027.
EXTENSION OF AUSTIN ENERGY’S 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 represented a $1.3 million commitment to the residential solar program.
CUSTOMER PROTECTIONS AND HIGHER FLAT SOLAR REBATE AT AUSTIN ENERGY
Solar Austin worked with Austin Energy staff to ensure that customer protections were built into the new flat solar rebate program. This included input into the Solar Education program and the requirement for customers to be allowed to cancel contracts if entered into without completing education program. As a result, customers are better informed about best practices, how solar works, the benefits of solar, prices, their rights, and questions to ask. Solar Austin also advocated for the $2,500 flat rebate amount, instead of a lower amount that might have resulted in smaller installations.
ADOPTION OF COMMERCIAL VALUE OF SOLAR AT AUSTIN ENERGY
Prior to 2018, Austin Energy commercial customers with solar were not compensated for any energy they provided to the grid. 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, went into effect January 1, 2018.
ALLOCATION OF FUNDS FOR LOW-INCOME SOLAR AT AUSTIN ENERGY
Solar Austin believes that making solar accessible to as many people as possible will help to ensure long-term support for the industry. We advocate for policies and programs to expand access to solar for low-income residents, renters and those who live in multifamily housing. As a result of this work, the Austin City Council adopted a resolution in 2017 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 developed the Shared Solar pilot program. This included an enhanced rebate for solar installations on three affordable housing properties and an update to the billing system that Solar Austin has advocated for to divide value of solar credits from a single solar array among multiple residents. This function greatly reduces the cost and complexity of installing solar at multifamily properties. Following the 2017 resolution, Austin Energy also decided to reserve half of the La Loma community solar capacity for low-income customers at a reduced rate, something we had previously advocated for.
We are now working to have Shared Solar expanded to commercial accounts and to open the program up to all residential properties as quickly as possible. We are also advocating for solutions that will address some of the big reasons that renters and lower-income residents are generally unable to utilize on-site solar. These challenges include a split incentive (where the landlord must invest, but benefits go to the tenant), lack of capital (either cash savings or access to financing).
MAKING GREEN CHOICE A STANDARD OFFER TO AUSTIN ENERGY CUSTOMERS
Solar Austin was an early supporter of making the original version of GreenChoice – Austin Energy’s 100% renewable energy electricity option – a standard offer to utility customers. Since then, the program has been changed to eliminate its main benefits – fixed pricing and adding renewable energy to the grid. We would like to see it restructured to closer to its original form.
HAPPY HOUR EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM
Solar Austin has hosted a long standing monthly educational happy hour. We bring in speakers to discuss a variety of topics in the areas of clean energy technology, energy policy, climate change, specific clean energy projects, and other relevant issues. We vary the focus of our programming to appeal to the different segments of our supporter base – those working in the solar industry, solar customers and environmentalists.
YOUTH SOLAR EDUCATION PROGRAM
Solar Austin launched a program to teach elementary school kids about solar. We crafted solar car kits and a presentation that we take to classrooms, youth programs, and events. Kids learn about solar energy, assemble the cars, and then test them outside.