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On June 1, Jeff Martin, chief executive officer of San Diego Gas & Electric, wrote to Michael Picker, the new president of the California Public Utilities Commission. Martin was plugging the plan of SDG&E to get a new rate structure in which the big users would not subsidize small customers as much as they do now.

The utilities call it a plan to simplify the rate structure — make utility bills more understandable. But the San Francisco–based Utility Reform Network (TURN) thinks it is just a plan to "give energy hogs a break at the expense of everyone else. Approximately 75 percent of residential customers will see higher bills if SDG&E's proposals are approved," said the reform network today (June 16).

Martin's letter bolsters the network's position: "Today, our upper tier customers [large users] subsidize our lower tier customers [small users] by over $300 million annually," said Martin in the letter — a statement that verifies what critics have been saying: SDG&E's plan will take money from lower-income families to subsidize large corporations and other major users of utility power.

There is another important point about Martin's letter: according to the Utility Reform Network, it does not reveal that Martin and other SDG&E executives will get fat bonuses if they convince the commission to okay the new rate structure (a decision should be made this summer).

Said Matt Freedman, attorney for the Utility Reform Network, "If Mr. Martin is going to make his case in a public letter, he should include all the relevant facts — including the additional compensation Martin stands to collect under a bonus plan that will reward executives if they win the fixed charges SDG&E wants."

Interesting that on February 26, after fourth quarter 2014 earnings came out, Debra Reed, chief executive of Sempra Energy, parent of SDG&E, said, "We are on track to be at the upper end of our expected 9 percent to 11 percent earnings per share growth rate for 2014 to 2019."

Sempra still has the utilities commission in its pocket, as its earnings and stock price outperform almost all major utilities.

I called Sempra Energy, which referred me to SDG&E. SDG&E did not call back before deadline.

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Comments

Ponzi June 16, 2015 @ 7:47 p.m.

Part of the reason I installed a solar power system. Solar power will not make you independent of the grid, because power must be available during the night (unless you also install a battery storage system). However, solar power can augment power consumption and do the best to stay in the lowest tier. Generating all power isn't a goal, staying in the 1st rate tier is.

Though Sempra/SDG&E has been pushing an agenda to eliminate solar subsidies, eliminate net-metering, and generally try to undermine solar incentives. There is a kind of a solar gold rush going on in SoCal and other locales. There are ads in every media channel pushing solar. It also reminds me of a similar phenomenon to the "digital divide" whereas the wealthy have the credit scores and/or cash to install a solar system, but the lower income cannot afford the systems. So as wealthier users generate more of their own power, the utilities will push to end all subsidies and as high electricity use users draw less from the grid, the poor will inherit the burden of paying for a dying business model.

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Don Bauder June 16, 2015 @ 9:37 p.m.

Ponzi: I think that long-range, rooftop solar is the best answer (among some clean energy alternatives.) That's why utilities are fighting solar (except solar farms in the desert, on which they can rake in money.)

In Germany, securities analysts and investors are bearish on utilities largely because of the threat of solar. Best, Don Bauder

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MURPHYJUNK June 17, 2015 @ 8:24 a.m.

I don't see much about off the gird solar power for pools and air cond. which seem to be the big energy users. 2 panels would do the job, and not involve the power company.

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Don Bauder June 17, 2015 @ 9:21 a.m.

Murphyjunk: Maybe the subject of pools and air conditioning being handled by solar panels deserves more coverage. Best, Don Bauder

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danfogel June 17, 2015 @ 9:30 a.m.

The average central air conditioning system uses 3K to 5k watts per hour. I have an energy efficient 1.5 hp pool pump using about 1.2 KWs /hour. That's roughly 1.5 to 1.7 kW combined. Home depot has a 2-pk of 265 watt panels for about $700. That's 530 watts per hour under standard sun conditions into the best load conditions with an optimal installation. The math is pretty easy.

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Don Bauder June 17, 2015 @ 12:40 p.m.

danfogel: Is anybody out there doing better than danfogel is? Best, Don Bauder

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Dennis June 18, 2015 @ 12:08 p.m.

Dan, you seem to be comparing watts to kilowatts. 2 panels are not going to run your A/C.

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danfogel June 18, 2015 @ 2:08 p.m.

dennis No, I am saying 2 panels at 530 watts won't run anything. I didn't catch the typo until it was 2 late to edit, but even with the typo, 2 panels still wouldn't even run the pool pump, let alone the ac.

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Don Bauder June 18, 2015 @ 10 p.m.

danfogel: Typo be damned. Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi June 17, 2015 @ 11:46 a.m.

Two modules (panels) might generate about 500 watts. That would be enough to power a blender, or a small microwave oven, or a couple of computers. It would not power a blow dryer or most power tools. To put it more simply, two modules could power five 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.

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Don Bauder June 17, 2015 @ 12:42 p.m.

Ponzi: What does the manufacturer say about two panels? Does the company make bigger claims than you do? Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi June 17, 2015 @ 2:40 p.m.

There are dozens of solar panel manufacturers, most now in China and South Korea. The output for modules (which is what "panels" are called in the industry) generally range from 225w to 350w. There are also two types of modules; mono and poly. Mono are more expensive and yield more wattage. Solar module are like batteries and produce power in direct current (DC) and that must be converted to alternating current (AC) before it is connected to the meter box, and hence the grid.

An inverter (a device that transformed DC to AC) must be used. There are two design options; a main inverter (a boxy electrical device usually mounted near the main electrical box) for a string of modules daisy-chained together. There are also "micro-inverters" that are attached to each module and convert DC to AC on the roof.

The manufacturers of the modules must have them tested by a third-party or have an in-house lab that is certified to test the panels per an international standard. The results are the module power and environmental specification which are listed on a "cut sheet." Since the modules are mass produced, they vary slightly from the specs. But they generally come close to the wattage listed.

However, there are many other factors that come into play in a solar array installation. Optimally, modules are installed facing due south. The more direct sunlight and the longer the sun is overhead (length of the day) to more energy is generated. Other factors include heat (module like cold weather more than hot, they generate by the amount of light they receive), the azimuth to the sun, shade from trees or other obstacles, clouds and rainy weather of course, their age (they degrade slowly over a period of 20 years), the energy loss in the inverters, length of copper wiring, dirt/dust on the modules, and more.

Most solar installations on homes are based on the power consumed and what the customer can pay. I have seen installations using from 10 to 40 modules on the roof. Average is probably 20 modules. I have also seen a complete off grid, battery back-up system in Alpine.

The micro-inverter design is pretty simple and efficient. If you have a main inverter and it fails, your whole system is down. But with micro-inverter systems, a single failure only means one module is not adding power to the array. The modules I installed cost about $350 each and the micro-inverters were $150 each. So it's about $500 per module plus the rails and wiring.

Every household is different and need to have a designer look at the property, where the modules can be mounted. The space available on the roof, sometimes the need to build racks to increase the angle. Then energy use, pools and air conditioners add up. So let's take a 3 ton, 36,000 BTU central air compressor. It would consume 10,500 watts. For that appliance alone to run on solar would require 30 modules rated at 350 watts.

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Don Bauder June 17, 2015 @ 2:50 p.m.

Ponzi: Good information -- the kind consumers need. Question: are the utilities and the CPUC providing honest information on rooftop solar to consumers? The utilities are fighting rooftop solar, and recent revelations about secret relations between publicly-held utilities (Sempra, Edison, PG&E) and the CPUC evince patterns of disquieting corporate and regulator dishonesty.

So are consumers getting the straight scoop from utilities about rooftop solar? From the CPUC? Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi June 17, 2015 @ 3 p.m.

Not sure about any specific propaganda. Since solar has been around since the 70's, it has grown slowly. But the cheaper modules and better technology has reached a tipping point. It seems everybody is looking into getting solar. SO the utilities, like in Arizona and Hawaii, are moaning that they cannot connect anymore solar arrays to the grid because of "engineering concerns." Utilities want to pay much lower rates for power customers contribute to the grid, want to cut back net-metering, end subsidies and incentives. Many incentives are ending next year. The utilities would prefer to build huge solar farms in the desert and transmit the power than have millions of households generating power. All the action in solar installations now is to get grandfathered into net-metering agreements and take advantage of rebates and tax incentives before they expire. The general behavior of utilities is becoming more solar unfriendly, and I expect it to get worse. I drive an electric car, so I also had an incentive to add solar generation to help with charging it.

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Don Bauder June 17, 2015 @ 9:16 p.m.

Ponzi: Yes, and those solar farms in the desert are inefficient. A lot of power is lost before it gets to its destination. The utilities want them because regulators will give them a fat return on investment for each farm, just as a new coal-fired plant is profitable. Best, Don Bauder

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MURPHYJUNK June 18, 2015 @ 8:15 a.m.

why waste power in conversion to ac, a 24vdc 20 amp pool pump would be the way to go.

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Ponzi June 18, 2015 @ 10:09 a.m.

I have seen pool pump systems that run on two solar modules, just like you say with a 24vdc pump. It's a good set-up, in many cases the modules can be used as the cover for a pool pump shed/out area.

Some of the systems keep the legacy AC pump inline with the new system in case of a lot of cloudy weather, the AC pump takes over.

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Don Bauder June 18, 2015 @ 10:33 a.m.

Ponzi: But how much cloudy weather is there in San Diego? I have been surprised that bullishness on solar, and bearishness on the future of utilities, is so prevalent in Germany. It is not the sunniest country. Best, Don Bauder

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danfogel June 18, 2015 @ 10:57 a.m.

don bauder That's a common misconception. If you look at a solar irradiation map of Germany, you'll see that the southern third of the country has roughly the same solar potential as San Diego, the middle third roughly the same as the southern US, from east Texas to the Atlantic coast and the northern third at about the same as the the mid-western US. This of course, is based on a tilt-latitude collection system.

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Don Bauder June 18, 2015 @ 10:03 p.m.

danfogel: I spent a great deal of my life in the Midwest. Cleveland is gray, gray, gray. Chicago is a bit sunnier, but it's not San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

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danfogel June 18, 2015 @ 10:44 a.m.

Depends on the size of the pool. My pool in Tucson, where I'm at now, is about 18K gallons. Most everything I saw about using 24vdc pumps said 800-1000watts not including the pool sweeping system. Depending on your installation, you're probably looking at $6K or so just for the pool. Still doesn't solve the issue of powering the pump outside of that 6-8 hour sun window, unless you only filter your pool during the day. Mine runs on a timer at intervals throughout a 24 hr cycle.

Of course, if you want to add your ac unit into the equation, that adds another twist. You'll need at least 3 or 4 panels for the ac unit, and in that case, since you need the inverter anyway, do you want to spend the $1000 plus labor just to replace the a.c. pool pump with the d.c. pump or put that towards enough panels to power both?.

In Tucson, I don't have air conditioning. I have a couple of swamp coolers on the house and one on my workshop and the do just fine. But if I did have air conditioning, this time of year it would run well into the evening. It's already 101 at 10:40 in the morning and it will probably be 9:00pm before it dips back under 100 and probably midnight before it's under 90. So again, no solar assist for those several hours after the sun goes down.

Bottom line, I still don't think you can run your pool and ac on 2 panels and you still have to power them when there's no sun available.

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danfogel June 18, 2015 @ 2:12 p.m.

brain fart, forgot the pesky decimal point, because you need 3-5 kw to cover an average central ac system.

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Don Bauder June 18, 2015 @ 10:07 p.m.

danfogel: Remember that we don't worry about typos here. Best, Don Bauder

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danfogel June 19, 2015 @ 9:40 a.m.

don bauder Yeah, well it does make a difference when that typo is about a decimal point in the wrong place, throwing your calculation off by a factor of ten. Oh well, at least I never claimed to be a math wiz in school.

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Don Bauder June 19, 2015 @ 11:51 a.m.

danfogel: I never made such claims either. Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi June 18, 2015 @ 2:14 p.m.

Um, you would need at least 20 350 watt modules to furnish the energy a 36,000 BTU AC system would demand. One panel will power a big box fan, but when you get into the current (amp) demands of AC, to power it all on solar would require a major installation.

Solar companies are really making money these days. You can do it yourself and save probably 50%. A twenty (mono) 335 watt module array with micro-inverters, the rails and cabling can be installed for about $11,000 in parts. That is not including tax, an electrician to tie the system in at the panel, and the cost of permits. Many older homes also require a panel upgrade (because they must be at least 100 Amp panels), and that can add $1,000 to $2,000.

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danfogel June 18, 2015 @ 2:38 p.m.

Um, yeah. I noticed my typo but couldn't edit it. And that's one reason why I didn't change over to central air. If anything, I would have gone with a split zone ductless system, but they still use upwards of 5kwh.

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Don Bauder June 18, 2015 @ 10:06 p.m.

danfogel: It seems you split your time between Orange County and Tucson. That's a livable arrangement, I would say. Best, Don Bauder

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danfogel June 19, 2015 @ 9:43 a.m.

don bauder, Among other places. When being a "legal resident" of a state with no personal income tax, one has to be careful to allocate their time properly.

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Don Bauder June 19, 2015 @ 11:52 a.m.

danfogel: It's a good thing you don't use your real name here. Somebody might report you to the IRS. Best, Don Bauder

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danfogel June 19, 2015 @ 12:04 p.m.

don bauder Nothing to report because I follow the rules. Been audited twice since 1999 and no issues either time.

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Don Bauder June 24, 2015 @ 12:20 p.m.

danfogel: We generally tell our accountant to err on the side of overpaying taxes. We are proud to pay our taxes. Best, Don Bauder

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danfogel June 24, 2015 @ 1:33 p.m.

don bauder Are you insinuating that I am not forthcoming when it comes to paying my taxes?

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danfogel June 19, 2015 @ 2:37 p.m.

don bauder addendum to above response. Besides, the IRS doesn't care where you live, as long as you abide by the tax laws.

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Don Bauder June 24, 2015 @ 12:22 p.m.

danfogel: State tax officials do care where you live. And they should. Best, Don Bauder

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danfogel June 24, 2015 @ 1:40 p.m.

don bauder If one owns properties in a particular state and collects rental income from them, then the state is very interested in seeing that they get their share. If you earn any income at all in California, they take interest. One simply need to ask any athlete or actor or recording artist who performs in California how much tax they have to pay. I'm curious. Since you are in the employ of the Reader and the Reader is headquartered in San Diego, are you required to pay taxes in California, even though you don't maintain residence there?

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Twister June 18, 2015 @ 6:35 p.m.

Interesting stuff about solar, but I suspect I'm too close to "the end" to make this pencil out. Therefore, I'm stuck with the grid.

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Don Bauder June 18, 2015 @ 10:09 p.m.

Twister: Aw c'mon. You show no signs of being close to the end. I'm the one with one foot in the grave. Best, Don Bauder

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jnojr June 19, 2015 @ 9:04 a.m.

It's completely disingenuous to call large energy users "hogs". How many of those big users are businesses providing jobs?

Electricity should be priced according to supply and demand. In the middle of the day and evening, it should be expensive. At night, it should be cheap. Do it that way, and demand will level out somewhat... the "hogs" will shift as much usage to night as possible, leaving more available during the day.

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Don Bauder June 19, 2015 @ 11:55 a.m.

jmojr: I think use of the word "hogs" in this connotation is less of a pejorative than you feel. As to your basic thesis: should manufacturers have more night shifts to cut down on utility bills? Best, Don Bauder

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Twister June 23, 2015 @ 11:31 p.m.

Don, I was speaking for our group. There are things that could be done to make it pencil out without picking the pocket of the taxpayers. Making the meters run backwards, for example.

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Don Bauder June 24, 2015 @ 12:24 p.m.

Twister: Any proposal that would make it pencil out would be fought by the utilities. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister June 24, 2015 @ 8:06 p.m.

They are monopolies. They should therefore be "nationalized."

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