Tax credit moves wind industry to ramp up construction plans

Several wind manufacturers already are reporting projects ready for construction in 2013, just days after Congress extended the renewable energy production tax credit, an industry group said Friday.

Many projects had been put on hold in 2012 because a production tax credit, which gives wind developers a 2.2-cent tax break for every kilowatt-hour of energy produced, was due to expire at the end of the year. Uncertainty over its extension led many wind developers to delay projects until they were certain that the tax break would be available in 2013, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

“The wind industry has been reinvigorated by this much-needed signal from congressional leaders,” said Rob Gramlich, interim CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, in a written statement. “Billions of dollars of investment sat idled by uncertainty that now can flow into new wind projects and our manufacturing sector. Congress has sent the necessary signal in extending the PTC and many are able to move ahead—and America’s energy consumers, manufacturing sector, and working families are the winners.”

California solar energy systems top 1 gigawatt

California's rebate program for businesses and homeowners who install solar panels has now funded enough systems to generate 1 gigawatt of electricity - a level few countries and no other states have ever reached.

California officials reported Thursday that state residents have installed 1,066 megawatts of solar systems using rebates from the $2.4 billion California Solar Initiative, launched in 2007 as a way to jump-start the industry.

For perspective, 1 gigawatt is roughly the output of two conventional power plants or one nuclear reactor. A gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts. Both are snapshot figures, representing the amount of electricity generated at a given instant.

The rebates decline over time and are now 92 percent lower than they were when the program began. But the number of applications received each year continues to rise as solar power's popularity spreads.

As a result, state officials say the program should reach its goal of funding enough installations to generate 1,940 megawatts by the end of 2016.

PV America 2013 East, in Philadelphia, PA, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center is the place to be this February 5 - 7

PV America 2013 East, in Philadelphia, PA, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center is the place to be this February 5 - 7 for eastern U.S. professionals in solar energy and related fields. Plan to join over 4,000 of the most progressive folks in the industry including manufacturers, installers and contractors, distributors, engineering firms, utilities, government representatives and policymakers, investors and financiers, architects, builders and developers.

Prepare to experience a dynamic exhibition with 150 booths and countless opportunities to make the connections needed to solve business challenges. The timely conference program features a Choose-Your-Own General Session on Tuesday, Solar Idea Swaps on Wednesday, and more than 30 conference sessions Tuesday-Thursday across six tracks of study—Finance, Innovations, Markets, Policy, Solar Multi-Track and Working with Utilities. New this year, Solar Energy International (SEI) and North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) will provide free technical training and resources for installers, salespeople and other solar energy professionals—right on the exhibit floor. Session topics range from site analysis to mounting, maintenance and safety, to NABCEP sales and business certification program overviews.

Solar Central, also on the exhibit floor, is the networking hot spot to interact with some of the industry’s most dynamic leaders for post-conference-session discussions, watch live “Solar on the Street” interviews or use the Career Center. Follow @PV America on Twitter for announcements or tweet using #PVAEast.

PV America is produced by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA). Unlike other solar conferences, all proceeds from PV America support the expansion of the U.S. solar energy market through both associations’ year-round research and education activities, and SEIA’s advocacy , research and communications efforts. Join SEIA or SEPA by February 1, 2013, to enjoy a membership discount on PV America 2013 East registration as well as many member benefits year round. For details on association membership, visit or

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Buffett holding makes big solar purchase

MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett's conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA, Fortune 500), has purchased two solar power projects in a deal valued at between $2 billion and $2.5 billion.

MidAmerican, the electric utility, said Wednesday it has purchased the Antelope Valley Solar Projects from SunPower Corp (SPWR).

Based in Los Angeles and Kern in California, the projects convert energy from light into electricity. The companies said the combined projects are the largest solar photovoltaic power development in the world. 

The projects are still under development, and are expected to be completed by the end of 2015. They are expected to create 650 construction jobs.

SunPower's stock price surged 20% at the open of trading Thursday.

Wind-energy tax credit extended for one year

Congress late Tuesday voted to extend a tax credit on wind energy that many said was key to the survival of the wind-power industry.

The credit's one-year extension was included in the measure to avert the fiscal cliff.

The credit saves 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy produced over 10 years by new wind-energy facilities.

As approved by Congress Tuesday, the extended credit will apply to projects begun in 2013 but not operational until 2014.

Wistful hopes for US offshore wind energy

Despite its promise, the American wind industry is caught in the crosswinds of American politics — and that uncertain situation set up a surreal contrast when wind enterprises gathered here to tout their technologies.

The American Wind Energy Association’s conference exhibition hall was full of European and multinational firms that are busy plunging scores of turbines into their waters. German developers talked about how the industry has transformed rusting homeland harbors into bustling ports, while British officials boasted that industry investment in offshore wind will leap from $8 billion in the last decade to $80 billion in the next eight years.

Representatives of American firms could only watch wistfully and wish the US government cared as much about wind energy as Europe does. Peter Duclos and Tim McAuliffe were two of those wistful watchers. Gladding-Hearn, their Somerset, Mass., company, specializes in ferries, patrol boats, pilot boats, and tugboats. They want to make boats to transport workers and equipment out to turbines.


“Some people estimate that for every 10 to 15 turbines, you need a vessel to get the technicians out there,” said Duclos, the company’s president. “And every active shipyard means other companies making more piping, electronics, even more business at the local liquor store.”

If the East Coast had a thriving offshore-wind industry, the ship-building company could double its current workforce of 100, added McAuliffe, the company’s engineering liaison.

2013: A Cloudy Forecast for Renewable Energy, With a Silver Lining

So what’s the real forecast for wind and solar power?

That’s dependent—as it always is with the power sector, whether it’s renewable or fossil fuels—on policy. For the wind industry in the U.S., continuation of the tax credit would be vital. It pays wind-farm owners 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity they produce over 10 years. If Congress fails to renew the tax credit, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts installations could fall by 88% next year to just 1.5 GW, at the cost of nearly 40,000 jobs according a study sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

A quick check at the headlines will show how unlikely renewal is in the current political atmosphere. It’s so bad that the AWEA, in an effort to get fiscal conservatives on their side, this month proposed a six-year phaseout of the credit. But while a bill to renew the credit was passed by the Senate Finance Committee in August and is sponsored by a Republican—Senator Chuck Grassley of wind-rich Iowa—little has happened since, and producers are getting ready for the fallout. Already turbines makers have announced hundreds of layoffs.

As for the solar industry, the low costs for modules that have driven installation are a double-edged sword for manufacturers, who increasingly can’t make money off their products at current prices. That’s also led to something of a trade war—the U.S and Europe have charged Chinese solar manufacturers, with ample help from Beijing, of selling solar modules at below cost. The European Union opened up an anti-dumping investigation in September, and the U.S. slapped tariffs on Chinese solar panels. That might be good for domestic manufacturers, but a trade war would likely hold back global growth of solar power.

China Tries to Fix Solar Panel Problems with Mergers, Reduced Gov. Support

In response to troubles with its solar panel manufacturing, China is trying to get producers to merge.

Beijing, in particular, is facing problems with its solar panel industry and plans to fix it by reducing government support for the industry, encouraging mergers and blocking local leaders from supporting domestic producers.

Beijing's solar problems stem from rapid expansion over the past decade. It offered grants and low-cost loans, which led to many producers crowding the market. The end result was too many producers that flooded the market with supplies and were forced to lower prices in order to compete. The industry is now about $17.5 billion in debt.

Further complicating Beijing's solar issues is conflict with both the U.S. and Europe. Last month, a U.S. trade panel supported tariffs as high as 250 percent on imports of sola panels from China. This occurred after it was discovered that Beijing was subsidizing imports in an inappropriate way and affecting jobs abroad.

More Than a Third of U.S. Solar Installers Say Permitting Requirements Limit Growth

Clean Power Finance today unveiled a nationwide study of solar permitting and the obstacle it poses to the widespread adoption of residential solar. The study, the largest of its kind to date, provides quantifiable evidence of the negative effects complex permitting regulations have on U.S. solar installers and also on the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), including municipalities and utilities, who oversee permitting processes.

Clean Power Finance undertook the study as part of preparations for the National Solar Permitting Database (NSPD), a free, online database of permitting requirements from across the U.S. that is funded in part by Clean Power Finance and in part by a Department of Energy SunShot Initiative grant. The study's objective is to establish baseline metrics prior to the deployment of the NSPD that can be compared to metrics taken after the NSPD is fully implemented, and to provide direction to the industry about areas for improvement.

"Strong initial interest in the National Solar Permitting Database makes it clear that people want to address permitting obstacles but aren't quite sure where to start," said James Tong, senior director at Clean Power Finance and project lead. "This study provides valuable data that will help identify areas for improvement and cooperation that will bring down costs for everyone and advance the adoption of solar."

GE Reaches Milestone for Wind Installations as US Industry Heads for Cliff

GE last month celebrated its 20,000th wind turbine installation, a gargantuan achievement given the US power generation giant only stepped into the sector in 2002 when it purchased the wind power assets from recently bankrupted Enron.

In many ways, GE's meteoric rise tracks the growth of the global industry. From a cumulative global capacity of 31.1GW globally, the US and China each hit the 50GW milestone this year, and Europe's installed capacity reached 100GW.

"Ten years ago we had 2,000 units across the globe, today we have over 20,000 units. It's gone from being a very small part of power generation installs over the last four years," said Matt Guyette, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for GE Wind.

The US wind industry has added more than 35% of all new generating capacity over the past five years, second only to natural gas, and more than nuclear and coal combined, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

U.S. Wind Energy Trade Group Chief Bode Quits After Four Years

Denise Bode, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association, will quit Jan. 1, the day that tax credits for the industry are set to expire.

Rob Gramlich, currently senior vice president for public policy, will take over her duties as interim CEO after she steps down, according to a statement today from the Washington-based trade group.

Bode was hired in January 2009 to help lock in federal and state incentives for the wind industry. Congress has yet to act on a one-year extension of the 2.2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit. The expiration of the tax credit will cause the loss of about 37,000 jobs, the industry group has said.

“Rob Gramlich will provide the steady hand needed to represent the industry during this critical period,” Bode said in the statement.

The tax credits for wind-energy producers have faced repeated expirations during the past two decades, creating uncertainty for turbine manufacturers including General Electric Co. and Vestas Wind Energy Systems A/S.

After Cutting I.P.O. Price, SolarCity Leaps in First Day of Trading

SolarCity may not have raised as much in its initial public offering than it had once hoped. But at its lowered offering price, the solar power company found more than a few takers.

During the first day of trading, the company’s stock jumped as much as 59 percent. The stock closed on Thursday at $11.79, or 47.4 percent above its offering price of $8. That valued SolarCity at $861 million.

The strong market debut followed a few days of difficulty for SolarCity and its underwriters, none of whom fully prepared for issues in bringing a clean technology company to market.

SolarCity, whose backers include Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, prides itself on being different from other companies in the solar sector. It finances and installs rooftop solar systems in exchange for long-term monthly payments from its customers and prefers to think of itself as an energy company, rather than just a solar company. The solar leases typically run 20 years.

China Selects More Than 100 Solar Projects to Receive Subsidies

China, the world’s biggest maker of solar modules, chose Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (YGE), Trina Solar Ltd. (TSL) and about 100 other developers with a combined 2.8 gigawatts of capacity to receive subsidies.

The payouts, under the Golden Sun program, are the second round announced this year, the Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement on its website. Generators in Jiangsu, a coastal province in eastern China, will gain the most from the aid as 374 megawatts of capacity, including developments by China’s biggest module maker by market valueHareon Solar Technology Co. (600401), will be located there.

The government may pay at least 15.4 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) for the projects if they are completed by the end of June 2013, according to Wang Xiaoting, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Beijing.

China began offering financial assistance for projects under the Golden Sun program in 2009. The nation is increasing assistance as solar-energy manufactures suffer from slowing demand and declining profit.

Wind, solar power paired with storage could be cost-effective way to power grid

Renewable energy could fully power a large electric grid 99.9 percent of the time by 2030 at costs comparable to today’s electricity expenses, according to new research ("Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time") by the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College. A well-designed combination of wind power, solar power and storage in batteries and fuel cells would nearly always exceed electricity demands while keeping costs low, the scientists found.

“These results break the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and expensive,” said co-author Willett Kempton, professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “The key is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storage — which we did by an exhaustive search — and to calculate costs correctly.” The authors developed a computer model to consider 28 billion combinations of renewable energy sources and storage mechanisms, each tested over four years of historical hourly weather data and electricity demands. The model incorporated data from within a large regional grid called PJM Interconnection, which includes 13 states from New Jersey to Illinois and represents one-fifth of the United States’ total electric grid.

SolarCity's IPO: The Risks

As more solar manufacturers stumble into bankruptcy, solar installers have been booming thanks to plunging prices for photovoltaic panels and the availability of cash to finance leases that allow homeowners to go green with little or no money down. Yet as SolarCity’s $201 million initial public offering filing shows, installers like the Silicon Valley startup face some of the same risks roiling the solar industry.

SolarCity may be in the business of putting solar panels on rooftops but its success ­– revenues have more than doubled to $71 million since 2009 – relies on putting together investment funds that finance those installations for homeowners in return for monthly lease payments.

Over the past three years, SolarCity, founded by Elon Musk’s cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive in 2006, has persuaded companies like Credit Suisse, U.S. Bancorp, Google and utility PG&E to put $1.57 billion into 23 funds to finance leases. More than 90% of SolarCity’s customers now opt to lease rooftop panels rather than purchase them, according to the IPO filing made public Friday.

Investors have flocked to those funds to cash in on a 30% federal investment tax credit for solar systems. That incentive was particularly attractive between 2009 and 2012 when the government allowed investors to take the credit in the form of a cash payment. After 2016, the tax credit will fall to 10%.

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