After being laid off from a large SW utility’s solar testing facility(LSWU), another former employee of the same utility and I joined a company that was specializing in combining, municipal, state and federal alt energy incentives.
This was a dream come true. Finally, I would be able to assist fledgling alternative energy companies and get them into production, or so I thought. Please note, these are but some of the pitfalls I’ve seen in the deployment of alternative energy in the US.
Typically, the disconnect was as follows. The alternative energy company was either not far enough along in their development phase, the investors could / would not understand the technology or the grant candidate had been so mired in legal muck and mire that no one could extract them.
There was a very promising defunct wind company that we were attempting to get back into production. There were orders for this style of wind turbine and the grey market was running thin. It was a very specific wind machine meant for third world nations who were stuck making power with diesel gensets. The progenitor was one of the grand old men of wind energy. However, he had taken not one, but two partners that promised him financing beyond what we could offer him and they never delivered. One of his partners actually absconded with equipment. In essence he was bled dry..
We found similar Weasel Finagle and Swindle stories in the bio-gas, Stirling Engine and bio fuel arenas from the four corners of the earth.
My associate Steve had been involved in an ethanol plant . Where out of state influences came into town and spent big bucks to make sure production did not occur. Hassle was garnered from both the left and right. But, mostly from alleged green proponents. The effort was exceptionally well financed.
PV came into the picture to get the incentives’ ball rolling straight away. Myself and Steve, lined up 6 small farms and a few dairies for 50 kW of solar PV incentives. Now, 50kW of solar panels is chump change to a farmer who has to irrigate constantly. But, it was a start.
After doing the reams of meshugana paperwork, we got all six farms into the program under the deadline. However, the same LSWU that Steve and I used to work for, reneged straight away. First of all they were shocked and dismayed that someone had actually figured out the pagan ritual of paperwork and had killed the prerequisite chickens dancing naked in the fire light to qualify for the 50kW. They instead responded thusly:
- Reduced the amount of PV to 35kW
- Demanded that only their installers could do the job.
All this, after the time and effort had been expended on completing all the draconian prerequisites.. So, we proceeded to a rural electric districts. These are non profit entities that exist to bring cheap power to the people that allow us to eat. We’ll call them E.D.x.
We met with E.D.x and told them of the incentives available and that they would have to have a power purchase agreement to enable the sale of power across their transmission lines. But, E.D.x had no facilities of their own. All of their power was delivered by the same large SW util (LSWU)that had shutdown our initial foray into farm alt energy. Their current contract with LSWU did not have any provision for the resale of power. But, that was no big deal for their contract was up in 2012 and they were about to renegotiate their contract.
However, LSWU had discovered our plan renegotiated their agreement a year early and now E.D.x would not be able to enter into power purchase agreements until 2020. So much for our attempt to bring alt energy to local farms. Our bio-gas initiative died here as well.
We continued on doing commercial and residential PV incentives for another utility. The other utility, we’ll call other SW util (OSWU) allowed us to do the max of 50kW. However, they also scaled back on the PV kW the next go round of funding. OSWU was more ethical than LSWU. However, we experienced kW pull back across the board. No matter what utility we engaged.
The biggest problem we encountered during our commercial / residential solar foray was extreme late payment from the Feds. Typically, the Federal portion of the incentives arrived 60 days after the util commissioned the installation. Our first installation incentive payment arrived 60 + 40 days. The second arrived 180 days after commissioning and there is another installation that is approaching the 100 day mark. There is no recompense for the Fed’s dragging their feet.
Hence the incentives group we were working for abandoned incentives work altogether.
During my time at LSWU I saw some very disappointing US alt energy fiascoes. But, the US always seemed to maximize their alt energy failure. Europe, Asia, South America have had some very well publicized success stories.
So, why not in the US? `Tis simple, alternative energy is technology non grata. If you’re a large corporation, your incentives are on time and your technology gets deployed. This is a truism. If you’re a small player and you have a cooperative Federal, State, Municipal and Utility you too can have success. However, if any of the entities involved do not want to cooperate, you have serious trouble on your hands. During the past year, the county where I live, has had an 80% attrition rate in electrical contractors. Not to mention several of the home grown PV installation companies have bit the dust. So, much for the green energy revolution locally.
Some large solar thermal projects are underway here. However, these entities have had to build their own power lines to bypass LSWU. Note, no local companies, to my knowledge are involved in these projects. Hence, only large corporations can play in this hostile environments.
If you’re planning to get into the alt energy arena, be sure to do a serious risk analysis and above all do not attempt if you are under capitalized. I would also suggest to start small and include Operations and Maintenance in your business plan. Only fly by night operations do not include these items.
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