Interview with Tony Goncalves, of California’s Emerging Renewables Program

Interview by Jane Pulaski, IREC

The California Energy Commission’s Emerging Renewables Program (ERP) provides incentives in the form of rebates to customers who install eligible renewable energy systems to offset part or all of their electricity needs at their homes or businesses. Along with expanding the sales of emerging renewable technology systems, the ERP aims to encourage the siting of small, reliable distributed generating systems throughout California in locations where the produced electricity is both needed and consumed.

Tony Goncalves, Manager of the Energy Commission’s Renewable Energy Office, has nearly 20 years in the energy field.  Currently, Tony oversees and manages staff working on California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, the Emerging Renewable Energy Program, the New Solar Homes Partnership, the Existing Renewable Facilities Program, and consumer education activities for renewables.   Tony spoke with IREC about the small wind energy efforts in California.

IREC:  Small wind continues to be a growing, viable technology.  The Energy Commission offers funding for small wind through its Emerging Renewables Program.  Has the funding been sufficient—has it met consumer demand?  How much has been installed using ERP funds?

TG:  California has various good wind area resources throughout the state and has paid rebates to more than 480 systems representing more than three megawatts of installed capacity since the launch of the ERP in 1998.

The ERP continues to focus on stimulating the market for distributed renewable energy until incentives are no longer needed to sustain the market for these technologies. Although price has been a major barrier to consumer adoption, rebates reduce the initial net purchase cost of the systems, thereby stimulating sales. Because the market’s expansion improves economies of scale, the Energy Commission anticipates lower system costs over the long term, particularly as technology advances

IREC:  If funding isn’t a barrier, what other obstacles are out there?

TG: Currently, many jurisdictions have different rules when it comes to both permitting time and cost that reach into the thousands and takes many months. Revising local permitting to a common statewide process would encourage greater participation of small wind in the California market.  Consumers may also not know of the many benefits of small wind for their home and business or the incentives available.

IREC:  So still some lack of consumer awareness exits.  I’m curious about the four utilities that participate in the program (PG&E, SCE, SDG&E, or BVE)…what do their installations look like?  Do they market the program for CEC?

TG: Due to its location as a stronger wind resource area, a majority of the systems installed under the Energy Commission’s ERP are in the southern part of the state.  The ERP completed systems by utility are:

Pacific Gas & Electric: 190 systems representing 0.94 MW

Southern California Edison: 268 systems representing 2.00 MW

San Diego Gas & Electric: 27 systems representing 0.07 MW

Bear Valley Electric: 2 systems representing 0.02 MW

IREC:  Getting back to the issue of consumer awareness for a minute—let’s talk about the current rate of rebates:  $3/W for systems up to 10kW, $1.50/W for systems between 10kW and 30kW.  Which of these rebates sees the most activity?  And their use…residential, agricultural, commercial?

TG: A majority of the systems that have applied for funding are less than 10 kW and receive the higher incentive of $3.00 per watt for systems up to 10 kW. Residential consumers account for the most activity through the ERP, though we have also had agricultural and hybrid completed systems.

IREC:  I’m surprised that residential consumers are the largest user of small wind; I thought commercial or agricultural users would be the largest users.  Is it because they’d (likely) be in the 30-50kW range, and since there’s no rebate for systems over 30kW, there aren’t any takers?

TG:  The vast majorities of the systems that receive a rebate are 10 kW or below. A 10 kW system may be a little undersized for agricultural or commercial purposes. The California Public Utilities Commission has a program similar to the ERP called the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP). The SGIP provides incentives for wind systems greater than 30 kW up to 1 MW so it is possible that many of the customers who need larger turbines will go to the SGIP program.

IREC:  As you know, the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC) has just announced its first batch of 13 turbines in the queue for certification.  In fact, three of those 13 are on CEC’s list for eligible turbines (Endurance Wind Power S-343, Southwest Wind Power’s Skystream 3.7, and Ventera Energy’s VT10).  According to SWCC’s Executive Director, Larry Sherwood, certification of turbines could take up to two years.  How will SWCC effect turbines already on the CEC list?  Will the Energy Commission’s ERP require approved systems to be SWCC certified?

TG:  The Energy Commission has not yet made any decisions regarding turbines to be certified with the SWCC to qualify for the ERP. The Energy Commission is following the activities of the SWCC to see and evaluate if SWCC certification process fits with the requirements of the ERP.   The Energy Commission continues to work with all manufacturers and is supportive of a national certification which builds consistency in the industry.  Currently, the Energy Commission has 149 eligible turbine models for consumers to select from. This list can be viewed here.  Interestingly, turbines between 10 and 30kW account for only 17% on the eligible list.

IREC: What’s surprised you the most about the Energy Commission’s ERP’s small wind program?

TG:  The Energy Commission’s ERP continues to add approximately 50 completed systems each year and has paid consumers $6.6 million in incentives over the course of the program. The recent passing of new legislation (AB 45, 2009) will continue to promote the use of small wind throughout the state and advance the Energy Commission’s ERP.

IREC:  What’s next in the queue for small wind in California?

TG: The Energy Commission’s ERP was launched in 1998 in an effort to promote small wind technology in the state.  The Energy Commission is planning to work with county planning officials with a goal of mitigating permitting time and cost barriers related to small wind turbines. The recent passing of new legislation (AB 45, 2009) will continue to promote the use of small wind throughout the state and advance the Energy Commission’s ERP.  Increased use of distributed generation is another strategy for meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Distributed energy systems are complementary to the traditional electric power system and include small-scale power generation technologies that includes small wind turbines. Distributed generation has many advantages, including increased grid reliability, energy price stability, and reduced emissions. California is leading the nation in implementing policies to encourage distributed generation development.


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