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.