AMP’s Solar Surplus and Future Plans

The Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) presentation on solar panels held Aug. 13 was informative. The beginning was for clients who want to put up solar panels, detailing benefits and pitfalls. The most interesting information was toward the end, about how AMP must now cope with all the panels already put up.

After 20 years of exhortation and subsidies, Alameda residents are producing much more electricity from solar than AMP needs or can handle. Solar panels work only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun is high, but AMP’s clients need power in the evening from 5 to 9 p.m., when people are home. Electricity can only be used as it is produced. AMP can’t sell the afternoon power to anyone else because, due to federal, state and local subsidies, every other jurisdiction has a surplus as well. Solar often must be “dumped” due to lack of a market in the afternoon.

AMP is now working on four initiatives to deal with this. Plans are to induce or force clients to switch their use of electricity to the afternoon. Rates will be set with discounts to those whose “profile” is that of an afternoon user. Those who insist on using electricity at other times will pay more. That is the reason AMP embarked on its costly “smart meter” campaign which has required rate rises in recent years.

A second initiative would require all households to replace natural-gas appliances with electric ones. Though an expensive cost to users, this replacement would enable a significant drawdown of the solar surplus. Berkeley has already mandated that all new residential construction there will be electric; gas will be banned. Other towns in California are expected to follow suit.

The third sump for the solar surplus will be electric cars. It was pointed out that daily recharging of cars will soak up as much electricity as the rest of the household each day. AMP has begun a heavy subsidy of homeowners putting in their own charging stations. The trick with this will be to get drivers to charge their cars in the middle of the day instead of at night, as most are now inclined.

Lastly is the prospect of battery storage as a deposit for unwanted and unneeded solar. It was stated that “by 2023 the technology will be there.” But federal and state planners told us four years ago that it would only take another four years; they told us the same thing four years before that. Whether or not there is enough mineable lithium or cadmium or nickel in the earth for all the batteries needed nationwide was not considered in the presentation, but rates are expected to rise if batteries are indeed required.

AMP’s solar program has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams, but its success is a huge liability for the rest of us. Do ratepayers want to change their lives to this extent, and will we even have a say in the matter? Solar is inherently inefficient, and now its success will require even more inefficiencies of us, including those of us with no desire or ability to put up solar panels, even though we are already subsidizing those who’ve done so.

Get ready for AMP’s grand plans for you, and hopefully for what you will have to do to call a halt to their brave new world.