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Rep. Inslee Proposes Shared Fee on Electric Bills for Clean Energy

Bill introduced in Congress is modeled on Germany's success in using feed-in-tariffs to power a clean energy boom

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jul 29, 2010

The feed-in tariff is a huge boon to Germany’s solar industry, Lewis pointed out. Even though California receives 70 percent more sunlight than Germany, Germany installs 15 times more solar electric capacity every year. The European country installed 3,000 megawatts of solar energy in 2009, which was four times more than analysts predicted.

Utility Companies Threatened

Understandably, many utility companies are less than enamored with feed-in tariffs because they are used to being in charge of how and when power is distributed. They are accustomed to paternalistic relationships with residential, commercial and industrial customers to whom they deliver power to via their distribution lines.

Working with those customers to iron out details on interconnection-guaranteed, power purchase agreements is new territory for utilities.

“Utilities resist transparency about their distribution grids,” Lewis said. “They are nervous. Distribution grids are a black box and that black box is a cash cow. They don’t like to be told what to do or to change.”

That traditional resistance to feed-in tariffs, however, is showing signs of thawing. Michael Eckhart, president of the nonprofit American Council on Renewable Energy, noted that members of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners passed a resolution in July supporting efforts among states to implement feed-in tariffs.

What Inslee’s Bill Looks Like

In addition to photovoltaic solar, thermal solar and wind, Inslee’s bill lists geothermal, marine and hydrokinetic, biomass, landfill gas, biogas from farm waste and some hydropower as renewable energy sources eligible for a feed-in tariff.

His bill covers distributed generation systems up to 20 megawatts in size, so it includes small retail and larger wholesale projects. It also establishes a National Renewable Energy Corp.

RenewCorps, Lewis said, is the bookkeeping portion of the bill because it creates a cost-sharing mechanism that equally distributes costs of compliance to electrical energy customers on a regional basis. It provides a full reimbursement to utilities for costs associated with network upgrades and interconnection.

National rates on guaranteed power purchase agreements between the energy generators and the utilities would be fixed for 20 years. As is the case in Germany, rates would differ depending on technology type, size and site. They are designed to decline over time.

Varying kilowatt-hour pricing paid by utilities would be based on a scale that is established by determining where each particular renewable is most abundant. For instance, California’s Mojave Desert is measured as the No. 1 spot for solar energy, Lewis said.

Re-Election Prospects Not Affected

Inslee, who will face off against a yet-to-be-determined Republican opponent in the Nov. 2 election, is certainly not putting his House seat in jeopardy by proposing such progressive legislation at this political juncture.

In 2008, he received almost 70 percent of the vote from a district that encompasses part of northwest Seattle and largely suburban areas north and east of Seattle. This fall he is running for his seventh term in the 1st Congressional District but his eighth overall. Between 1993 and 1995, he represented a different district in central Washington.

In the House, Inslee serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Natural Resources Committee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Republican political newcomers Matthew Burke, a certified financial planner, and James Watkins, a former Microsoft manager with an advanced degree in business administration, will be competing in an Aug. 17 primary to determine who will be up against Inslee on the mid-term ballot.

Berkeley Professors Back Feed-in Tariff for California

University of California, Berkeley, professors Dan Kammen and Max Wei released a report earlier this month recommending that the Golden State adopt a feed-in tariff similar to Germany’s model. Kammen, who teaches energy, policy and nuclear engineering, advised President Obama on energy policy during the 2008 campaign.

The previous comment misses the point

Solar energy even at the higher feed-in tariff prize is a steal !!!

Here is why: It is produced at peak time !!! Get it ???

If you simply take this fact into account, then this energy is very cheap,
even in Germany where there is not much sun

Yes the prize is higher than energy produced in the middle of the night.
But that energy is useless. During the night we have too much energy anyway.
Comparing the solar energy price to the night price
is a standard way to mislead the public

BTW - Germany has been selling peak time solar energy to France this Summer.
This is because the French nuclear power plants could not run at full
capacity this summer (the rivers were too hot). Also the heavily government supported
nuclear industry simply produces a constant amount of energy all day long.
Not like solar, which by a fluke fact of nature is available when its needed

Just was in Germany this summer. There is a green energy producing euphoria there
(similar to Scandinavia). This is particularly noticeable in the country side. Homeowners and farmers are driving the revolution. It is pretty miraculous.

And all because of a smart law. The energy companies in Germany are fighting back
though:
- They managed to get Government support of large scale project in the north sea
instead of the decentralized energy production fostered by the feed-in laws
- Also large solar establishments can now be shut off if too much energy is available

The US needs to empower its people and catch up with Scandinavia, Germany and China

kudos to Inslee!

If Jay were here I'd give him a big hug!

This is the kind of legislation we need. The Solar Gardens Institute gives its whole-hearted support.

Balance this article please.

Balance this article please. Your readers would have benefited from some balance. Utilities are "less than enamored" of feed-in tariffs because of costs, not because of a need for control (although the variable output of renewables does considerably complicate the grid operator's ability to balance the system). Germany's feed-in tariff guarantees the energy producer the equivalant of 65 cents per kilowatt-hour (or more depending on the exchange rate). That's six to ten times the typical cost of retail power, depending on where you live. With uneconomic subsidies that impose costs on consumers, you can be the world leader in solar. If you really want an effective response to climate change, give the subsidy to nuclear power. Then, at least, your carbon-free generation source will produce at night.

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