With Caveats, Solar San Antonio Board Supports CPS Energy Solar Leasing Plan

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Ralph Talbott stands with his rooftop solar panel array in San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Ralph Talbott stands with his rooftop solar panel array in San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Solar San Antonio‘s board released a resolution Tuesday that supports the preliminary concepts of a solar leasing program proposed by CPS Energy in September. While Solar San Antonio (SSA) Board approval or support is not required for CPS Energy to move forward on policies, SSA has become a strong voice of the local solar industry including installers, customers, and environmental advocates.

Under this plan, possibly all the cost of the panels and installation would be shifted from the customer to developers contracted by CPS Energy. The developers would install and maintain solar systems on residential and commercial rooftops or in a community solar farm. CPS Energy would buy the output of these new systems through a purchase power agreement (PPA) with a developer, which will be selected through a bidding process. CPS Energy has yet to issue a request for proposals (RFP) as it’s still early in the pilot program development process.

The SSA board accepts CPS Energy’s preliminary outline of how the leasing program would work, but carries with it some further suggestions on how the existing rebate program would continue. The initial plan proposed by CPS Energy would continue its $1.60 per kilowatt (KW) rebate program for solar installations through 2015. The SSA Board resolution requests that “the program maintains the current opportunity for private solar ownership beyond 2015” and that the current rebate program and pilot leasing program be reviewed by a community/stakeholder working group to decide on program continuance, amendment, or replacement with the PPA.

“We didn’t want to take anything off the table,” said SSA Board President Laurence Doxsey. “We wouldn’t want to say that this new program would (or should) eliminate the need for a rebate – we’d rather make that decision after both (programs) have run concurrently.”

The SSA Board wants to make sure that privately-owned systems can still be installed, he said. In the future, there may or may not be a rebate involved and the pilot PPA/leasing program needs to be monitored to inform how this new system would work.

“Nobody knows at this point whether the PPA will work the way it’s conceived … it may fall flat for reasons we don’t know,” Doxsey said, reiterating: “We didn’t want anything off the table – including new ideas that maybe haven’t been tried yet … we encourage that there be an ongoing dialogue (between CPS Energy and stakeholders).”

The resolution also states that local installers, material, and equipment should be given special priority in the RFP.

“That is, I think, something everybody wants to see,” Doxsey said.

“We’re big on the local component,” said CPS Energy Spokesperson Tracy Hamilton. “We’re thrilled that Solar San Antonio supports (this plan). The next step is to essentially develop the pilot program that we put out the RFP for.”

It’s been more than a year since CPS Energy originally proposed net metering plan to the solar community, which was met with unified, heated rejection from solar industry stakeholders. After the solar fee plan was rejected as well in July, this is the third plan put before the CPS Energy Board to recover the fixed costs from solar customers. CPS Energy representatives have said that by often reducing their bill down to almost nothing, customers are not paying for maintenance and infrastructure costs associated with maintaining the grid.

“We’re pleased that we have a path forward and that we’re working on a solar business model that is more sustainable over the long term,” said CPS Energy Vice President of Communications Lisa Lewis in an email on Tuesday.

CPS Energy already has more than 130 MW of solar power in commercial operation as part of its New Energy Economy initiative, which aims to meet 20% of its electricity demand with renewable energy by 2020. Commercial, utility-scale solar is essentially the first phase of reaching that goal, enhancing distributed generation – like rooftop and community solar – are a part of the next.

The typical 5-KW system costs on average $21,000 without any rebates and about $9,000 with local and federal rebates – well out of range for many pocketbooks. This solar leasing program would remove most – if not all – of that upfront cost.

“This PPA plan would make solar available to almost everyone,” Hamilton said. “Our goal is to expand the use of solar power in the San Antonio region – the rebate program alone went a really long way towards doing that but it has limitations.”

Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group LLC, which publishes the Rivard Report, provided consulting services to CPS Energy in 2012. Monika Maeckle, who co-founded the Rivard Report, worked for CPS Energy as director of integrated communications and has now returned to consulting.

*Featured/top image: Ralph Talbott stands with his rooftop solar panel array in San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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