A Quantum Leap in Renewable Policy in the USA?
By Paul Gipe
To much media fanfare, Long Island Power Authority has begun accepting applications for a limited and short-term feed-in tariff program for commercial solar photovoltaics (solar PV).
The Power Authority is a municipal utility serving 1.1 million customers on Long Island near New York City.
Gordian Raacke, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Long Island said in the Power Authority’s press release, “With this new step in the evolution of solar energy initiatives, LIPA is making a quantum leap forward.” Not to be outdone, the Power Authority’s chief operating officer Michael Hervey said, “The Clean Solar Initiative solidifies LIPA as a national leader in renewable energy.”
Ironically, the level of media interest and the hyperbole of official statements announcing new feed-in tariff programs in the USA is in inverse proportion to their significance–even in the American context.
Neither is the program a “quantum leap” nor will it make the Power Authority a “national leader in renewable energy”.
The Power Authority’s pilot program, while larger than the 10 MW program approved by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power earlier this year, remains extremely modest with a total program goal of only 50 MW over two years.
For comparison Gainesville, Florida launched its 32 MW program more than two years ago and has already developed more than 11 MW. Gainesville’s municipal utility serves between 100,000 to 200,000 people or one-tenth that of the Power Authority.
Just to compete with Gainesville the Power Authority would need to announce a program of at least 300 MW. . . And for a “quantum leap”? Well it would have to be significantly larger than 300 MW, say on the order of 3,000 MW.
Nor is the Power Authority’s program a “renewable energy” policy at all. The program is only for solar PV. True, solar PV is one form of renewable energy, but the term “renewable energy” encompasses many technologies. The Power Authority does not offer tariffs for wind, biogas, biomass, geothermal, or hydro plants.
And homeowners–those who will pay for much of the program in all likelihood–need not apply unless they want to build a 50 kW groundmounted system.
Efforts at “rebranding” feed-in tariffs in the USA are not faring well either if the Power Authority is any guide. Reflecting the nearly schizophrenic confusion–and not a little fear–in the USA about what to call the policy the world knows as a “feed-in tariff”, the Power Authority can’t seem to make up its mind. It calls the program a feed-in tariff in the title of its press release but in the body it switches horses and refers to the “Clean Solar Initiative (CSI)”. But to cover all bases the program’s web site calls the policy the “Clean Solar Initiative Feed-In Tariff (FIT)”.
The Power Authority’s program is only a pilot, running to June 30, 2014. As in the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power’s pilot program, the Power Authority will revisit the program at its completion to determine what to do next.
Maybe in 2014 the Power Authority will consider launching a “renewable energy” policy that will indeed be a quantum leap from today and one that puts the Power Authority at the forefront of North American leaders in renewable energy development.
- Program cap: 50 MW AC
- Program length: 2 years or 50 MW
- Project size allocation
- 5 MW: 50 kW to 150 kW
- 10 MW: 150 kW to 500 kW
- 35 MW: unreserved
- Project size minimum: >50 kW
- Contract term: 20 years
- Technology: solar PV only
- Tariff: undifferentiated, $0.22/kWh
- Inflation adjustment: none
- Voltage connection: limited to distribution voltage <13.2 kV
- Applications accepted: July 16, 2012