We have solar power at home Part 5

Previously: We have solar power at home Part 4.
Next: We have solar power at home Part 6.

We bought solar

Nominal kW DC System Size5.32 kW
# of Solar Panels14
Module TypeSIL-380 BK ELITE
Module Watt Rating (DC)380

A month after we closed on the house, we contracted with SimplySolar. $20,510 for 14 panels, including $500 for an extra 240V outlet for our dryer. Now we started to wait … for the engineering plans, for the permit, for the outlet.

Payment was split into a number of milestones, and after signing the contract we got our first bill April 26th.

DUE 04/26/2022

$1,000.00

The Story of The Dryer That Didn’t Get Used For Six Months, Part 2

The washer and dryer were delivered promptly, and we—meaning the delivery service—hooked up the washer, and hookup up the vent for the dryer. The washer worked well. I wrote the following to family on May 3rd, 2022:

Next steps

  1. They draft the exact plans, one week
  2. Approval from the city, 3–6 weeks
  3. Installation. 1 day.

We got an email from our vendor the next day:

…. Depending on the complexities of your project, plan sets can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to draft …

But then we got a plan May 10th!, plus:

Permits can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to get approved …

June 10:

DUE 05/10/2022

$7,804.00

June 15th:

I want to alert you of a design change that the City is requiring; it does not impact your system or its estimated production, but it does place a piece of equipment on the front of your house, to the left of your garage. San Francisco is a bit unique in its requirements for accessible disconnects when it comes to solar projects, and we often spend time debating with them whether the disconnect can be within an entryway, as we wanted to plan in your case, or if it must be truly outside. After just such a conversation, they are requiring that we relocate our disconnect from within the entryway to left of your garage

A gray metal box attached to a gray stucco wall.  Black dimension bars drawn on the picture show it is 9 inches wide and 14 inches high.  A metal conduit emerges from the bottom left corner of the box and extends up beyond the top of the picture.  Another metal conduit emerges from the bottom center and extends downward.

Example of an emergency shutoff box

Our entryway has a locked gate, so apparently we couldn’t put the emergency shutoff behind that1.

We still don’t have a working dryer, you understand. But it’s late spring, and sunny, and we are rigging temporary drying racks in the back yard and having fun air-drying our laundry and it’s actually pretty cool neat.

July 1:

We are still working on your permit from the City & County of San Francisco.

July 10:

We are on vacation2 in Alaska to visit family and to show our children a glacier. When I was a kid we would go see Portage Glacier, which was across Portage Lake and often sent icebergs over the lake to wash up on shore, and I remember the Begich-Boggs3 Visitor Center being built; it’s still open but Portage Glacier has melted out of sight and no longer reaches the lake, hence no more icebergs. However, a short hike from a nearby parking lot gets us to, and on, the adjacent Byron Glacier.

A very wide depth-of-focus photograph up a canyon to a mountain.  The bottom third of the picture is a snow field, packed down, a little dirty and churned by footsteps, perhaps 50 or a hundred meters wide before curving gently up into the hills on both sides.  Slightly below the center of the photo, a child in a blue jacket and gray pants is walking away.  A little beyond them and to the left, five adult-sized people stand in a loose semi-circle, wearing shorts, t-shirts, several with backpacks.  One person has a dog at their side.  Around one third up from the bottom of the picture, a landslide of dark gray big rocks interrupts the snow.  Scattered green bushes grow on the landslide.  Beyond the landslide, the snow continues up the canyon, rising into a rocky mountain more than half-covered with snow and ice, with very little green. The sides of the canyon are a mix of green stretches, rocks, and scree. The sky above is blue and partly cloudy, with bright sun apparently behind clouds on the top right, leaving most of the right canyon wall in shadow and throwing medium-length shadows from the people.

July 18:

I have great news! Your permit has been approved by the City & County of San Francisco!

So about nine weeks. No problem, that’s just 3 + 6 rather than “between 3 and 6” (this is a joke4). We still don’t have a working dryer, you understand. And now it’s actually summer, which in coastal California means that we’re about to see less of the sun than a groundhog forecasting an early summer. Or a late summer, whatever. The fog rolls in, the temperature drops to the high 50s (~14°C), the atmosphere itself gets cold sweats, and our clothes don’t dry on the clothesline any more5.

July 29:

I am reaching out in regard to the PV panel we are slated to use, the Silfab 380W. … they are no longer able to source the particular silicon cell required … we would like to provide you a no-cost upgrade to 400W modules, manufactured by Q Cells … We would be swapping from 14 380W modules to 14 400W modules, yielding a 5% overall system increase from 5.32kW to 5.6kW. … The panels are very slightly wider and thus change the layout minorly …

So that was actually perfectly good news6!

August 1:

Thank you for your prompt reply regarding the changes to your solar system. We have tentatively scheduled your installation for this week, beginning on Thursday, August 4th. The installation should take 2 days.

August 5:

DUE 08/05/2022

$10,730.50

August 29:

DUE 08/29/2022

$975.50

September 6:

We are reaching out to let you know that your Net Energy Metering Interconnection Application has been completed in full! It has been sent to PG&E for review. … Typically these applications are processed within 1-2 weeks, but please be prepared for this to take up to 30 business days.

Also September 6, from PG&E:

This confirmation email verifies that the non-refundable interconnection fee of $145 has also been received for this interconnection request

September 8, also from PG&E:

… Your new solar system located at … has permission to operate as of 09/08/2022. Although your PG&E meter is now recording the credits for your system, your first NEM bill may take up to thirty (30) business days before it is sent to you. Please turn on your system to start participating in our NEM Program. In most cases, your installer will help you turn on your system.

September 9, from our vendor:

This is confirmation that your solar system was interconnected with PG&E as of 09/08/2022

And that was the end of the Story of The Dryer That Didn’t Get Used For Six Months … or was it7?

About GreenPowerSF

Since we’re going to talk about PG&E bills soon, let’s take a minute to explain GreenPowerSF. PG&E has a monopoly on delivering electricity, but it don’t have a monopoly on getting the energy to deliver. A law from 20028 says … well, it says a lot of things with maximum jargon. It allows

customers to aggregate their electrical loads as members of their local community with community choice aggregators

and requires that

All electrical corporations shall cooperate fully with any community choice aggregators that investigate, pursue, or implement community choice aggregation programs.

which means, more simply, that communities can get their electrical energy from somewhere else.

That’s actually too simple. Back up. Customers can create Community Choice Aggregators, CCAs, to procure electricity. And the investor-owned utilities (IOUs), which own the distribution systems—things like substations and utility poles—have to allow their customers to buy that electricity. We still have to pay PG&E to deliver electricity, but we don’t have to pay PG&E for sourcing the electricity, i.e., running a power plant or buying it on the electricity market. Instead, we can pay CleanPowerSF, which is a program of the City and County of San Francisco, and which doesn’t pay its CEO $50 million dollars in one year9, which means it can deliver 100% carbon-free energy and still charge less than PG&E charges for dirtier energy.10

But we still have to pay PG&E to deliver the power. Fortunately, it charges very reasonable rates11. The IOUs own the distribution systems because they paid for them, but they paid for them with money that customers were forced to pay them, because monopoly, and they can’t abuse that monopoly power because the regulators set the rates, and only raise them if the IOUs explain what the money is for and show that it’s an appropriate increase. Let’s see how that’s regulator/regulatee relationship is going …

A brief history of recent attempts to reform the California Public Utilities Commission12

Revolving door between PG&E and CPUC must shut SFChron 201213

Commission President Michael Peevey is a former CEO of SoCal Edison. The agency’s top lawyer, Frank Lindh, worked at PG&E for 16 years. Delaney Hunter, a former CPUC government affairs chief, became an energy lobbyist in 2008. Former Executive Director Steve Larson left the CPUC in 2007 to work at a natural gas company. Ex-Commissioner Jessie J. Knight now leads San Diego Gas & Electric.

State Sen. Leland Yee introduced legislation Tuesday to stop the revolving door of employees between the California Public Utilities Commission and the utility companies that it regulates.

That was SB1000 in the 2012 session14.

CURRENT BILL STATUS
LAST HIST. ACT. DATE:  06/25/2012
LAST HIST. ACTION   :  Set, second hearing.
                       Failed passage in committee.

We’ll here more on Senator Yee shortly.

Critics Say Gov. Brown Isn’t Delivering on Reform at Troubled CPUC KQED 201515

[CPUC commissioner] Picker worked behind the scenes to persuade the governor to veto bills that supporters say would have ensured the CPUC is truly changing its ways and could help head off tragedies like San Bruno.

The emails detail close relationships between PG&E executives and top regulators, including former CPUC President Michael Peevey. Peevey and PG&E’s vice president of regulatory affairs, Brian Cherry, swapped stories about favorite pinot noirs and international vacation spots, and made deals related to PG&E business that the commission was considering. … The men are now under criminal investigation by federal and state authorities.

PUC critics cite concerns over ”revolving door” Times~Herald 2015 16

State Sen. Jerry Hill suggests legislation that would require PUC officials to wait a year before taking a job in the utility industry. Laura Doll, a former deputy executive director at the PUC, became a top regulatory executive with PG&E. Doll, along with Brian Cherry, was among the PG&E executives ousted when their roles in the improper communications were revealed. The emails showed that numerous officials, including commissioners and PUC staff, helped steer cases to certain judges at the behest of utilities and sought donations from utility executives. PUC officials and PG&E executives also collaborated at times to fine-tune upcoming decisions to make the rulings more to the liking of the utility behemoth, the emails show. Zafar, a former executive at Sempra, the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric, is now the director of the PUC”s policy and planning division.

Former State Sen. Leland Yee Gets 5 Years on Corruption, Arms Charges KQED 201617

… a wide-ranging federal investigation of now-convicted Chinatown crime boss Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. … negotiated bribes to support legislation and payments for a variety of favors, including an official state Senate proclamation congratulating Chow’s Chee Kung Tong organization. … told the original undercover agent in the case they had contacts who could secure a wide range of arms, including automatic weapons and shoulder-fired missiles.

At this point I would be happy to see Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow appointed to the CPUC because at least he doesn’t work for the governor. And since he’s going to be in Terre Haute, Indiana, for the foreseeable future18, he should be somewhat insulated from California utility officials.

How the Public Utilities Commission circumvents the California Public Records Act LA Times 202219

The lawsuit disputes the agency’s refusal to release records concerning its communications with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office … and the agency’s decision to waive a $200-million penalty against PG&E.

The revolving door at public utilities commissions? It’s alive and well LA Times 202320

[out of] 818 utility commissioners who served across all 50 states between 2000 and 2020 … found 25% of those commissioners … had previously worked in the utility or fossil fuel industry, compared to 19% with an environmental background. … Of the 473 commissioners for whom Heern could find information on what they did after they left utility regulation, 50% of them went to work for one of the industries they regulated, or in an industry-adjacent role such as consulting. … 30% of utility commissioners nationwide coming from a governor’s personal network … Although Heern found that Democratic commissioners were more likely to have an environmental background than Republican commissioners, he otherwise didn’t see much difference between red and blue states, in terms of who is regulating utilities…

Assemblymember Bauer Kahan Unveils AB 2054 to Prevent Utility Influence on Ratemaking Decisions 202421

Assembly Bill 2054 imposes a decisive 10-year cooling-off period for commissioners at the CPUC and the CEC, curbing the revolving door between regulators and industry. This measure aims to insulate regulators from conflicts of interest and reduce the undue influence of regulated industries.

Here’s the real reason PG&E rates are skyrocketing in California SFChron 202422

In its decision, the commission admitted that granting PG&E half a billion up front, based only on PG&E’s word, “departs from the general requirement to raise rates only after the costs are determined reasonable.” Despite PG&E’s admission that its original $5.7 billion expense estimate actually only totaled $2.7 billion, commissioners approved the increase anyway, only timidly admonishing that “PG&E should be more transparent at the outset to assist with decision-making.”

The funny thing4 of course is that the more the corrupt CPUC lets PG&E raise the rates, the more sense it makes to install solar. We’ll see what all of that means next week, when we’ll start comparing our predictions from 2022 with actual data for 2023.

Next: We have solar power at home Part 6.