Dominion to charge fee to heavy users of solar power

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ggunn

PE (Electrical), NABCEP certified
Location
Austin, TX, USA
Occupation
Electrical Engineer - Photovoltaic Systems
What it really boils down to, IMO, is what the utility is trying to accomplish. If they see distributed generation as a threat, they can look for excuses to fee it out of the game. If they look at it as a way to add to the overall capacity of the system without having to build more generating capacity (or at least as a way to delay having to do so), they can structure their charges to facilitate its implementation. Whether it's hard to do or whether it's "fair" to everyone are really side issues; it's really whether they view distributed solar as an ally or an adversary.
 
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How can you "store electricity"? If you generate some excess and export it to the grid, it isn't "stored" until you decide you want it. Electricity must be generated on an as needed basis, and a power company must have that capacity available which they buy in blocks of energy on a contractual basis.
Think about connecting a solar panel to your portable generator. At what point can you stop relying on the portable generator(POCO) and decide to sell it? (get off grid)

I was thinking about purpa, which is a 30+ year old federal law that is up to the individual states to implement.
The use of bi-directional meters using the grid as storage was something I first heard in class, then later saw on the Internet in advertisements. Granted, it is an analogy, but functionally it is the same. Here we have a rating of 4 full sun hours per day. That means that I have an average of 4 hours to make 24 hours worth of power. Using simple math, I would design a system that would produce 6 times what I use at peak. I would then use the grid to 'store' the excess 5x to use later when the solar installation is not providing sufficient power for the loads.

As for the generator, I am not sure what you are asking. A portable generator is an expensive way to produce electricity and is usually only used for back up power. Solar can be used to get off the grid but not without some form of storage, like batteries. So, there would not be any sense in connecting a solar array to a portable generator. Even if the generator was a permanent installation, it is still expensive to run and the addition of solar would indeed reduce the load periodically, but the generator would still have to run if it was the primary source of power. Running the generator with no load greatly increases the overall cost of power production.

Also, just deciding to sell doesn't mean you will be able to. If the POCO doesn't want to purchase power from you they don't have to unless forced to by the state, and then you still have to have a system that meets their standards and has passed their inspections. Right now, Michigan only requires that 1 percent be purchased by the POCOs. After that, they can totally disallow bi-directional metering.
 

mivey

Senior Member
What it really boils down to, IMO, is what the utility is trying to accomplish. If they see distributed generation as a threat, they can look for excuses to fee it out of the game. If they look at it as a way to add to the overall capacity of the system without having to build more generating capacity (or at least as a way to delay having to do so), they can structure their charges to facilitate its implementation. Whether it's hard to do or whether it's "fair" to everyone are really side issues; it's really whether they view distributed solar as an ally or an adversary.
For the IOU, the utility does not operate in a vacuum so it is not the utility so much as it is the state regulating authority and what goals they want the IOU to reach. The utility will make a margin either way (a margin governed by the regulators, by the way).
 

mivey

Senior Member
The use of bi-directional meters using the grid as storage was something I first heard in class, then later saw on the Internet in advertisements. Granted, it is an analogy, but functionally it is the same. Here we have a rating of 4 full sun hours per day. That means that I have an average of 4 hours to make 24 hours worth of power. Using simple math, I would design a system that would produce 6 times what I use at peak. I would then use the grid to 'store' the excess 5x to use later when the solar installation is not providing sufficient power for the loads.
Think about you and your neighbors all feeding water hoses into a water wheel to grind corn for your crops. You have to man the pumps 24x7 to make the water flow. You tell your neighbors you are bringing in three hoses so you can store some extra capacity on "the system" so you can take off the other 2/3 of the day. How do you suppose "the system" is going to store your water?

Energy is a real-time product and "the grid" doesn't store it for you so you can use it later. What you are doing is forcing a unit to go off-line and come back on later in the day.

You could argue that you have really kept a peaker unit from coming on but the problem is the solar is not a one-for-one replacement of that peaker unit. That peaker unit still has to be available because the solar may or may not be there. The costs of the peaker unit have now increased because we still have to have it, we still have to make the capacity payments, but we have less energy output to help defray the average cost.
 

ggunn

PE (Electrical), NABCEP certified
Location
Austin, TX, USA
Occupation
Electrical Engineer - Photovoltaic Systems
Think about you and your neighbors all feeding water hoses into a water wheel to grind corn for your crops. You have to man the pumps 24x7 to make the water flow. You tell your neighbors you are bringing in three hoses so you can store some extra capacity on "the system" so you can take off the other 2/3 of the day. How do you suppose "the system" is going to store your water?

Energy is a real-time product and "the grid" doesn't store it for you so you can use it later. What you are doing is forcing a unit to go off-line and come back on later in the day.

You could argue that you have really kept a peaker unit from coming on but the problem is the solar is not a one-for-one replacement of that peaker unit. That peaker unit still has to be available because the solar may or may not be there. The costs of the peaker unit have now increased because we still have to have it, we still have to make the capacity payments, but we have less energy output to help defray the average cost.
But you also have reduced fuel costs for that unit. I'm not saying that it's a wash, only that you have left that term out of the equation.

As to your water hoses analogy, the problem is that at the base of it, an analogy is just an analogy. To throw a metaphor into the mix, I don't think it holds water.
 

mivey

Senior Member
But you also have reduced fuel costs for that unit. I'm not saying that it's a wash, only that you have left that term out of the equation.
The average cost per kWh went up for the peaker unit anyway. The variable price for the peaker is less than the average credit that is being given to the solar load with net metering.

For example:
Suppose my peaker heat rate is 13000. I can run for about 6.5 cents with $5 natural gas. The net metering is crediting a lot more than 6.5 cents/kWh. For excess solar energy, you gave the solar load credit for fixed and varible costs but only avoided some incremental fuel/market costs.

As to your water hoses analogy, the problem is that at the base of it, an analogy is just an analogy. To throw a metaphor into the mix, I don't think it holds water.
Then forget the analogy and tell me where you think the electrical system is storing your excess energy at no cost? Why not just hold on to the extra solar output yourself and use it later at your convenience? See the problem?
 

ggunn

PE (Electrical), NABCEP certified
Location
Austin, TX, USA
Occupation
Electrical Engineer - Photovoltaic Systems
Then forget the analogy and tell me where you think the electrical system is storing your excess energy at no cost? Why not just hold on to the extra solar output yourself and use it later at your convenience? See the problem?
Of course energy is not being stored; once kWhs are released from "my" PV system (I don't have one), they are free range, indistinguishable from those put on the grid by any other source. They are consumed by whatever loads are drawing power from the grid.

There are electric utilities all over the country (and the world) who are embracing distributed solar generation. They successfully model the contributions to the grid that these systems make and configure their generating equipment accordingly. I am fortunate to be living within the jurisdiction of one of them.

If you will allow me to draw an analogy of my own, this reminds me in some ways of the music industry's response to digital audio. They tried very hard to keep things business as usual in the face of shifting paradigms, but at the end of the day they could not freeze their business model. They had to adapt.
 
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mivey

Senior Member
Of course energy is not being stored; once kWhs are released from "my" PV system (I don't have one), they are free range, indistinguishable from those put on the grid by any other source. They are consumed by whatever loads are drawing power from the grid.
But there is more to it than just dumping so many 3.6Gg*m^2/s^2 on the grid the roam the "free range". Sure, a kWh is a kWh unit-wise but there is more to it than that. There are other underlying costs that go along with that kWh that speak to supply costs, delivery costs, reliability costs, logistics, safety, etc so it is not just a "bucket of energy" issue.

There are electric utilities all over the country (and the world) who are embracing distributed solar generation.
I think everyone should embrace it as long as the costs are properly accounted for. There is nothing wrong with solar in itself. It really does not matter to me if it is solar, wind, or gerbils on a wheel as long as the costs are tracked properly. Artificially inflating the cost of one resource while artificially decreasing the cost of another in order to make one look better is what I have an issue with.

They successfully model the contributions to the grid that these systems make and configure their generating equipment accordingly.
That should not be a suprise. Every utility succesfully models the contribution as it is a requirement for unit scheduling.

I am fortunate to be living within the jurisdiction of one of them.
Most of us probably are. I think solar can be a valid part of the supply portfolio but if we do not properly account for the costs, the picture we paint is skewed. I would rather the decision be made with realistic numbers, then every resource will take its proper place in the stack to provide us the most economical portfolio.
 

ggunn

PE (Electrical), NABCEP certified
Location
Austin, TX, USA
Occupation
Electrical Engineer - Photovoltaic Systems
I think solar can be a valid part of the supply portfolio but if we do not properly account for the costs, the picture we paint is skewed. I would rather the decision be made with realistic numbers, then every resource will take its proper place in the stack to provide us the most economical portfolio.
I agree, with one caveat. Solar is new tech, and as such will not stand on its own without some nurturing early on. Without price supports in place during development it cannot develop to its full potential, and in the coming decades as nonrenewable resources become further depleted and our air quality further deteriorates, we are going to need it more and more. To throw it onto the trash heap now because it cannot yet pay its own way would be a huge mistake. I am in favor of sacrificing a bit of economy now in favor of sustainability over the long haul.

Maybe that means I don't agree . ;^)
 
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mivey

Senior Member
...To throw it onto the trash heap now because it cannot yet pay its own way would be a huge mistake. I am in favor of sacrificing a bit of economy now in favor of sustainability over the long haul.
We have plenty of resources but feel free to sacrifice all you feel you can stand. One problem is some want to grab all the solar benefits so they can "break even" at the expense of others. Solar does not happen to be the only game in town and perhaps we should focus on other alternatives as well.

Think about how new CFLs were at one time. They were going to save the day and be the "dream team" of lighting. Environmentalists were all gung-ho to mandate their use for everybody. Doesn't seem like the only way to go now does it?
 

jaggedben

Senior Member
Location
Northern California
Occupation
Solar and Energy Storage Installer
Not with a separate line item but they are most definitely charged.
Then why add an additional line item? You almost seem to be agreeing with me that the additional demand charge is unreasonable.

You simply have to understand utility cost allocation and it does not appear you do. However, that is not your fault as many do not understand it.
It does not appear that you are interested in actually responding to what I have been saying in this thread. But perhaps that is not your fault, because it would be difficult to refute what I'm saying.

If the solar power were as reliable and as cost effective as the other peaking units, they should be compensated. But the problem is they are not the same. You can't replace a van with a compact, or replace a motorcycle with a bicycle, etc. Each has a niche but are not one-for-one replacements.
That would be a perfectly good argument in favor of adjusting net-metering rates. (I'm surprised that you have not said as much in this thread already.) It is not a good argument for a 'standby' charge based on customer power demand.

How about if the government ordered that you let me store my annual use of water at your house for a year? It really is no cost to you since I will pick it up a year later and you will wind up with the same net of space you have today. You may not have room to store my water, but I am still using you like a storage facility.
Right now nobody is storing anything, as you know. Solar reduces power demand from the utility's point of view, with the exception of vars.

Not true.

Not true either.

Not true.

I doubt it.
Wow. Those are some exceptionally powerful arguments, both well stated in explanatory terms and well supported by sources. Yes, I am being sarcastic.

The rates try to model the costs while we try to use the most cost-effective means to gather the billing determinates and render a bill.
Assessing solar system owners with an additional demand-based charge is not a step forward in rationalizing rates, because the power demand of solar system owner is the same or less than any other customer.

Rate design is not a perfect science and there are no perfect solutions. I simply do not think you have the expertise to determine the correct direction and certainly are in no position to make a determination as to the right or wrong direction.
You are giving me no reason to believe that I lack enough expertise to have an informed opinion on this matter, because instead of responding to my arguments with facts and explanations, you are simply belittling me. It is a fallacious ad-hominem argument.

Of course, everybody is entitled to an opinion but that is usually far from an expert analysis. The charge has already been analyzed by rate experts both for and against the charge.
You mean those 'rate experts' called Virginia legislators? Who do you really think is better equipped to both gain the ear of and make the argument to those legislators? Dominion's lawyers, or residential solar system owners? Whose interests do you think are likely to hold sway? I think the answer to this is obvious to most people.

Yet you hurl insults at the workers, the auditors, the lawmakers, etc, cast dispersions on their integrity, accuse them of criminal activity, and bring their morals into question with no factual basis. You build a case out of fear, misunderstanding, misinformation, etc., but want to question my tone when I call your position and knowledge into question?
Oh for goodness sakes. I certainly left the workers and the auditors out of it, and I certainly accused no one of criminal activity. I have questioned the expertise of the Virginia legislators, and the motives of Dominion executives only. And given that we live in a democracy and all have a duty to be vigilant against the abuse of power (something our nation was formed to resist), I do not see any need to step back from making these kinds of statements, unless real explanations are given - not mere assertions - as to why the policies in question are justified.

If you can't make more honest arguments than this, well then, I'm wasting my time here. But if it makes you happy, I would be fine with leaving the motives and morals of the aforementioned people out of this thread, as long as you would respond with actual information about power demand instead of belittling my knowledge. If you are really in a better position to understand the issues, you will show it, not just baldly assert it.

Accept it or not, that is the way it is.
That's not how people have to think in a free country.

Start listening to the other things I have said, and I'll see if you can learn something about how things really work, and not at the normal fee I charge for classes, but for free
I am still waiting for you to explain to me how installing a solar system affects a customer's power demand at night. Or, for that matter, during the day. I would be genuinely appreciative of the time you are taking responding to me in this thread if your replies were more enlightening and less insulting.
 

jaggedben

Senior Member
Location
Northern California
Occupation
Solar and Energy Storage Installer
Simply put, redundancy costs money.
Of course, part of the cost of that redundancy is being shouldered by the solar system owners (or financiers).

They are not a "built-in" part of the grid structure as it exists today and currently add additional burden to the existing structure.
You really have not explained how they add a burden to the existing structure. (Or to be fair, perhaps you have, but I'm still reading parts of this thread.)
 

jaggedben

Senior Member
Location
Northern California
Occupation
Solar and Energy Storage Installer
OK, lets look at this analogy. The poco buys energy for 4.5 cents. The store owner buys a loaf of bread for 45 cents. The poco sells energy for 9 cents, the store owner sells the bread for 90 cents a loaf. both make a profit. In net metering, the poco sells the energy for 9 cents but the meter can spin backwards with a solar generator, so in essence, they have to buy back the energy at 9 cents per kWh. The store owner can sell the bread for 90 cents, but has to buy back bread for 90 cents if you make some of your own so that you can share with your neighbors, using the store as a warehouse. How can the store owner stay open if he doesn't make some profit?
That is a better argument for adjusting net-metering rates or charging a 'wheeling charge' (thanks for the info) than for charging a 'standy charge' based on power demand.

They do, it is called a wheeling charge. Not sure if anyone is implementing it though. it was "invented" for deregulation I believe.
I don't think this is a part of most net-metering programs, at least not for residential electricity customers.

I wonder when Dominion peaks in winter? Maybe at night about 1-7 A.M. in the winter months? How much sun is there at those times?
This is exactly my point. The solar customers' demand is no different at these times than the non-solar customers, but Dominion wants to assess only the solar customers an additional demand charge. What is fair about that?
 

jaggedben

Senior Member
Location
Northern California
Occupation
Solar and Energy Storage Installer
Think about this: What is special about a poor power factor on a residence or small business? Why is it that the large commercial customers are usually the only ones who have their power factor measured and billed separately? Kind of answers itself if you think about it.
If Dominion wanted to charge larger residential solar customers for vars instead of kW, I would never have made my first post in this thread, and you and I wouldn't be having such an argument here.
 

ggunn

PE (Electrical), NABCEP certified
Location
Austin, TX, USA
Occupation
Electrical Engineer - Photovoltaic Systems
We have plenty of resources...
Really? I have lived long enough to remember the thick forests of oil derricks stretching to the horizon along Highway 90 between Lake Charles and Houston; they are no longer there. Fossil fuels are getting harder and more expensive to harvest all the time, and burning them for energy is not sustainable. And that's completely leaving out the environmental impact of what we have been doing. When increasing demand collides with diminishing supplies, we'd better have some alternatives already in place. We need to look past the next 100 years and leverage what we have at our disposal now to at least try to have something sustainable in place when we need it. The future of our civilization depends on it.

Solar power is not the magic bullet that will save us all; there is no such animal. No single technology is anywhere near capable of replacing the glut of energy that we have been enjoying from burning fossil fuels for the past 150 years or so. The energy picture of the future will be a mosaic of energy technologies coupled with a good measure of making do with less. Either that, or we will annihilate one another in a struggle over dwindling resources. I confess that I am not especially optimistic; human beings are not especially good at thinking in timelines which exceed the human life span.
 

wirenut1980

Senior Member
Location
Plainfield, IN
This is exactly my point. The solar customers' demand is no different at these times than the non-solar customers, but Dominion wants to assess only the solar customers an additional demand charge. What is fair about that?
That was exactly the point of those you are debating. When the solar is not outputting any power, the utility must be able to provide the generation, and have the system capacity from the generators all the way to the solar customers. They must be able to do this (as it always has been) while making less money because the utility has sold less power to the solar cutomers during the day.
 
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