Here is an updated version
of the Solar Ideas for the Alabama Legislature originally written
Dear Representative Elwyn Thomas and Paul Kennedy,
In responding to your request for ideas for solar legislation, I am
sending two parts. The first part, "Global warming solutions for
Alabama, The Big
Picture", is being sent in another email and presents the energy and
environmental context for solar and other renewable energy sources.
That part looks at both the supply and the demand side of our state's
situation. I can't emphasize enough that the demand side is the most
important! The fastest, easiest and most economical solutions lie on
the demand side. We do not need to be using nearly the amount of
energy that we are to maintain our quality of life. Solutions on the
demand side are likely to mean local jobs and local investment.
While we are reducing our excessive demand for energy, lets also look
at the supply side.
Solar is a very reasonable way to meet a significant portion of the
needs of energy in Alabama.
Passive Solar Building Design
Passive solar buildings are comfortable and
At little additional cost, they are a good
investment, often cutting
heating and cooling bills in half.
Passive solar design incorporates three basic elements:
1) Maximize south
windows for winter heat gain.
2) Provide shade from
summer sun with overhangs, etc.
temperatures with thermal mass.
Buildings account for roughly half of greenhouse gas emissions.
is also the 2030 Challenge. It lays out a requirements that new
buildings to be built so that in use, they emit 50% of greenhouse
gasses of today's average. It requires upgrading a portion of older
buildings, and by 2030 requiring that new buildings produce zero
This would be a great standard for the state of Alabama to embrace.
Active Solar Systems
Active solar systems harness the sun's energy for specific tasks, such
as heating water or generating electricity. They can be integrated
into a structure, or added to it. Active solar systems could be used
to provide a large portion of Alabama's energy needs.
As we have worked across the state helping people install active solar
systems for their homes and businesses, my colleagues and I have
encountered barriers to the installation of these solar systems. Many
other states have removed these barriers by means of legislation and
regulations. The result is a significant increase in solar
installations in those states.
Listings by state of renewable and energy efficiency legislation and
regulations can be found at http://www.dsireusa.org/
Below, arranged by type of solar systems, are barriers we have found to
their implementation, and proven solutions for removing these barriers.
The barriers and solutions for solar hot water would often also apply
to solar pv.
Solar Hot Water Systems
Water heating is a significant portion of a family's or institution's
power bill. Solar
can provide an energy and cost effective way to heat water. Solar is by
far the least costly way to heat swimming pools and the return on
investment for these systems is very high. Heating domestic hot water
has the second highest return on investment for active solar systems.
water heating can reduce fossil fuel or nuclear energy inputs by 80 to
Solar water heating today is a time proven, cost effective, and mature
technology. Properly designed and installed solar water heating
systems have been operating well for 25 years with little or no
Cities and housing developments have regulations
severely limiting or prohibiting the installation of solar collectors
on roofs or other locations.
: Pass legislation prohibiting such restrictive
regulations and covenants. ( Remove restrictions on clothes lines too?)
Businesses must file sales tax forms for every town
county in Alabama in which they sell something. Some of these forms are
sent to central location, but others are not. A follow-up filing is
required each month for the next year even if no additional sales are
made in that locality. The clerical cost of separately filing local tax
forms (and processing them at the
other end) can easily be many times the cost of taxes paid, and a very
significant burden to small businesses. Many businesses in Alabama
across the spectrum of activities, stop selling, or don't begin because
of this bureaucratic burden.
: Make solar systems exempt from the collection of
state and local
sales (and property) taxes. This would also provide a modest incentive
minimal administrative costs.
Institute mandatory state collection and
distribution of local sales taxes. I've been told Georgia has such a
system. This could result in significant cost savings for Alabama
businesses and local governments.
Do both the above.
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Electricity Generating Systems
Solar PV systems have developed greatly during the past 25 years.
PV systems are coming down in price and are cost effective for remote
and portable applications.
As the costs of pv drop and the costs of grid electricity rises, world
demand for pv is growing rapidly. Inverter technology and safety
standards have developed to the point
where interconnection with the utility grid can be safe and simple.
Grid interconnected systems are a win-win-win proposition.
1) They are a win for the homeowner with a solar pv system since
homeowners are able to sell the excess power they produce, and can
reduce or eliminate costly and toxic batteries.
2) They are a win for the utility companies which are provided with
solar power during
the day when loads peak and power is the most expensive for them to
That power is replaced at night when utilities have excess capacity and
power is cheaper.
3) They are a win for the general public since this pv generated
electricity offsets fossil fuel or nuclear power thereby reducing
cause global warming, public health and environmental problems.
Distributed generation reduces power losses associated with grid
transmission, and reduces the load on the power grid.
Alabama has very few grid interconnected solar pv systems partly due to
the following barriers:
Local utility companies have no or varying
for grid interconnected systems.
Institute statewide maximum standards for grid
Some utilities charge significant initial and
intertie fees, require redundant equipment, and/or costly liability
Require utilities to allow fee-free connection
without redundant equipment or extra liability insurance for home
scale systems that meet UL1741 standards.
Some utilities if they do allow grid intertie, pay a
fraction of the retail rate for it.
Require utilities to provide a no-cost net metering
option. The US Energy
Policy Act of 2005 requires net metering be established.
Solar incentives could include legislation requiring the use of solar
in government facilities including schools. These institutions could
significantly decrease their operating costs and instead use those
funds for program needs. Funding is available that pays for these
renovations out of future cost savings.
Resources for further information:
1) Kilowatt Ours video from http://www.kilowattours.org/
The most accessible presentation of energy efficiency and solar energy
as alternatives to fossil and nuclear energy. This film inspires
action through understanding. We have a copy to loan, but you should
make a donation and get your own!
2) North Carolina Sustainable Energy Alliance http://www.ncsustainableenergy.org/
see their attached list of legislative priorities.
3) Southern Alliance for Clean Energy http://www.cleanenergy.org/
4) Florida Senate Bill 888 http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/energynews/2006/2006-03-energybill.htm
5) TVA Green Power Switch Generation Partners program http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/partners/index.htm
is a pilot program purchasing pv or wind generated power from
homeowners at 15cents/kWh - about twice the retail rate.
Guaranteed buy-back rate subsidies have serious advantages over
installation subsidies. The systems have to keep working well in order
to earn the subsidy. Currently, Sheffield Utilities is the only Alabama
Utility participating in this program.
6) The American Solar Energy Society report, “Tackling Climate Change
in the U.S.
– Potential Emissions
Reductions from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 2030,”
addresses human-caused climate change solutions through energy
efficiency and renewable
energy using current off-the-shelf technologies. http://www.ases.org/climatechange/
This is a first take on suggestions, I encourage others
email to add theirs.
Toward a world that works for all,
Earth Steward Solar Consulting
442 Red Maple Road, Blountsville, AL 35031
NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer
AET Certified Solar Hot Water Installer