Friday, February 28, 2014

Multipurpose Solar Pest Manager for Brinjal and Jasmine Growers

THE EFFECT: Frequency of pesticide spray was reduced from once in seven days
to once in 15 days and finally once in 30 days.
Continuous power supply is essential for any type of agricultural activity. Particularly in villages where the concept of invertors or generators is yet to attain a major breakthrough, electricity disruption means temporary suspension of any activity till power supply resumes.

Though the Government has been harping on need to harness solar power and grants subsidies for installing solar units for farm related activities, the concept is yet to gain momentum.

Major issue
But for some individuals like Mr. David Raja Beula, Assistant Director of Horticulture, Kadayam in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, electricity disruption does not seem to be a major issue since he has developed several solar powered farming equipment.

Among his recent innovations is the multipurpose solar pest manager and garden light. The device according to him was developed to help brinjal and jasmine cultivators in the region control fruit borer and white fly pest in their crops.

The height of the solar light is about eight feet. It has a solar panel, a battery, two five watt bulbs and an insect collection stainless steel tray on which a sticky paste of castor oil and shampoo mix is smeared.

“Brinjal and jasmine farmers in Kadayam region in the district were struggling to control the fruit borer and white fly pests for a long time. They sprayed pesticides once in seven days to control the problem. During this time I had developed the multipurpose solar pest manager and introduced it to the participants at a meeting. About 35 farmers who attended the meeting were given one device to experiment the efficiency of the device,” says Mr. Beula.

The collection of killed fruit borer moths started at the rate of three moths and gradually increased to 500 moths a day and white flies from 100 numbers to 700 a day.

Reduced spray
“We also found that the frequency of pesticide spray was reduced from once in seven days to once in 15 days and finally once in 30 days, thereby bringing down the expense from Rs.10, 000 to Rs.5,000 for an acre of brinjal and from Rs. 24,000 to Rs. 12,000 for jasmine,” he explains.

Priced at Rs.15,000 a piece, it can be used to control pests in other crops also, according him. Since the device has also a light facility attached, it can be used to light the fields and garden in which it is used.

Farmers repeatedly spray several chemicals, or in case of organic methods use the required bio applications on the jasmine and brinjal crops. But complete eradication seems impossible as the larvae hide in the shoots and fruits and escape the sprays.

“Naturally farmers tend to over-spray thinking that more spraying effectively controls the pest.

Big expense
Repeated spraying causes a big expense for a small farmer. In addition to the financial cost incurred for buying the inputs, excessive application of chemicals creates a negative impact on the environment, in the harvested flowers and vegetables and poses a serious risk to consumers as well,” he says.

Mr. Sivaperumal a small farmer from Therkumadathur village showed thousands of white flies in jasmine crops attracted and killed in the device.

Another farmer from Tharuvai village Mr. Anthony Raj was deeply impressed by the effectiveness of the device in controlling the fruit borer in his brinjal crop and says, “I have got the confidence to expand the cultivation area from half an acre to two acres in the coming season,” he says.

Dhan foundation an NGO in Madurai that works for farmers’ welfare has recorded that the solar multipurpose device helps reduce the boll worm’s infestation in cotton crops by controlling the moths and there was reasonable reduction in pesticide usage among the 35 farmers using it.

Based on order
“At present I do not have a readymade unit available for those who are interested to try it. It is manufactured based on order. So farmers who need it are requested to contact me in advance and place orders,” says Mr. Beula.

For more details and personal visit interested farmers can contact Mr. P. David Raja Beula Assistant Director of Horticulture Kadayam, Tirunelveli District Tamil Nadu,email:, mobile: 09486285704.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Solar Array Won't Hurt the Mood of Manzanar

A solar array, though near the Manzanar internment camp, would not distract visually from or damage the sense of desolation that is part and parcel of the historic site.
Kathy Jefferson Bancroft, tribal historic preservation officer, right, Les Inafuku, Manzanar National Historic Site, and Bill Helmer, tribal historic preservation officer, are opposing plans to build a solar energy plant near Manzanar, the site of a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. (Los Angeles Times / December 6, 2013)

California is obligated to both its past and its future. And there is seldom a painless solution when the two obligations clash, as they frequently do.

That's especially true in the case of Manzanar, the World War II camp where thousands of people, most of them children and teenagers — and most of them American citizens — were incarcerated simply because they were of Japanese descent. Situated in a starkly rugged area of the Owens Valley, the camp has been preserved as a National Historic Site as a testament to what its residents endured and a reminder of the fragility of civil rights in wartime.

But just as there is a moral and legal commitment to preserve this part of our past, it also is imperative for California to develop sources of sustainable energy that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. As part of that obligation, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plans a 1,200-acre solar array within sight of Manzanar. Some object, saying that any visible development in the area would damage the sense of desolation, of being in the middle of nowhere, that was part of the internment camp experience.

If that was what the federal government intended for Manzanar, though, it should have purchased more than the 800-plus acres that were declared a historic site. This area is also a solar hot spot where it makes particularly good sense to locate a facility to soak up some of the sun's energy.

That's not to say that Manzanar doesn't deserve special respect. It does. But the DWP project would be neither garish nor immediately adjacent. The site would be 3½ miles from the former internment camp — a considerable distance, even in a valley floor this flat. Though it would be visible, it would not be visually intrusive. The solar panels would be more of a dark glimmer in the distance than a mood-destroying force. And they would be silent.

California is a changing, developing place where human needs — especially energy needs — and landscapes change. Places that were once considered "in the middle of nowhere" suddenly find themselves to be somewhere. Accepting that change, while protecting signposts of our history, is an ongoing challenge. This project meets it.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Local Businesses Take Advantage of Solar Power

Solar panels on the roof of the LOEL Center on Thursday,
Dec. 26, 2013. The solar panels provide electricity for
the senior center.
Saving energy and money by harnessing the sun’s power is nothing new, but a number of new projects went online in Lodi in 2013.

The city has offered a solar rebate program since 2007, as required by legislation. Approved in 2006, Senate Bill 1 requires all electric service providers like Lodi Electric Utility to provide incentives to switch to solar, such as rebates.

Rob Lechner, the city’s business development manager, said Lodi’s requirement is to provide $6.1 million in incentives. He said the city is on track to fulfill that requirement by 2017, when SB1 is set to expire.

Lodi’s rebate program has generated 180 solar customers since 2007, 30 of which are non-residential. In 2013, four commercial, industrial and nonprofit businesses applied for rebates and were approved, including LOEL Center and Garden.

Tracy Williams, CEO and president of the LOEL Foundation, said the senior center was one of the city’s first solar rebate customers when the program began.

She said LOEL was actually one of the “test pilot” companies for the program, and it has worked out well for the nonprofit.

The center originally installed a 5-kilowatt solar panel system on the rear section of its building. When the opportunity arose to install more panels and apply for a rebate in 2012, Williams said the center took it. Three more panels were added in 2013.

“We use a lot of electricity here,” she said. “We’re open all day, and sometimes all seven days of the week. This has been really beneficial when it comes to saving money on our electric bill.”

Williams said the center’s bill can sometimes be as much as $2,000 a month. With the city’s rebate for installing solar equipment, she said LOEL has saved as much as $500 a month.

Softcom in Galt recently submitted plans to install photovoltaic panels on the roof top of their building on Industrial Drive. The goal of that solar project is also to reduce utility bills, as providing Internet services to a larger clientele has significantly increased power usage.

In 2012, Galt dairyman Leo Van Warmerdam converted more than 200 acres into a farm including rows of six-foot long solar panels to capture sunlight for conversion into electricity.

“There have been a lot of solar projects in and around Galt over the last few years, including the city’s wastewater treatment plant,” Galt City Manager Jason Behrmann said.

There, the arrays of solar panels that move throughout the day to collect the sun’s energy are leased from SMUD under a 20-year agreement. In the first year of operation in 2011, the set-up saved about $40,000.

Galtonians, too, may soon be able to make similar solar-friendly upgrades through a new clean energy county program.

Earlier this month, the Galt City Council voted to partner with Sacramento County to allow property owners to voluntarily finance certain conservation measures by repaying a loan through special taxes on their property tax bills. This not only reduces the upfront costs, but allows the cost improvements to be shared with future property owners.

LOEL’s Williams said the center would apply for rebates again if it needed to install more equipment, and the city has been great to work with.

“It’s just a great program,” she said. “We’re a nonprofit, so anything to help us save some money really helps. The more we use (the solar equipment), the greater it will help in the long-run.”

Other rebate applicants approved this year were Lodi Unified School District, Lodi Seventh-Day Adventist Elementary School and Farwest Safety, Inc.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Scientists Harness the Sun to Help Sharks

(Courtesy/Simon Pierce )
Researchers are looking to the sun to give hunted and overfished sharks a new ray of hope.

Using a special solar-powered tag, marine scientists now can study a shark's movements for up to two years by way of data beamed to satellites. Previously, researchers relied on tags that ran on batteries and sometimes died before all the information could be transmitted.

The new tags are like "a smartphone for marine animals," said Marco Flagg, CEO of Desert Star, a Marina, Calif., company that offers the solar devices. "Just like smartphones, the tags have many sensors and communication capability."

The Guy Harvey Research Institute, based in Dania Beach, is looking to use the solar tags to track certain species of the fierce fish, including tigers, makos, hammerheads, oceanic white tip and sand sharks. The goal is to better understand their migratory patterns and ultimately keep their population healthy.

Sharks are critical to the overall balance of ocean ecosystems, but commercial fisherman catch them by the millions for their fins, cartilage and meat.

"We've learned a lot from tagging sharks, not least of which is that they are highly migratory," said Antonio Fins, executive director of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which supports the institute. "They are not American sharks or Bahamian sharks or Mexican sharks. They don't know borders or nationalities."

About 40 research agencies already use solar tags, which were put on the market two years ago. For instance, the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences studies a variety of sharks, while others use them to track turtles and marine mammals that spend time in the sun.

The overall success of solar tags has yet to be proven because of their relatively limited use. But so far marine researchers have encountered no serious problems, and a growing number of agencies plan to purchase them, manufactures said.

By drawing on solar energy, the tags ensure power is available to beam to a satellite a range of data, including how deep the fish go and the water temperatures they encounter. That information is then transmitted to researchers.

Because most sharks don't linger near the surface — in direct sunlight — the solar-powered tags are programmed to collect data for about six months while running on conventional batteries. Then the tags detach and float to the surface, said Mahmood Shivji, director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute, part of Nova Southeastern University.

"Now it's exposed to sunlight," Shivji said, "and it's been archiving data for six months."

Technically called "pop-up archival satellite tags," the devices can gather an enormous amount of information, so much that batteries alone would die before all the data is transmitted, Shivji said.

"If you have a solar panel, in theory, that tag should be able to transmit 100 percent of its data," he said.

Solar powered or not, tags already have provided researchers with detailed information on the migratory patterns and daily habits of different fish.

From tracking several sharks around the world, "we've discovered remarkable data on the behavior of these animals in terms of their movement horizontally as well as vertically," Shivji said.


Monday, February 24, 2014

California Releases Proposed Decisions on Two Solar Projects

SACRAMENTO - Two separate California Energy Commission siting committees have released Presiding Member's Proposed Decisions (PMPD) on amendments to solar projects in Riverside County.

The committee for the proposed Blythe Solar Power Project recommends approval of the amendment to convert to a 485-megawatt solar photovoltaic facility, while the committee for the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System recommends denying the amendment to convert to a 500-megawatt solar thermal power tower project.

In the PMPD for the Blythe Solar Power Project released Friday, December 13, 2013, the committee finds that the project, as mitigated, may have environmental impacts that are cumulatively significant when considered along with the impacts of other projects in the region. The cumulative impacts that cannot be mitigated to less than significant levels are impacts to biological resources, cultural resources, land use, and visual resources. The committee finds that the project benefits-including its contribution to meeting California's Renewables Portfolio Standard, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating an estimated 499 peak construction jobs, and boosting the economy-justify an override of those impacts.

Commissioner Karen Douglas presided while Commissioner David Hochschild served as associate member for the Blythe Solar Power Project committee. The committee determined that the Blythe amendment complies with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards.

About the Palen project, the committee found the requested amendment, like the currently approved solar trough project, will have significant unmitigable impacts to cultural and visual resources. Unlike the currently approved project, the committee finds that the amended project will also result in significant and unmitigable impacts to biological resources due to the risk of solar flux on avian species. The committee recommends denying the project amendment at this time, finding that the totality of the project impacts outweighs the totality of the project benefits.

The committee assigned to the Palen project has scheduled a committee conference on January 7, 2014 in Sacramento, California.

The PMPDs for the projects are based solely on the record of facts established during the facilities' amendment proceedings. They are not final decisions on these amendments. The Committees have released both recommended decisions for 30 days of public comment and will consider input before the proposed decisions go to the full Energy Commission in early 2014.

Commissioner Karen Douglas presided while Commissioner David Hochschild served as associate member for the Palen Solar Electric Generating System amendment.


Blythe Project

In September 2010, the Energy Commission approved the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project, a solar thermal power project using parabolic trough technology. The site is located about eight miles west of Blythe in eastern Riverside County. It was originally to be built on 7,043 acres of federal public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The project owner, Palo Verde Solar I, LLC, a subsidiary of Solar Millennium, filed an amendment with the commission in June 2012 to change the technology to solar photovoltaic. The commission has no jurisdiction over wind or PV projects but commission review was allowed by the Legislature under Senate Bill 226 for a limited category of projects approved on BLM land in 2010.

In April 2013, the new project owner, NextEra Blythe Solar Energy Center, LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, filed a revised amendment to reduce the project's physical size and generation capacity. The amended 485-MW project would be developed on 4,070 acres of BLM land in four phases, with the first three consisting of 125 MW and the fourth generating 110 MW. The project will also require a revised right-of-way grant from the BLM.

Construction on the project is expected to last 48 months. There would be an average of 341 employees during construction, with a peak of 499. Fifteen operational employees would be needed. The estimated capital construction cost is $1.13 billion, according to the project owner. The Blythe PMPD can be found at

Palen Project

In December 2010, the Energy Commission approved the 500-megawatt Palen Solar Power Project, a solar thermal power project using parabolic trough technology. In December 2012, the new project owner, Palen Solar Holdings, LLC filed an amendment with the commission requesting to change the technology to solar power tower.

The applicant for the amended project now known as the Palen Solar Electric Generating System is Palen Solar Holdings, LLC, a joint venture of BrightSource Energy, Inc. and Abengoa.

The amendment proposal consists of two 250-MW solar towers and 170,000 heliostats. Heliostats are elevated mirrors used to focus the sun's rays on a solar receiver that produces steam to generate electricity. The solar receiver would be located atop a 750-foot-tall power tower near the center of each solar field.

The Palen project would be located about 10 miles east of Desert Center, halfway between Indio and Blythe, in eastern Riverside County. It is located on 3,794 acres of public land managed by the BLM which is separately reviewing the project. The Palen PMPD can be found at's_Proposed_Decision.pdf


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Prepaid Solar Solution to Boost Senegal Agriculture

Image: By Millennium Villages
USAID has announced that the Sustainable Engineering Lab has been awarded a two-year, $1.1M innovation grant to establish three smart solar irrigation pilot projects in the Millennium Village of Potou, a rural area in northern Senegal.

The grant is supported by USAID, the Swedish Government, Duke Energy, and the German Organization for International Cooperation (GIZ) as part of the Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development Initiative.

In Senegal, acquiring water for crops is usually done by hand and can take many hours. On top of that high fuel costs make gasoline pumps impractical and initial investment costs for stand-alone solar to generate power for pumps are too high for small-scale farmers. The Sustainable Engineering Lab’s goal is to reduce the price of energy for smallholder irrigation farmers by introducing solar PV as a reliable and cost-effective energy alternative.

The key innovation is the use of a centralized PV power production center to provide electricity to a network of farmers along individual distribution lines, in the form of a micro-utility that provides energy for pumping and other uses. Customers will access energy using a pre-paid system, similar to that of SharedSolar, ensuring that farmers pay only for what they consume.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Massive Solar Plan for Minnesota Wins Bid Over Gas

A judge’s ruling notably said the renewable energy proposal would be a better deal for ratepayers.

Minnesota soon could see at least a sevenfold expansion of solar power.

In an unprecedented ruling, a judge reviewing whether Xcel Energy should invest in new natural gas generators vs. large solar power arrays concluded Tuesday that solar is a better deal.

If the finding by Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman is upheld by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Edina-based Geronimo Energy plans to build about 20 large solar power arrays on sites across Xcel’s service area at a cost of $250 million.

“It says solar is coming in a big way to the country and to Minnesota,” Geronimo Vice President Betsy Engelking said of the ruling.

Geronimo’s Aurora Solar Project would receive no state or utility subsidies, but would qualify for a federal investment tax credit. Engleking said it is the first time in the United States that solar energy without a state subsidy has beaten natural gas in an official, head-to-head price comparison.

“The cost of solar has come down much faster than anyone had anticipated,” she said in an interview. “This is one of the reasons solar is going to explode.”

The largest of the Geronimo projects would be five times bigger than the state’s largest solar array in Slayton, Minn. Some would cover up to 70 acres of land. The proposed sites are in 17 counties, mostly in central, eastern and southeastern Minnesota.

It is the first time the state has used a competitive bidding process for a major power generation project. The commission ordered the trial-like proceeding to force energy companies to compete on price.

Xcel, based in Minneapolis, and three other energy companies offered various proposals, mostly generators powered by natural gas. Xcel’s plan included a new gas generator at its Black Dog plant in Burnsville, where the utility intends to retire the remaining coal-burning units.

In a 50-page ruling, Lipman said “the greatest value to Minnesota and Xcel’s ratepayers is drawn from selecting Geronimo’s solar energy proposal …”

If the Aurora project is built, Xcel likely would purchase the power under a long-term agreement. That could help Xcel toward its requirement to get 1.5 percent of its power from the sun by 2020 under a new state energy law. Xcel also is counting on rooftop solar systems, community-owned arrays and its own large projects to meet that goal.

Lipman said that if solar alone can’t supply all of Xcel’s extra power needs in the next few years, the utility could take up an offer to purchase surplus energy from Great River Energy, the state’s second-largest power company. The judge also said Xcel will have time to consider other generation projects if electrical demand picks up.

Xcel said in a statement that it appreciated Lipman’s work, but that it disagreed with some of the findings and would file a written response. Under the PUC’s rules, the competitors and other interests can take exception to the judge’s ruling before the five-member commission takes a vote.

Geronimo already does business with Xcel, selling the output of its Prairie Rose Wind Farm in Rock County, in far southwestern Minnesota. Two of four planned wind farms that Xcel will add in the next two years — near Windom, Minn., and near Jamestown, N.D. — are being built by Geronimo. The company has built two smaller wind farms in southeastern Minnesota and is about to construct two more wind farms in Michigan and Nebraska for other utilities.

Other competitors

The other competitors considered by the judge were Houston-based Calpine, which proposed a gas turbine in Mankato at its existing power plant there and Chicago-based Invenergy, which proposed gas turbines at Cannon Falls and Hampton. Xcel also proposed two gas units near Hankinson, N.D.

“We are reviewing the [judge’s] recommendations, and will evaluate our next steps in the docketed proceeding,” Craig Gordon, Invenergy vice president of sales and marketing, said in an e-mail Tuesday.

If the Aurora Project is approved, Geronimo said the solar arrays would be built in 2015 and 2016. Engelking said that Geronimo already has signed deals for land and that it has identified more sites than needed in case some don’t work out.

Each of the ground-mounted arrays would be next to an existing substation, avoiding transmission-line costs.

She said the company still needs state or local permits. But the company has visited with local governments and has pledged to make payments in lieu of taxes ranging from $50,000 to $110,000 a year.

Geronimo, a renewable energy developer, doesn’t intend to own the projects, she said. Its financing partner, Enel Green Power, has the first option to acquire them, she said. But it’s possible Geronimo could make a deal to sell the arrays to Xcel or other energy companies, she said.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Shunfeng Successful on-Grid Connection of 840 MW Solar Plants in China

Hong Kong, Jan 2, 2014 - (ACN Newswire) - Shunfeng Photovoltaic International Limited ("Shunfeng" or the "Group"; stock code:1165) is pleased to announce that 31 solar power plants held by the Group, with a total annual designed capacity of 840 megawatt (MW), have successfully achieved on-grid connection in Gansu Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, Shaanxi Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The Group will continue to develop solar power plant and is confident to play a more important role in the solar power market in China in the near future.

Location/Number of Solar Power Plant/Megawatt (MW)
Gansu Province: 4/200
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region: 1/30
Qinghai Province: 1/20
Shaanxi Province: 1/50
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region: 24/540
Total: 31/840

Including the 50 MW solar plant in Jinchang, Gansu Province, that was successfully grid-connected on 8 December 2013, as at 2 January 2014, the Group has achieved a total grid-connected aggregate annual designed capacity of 890 MW.

Mr. Zhang Yi, Chairman of Shunfeng Photovoltaic said, "Thanks to the great effort of our experienced management team in solar power market, Shunfeng Photovoltaic has been completing our grid-connection milestones ahead of schedule by achieving a total of 890 MW on-grid solar capacities. Under the policy support from The Central Government and the financial support from large scale of financial institutions, we are full of confidence in achieving a further success in grid-connection in the near future."

About Shunfeng Photovoltaic International Limited
Shunfeng Photovoltaic International Limited is mainly engaged in solar power generation, development, operation and maintenance of solar power plants. The company also manufactures and sales of solar cells, solar modules, solar wafers and related solar products. The company takes the operating principle of the vertical integration from upstream to downstream industry chain derivative development. To the upstream, the company develops production of ingot and wafer; to the downstream, they build up the manufactures of solar modules. The Group is also involved in the development of solar power station projects in the PRC in order to improve the Company's operating performance and increase the Company's profitability.

Currently, the quality of certain products within the company had reached the leading position of PRC similar products. Some products have reached international advanced level, market share and popularity ranks forefront of the industry and the products are exported to Europe and North America.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Government to Fit Solar Lights at Bus Stops

Gibraltar Bus Company will be fitting solar powered lights in bus shelters around the Rock following a tender process, Minister for Public Transport, Neil Costa MP has announced.

 Installation of the solar equipment on a trial basis begins at the Market Place terminal on Saturday the 18th of January, when the bus stops and service will be transferred to Waterport Road, opposite Watergardens, for the rest of the day while works are completed.

Buses will resume normal services from Market Place the following morning, Sunday 19th January.

Mr Costa said that once the Government technical teams have reviewed the new lighting system, it will be fitted on most bus shelters around Gibraltar.

The Minister added: “The installation of environmentally friendly solar lighting in bus shelters is a political commitment of the GSLP/Liberal Government and the project should be completed next year.

“We will finally have properly lit bus shelters in Gibraltar and this is something the Government and bus users will unreservedly welcome.”


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Usage of Lead Batteries in Cook Islands Solar Project Harmful: Expert

Photo: Officials in Cook Islands are being criticised for
placing around 2,000 potentially hazardous lead batteries
on half a dozen remote islands.
Officials in Cook Islands are being criticised for placing around 2,000 potentially hazardous lead batteries on half a dozen remote islands.

The batteries are being used to store solar energy to power up the islands at night.

But an expert in the field, prominent local businessman Steve Anderson, says it is unlikely the batteries will ever be removed once they expire in a few years.

Mr Anderson told Pacific Beat as the country is made up of many small islands, the logistics of getting heavy items to these islands is extraordinary.

"Very often they have to be hand carried or lifted off barges and so on. So the idea that they will come back to be recycled is a very remote possibility," he said.

"We sort of question whether we should be putting hundreds of tons of lead into these low lying atolls which are only one or two metres above sea level."

Mr Anderson, the owner and director of the Cook Islands based energy company Andersons, proposes the use of lithium ion batteries instead which he says are a safer option.

"One problem with lead acid batteries is that they have a limited life of say five to eight years and that's severely restricted as they operate in high temperatures," he said.

"Lead must be retrieved from the islands and taken to a proper recycling centre which would have to be in our case, New Zealand or Australia."

But Mr Anderson points out that the cost of bringing back lead from remote atolls is three to four times higher.

He fears these potentially dangerous materials will be discarded on the atolls unless "lead becomes an extraordinarily valuable commodity that it will ever be viable for anyone to bring it back".

"Right now, Pukapuka island for instance is littered with lead acid batteries just lying in the sand, lying in the lagoon, leftover from previous such projects," Mr Anderson said.

The solar energy project is currently being supported by New Zealand, Australia, China and Japan.

"We believe that somebody who is giving something to the country... needs to consider the long-term sustainability and whether or not we can afford to replace these things and we can afford the environmental situation," Mr Anderson said, adding that he hopes "sanity will prevail' and the country "will get a sustainable solution".


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How Will Solar in the UK Fare in 2014?

2013 proved to be another tumultuous year for the solar industry in the UK, despite early optimism that the UK solar market had finally managed to secure a steady policy framework with sensible degressions, the EU anti-dumping investigation threw all this into disarray. 

The uncertainty surrounding the European Commission’s investigation acted as a severe constraint to deployment and created a “lost quarter” in the UK.

Although the fallout from the anti-dumping investigation is still being felt across the market, the UK solar sector has continued to perform strongly. Indeed, the whole global industry has experienced a year of growth, with an unprecedented 12GW of capacity installed in the last quarter of the year – taking the total capacity installed to 36GW.

This trend is predicted to continue right through to 2014, with NPD Solarbuzz upping its forecast to 49GW of capacity installed at the end of the year.

Solar Power Portal spoke to a number of UK solar veterans to get their views on the key trends that will affect the sector during 2014, below are their thoughts:
Reza Shaybani, chairman of the BPVA said:
“2013 has been a relatively a quiet year for the UK solar industry which has shown positive signs of recovery from the turbulent years of 2011 and 2012. We have seen growth in all segments including ground mount, commercial rooftop and the domestic market. 2013 also proved that the industry and the government can work together as partners to achieve their goals.

“Going into 2014, we need the government to get rid of some of the barriers to the future growth of the PV industry and continue with the stability and long-term planning which is key to the future success of our industry.

“The BPVA is confident that in 2014 we will see an even bigger increase in the deployment of solar PV in the UK. To achieve this and to support our members, in early 2014 we are launching a major public campaign to show the benefits of solar energy as well as the launch of a new rating programme for installers which would help the customers to choose the best of products and installers.”

Ben Cosh, founder and managing director of TGC Renewables said:

“Domestic solar now has better returns for home owners than at the peak of the boom, so if domestic installers can overcome the marketing hurdle they should do well.

“We’ll see more commercial and industrial roofs covered in solar as the STA works with DECC to remove the regulatory barriers in that market.

“Solar farms will get more community buy-in with responsible site selection, shared ownership models and, in the long run, by providing cheaper electricity to local people.

“Energy costs will be even more of a political football, as Ed Miliband continues to shift the debate into the right area for him: 66% of voters believe the government should take action to reduce the cost of house hold bills such as fuel and energy.”

Susannah Woods, marketing manager for Solarcentury said:

“I think there is still very good news for the UK market: it’s still one of the strongest markets in Europe, particularly for ground mount. In Q1 2014 it’s probably going to be the biggest in Europe for that period.

“We have good engagement with DECC officials; they understand what the industry needs and have a good granular grasp of what has to happen. That is a pretty good news story and I think we should see good steady growth in the sector.

“The drop to 1.4ROC is OK, but it has been made considerably more painful by AD measures. I think what will happen is that investors will get a little more creative. The challenge more is not the finance, it’s grid connection. I think the Tories don’t need to huff and puff and say all this ridiculous stuff they have said about solar farms because the market will naturally die down as a result of grid connections becoming more difficult.

“One of the key issues with the commercial rooftop market is that the three month degression model doesn’t work. When you start developing a project you can’t confirm what the feed-in tariff rate is going to be. That’s an uncertainty that doesn’t really work with businesses as you can imagine. They have to know what their feed-in tariff is going to be. DECC really needs to fix this three month degression and make it longer so that a system can be developed knowing what incentive you are going to have. And I think that DECC understands that. We all want to be building on roofs but government needs to fix the process.”

Nick Boyle, CEO, Lightsource said:

“Every single year we plan to do as much as possible in the summer period for two reasons: one, it’s easier to build and two, you don’t have this imminent sword of Damocles hanging over your head if you fail to connect by March.

“We have a number of 1.4ROC SPAs that will get finished in the first quarter for construction in the second quarter. That was the plan last year but anti-dumping absolutely scuppered that – the lack of certainty and question marks that it raised basically meant that the most productive time of year was completely hamstrung, so nothing got done.

“It leaves us in the ludicrous scenario again this year that probably 70% of what we’re going to do will be done in the first quarter – the wettest quarter, the snowiest quarter and the quarter with the biggest threat of missing the tariff. That’s something that the whole industry has to settle down on; hopefully, with no anti-dumping threat and stability that is something that the industry will be able to do next year.”


ESA Renewables Commissions First Community Solar Farm in Central Florida

Central Florida solar company developed, constructed and will operate solar array

Lake Mary, Fl., February 18th, 2014 - ESA Renewables (ESA), an industry leader in providing turnkey solar solutions, is pleased to announce the completion of a 400 kilowatt (kW) community solar farm on the Gardenia campus of the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) located at 3800 Gardenia Avenue in Orlando, FL.  The array was commissioned in October by ESA and has been acquired by Spear Point Energy; OUC has agreed to purchase the generated power from Spear Point Energy under a 25-year power purchase agreement. 

The solar farm is the result of many companies coming together, including Sylvester and Cockrum, ReneSola, Advanced Energy, Chint, Schletter, ESA, and Spear Point Energy.

“The technology innovation of using Schletter micro-piles as foundations and precast concrete pads, in addition to the engineering design using a high density module with a modular canopy with long spans, has cut the construction schedule in half and minimized the risk factors in a rainy environment like Florida,” said Javier Latre Gorbe, Vice-President of Technical Operations for ESA Renewables.  “The solar array serves dual purposes as a solar farm and a canopy to 151 LED-lit parking spaces for OUC employees and guests.”

“We are pleased to have worked closely with ESA Renewables on the OUC community solar array project, contributing our services and capabilities of the micro-pile technology and carport structure to the farm,” said Ryan Kelly, Vice President of Sales for Schletter Inc. Mr. Kelly went on to add that “The carport structures are comprised of mainly aluminum, making it maintenance free. This saved an incredible amount of time and money during the installation process.”

"The CPS 3 Phase string Inverters are ideally suited for use in solar canopy designs. This decentralized approach provides reduced installation and BOS costs, lowers O&M costs and improves system uptime," said Jesse Batista Eastern and Latin American Sales Manager for Chint Power Systems America.

“It’s humbling working with firms like ESA, which takes great pride in not only its work, but the selection process to determine which modules to use in its projects,” said Brian Armentrout, Director of Marketing for ReneSola America.

The solar farm covers approximately 2.5 acres of the parking area of OUC’s Gardenia Campus and is expected to produce about 540,000 kWh annually – enough to meet the power needs of about 40 homes.  As a community solar farm, it is the first of its kind in Orlando, and only the second in Florida. 

Subscriptions to the community solar farm sold out in less than a week after OUC offered its customers the opportunity to purchase blocks of solar power from the array.  Subscribers receive credit on their electricity bills for their share of the solar farm’s production. The Gardenia solar farm has 39 OUC subscribers, and while initially they will be paying a slight premium for their electricity, their rate is locked in for 25 years.

"Half of our customers live in multi-family housing and do not have the ability to add solar to their homes. Innovative projects like this allow our customers to purchase solar power without the upfront costs or hassle of installing it and with the added bonus of being able to lock in their power rate," said Byron Knibbs, OUC Vice President of Customer & Sustainable Services.

“Spear Point Energy proudly invested in the project due to several factors: the high quality team, construction, material, equipment and the smart way OUC structured their community solar program. It is exciting that OUC is working with the community to allow Orlando residents to own the power generated by this solar project,” said Michael Johnson, President of Spear Point Energy. “We are pleased to be a part of bringing the benefits of community solar to Orlando.”

“This solar farm provides sustainable, green energy and eliminates the upfront expenses, installation and equipment maintenance costs associated with individuals installing solar at their own home or business,” said Lindsay Herold, Chief Operating Officer for ESA Renewables. “ESA is managing ongoing operation and maintenance (O&M) costs and services for the solar farm.”

A ribbon-cutting celebration was held at OUC’s Gardenia Campus near John Young Boulevard in Orlando at the end of October.  The solar farm can be seen from Interstate 4, the main artery running through the city.

About ESA Renewables, LLC
ESA Renewables has positioned itself as a leader in the industry providing a wide variety of services to solar PV systems worldwide. ESA activities include project financing, EPC, commissioning, monitoring, O&M, third party engineering, production simulation and development. With headquarters in Castellon, Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and Italy. For more information about ESA Renewables, LLC, please visit or call 407-268-6455.

About Spear Point Energy
Spear Point Energy is an independent power producer and solar project developer for commercial and industrial customers, municipalities and utilities throughout the U.S. Spear Point sells renewable electricity at competitive rates to customers through power purchase agreements. The company finances, develops, builds, owns and operates solar power systems ranging from 100 kilowatts to 20 megawatts in size. Spear Point Energy is online at

About Schletter Inc.
Schletter has designed, developed, and manufactured solar mounting products in the U.S. since 2008, while backed with more than 20-years of solar mounting experience from Schletter GmbH. Schletter Inc maintains three manufacturing facilities in North America and is headquartered in Shelby, North Carolina. Since opening its United States facility in Tucson, Arizona, Schletter Inc. has manufactured more than 1 GW of installed PV mounting systems. Schletter Inc. offers products for roof mount and ground mount systems for residential, commercial, and utility scale photovoltaic systems. Schletter Inc. is an independent subsidiary of Schletter GmbH, which operates subsidiaries in eleven countries with more than 1,800 employees worldwide. For more information on Schletter GmbH, please visit

About ReneSola
Founded in 2005, ReneSola (NYSE:SOL) is a leading brand and technology provider of solar PV products. Leveraging its proprietary technologies, economies of scale and technical expertise, ReneSola uses in-house virgin polysilicon and a vertically integrated business model to provide customers with high-quality, cost-competitive products. ReneSola solar modules have scored top PVUSA Test Conditions (PTC) ratings with high annual kilowatt-hour output, according to the California Energy Commission (CEC). ReneSola solar PV modules can be found in projects ranging in size from a few kilowatts to multi-megawatts in markets around the world, including the United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium, China, Greece, Spain and Australia. For more information, please visit

About Chint Power Systems America
CPS America is a leader in advanced PV inverter solutions including residential string, commercial and utility products.  Rooted with a culture of innovation driving cost effective high performance, the leadership and development teams have deep experience in telecommunications power systems where reliability, uptime and efficiency are paramount. Chint Power, with 1GW inverter capacity, is a division of Chint Group, a $4B global firm with business units focused on power electronics, industrial automation, power transmission and distribution and solar panels.     

Monday, February 17, 2014

Huge Year Tipped For Solar Power in 2014

A huge year is tipped for the solar power in 2014. A massive growth surge is expected to result from the fact that the equivalent of a 5-megawatt solar farm is now being installed every hour of every day worldwide, Earth Techling has reported.

NPD Solarbuzz has forecast that the demand for solar panels “is poised for explosive growth in 2014, and is set to reach 49 gigawatts (GW), up from 36 GW in 2013″.

After a period of consolidation in solar manufacturing, and flat growth in Europe, industry capacity is again starting to meet demand. The United States, China, and Japan are showing increasingly strong demand. Two-thirds of all solar panels installed in the forth quarter of 2014 are expected to be in China, Japan, and the United States.

To put the current rate of growth into perspective, Solarbuzz has pointed out that over the six-month period from October 2013 to March 2014, the solar PV industry is expected to install nearly 22 GW of capacity, which is as much as the whole of the period between 2005 and 2009 worldwide – which was considered to be a high-growth phase in the solar industry.

It’s already looking like it will be another bumper year for solar power worldwide.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ford Adds SunPower Solar Cells to Recharge Electric Concept Car

File photo shows MKC Chief Engineer Lisa Drake and Executive VP of Ford Global, Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln, Jim Farley with the all-new 2015 Lincoln MKC on November 13, 2013 in New York City. Ford Motor will showcase its plug-in hybrid electric car at CES in Las Vegas beginning January 7, 2014. — AFP pic
LAS VEGAS, Jan 2 — Ford Motor Co, the second largest US carmaker, is showcasing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that uses solar panels in the roof to recharge itself.

The C-Max Solar Energi will be on display at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that begins January 7, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said today in a statement.

The vehicle can travel about 21 miles (34 kilometres) using only electric power and has a total range of about 620 miles. It has 300 watts to 350 watts of SunPower Corp. solar cells in the roof and may portend a future of mass-produced rechargeable cars that don’t need to be plugged in, said Mike Tinskey, director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure.

“We are starting to see a convergence that can make these things possible,” Tinskey said in an interview.

The concept includes a canopy-like parking structure that uses Fresnel lenses to focus sunlight on the car and boost efficiency of the solar cells. It was developed with the Georgia Institute of Technology and shifts the car’s position throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky.

“It’s a tracking concentrator without the costs of one,” said Tinskey. The car also has a standard port to connect to a charging station.

Ford estimates it sold more than 85,000 hybrids and electric vehicles in 2013.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius hybrid electric car has an optional solar panel that powers a fan to circulate air within the vehicle when it’s parked in direct sunlight. Nissan Motor Co. offers a Leaf electric vehicle that uses a solar panel that helps keep the car’s battery charged. — Bloomberg


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Going Green in 2014 With ETFs

After being stressed over the past few years, the renewable energy sector has fired on all cylinders and is the major gainer this year, clearly outpacing the broad market. This is largely thanks to a number of growth stocks in the space, which was backed by the surging stock market, favorable green energy trends and Obama’s ‘Climate Change Action Plan’.

Obama Plan Proves Beneficial

In June, President Obama unveiled a broad environmental plan in order to curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and make cleaner forms of American-made energy. The plan hinges on three pillars – cutting carbon emissions, preparing for the impact of climate change, and leading international efforts on the subject.

The strategy would definitely benefit a variety of clean energy firms, as it would improve energy efficiency across the board while reducing other non-carbon emissions. The surge can already be seen in many renewable energy stocks like First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR)  and SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ:SCTY), though trading has been slightly choppy of late due to mixed earnings and disappointing guidance by many firms.

Solid Industry Outlook

The depletion of fossil fuel reserves, higher oil and gas prices, as well as more efficient alternative energy applications has made clean power more viable, adding optimism into the sector. The demand for renewable energy, in particular wind and solar, is growing by leaps and bounds for electricity generation in the U.S.

Currently, clean energy accounts for nearly 16% of U.S. electricity generation and is expected to increase to 33% over the next three years, as per the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This is especially true given that global warming and high fuel emissions issues have resulted in rising popularity of clean energy sources (read: 5 Clean Energy ETFs Leading the Sector’s Surge).

The new and advanced technologies are able to provide clean environment and have reduced dependence on fossil fuels, coal or other energy resources, suggesting a bullish outlook on the clean energy stocks. Moreover, the EIA projects clean energy production to grow at a faster rate through 2040. In fact, solar, wind and geothermal production will likely double over the next 25 years.

Given the bright outlook and the firmer oil prices, the trend of a bull run in the space is likely to continue into 2014. As such, investors seeking to ride out this booming trend want to tap the space in the ETF form.

For those investors, we have highlighted three ETFs that could be worth a look if America continues to embrace green technology, and energy efficiency.

First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund (NASDAQ:QCLN)

This fund tracks the Nasdaq Clean Edge Green Energy Index and managed assets worth $90.7 million. It charges 60 bps in fees per year while volume is light suggesting a wide bid/ask spread.

In total, the product holds 43 securities in its basket with largest allocations to Linear Technology (LLTC), FSLR and ITC Holdings (ITC). These firms combined make up for 23% of total assets. From a sector look, technology firms dominate this ETF, accounting for nearly two-fifths of the assets while oil & gas, and industrials round out the next two spots.

QCLN is up 83.6% in the year-to-date time frame and it has a Zacks ETF Rank of 1 or ‘Strong Buy’ rating with a ‘High’ risk outlook.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Central Florida Celebrates Valentine's Day with a New Solar Array!

What a great way to spend Valentine's Day!  The City of Winter Park, Florida LOVES their new solar array!

This project is the result of the hard work of two of my clients:  

Watch the video I shot when I went up into a bucket truck to see the completed solar project:

Dr. Henry Snaith in Top 10 Scientists of the Year List for Pioneering Work in Solar Power

Dr. Henry Snaith has been announced as one of the top 10 scientists of the year for his work to develop a cheaper form of solar power. He is from the University of Oxford and is the only scientists to be named in the list.

Dr. Snaith and his team created cheap and efficient perovskite-based solar cells. These can be integrated into the glass fronts of buildings. They are based between the university's department of physics and Oxford Photovoltaics (PV), at Begbroke Science Park.

Dr. Snaith, 35, from Abingdon, said that the achievement has made him proud and it is a really nice feeling to have been recognized so highly.

This achievement has opened the doors for using the perovskite-based cells to bring down the costs of solar power in the future.

Dr. Snaith explained: "We started work on the material about two years ago and over the past year and a half there have been remarkable developments".

He added that they gained confidence after finding out that the performance improved significantly, i.e. by 15%. He is optimistic that it will compete with the highest performing materials. The cost of the materials will eventually fall down to an incredible extent which was not possible ever before.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Winter Park Falls "In Love" with its New Solar Panels On Valentine's Day

Winter Park, Fl., February 13, 2014 - On Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14, at 10:30 a.m., the City of Winter Park will show how much it “loves” its newly installed rooftop solar panels at the Public Works Compound located at 1409 Howell Branch Road.

Last summer, the City Commission approved an agreement with Clean Footprint, central Florida’s leading solar development and finance company to add solar energy into our city’s electric power supply
portfolio. This solar project, developed by Clean Footprint and ESA Renewables, a Florida-based solar company, generates 100kW of clean, green energy and is the city’s first, largest and only solar energy project to date.

“This venture into solar photovoltaic panels is a victory for all of the city’s electric customers. For those seeking a smaller carbon footprint, solar energy answers that need. In addition, solar is an alternative energy source that provides a hedge against future electric rate increases. This is a huge step for the city as it relates to entering into a more sustainable energy source,” said Electric Utility Director Jerry Warren.

“All other sources of energy will fluctuate in pricing. Solar is an ideal choice granting municipalities and companies access to low-cost and stable electric prices for up to 30 years,” said John Porter, Managing
Partner of Clean Footprint.

With the completion of this renewable energy installation, the City of Winter Park becomes a leader amongst Florida cities committed to providing renewable energy to their citizens. To truly see why the city has fallen “head over heels in love” with these new solar panels, bucket trucks will be available for the media to get a bird’s-eye view of the roof top panels.

For more information, please visit, or

Ruffalo and Social Leaders Pledge to Building Solar This Year

In 2013, a solar installation was installed every four minutes throughout the US

OAKLAND, USA: Mosaic, the first US company to crowdsource investments for solar projects, is kicking off 2014 with a New Years Resolution campaign to "Put Solar On It."

Anyone can pledge online at to put solar on a local home, school, place of worship, business, or other property. Throughout 2014, Mosaic will provide people with the tools and network they need to make their pledge a reality.

Academy Award nominee, Mark Ruffalo, well-known as The Hulk in The Avengers, is leading the campaign. Ruffalo has pledged to put solar on his childrens' school, Stephen Gaynor Elementary, in Manhattan. Make It Right has pledged to put solar on a home for a family living in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. Other pledges have come in from individuals across the nation, including from Atlanta, GA. Boston, MA, Charlotte, NC, Maui, HI, Pittsburgh, PA, Santa Fe, NM, and Woodbury, MN.

"I'm helping put solar on my kids' school to save the school money and free up resources that will be aimed at their education instead of fossil fuels," Mark Ruffalo explains, "We can also demonstrate the shining future that is now within our grasp. I love that Mosaic is making it possible for all people to participate in an economy meant for all -- the solar economy. We are powerful."

The "Put Solar On It" resolution is part of significant national momentum. In 2013, a solar installation was installed every four minutes throughout the US and the price of a solar dropped to 60 percent of 2011 prices, according to the US Solar Energy Industries Association and Greentech Media Research.

The nation installed more clean energy than coal, oil, and nuclear combined, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. According to the Solar Foundation and US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the solar industry is creating jobs at four times the rate of the economy at large.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SEPA To Benchmark Utility Renewable Energy Activities

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) is partnering with ScottMadden Management Consultants to conduct a benchmarking study on renewable energy organizational structure within North American electric utilities.

The organizations say they will be studying how much effort utilities put into managing renewable energy and how strategic development and tactical execution is impacted by organizational chart structures. The analysis will also provide a baseline for annual research to track progress and evolution of utility best practices.

"This is a first-of-its-kind study that will examine how different utilities organize their renewable energy groups and functions," comments Eran Mahrer, SEPA's executive vice president of research and strategy. "The hope is that we can provide best practices on how these two areas can be optimized for maximum efficiency."

Utilities participating in the benchmarking study will receive a detailed report, and all SEPA members will be provided an overview of the findings, the organizations note.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sun Doesn't Set on State Tax Credit for Southern Oregon Solar Farm

Marvin Morse, a real estate agent in Christmas Valley, says Energetics installed a single row of solar panels in 2009 on the 160-acre site he sold to Alfred Fairbanks. But those panels came down a year later and no construction has taken place since. Morse contends big solar installations bring no permanent jobs and little tax revenue to the county, and generate power that's far more expensive than the electricity
Before he showed up in south-central Oregon, Alfred Fairbanks had never tried to build a solar farm. Yet when the Pullman, Wash., dentist told state officials in 2009 that his company planned to build the state’s largest solar array in the desert southeast of Bend, they welcomed him with open arms and the promise of a massive subsidy from taxpayers.

According to his application with the Oregon Department of Energy, Fairbanks planned to carpet his 160-acre plot of sagebrush with solar panels. The $50 million array, he said, would include 133,000 panels capable of generating 6.7 megawatts of power. All this outside Christmas Valley, a hardscrabble community of alfalfa farmers and ranchers in an area so remote it’s known as the Oregon Outback.

Energy Department analysts approved his paperwork, promising Fairbanks a $10 million tax credit if his company, Energetics, built the project within three years.

He never did. An investigation by The Oregonian shows the only thing Energetics ever completed was a small installation of 180 solar panels that never sent any electricity to the grid and was taken down by late 2010. Yet the Department of Energy’s staff, without ever visiting the site, has repeatedly extended the project’s eligibility for a $10 million taxpayer subsidy.

The department is the fulcrum of a program designed to encourage projects just like the one Fairbanks envisioned. But because each dollar in tax credits has the potential to erase the equivalent in general fund revenues, the agency is tasked with ensuring applicants meet the program’s rules, and taxpayers get what they pay for.

The Christmas Valley project won’t create a single permanent full-time job. It will be exempt from property taxes for three years. And its contribution to Oregon’s supply of green energy will be negligible. But it illustrates just how far the Energy Department goes to help developers get their subsidies.

The Legislature killed the Business Energy Tax Credit in 2010, livid at its mushrooming cost and lack of financial controls. Lawmakers set a July 1, 2012, sunset date for projects to be completed, but they subsequently allowed developers to extend their eligibility for tax credits for another two years if they could show evidence of beginning construction before April 15, 2011. Agency staffers repeatedly approved extensions to Fairbanks’ tax credit, despite evidence that the project did not resemble what he originally proposed and that construction had not moved forward. Ultimately, agency staff gave the go ahead to transfer the tax credit to an entirely different company, which was buying Fairbanks’ site and plans to build something different than what was originally proposed or started.

The Energy Department says Fairbanks’ diminutive array, installed in 2009, satisfied the statutory requirement to start construction before April 2011. In the department’s view, the removal of those solar panels three years ago doesn’t change its eligibility for continued extensions. And the site’s new owner, Element Power, will be treated as if its project was under construction before April 2011, too.

Element can also completely redesign the project, as long as it amends the existing pre-certification before completion. That’s not the way Oregon’s business energy tax credits are supposed to work, according to Lynn Frank, a former director of the Department of Energy. He says when applicants show evidence of beginning construction on the facility before April 2011, “the facility” has an unambiguous meaning:

“It is not a successor, a demonstration or anything else. It is the facility,” he said. “Had the Legislature intended otherwise, the language did not express that intent. The applicant was given the opportunity to complete the facility under construction.”

Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, describes the Department of Energy’s actions as “an epic process failure.” He says he’s a big fan of solar, but that sustainability also implies that the state will be a responsible steward of taxpayers’ money. “That doesn’t mean ignoring our own administrative rules to make projects work,” he said.

Green grows fast

Fairbanks was part of Oregon’s green rush after Gov. Ted Kulongoski super-sized the state’s long-running energy tax credit program in 2007. Determined to build a green legacy, the governor and his chief sustainability adviser, David Van’t Hof, helped persuade the Legislature to pass aggressive renewable energy mandates for utilities and the most generous taxpayer subsidies in the nation for developers.

A subsequent investigation by The Oregonian found the estimated revenue impact of the tax credits was lowballed. Before a year was out, the program exploded. Oregon taxpayers were soon subsidizing everything from transit passes for Nike employees to a massive solar manufacturing plant in Hillsboro.

With a mandate to promote renewable energy, and the authority to determine which projects met the rules, the Department of Energy was effectively given the keys to the state general fund. The agency says that since 2007, it has approved 12,529 business energy tax credits worth $857 million. It has pre-certified another 122 projects that have yet to be completed for tax credits worth $86 million. Meanwhile, the state’s economic development arm, Business Oregon, has stamped out another eight credits for manufacturers worth $40 million.

All in all, it’s nearly a $1 billion liability since 2007. And only a fraction of those credits have yet to be exercised, leaving a potentially massive bill to come.

Cost is only part of the problem. With loose administrative rules and lax oversight, taxpayers ended up funding projects that never should have qualified, that quickly went bankrupt, or would have been built without state support.

Wind farms developed to serve California or satisfy renewable energy mandates collected more than $200 million in tax credits, with some developers subdividing their projects to qualify for multiple subsidies. A New Mexico trucking company with virtually no connection to Oregon relicensed its entire fleet here to collect 752 tax credits worth $4.5 million. Ethanol, solar and recycling companies harvested tens of million in credits but never reached full operation or quickly went bankrupt.

Many of the renewable energy developers that flocked to Oregon never planned to actually use the tax credits they applied for. Instead, the state allowed them to raise cash by selling their credits at a discount to a company or individual who could use them to offset their tax liabilities.

Legislators pushed the Energy Department to tighten the rules and prevent abuses of the program as early as 2009. That year, they passed a bill to downsize tax credits for large wind farms, figuring they would be built without state support. Kulongoski, under pressure from rural counties, unions and the industry lobby, vetoed the rollback, saying it threatened Oregon’s green success. By the spring of 2010, however, the state budget was in free fall and legislators agreed to put sunset dates on all state tax credits, including the Business Energy Tax Credit.

The Legislature’s subsequent sunset extension for projects under construction by April 2011 provided the grace period that kept Energetics’ tax credit alive.

Barely off the ground

In late spring 2010, the Energy Department wrote to developers whose applications had been approved, asking them to send proof that their project was under construction and could be completed by the new sunset.

In late May, Energetics sent back a sheaf of paperwork to show the project was under construction. Receipts show that 180 solar panels were installed in late 2009, short of the 133,000 planned. The electrical permits pulled by Fairbanks were for 200-amp service — the same as a house, not a utility scale solar farm. The electrical inspection describes a 41-kilowatt installation, one-half of 1 percent of his proposal.

Even then, Energetics acknowledged that construction had been postponed “until further notice” due to uncertainty about evolving tax credit rules and ongoing negotiations of a power purchase contract. But the cover letter said Energetics was still contractually bound to Renewable Energy Construction “to have the Christmas Valley Solar Farm completed no later than 2011.”

By that point, the project had gone 180 days without a building inspection. Jennifer Stephens, Lake County’s assistant building director, says that means its building permits would have expired.

Energy Department staffers say they never visited the site to confirm what had or hadn’t been built. The department’s one-page review of the submission doesn’t mention that construction had been halted. It doesn’t note that Energetics was using different equipment than proposed, which would have required an amendment to its pre-certification. And the receipts are redacted, so it’s unclear how much had been invested.

“Documents satisfy request,” the reviewer concluded. “They explained how the project will be completed, provide a timeline and information about what they have already done.”

The energy agency approved the extension, apparently convinced the project met the requirements. Fairbanks, who didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment, including phone calls and a brief conversation with his son, soon had other issues, however.

With the panels and racking installed, Fairbanks’ property was assessed as a commercial utility and the value shot from $25,000 to nearly $700,000. His tax bill grew twentyfold to more than $7,000, according to county tax records. Lake County exempts most renewable energy projects from taxation for three years if their owners apply for an enterprise zone designation. Fairbanks didn’t apply, and once construction started, he couldn’t. Without it, he faced further tax increases if he built more.

“That’s when he stopped the project,” Lake County Assessor Larry Reeder said. “He took all the panels off.”

No power, but a credit

Three years later, nothing has changed in Christmas Valley. The Energetics project site consists of two empty racks, a mangled lawn chair and a collection of poles poking out of the windswept field.

Also unchanged is the project’s still-viable $10 million tax credit. The Department of Energy has concluded that the utility-scale solar project was under construction before April 15, 2011.

Fairbanks, meanwhile, was describing the project differently to other state authorities. Fairbanks spent much of 2011 telling Lake County, the Department of Revenue and the Oregon Tax Court that his project should be exempt from taxation. His installation, he argued, was not a utility scale solar farm, but a net metering facility similar to a residential or small commercial array. Its primary function was to offset on-site electricity use, he said.

The property in question “neither produced, transported nor distributed any energy. The idea of taxing someone for futures without any results is absurd,” he said in a court filing describing what he called the “county assessor decision error.”

Fairbanks appeals wents nowhere. But once the solar panels were removed, the assessed value of his utility property for 2011 taxes dropped to $75,000 and his tax bill shrank by 90 percent.

in the meantime, Fairbanks’ lawyer was petitioning the Energy Department to extend the project’s eligibility for a tax credit. The lawyer was David Van’t Hof, Kulongoski’s former renewable energy adviser, now in private practice and helping developers navigate the BETC program he’d helped expand.

Van’t Hof is out of the country and didn’t respond to multiple emails seeking comment. But emails in the Department of Energy’s file on the project indicate that Van’t Hof met with the agency’s director, Bob Repine, and its manager of business energy incentives, Maureen Bock, to discuss the project in early 2012.

After the meeting, Van’t Hof submitted a summary of progress on the facility. It was different than Fairbanks’ previous submissions, describing the installation completed in 2009 as a “pilot/demonstration project” that was put up to test the panels and ground mounting system.

State rules allowing extension of business energy tax credits for projects under construction don’t mention pilot projects. They don’t say what happens if construction stops or is dismantled. They do, however, require applicants to inform the Energy Department director if a project doesn’t proceed — a notification Fairbanks never made. Applicants looking for an extension are also required to provide a brief update on the progress of the facility, a schedule for completion and “a statement that the facility will be completed as approved in the preliminary certification.”

Van’t Hof’s submission described ongoing negotiations with third parties as evidence of “progress on the facility,” including the power purchase agreement that Energetics had previously said was being negotiated when construction was suspended in 2010. Van’t Hof said “Energetics will complete the facility, consistent with its BETC preliminary certificate.” And he said construction of the “larger project” — now shrunken to a proposed 5 megawatts — would begin in April 2012 and be completed by October 2012.

The energy agency extended the tax credit until July 2013. Construction did not commence in April. But the next month, Van’t Hof petitioned for a further extension. The department agreed, extending Energetics’ eligibility for a tax credit for an additional year,  until July 1, 2014.

Nothing in the Energy Department’s files suggests any additional progress until August 2012, when the agency received an email from Element Power. The Portland company had been trying to develop its own solar farm in Lake County. It had a site, but not a $10 million tax credit. So it was negotiating to buy Fairbanks’ project, including his tax credit.

That was fine by the Department of Energy, which OK’d the transfer.

A project transformation

Element isn’t taking over construction of Fairbanks project, per se. It intends to rip out the racking and poles that Fairbanks left behind and build something entirely different. New design. New equipment.

According to Lynn Frank, the former Energy Department director, there’s nothing in state law to suggest legislators ever intended to allow successors. The law, he said, was written in the context of “a facility” under construction before April 15, 2011. It is not possible for a subsequent proposed facility to have been under construction as of that date, he said, and the Legislature never expressed any intent for tax credits to pass to successor facilities.

“If all the assertions made to demonstrate that the facility was under construction are no longer true, and the facility for which the assertions were made no longer exists, how could a final certificate or even an amended preliminary certificate even be granted?” he said.

Energy Department officials say staff already determined that Energetics’ previous submissions met the statutory requirements to extend its eligibility for a tax credit. Element Power, they say, is taking over Energetics project and can amend that project’s preliminary certificate to change equipment and build what it wants right up to the point when it completes the project.

“We allow for changes in equipment,” said Anthony Buckley, the agency’s administrator of Energy Development Services. “We want to allow for advances in technology. We want them to take advantage of costs savings or efficiency gains out there.”

Dennis Desmarais, Element’s project manager, also maintains they are developing the same solar farm Fairbanks started in 2009. The evidence that Element began construction before 2011, and qualifies for a tax credit, he says, is that it plans to use the electrical connection established by Energetics. Also, he said, “they’ve cleared the land to some extent.”

Element says it negotiated a power purchase agreement with PacifiCorp and says it has an interconnection agreement with the local utility. But it has yet to secure financing to build.

Element shares the same financial backer — Hudson Clean Energy Partners — and has shared a top leader with SoloPower, the startup solar manufacturer that closed shop shortly after collecting $20 million in business energy tax credits and a $10 million energy loan from the state.

Desmarais says Element’s cost of capital through Hudson is too high, so it is looking for another backer for the solar farm. He says Element can’t afford to hold the project long term, and may still sell the development rights to the project — with the tax credit — to another entity if it can’t raise financing.

“That may still happen,” he said. “It has to happen pretty dang quick for us to get this done before July.”

Lake County, meanwhile, has approved Element Power for the enterprise zone property tax exemption Fairbanks was not able to get. Program rules don’t allow that exemption for projects that have already begun construction. So the county could approve only the tax break for Element by determining that the Energetics project had been abandoned for at least six months.

“It’s been well over six months to meet that condition,” said Ken Kestner, chairman of the Lake County Board of Commissioners.

Christmas Valley residents aren’t sure why the county and the state are working so hard to make sure big tax breaks go to projects that generate no permanent employment and so little tax revenue.

“It’s of no benefit to the community,” said Marvin Morse, a local real estate agent who sold Fairbanks the property. “There’s a little construction phase, a couple months, then it’s all done. … The county commissioners went after it with their eyes wide shut.”

Gary Perkins, an alfalfa famer who lives a few miles from the Fairbanks site, had to buy two neighboring plots of land to make sure developers didn’t build a solar farm within site of his new house.

“If they didn’t have these BETC credits, this wouldn’t be happening,” he said. “I don’t want to see the state piss that money away. As far as I’m concerned, we’re just pounding that money down a rat hole.”