Solar Panels Gain Momentum in Con Ed Territory

Wall Street Journal | August 10, 2014 | Column by Bill Sanderson

Solar Panel Systems in the Utility's Market Have Grown From 277 in 2009 to Nearly 3,000 Today

The solar panel system on Andreana Doyle's home. Steve Remich for The Wall Street Journal

More New York City and Westchester County homeowners are harnessing the power of the sun with rooftop solar panels—and saving money on their electric bills.

Analysts expect use of the systems to keep growing as people seek to avoid paying highConsolidated Edison ED +0.48% electricity rates.

The number of systems in ConEd's territory has grown from 277 in 2009 to nearly 3,000 today, the utility's data show. The number of solar installations nearly doubled in 2013 and is on pace to nearly double again this year, the data show.

"I used to think ConEd would elect me woman of the year," said Andreana Doyle, of Staten Island. Before her solar-panel system was installed, her electric bills averaged about $300 a month, causing her to dread opening the bill.

Ms. Doyle purchased a $36,000 solar-panel system from Best Energy and Power, a Long Island-based solar installer, in 2011. She said she lives with three daughters—18, 14 and 4½ years old—"who think I have an endless amount of money for electricity."

"We have hair dryers, hair straighteners, laptops, iPhones that are being charged all the time, televisions, PS4s—you name it, we have it," the 43-year-old stay-at-home mom said.

With the panels, she said, her monthly bills are now between $30 and $180. Figuring in federal, state and city solar tax credits, Ms. Doyle expects the system to pay for itself by the end of 2016.

 

Sanford C. Bernstein, a Wall Street research and brokerage firm, said in a June report that increasing solar-panel installations eventually could cost ConEd up to 14% of its electricity revenue.

ConEd's electricity rates are some of the highest in the country, federal government data show. Just two major U.S. utilities—Hawaiian Electric and ConEd—sell electricity to residential users at prices higher than the cost of solar power, according to the Bernstein report.

ConEd charged residential customers 25.65 cents for a kilowatt-hour of electricity in 2012, according to federal data. Solar's cost is between 18 cents and 23 cents, Bernstein estimates.

While Bernstein expects solar use to greatly increase, its impact on ConEd's system now is slight. The company's current solar customers can generate 46.6 megawatts of power. That is just 0.35% of the 13,322 megawatts ConEd's customers used when the company hit its record peak demand on July 19, 2013.

In New York, a megawatt of solar power is enough to power 155 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Solar-panel systems have weaknesses. When the power goes out in a neighborhood, solar setups also shut down, even if the sun is out. ConEd said it requires solar-panel systems to switch off during outages to reduce the risk of shock to its work crews.

And in New York City, "the high concentration of multifamily and rented homes" hinder people who want to install a system because landlords have little incentive to finance the panels, the Bernstein report says.

ConEd—which has solar panels on the roof of its headquarters near Union Square in Manhattan—said it supports its customers' solar use.

A 1997 state law requiring utilities to offer their customers net metering—which measures the power solar-panel users put into and take out of the power grid—is the cornerstone of New York's solar rules, said Bryan Miller, co-founder of the Alliance for Solar Choice and vice president of public policy for Sunrun, a San Francisco home-solar company that sets up its customers with installers.

When the Doyles' solar panels produce more power than the family needs, their system sends the excess electricity back to the grid—making their electric meter run backward. ConEd credits them for the excess power their systems provide.

Those credits offset the cost of the electricity solar panel users take from the grid at night. Customers who send out more power than they use get refund checks once a year, a ConEd spokesman said.

Two years ago, Jim Serton of Pleasantville, signed a 20-year lease for a solar-panel system from Sunrun. He started out paying Sunrun $80 a month, but soon decided to pay the entire $7,000 lease upfront.

At first, Mr. Serton said, the system wasn't producing the power Sunrun promised. But before he called to complain, Sunrun called him. The company monitors his system via the Internet, and it detected something was wrong.

Sunrun technicians went to the house and fixed the problem, Mr. Serton said. After that, he said, "it took off like a rocket."

Mr. Serton, 66, a retired information technology worker, said that in 20 out of 24 months he has paid ConEd only about $17 to cover an account maintenance charge and taxes. He figures he will recoup his $7,000 investment in about three years. Sunrun sends someone to his house every few months to make sure the system is running properly.

"I am shocked that more people don't do this," Mr. Serton said.

Corrections & Amplifications

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Bryan Miller as vice president for policy at the Alliance for Solar Choice. (Aug. 11, 2014)

http://online.wsj.com/articles/solar-panels-gain-momentum-in-coned-territory-1407725486

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.