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How Power Companies Profit from Net Metering #mnleg

One of the nice things about residential solar systems in Minnesota is that they’re eligible for net metering. You have an upstream meter and a downstream meter and are charged for electricity based on the net consumption. So, if your home uses $40 of electricity over a month but your panels produced $60, you’ll get money back from Xcel. Not $20 back, since there are base fees to cover, but you’ll still get a check.

A common beef from the pollution industry and their legislative allies against net metering goes something like this:

Residential solar users are freeloaders. They’re selling electricity to the grid at retail rates, yet benefit from being attached to the grid when they really need it.

Or, as Rep. Pat Garofalo puts it “solar is dumb“.

Granted, this argument makes sense at a high level. If the price a residential solar user receives for the energy they contribute to the grid is the same as what they take off the grid, that’s a pretty sweet deal.

But, it’s a bit more complicated than that, which is something the anti-solar crowd chooses to ignore.

Here are Xcel’s current rates for electricity (not counting base fees, taxes, etc.):

Energy Charge per kWh:
June through September…$0.08671
October through May…$0.07393

But, Xcel offers other pricing models, including Time of Day pricing where customers are charged far higher rates during peak grid times, then far less during off-peak times.

Xcel Time of Day Pricing

That’s a significant difference. They charge more than 2X as much for electricity during the day, and offer a whopping 70% discount on overnight power consumption.

Now, let’s look at what hours solar panels generate power. Here is data from the past three days from my home’s roof:

Three Days of Solar Generation

Looks like 6am – 6pm is the energy producing window. So, during those hours, my panels are a net-contributor to the grid of most of that energy. That’s when my power meter runs backwards (technically, there’s a separate upstream meter).

My family is generally out of the house well before 9am, so our morning electricity consumption would be considered off-peak by Xcel in their time of day pricing plan. We’re generally home by 5:30pm, so there is some on-peak consumption between 5:30 and 9pm, but generally nowhere near what was added to the grid throughout the day.

So, I’m selling around $3/day of electricity during peak-grid hours Xcel at $0.08671/kWh. They can then turn around and sell that electricity for more than twice what they pay me for it. Of, if time shifting makes more sense to you. They sell me back my own electricity overnight at a time when electricity is 70% cheaper than they paid me for what I generated.

I’m a net-contributor of electricity to the grid at times when the grid needs it most. I’m generating that electricity locally so it doesn’t need to be transmitted from polluting power plants or rural wind farms. I’m selling electricity for far below market rates, and I’m buying electricity for far above market rates. Yet, I’m the freeloader?

Oh, did I mention that Xcel doesn’t allow solar power generators to use Time of Day pricing? Net metering is only allowed when net metering allows Xcel to arbitrage the power they’re buying/selling to solar power generators.

My guess is that the return on my solar panel investment would be around twice as fast if I could net meter at rates available to others. Taking away this ban on market rate solar sales/purchases seems like a good way to stimulate private investments in locally produced power.

Energy Incentives: Rooftop Solar vs. Electric Cars

Rep. Pat Garofalo’s energy bill in the MN House has $5 million in incentives for purchases of electric cars and $5 million toward solar installations. Here’s why that’s a strange mix.

The US Department of Energy has a calculator where you can type in a zip code to determine what carbon impact electric cars and hybrids have based on where you happen to live. Where you live makes a difference since the sources of electricity vary by region. Here’s how it breaks down for Xcel users in MN:

Electric Vehicle vs Hybrid vs Gas Car

What that’s saying is that all-electric cars actually produce more carbon than plugins since we burn so much coal to create electricity in MN. The assumptions can be found here.

For comparison, here’s the same chart using the 90210 zip code:

Electric Vehicle vs Hybrid vs Gas Car

Electric cars are a lot cleaner when they’re not burning electricity generated at Xcel Energy’s coal-fired power plant in Becker, MN that GOP Rep Jim Newberger continually defends. Freedom’s just another word for increased rates of asthma and other respiratory issues.

Electric vehicles certainly do reduce carbon emissions compared to normal 27.6 MPG gas vehicles. The above report shows a reduction of 1.8 tons of carbon output per year. And, again, that amount is only saved if someone switching to an electric car made that move from gas rather than hybrids.

Compare that to the solar system on my house, which is projected to save 3 tons of carbon output per year.

Then, consider that a solar system lasts 30 years while the average life of a car is probably 10 years since the battery would likely need to be replaced by then, which would probably not be justifiable in a 10 year old car.

So, Pat Garofalo’s energy bill has $5 million in tax incentives for two different forms of clean energy improvements. Solar panels, which could save, say, 90 tons of carbon over 30 years. Or electric cars, which need to run, unrealistically, for 50 years to achieve the same carbon output savings as solar panels.

How Xcel Energy Misleads the Public with Their Windsource Chart

When using a graphic to visualize the path toward a goal, there are some common conventions one can use to get the point across. For example, fundraising goals often use graphics to visualize the path toward the goal like this Tour de BBQ graphic:


Or this Winter Sanctuary fundraising goal chart:

Or a Nikau-ometer from New Zealand:

But, when Xcel Energy created a graphic to represent the energy purchased through their Windsource program to date, they chose this graphic:

Misleading Xcel Energy Windsource Grpahic

While typical, honest, graphics show progress toward a goal in a linear fashion, Xcel took a different approach. Things start out fine with their 2004 stats. But, when they added 2005 stats, they included the 2004 data with the 2005 data (the yellow line). 2006’s data includes the two previous years (turquoise line). By 2012, they were taking credit for every previous year within that one year.

Taking credit for 2004’s consumption in 2005 – 2012 is rather ridiculous. If they want to stack each year of data, they shouldn’t do so redundantly. Here’s a stacked version where each year is only counted once.

Windsource Consumption 2004 - 2012

The early years on the left had lower consumption on the left, but in aggregate they reached the 1 billion kWh milestone.

If they’d like to stick with circles, here’s an example of what that could look like:

Xcel Windsource Data in a Circle

Because Xcel octuple counts 2004 consumption in their chart, septuble 2005, etc., they’ve presented FAR more than 1 billion kWh in their chart that’s designed to illustrate 1 billion kWh. Straightening out each of the Windsource graphic’s lines, and comparing them to the net consumption for each year helps illustrate their massive distortion of data:

Xcel Energy Windsource vs Reality Chart

Why would they do that? Could a company with so many engineers not understand how to properly visualize data? Here’s one possibility. If I remove Xcel’s distorted data from the above chart we can see the trend in the popularity of the Windsource program:

Windsource Consumption by Year 2004-2012

Is Windsource slipping in popularity? I don’t know. I’m assuming that the 2012 data includes the full year of 2012 since Xcel waited until April 2013 to put out a press release about the milestone.

But, the more important issue to me is Xcel’s knack for misleading customers about their practices. Their Windsource chart is one example of this. In this case, the volume of lines illustrating Windsource consumption between 2004 – 2012 in the Xcel’s chart create the impression that they sold 4X the volume of kWh they actually sold. The line for 2012 distorts their 2012 Windsource sales by nearly 7X.

I’m an Xcel customer and a Windsource customer. As a Minneapolis resident, I don’t have many energy options. But, even without options, I shouldn’t have to deal with a utility that so blatantly misleads the public about their renewable milestones.

The Cost of Not Using Nukes & Coal for Electricity

David Shaffer has a story in the StarTribune about Xcel’s proposed rate increases. It sounds like Xcel wanted to increase rates by 10.7%, but it’s going to end up somewhere closer to 5%.

But, one thing that stood out to me was a denial of Xcel’s request to bill ratepayers for the increasing costs of dirty power sources:

The judge also concluded that Xcel shouldn’t be allowed to immediately bill ratepayers for some of the escalating costs associated with upgrading Xcel’s 42-year-old Monticello nuclear power plant or its expenses related to a catastrophic 2011 accident at its giant coal-burning plant in Becker, Minn.

If the cost of dirty power is increasing, shouldn’t those who choose to use dirty power feel that pain? In addition to the long term costs to the air we breath, there are real costs to maintaining carbon belching and nuclear waste generating plants.

This reminded me to take a look at my Xcel bill to get a feel for how much I’m currently paying to avoid dirty power by using Xcel’s Windsource program. As of now, the cost is higher, but take a look at how much:

Xcel Windsource Charges

69 cents over a month. After taxes on that net 69, I paid around 77 cents extra to rely upon wind over dirty power. That’s not breaking the bank.

And, you know what would close that gap even further? Letting Xcel charge dirty power users for the costs of maintaining their dirty power plants. Eventually, that WindSource net energy cost could go negative, and that’s when people who don’t care enough about the air we breath to pay an extra 1.6% for power will go green based solely on cost.

Where Does Xcel Energy’s Wind Power Come From?

Ranty mentioned that The Healy House is now wind powered, as in, the power purchased from Xcel Energy comes from wind sources.

It’s a very simple process. Just call Xcel, work your way through their phone tree until you reach a human (that’s the toughest part), then tell them you’d like to join the WindSource program. Done.

You’ll be charged slightly more per month for wind power. In exchange, you’ll cut down on burning crap that gives kids asthma.

This got me thinking about where Xcel actually acquires the wind power they deliver. It’s not like there is a wind turbine on top of the IDS. Here is Xcel’s explanation of the current source:

The energy that supplies Windsource is 100 percent wind energy generated or purchased from Minnesota wind farms. A total of 19 wind turbines located in Pipestone and Dodge County in Minnesota currently supply the wind energy

Xcel Energy is also building a wind farm near Austin, MN.

What does it look like? Here’s a video of a wind farm in Pipestone. If you have your speakers on, this will very that it’s pretty darn windy out West:

Shoefiti in Newark

For those of you who follow shoefiti as closely as I do (LOL) it should come as no surprise to hear that Newark, New Jersey has a shoefiti problem on their hands.

I had a chance to discuss New Jersey’s shoefiti issue with a reporter from The Star Ledger last week for an article that ran today. One of the things I tried to get across was that it doesn’t really matter why they ended up on the lines of people’s perception is negative:

Shoe mystery hangs over city –

What counts most is how the community feels about the shoes.

“If the perception is people associate it with blight, it’s got to come down because people will feel less safe,” said Kohler.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced with getting shoes removed from powerlines locally has been dealing with Xcel Energy. As I understand it, they have a policy of “driver’s discretion” for dealing with items on powerlines that aren’t interfering with power. While that’s understandable, they way it’s applied is to remove shoes from lines in the nicer areas of Minneapolis while leaving them up in the tougher neighborhoods, thus inadvertently contributing to the blight of areas that need the most help.

Swap out Xcel Energy for Verizon to see how this applies in Newark:

Verizon doesn’t take the shoe issue as seriously as Waldrop. Rich Young, a spokesman, said the shoes are taken down if they are causing problems with the network, if they get a complaint or if a technician just happens to be working near an airborne pair.

“In general we do not send out technicians on patrol looking for sneakers,” said Young. “This is a problem all over the state. We would need a small army of technicians dedicated to shoe removal.”

The old, “Sure, they’re our lines, but we’re not responsible for them.” routine.

Flaming Power Outage in Longfellow

Flaming Power Outage in Longfellow, originally uploaded by edkohler.

The power went out around 10 minutes ago in Longfellow, so Carly and I set down our laptops and went for a walk to investigate.

We think this flaming phone pole at 32nd St E & 45th Ave S might have something to do with it.

Mary, the automated response lady at Xcel Energy, says power will be out for 4 hours. Carly said, “I don’t have four hours!” in response, so I guess she’s coffee shop bound in another neighborhood.

I got shushed along by a member of the MFD after snapping this exclusive footage for The Deets. If it blows up it leads on The Deets.