Chris Schuring: Its a wrap

It’s a wrap, with a bow, a bit of tape, and maybe some baling wire

It is Friday, the week, at least the work week, has come to a close. I sit here at my computer on a Friday night and wonder what really happened this week. Let’s see I got 450 emails, most of which we kind enough to inform me of a medical condition I never knew I had. Some were from friends and people in the energy industry and a few in a foreign language, I will translate some day. The communication was good during the week, a bit clouded by the noise of chatter from far off places talking about mystery projects. Like the one from Russia that claims to have a 120 megawatt project just waiting to get built, but where is the data, where is the actual project, I will tell you , in someone mind that’s where. And this leads me to the subject of this little rant.

I know last blog I went off on standards and how we as an industry should categorize and disseminate projects, and whether they are real or not. The industry has enough to worry about with regulations and tariffs not to mention panel prices ups and downs, oh my. We don’t need to extra chatter (my word for a much harsher word) on all of the postings about projects that will never happen.  Let’s see if we can get on the same page at least for this blog, remember you don’t have to agree with me, I actually like it when you don’t.

I was counting a while back, short term memory loss so I am not sure when, about the number of regulatory agencies and power company types and major IPP’s, anything over 5 megawatt, needs to deal with these in the USA. And I will speak primarily from the perspective of the Western US. This may tie into the first blog I wrote as well. In California we have well over 30 utilities, the CPUC, Cal EPA, SACOG, CEC, Cal ISO, Local and regional and county permitting agencies, politicians, SCAQMD, NCPA, IOU’s, thousands of finance professionals (that think they know what they are doing), a few financial people that have a clue and are not from New York, Fly out here sometime and breath the fresh air and get a clue, hundreds of panel people and a few from the USA, racking, inverters, BOS, Monitoring, PPA, IPP’s, Insurance folks (do we need these guys, they ensure me that we do?), designers, software, engineers, PE’s (and not the playground guys), contractors, EPC’s, land owners and wannabe brokers and middle market players, the looming Cap and Trade, SREC, Green tags and carbon credits. Now should I go through the environmental side of the game, and how many projects they get involved with ( I thought they were on the side of green but I guess our checks did not clear the bank), the number of snake, bird, lizard, worm, plant, air, noise and emotional people on this list is far too long to list and I am sure if I left one off I would be subject to some sort of “issue”, we all know what that means, don’t we.

Now, when I add it all and understand that everyone wants their piece of the pie and their time slot and their say in the process it is a wonder we can get work done at all. It has become such a long list that it has spawned, and they are doing a great job, new organizations that do nothing but the complex paperwork and the administrative work load, much to the liking of the project owners. Oh and don’t forget everyone want assurances that they will be risk free and profit borne on every step of the way. Really, since when did we decide that business was risk free, when did they decide that more regulation and “process” was the good thing for the industry? Try never, we let them. I actually listened to NPR report that bond purchasers would rather buy a long term bond at 1.5 % interest than invest in a risk free investment that could return a 9 to 20 % return, what? They bought 2 billion worth from Spain this week, and they may never even see the 1.5%, but they bought it anyway, what?

So, here is the question, for the US primarily. Wait let me tell you why projects in other countries get done. When the Chancellor of Energy from some other land stand in the town square and say we will now generate energy this way, whatever that is, the towns folks look at each other and say, ok let’s go get it done and it get done. Sure they have issues too but a lot less and they move a lot faster so it is harder to stop them, and they know they have few options, by the way we also have few options in case you have been under a rock lately. (Environmentalist are you taking note?) This is where I say, I never said solar and other alternatives are the only way to go, we need a good energy policy and good energy mix, so you can get off your high horse and get on our pony if you want an invitation to the party. It is like this, I say this all the time, if you have better solution let’s hear it, don’t just say oh that’s bad, what is your solution, give the industry a fair shake and get a solution on the table and make it an actual solution and we would listen. (Enough of that soap box, I will save some of that for later). Back on task.

When we try to get a project across the goal line and I have tried many times with the help of real professionals from every part of the equation, we run into this set of brick walls. And until we as an industry and as a support services, that is what regulations are supposed to provide, get together and decide that we can work this out it will be a tangle mess until we all retire and leave to our kids to mess with, I for one don’t want that scenario, do you? When we put it all down on paper and they say wow we need to build this for under $3.00 a watt and make sure everyone is happy are we just kidding ourselves? The mention of grid parity will then come up. So let me ask you this when the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon was built did it reach grid parity the moment it was turn into an operation plant, or did it take a few years to pay off the capita debt and other aspects of the 25 year process it took to get  online? Of course it did, it may not have paid for itself yet, and now we are talking about turning it off and removing a percentage of the power off of our state grid with no replacement in store, and by the way the power plant has been in service less time than a solar panel will be in service. And by the way I worked on Diablo Canyon in the engineering and documentation section, so I have been involved.

No don’t get all bent out of shape, I think grid parity is important, but with whose calculation and whose paying for the research and who said everything has to have parity. I pay more for Coldstone than I do for Baskins Robbins, things can be different and for many reasons. The point I am trying to make is simple, you know simple, like in simple, and like in can we make this a lot more like vanilla ice cream and bit less like a Zoo from Farrell’s (A Sacramento reference)? I am willing to be part of the discussion, when all of the afore mentioned groups come at a project with their agendas and with no forethought of the effect they have, let alone the results they create, they achieve very little and very little progress. I am sure they all can justify the need for the regulation and oversight, I am not saying that we should not have rules and regulations, we should, but can we begin to agree on a format and direction that is somewhat synergistic, or at least from the same rule book, or at least in the same game?

Here is my close, or as someone I know says, here is my first close. The depth of our energy problems here in the US are only going to get worse, before they get better. The infrastructure is crumbling and cannot support growth into the rural areas and the metro areas are a mess with gas lines and electric generation that was once in the woods and now is in the back yard of your aunt. So what do we do, I have ideas, do you? We need to, and that means you, take a proactive role in understanding the full picture of the energy issue, do you read your bill when it comes? Do you understand what is says, like the PPP (public purpose programs, or public goods programs) we all pay them? Did you know that this is where the “utility” incentives are paid from, you are paying them every month yet you do not take advantage of them. And guess where the money goes if you don’t use it, the utilities get to use it for marketing and other promotional things that we see and say “what good works they are doing”, you paid for it, so I hope you like it.

Alright here is my real close. We can make this work, we can work with everyone, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we can all “profit” from the adventure. But we need to take a long look at where we are going and how we are getting there, it will cost us something, it always does, so let’s buck up and get the job done together.

Now go out, be informed, get involved and pose some questions and expect some answers.