Slowpump™ & Flowlight Booster Pump are now Being Produced by

Windy Dankoff, PVSS

PO Box 548, Santa Cruz, NM 87567 Phone & Fax (505) 351-2100

for water lift & pressurizing — quiet, efficient & durable

The original products from the original producer ... Since 1983

for water lift & pressurizing — quiet, efficient & durable

The original products from the original producer ... Since 1983

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I have nothing against the utilities using sunshine to make power. In fact, for the good of our environment, the sooner the utilities go solar the better. I see PV modules on the roof of virtually every building, all contributing power to a nationwide solar electric grid.

The big question is who owns these PV modules, and more specifically who owns the electric power that these modules make? Will the energy companies hold on to their power monopoly, or will electric power become something we commonly own? By analogy consider the following: you live in a cold climate where vegetables, shipped from a distant place, are only available at supermarkets. Someone invents a greenhouse that allows local vegetable production. Imagine inviting the supermarket to come to your homestead, erect a greenhouse, grow a garden, then sell you the vegetables.

Under the Public Utilities Regulation Policies Act of 1979 (PURPA '79), the federal government ruled that utilities must buy renewable energy from any producer. To us average type folks, PURPA '79 means that if we put up PVs, a wind generator, or a hydro, our local utility must purchase our RE-produced power. While PURPA '79 doesn't make it easy for us, as independent RE producers, to contribute our energy to the grid, it is very specific that we own this RE power and that the utility must purchase it from us.

Nowhere in the utilities' marketing of solar energy, do I see recognition of our legal right to own our particular piece of the sun. I am here to tell you what the utilities don't tell you. You can own your own electric power, and even sell your surplus energy back to them. If you are off-grid, you can own your own electric system for a fraction of the utility's lease cost.

Utilities are businesses. They make decisions based on their interests. It is not in their interest to have you own the power producing system and contribute this energy to their grid. This puts you in utility's traditional role of power producer and demotes their role to power broker. From the utility's standpoint this is a bad business move. From your perspective, as an RE producer, owning the energy offers you security and freedom. Instead of paying retail prices for power, you own your own. If the system is large enough to produce a surplus, then you should get a check from the utility.

Solar energy puts you in utility's traditional role of power producer and demotes their role to power broker.

The word is out. Owning your own renewable energy system is like growing your own food. Just one more necessity of life that is secure and under your control rather than subject to the decisions of others. Energy is now something that can be home grown.

"Who owns the sun"

Well, you do, of course. Federal law, common law, and just plain good sense all tell us that. This question must be repeatedly asked so that we are all aware that we do indeed own the sun. By way of helping us to forget who owns the sun, the powers that now control power offer us a number of tempting solar scenarios. Take a look...

Utility scale solar power plants

These represent the utilities' traditional approach to electricity — build a huge plant, make lots of power, and ship it on wires to wherever they can sell it. The main problem with this approach is the democratic and distributed nature of sunshine. All anyone gets is one kilowatt per square meter and that's it. Solar energy is diffusely offered everywhere and awkward to centralize. The main attraction of utility scale PV projects is that they allow the utilities to keep their traditional role as producers in the style to which they have become accustomed.

The utility's PVs on everybody's roof

In this scenario the utility installs their PV array on your roof. Here you buy their power which is produced on your roof.

This scenario is actually being practiced by a major utility and this utility charges more for the solar energy than for its regular electricity. This "PV for Yuppies" program (as it's known inside the utility) is actually being successful because so many folks want to help our environment. There are three advantages for the utility in having their modules on your roof — no real estate cost, no additional transmission wiring, and they get to keep you for a customer. The disadvantage for the user is that you are still a power consumer with a monthly power bill.

There are legal questions surrounding the utility owning the PV array located on a roof that you own. Consider fire, storm damage, lightning damage, and other real life disasters. Who is responsible for what aspects of the system? New types of insurance and law will have to be written to insulate the utility from the homeowner and vice versa.

Who owns the sun?

Your PVs on your roof

This scenario reflects the real ownership of the sun. You own the PVs on your roof and the power that they make. This scenario is legal (PURPA '79) and is being practiced by hundreds of grid connected RE systems. This scenario is not promoted publicly by most utilities because it is not in their own interest. As long as the RE producer meets rigid technical requirements, the system can be insured and legal requirements are clear cut.

I would like to suggest the following financial arrangement between the utility and any independent RE producer — all RE systems producing under 50 kiloWatts should receive net billing. This means equal payment for power produced or consumed.

Power bills without the wires

Utilities are entering markets which they have never serviced before. One such market is off-grid home power systems. Several utilities are considering leasing, and one is actually now leasing, stand-alone PV systems to off-grid homes.

Utilities lack the expertise and experience to enter the off-grid market. I recently attended an RE conference and asked representatives of two major California utilities how many off-grid ratepayers they had. Both representatives answered none. By definition, off-grid means not connected to the utility's wires. This is a market that is radically different from any that utilities have ever serviced. Here there are design and customer interface skills that will take years for the utilities to master.

Utilities actually lack the legal ability to enter any PV market. Legally, public utilities are hampered from using solar energy by two factors. One, a utility cannot easily raise its rates. This limits their use of utility owned PV on their grid because they cannot show it to be cost effective. Two, a utility is prohibited from using its publicly granted monopoly to unfairly compete with other industries. This limits their competition with established, off-grid RE businesses.

The off-grid market is already effectively serviced by over 1,000 companies nationwide. These are the people who developed solar energy and made off-grid living a working reality. They have the experience of over 50,000 installations nationwide. Ten years ago the utilities laughed when we told them that small scale RE systems were more cost effective than either line extensions or running a generator all the time. Over the years, these small companies have pioneered home power systems until they represent a sizable and rapidly growing market. The chart below shows the volumn of off-grid home power business that we can track through our subscriber's database. I think that these figure represent less than 30% of the actual off-grid renewable energy market.

Utilities are trying to hold on to their energy production monopoly. The PUCs rule that the utilities can't buy PV because it's not yet cost effective to put solar on their grid. They can, however, lease PV systems to off-grid homes where it is clearly cost effective. Except for the legal wrinkle that there is this growing industry which is already servicing the off-grid market.

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