Skip

Spain Privatizes The Sun
July 30, 2013 8:43 AM   Subscribe


 
This is something that an 80s film-maker would use to try to make his B-movie dystopia seem compelling. "In the future... they're gonna tax the sun! Yeah! And we'll have our hero out there with some sexy rebel lady, collecting illegal sun power and giving it to the people who can't afford power of their own!"

And we would laugh and laugh at how terrible the movie was and mystery science theater 3000 would have some great riffs about it. (Please imagine some great MST3k riffs here.)

Well you know who's laughing now? That B-Movie director. And he's already secured the rights for a sequel, where the government uses its illegal profits from solar power taxes to resurrect dinosaurs and then sells people dinosaur insurance. Thanks, Spain. Thanks for ruining movies forever.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:57 AM on July 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Well, that's one method of taxing churches.
posted by delfin at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2013


This is truly a spectacularly silly idea.

"You do not have a right to a particular business model" is a phrase I find myself thinking more and more.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now that 1984 is used up as a source of policy ideas, governments worldwide have turned to the Simpsons.
posted by vanar sena at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2013 [20 favorites]


"If you drive a car, I'll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet."

posted by IndigoJones at 9:01 AM on July 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


This is daylight robbery.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 9:01 AM on July 30, 2013 [49 favorites]


this looks like a fake, or at least I can't find any serious websites confirming it.
posted by ipsative at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2013


It seems like they could accomplish a limited form of this somewhat less controversially by taxing the purchases of solar panels, or by demanding some kind of periodic upkeep fee. Maybe a solar panel inspection routine? Not saying that that would be good, just that this method seems inept.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2013


This seems to be a PDF version of the proposal with the arguments.
posted by ipsative at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2013


Isn't El Pais about the most serious news source in Spain, ipsative. I'm unsure why that translation used their Costa Rica site. Are you saying Costa Rica's El Pais isn't related to Spain's El Pais?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:11 AM on July 30, 2013


A story on the effects of this from the Spanish El Pais
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 9:17 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be more accurate to say that they've nationalized the sun, wouldn't it?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:20 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will admit upfront that I can't read Spanish, so I am going by that machine translation, which is a bit dodgy. But based on a couple passages,* I think this might be directed to a more mundane problem despite the rhetoric.

Consider a grid-connected solar system in a place that implements net metering - i.e., when you generate enough power to cover your own use, you pay nothing; when you generate more than you need, it "winds the meter backwards" (however it's physically implemented), which basically means that for every watt-hour you "upload," the next watt-hour you "download" is free. So if you put enough panels on your roof to generate your entire day's worth of use during daylight hours, you never pay anything on your electricity bill.

But even if you generate all the electricity you need, and more, on your own roof, the grid is still providing you a service - time-shifting. And if you don't think that's worth anything, then by all means buy a battery pack big enough to keep you going for 24 hours without sun and pull the plug. Turns out that's a lot more expensive than the mere panels and mounting equipment themselves, particularly now that the panel prices are falling through the floor. The utility company must be compensated for this service somehow, or they won't be able to provide it. If the only way power companies charge is a per-watt-hour usage rate, then the only way to finance this is to raise rates on non-solar households, which as an distributional matter is not necessarily the best way to finance the time-shifting services that the solar households are using.

There's a big debate over this same issue in US states where they have net metering - utilities are complaining that the solar households are getting away with free valuable services, and the solar industry is accusing the utilities of whining. I won't say that the Spanish approach is optimal, but if it's a fee applied to grid-tied solar houses to compensate for the infrastructure they're using, I can't say it's an entirely unreasonable idea.

* the passages in questions:
"The Government has proposed that the energy consumption is implemented gradually without alter the Spanish electricity system. To do reserve the right to up and down those specific charges or tolls, and called “backup”, depending on how the sector evolves. 'We will pay a toll for the energy received from the sun' sums Mario Sorinas, Huesca Electrobin company, with over 20 years experience in solar energy.

"'It’s the future,' energy experts agree. Generate your own electricity with renewable energy and give a break to the environment and the pocket. There is also the possibility of transferring the excess energy to utilities and retrieve it when needed or directly sell, which is known as Net-balanced consumption."
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 9:32 AM on July 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


jeffburdges, no, they're not related.

I had done a quick google search and no mainstream media came up. But that ElPaís.es news report is pretty good and goes into depth so.. I'm sorry for jumping so soon to call this a fake! That was rude of me.
posted by ipsative at 9:32 AM on July 30, 2013


It's a little hidden on their site, but El País has an English version of their article (not a wonderful translation, but better than Google Translate), which provides a lot more detail on what's happening here (it's slightly more complicated than it first appears).
posted by zachlipton at 9:34 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this simply a fee for sending the power you generate into the electric grid? If so, it's not so bad. Someone has to maintain and run the grid for it to accept power.

Let's say you have solar panels and Monday is sunny and Tuesday is cloudy. You send electricity into the grid on Monday and you take electricity out on Tuesday. Your net electricity use may be zero. But that is possible only because someone maintains and runs the grid for you.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The main link here is terrible and is not much more than LOL Spaniards!!

The truth is more as Joey lays out. It is boring enough that in the Real El Pais newspaper its just a page 10 industry news thing.
posted by vacapinta at 9:39 AM on July 30, 2013


A more elegant solution to cover the cost of running the grid would be for the utility to sell electricity at a certain rate and buy it from homeowners at a slightly lower rate. Kind of how retail banks live off the difference between the lending rate and the deposit rate. Maybe they didn't pick that model because it isn't possible with current electricity meters.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:42 AM on July 30, 2013


I've trouble digesting even the translation but one Italian friend read this as much worse, Joey Buttafoucault and vacapinta.

In particular, the line "excess energy may not be stored in batteries as that is prohibited" sounds pretty clearly worse.

Also, these fees more than double the time required to pay off a solar installation, which sounds worse in a country that'd burn so much power keeping cool during the day.

I cannot determine if the "instantaneous self-consumption" bit says that using your own power immediately without paying the grid tax remains legal or not.

Any Spanish speakers read the full El Pias article?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:54 AM on July 30, 2013


The "vete a la mierda" is strong with this one.,
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:55 AM on July 30, 2013


A more elegant solution to cover the cost of running the grid would be for the utility to sell electricity at a certain rate and buy it from homeowners at a slightly lower rate.

Previously it was the opposite. The government ensured that solar producers were paid more for generated solar than they paid for electricity that they took out of the grid. I'm not up do date on the current Spanish feed-in tariff rates, or the current cost of electricity there, but in Germany right now the feed-in tariff is actually less than the cost of electricity purchased from the grid.* I.e., there is a disincentive to injecting solar energy into the grid, and an incentive to using that energy in the home where the panels are. This is making home battery storage systems more affordable and popular. Google SMA or Nedap for example products.

But yeah, taxing solar seems stupid. I would simply alter the feed-in tarrif for injected electricity. But in principle, it should go something like this: using the grid has a certain value, and the energy in that grid also has a certain value. So you either pay energyvalue+gridvalue to consume from the grid, or get paid energyvalue-gridvalue to inject. Or, you could just have the grid operator add a monthly surcharge to the bill, based on the peak power of the solar installation. Not sure why it is being approached through taxes at all, to be honest.

*In Germany you have a choice of electricity providers, and eco-electricity is more expensive but widely chosen, especially by the kinds of people who own solar panel installations. The cost for "dirty" cheap electricity in Germany is still below the feed-in tarriff that people get for injecting solar electricity.
posted by molecicco at 10:05 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


This kind of idiocy isn't unprecedented:
In Colorado, for example, it is illegal for residents to divert rainwater that falls upon land they own unless they have explicit permission to do so. Even collecting rainfall in a backyard barrel can technically violate the law.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:30 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be entirely unremarkable to tax solar power consumption equivalent to the taxes on other form of power consumption on a per-kwh basis.

Consumption taxes are not for the most part inherently linked to what is being consumed or the virtue (or lack thereof) of consuming, but simply a way to have an easy-to-administer tax that combines some features of proportionality (things everyone consumes equally) and progressiveness (things consumed in proportion with wealth or income).

Especially in Europe, energy taxes provide a large share of revenue, and will need to be replaced by taxes on renewable consumption if there are not be significant dislocations in the economic structures which have grown up around consistent levels of taxation for various activities and conditions.
posted by MattD at 10:42 AM on July 30, 2013


Ok, so fluent Spanish speaker here, I haven't really read anything about solar energy in Spanish so it took me a while. Reforms are currently not approved, but it doesn't sound like they're expecting them to be rejected.

With the reforms, you cannot store energy in the grid and get it back later. That's essentially this line (though it didn't seem like you could before either):

"El proyecto de decreto de autoconsumo deja bien claro que no se remunerará la energía sobrante que se vierta a la red."

In terms of batteries, it appears that it was also prohibited to store the solar energy in batteries before these reforms and it doesn't seem like it will change either.

As for instantaneous auto-consumption, the article mentions it several times but doesn't make it clear whether it has become illegal at this point, I am assuming from this specific phrase that they haven't figured out a way to make it illegal, but they will be taxing it. Apparently you must register once the reforms pass otherwise you will face fines of up to 30 million.

Here's the article about that specific problem:

Industria gravará con un peaje la producción casera de electricidad
posted by lizarrd at 11:18 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, that sounds absolutely atrocious, thank you lizarrd. Incredibly strange that you're even prohibited form storying energy in batteries. I wonder if the E.U. courts might strike down these restrictions given Germany produced so much wind power tech.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:23 AM on July 30, 2013


In Colorado, for example, it is illegal for residents to divert rainwater that falls upon land they own unless they have explicit permission to do so. Even collecting rainfall in a backyard barrel can technically violate the law.

This is not the idiocy that it at first appears to be. Water rights and management are tricky in arid regions. You could pretty easily greenhouse an entire yard and collect all the rainwater that fell on your property thus giving nothing back to the water table and also exacerbating flooding issues if your collection system ever overflows because you have concentrated what should be distributed. Water is extremely valuable in a desert.
posted by srboisvert at 11:24 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think the solution is to have some sort of a buy/sell spread on power, the better solution is just to have the price of power change depending on the time of day so that it's reflective of actual supply and demand.

Electricity in Spain during the day should be cheap, since anyone who throws up a bunch of solar panels can generate it for free. But electricity at night should be expensive, since you either have to buy a big bank of batteries to store that electricity (which is also inefficient, on top of the batteries and additional panels you'd need on top of your daytime load), or you have to use up fossil fuels or some other primary-energy source in order to generate it.

The key problem is treating kilowatt-hours as a fungible good that can be stored and time-shifted, when in reality they just don't work that way.

There should be a "spot price" for electricity which is reflective of the cost of generating it plus transmitting it to the meter, and no expectation that it is constant across time or space.

The tax scheme seems like a crude half-measure to avoid having to deploy better metering systems that can do real-time pricing, which while understandably expensive, is the right solution and is a one-time expense. Some halfassed tax system is bound to have far worse side effects than just communicating the actual cost of the underlying good to the purchaser (or in the case of someone feeding back power into the grid, the potential value of their kWh).
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:18 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]



But even if you generate all the electricity you need, and more, on your own roof, the grid is still providing you a service - time-shifting. And if you don't think that's worth anything, then by all means buy a battery pack big enough to keep you going for 24 hours without sun and pull the plug.


My ISP charges me to connect. It may charge me to download or upload. For the latter, I have ways to get paid. Why should power be different?
posted by ocschwar at 12:35 PM on July 30, 2013


I don't think the solution is to have some sort of a buy/sell spread on power, the better solution is just to have the price of power change depending on the time of day so that it's reflective of actual supply and demand.

Eventually maybe but to get to this situation requires paying for a lot of smart meters and/or other network sensors, a communications system to allow data to be collected and put into a usable form (at the moment the network operators have little idea of what happens acorss much of their grids), companies with an interest in providing that kind of service to the market, regulation which allows it to happen, including providing the incentives to the distribution and transmission companies to move their system to more active management, consumers to engage with such a system and sufficient 'shiftable' capacity (ie PV, heat pumps, demand side technologies, electric vehicles, etc) to make it worthwhile. You would ideally do something to protect poorer consumers from getting dicked as a result of the changes.

Electricity in Spain during the day should be cheap, since anyone who throws up a bunch of solar panels can generate it for free. But electricity at night should be expensive, since you either have to buy a big bank of batteries to store that electricity (which is also inefficient, on top of the batteries and additional panels you'd need on top of your daytime load), or you have to use up fossil fuels or some other primary-energy source in order to generate it.

There will be more generation in the day, but also more demand, since that is when industry operates, people go about their business and their is demand for A/C.
posted by biffa at 1:26 PM on July 30, 2013


Good luck taxing flowers.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:55 PM on July 30, 2013


Our taxes will block out the Sun

Then we will turn on the lights in the shade.
posted by Sparx at 2:03 PM on July 30, 2013


I agree "the price of power [should] change depending on the time of day" because that'll subsidize projects that actually shift power.

"What's that? You spend two weeks per year running a massive sound system off the grid at festivals? Well, if you buy this battery system, you'll shift your solar output to night time when you'll earn more. Just cart them out to the festival along with your solar panels for 24 hour power off the grid."

I suspect the power companies dislike this solution however because it'll represent them gouging less money during peak industrial consumption daytime hours because even small variations is supply can disproportionately effect prices.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:03 PM on July 30, 2013


jeffburdges: I tend to think that one area that the electricity sector companies are really good at innovating is in gouging. A move to variable prices is only going to complicate tariffs and since the utilities tend to have better info and better understanding than the consumers then its probably safe to assume they will find ways to milk this increased complexity, and you.

Interestingly, if we get really large volumes of wind (and Spain is well on the way to this) then the paradigm of matching production to demand could move to one where the electricity companies have to try to move demand to meet generation.
posted by biffa at 2:17 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how we assume that the drivers of policy like this are the same in Spain as they are here.
posted by wierdo at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2013


Think about it for a second. If everyone is cutting their electric bill by 25% and the fixed costs of wiring up every customer are not decreasing, of course the portion of the electric bill that covers the fixed costs will increase.

I'm not really sure why that is controversial except among those who are trying to sell solar systems.
posted by wierdo at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2013


Your maths is a bit off. People are cutting their personal consumption of energy drawn from the grid, they can do so since the PV and other RE systems are subsidised, they get paid for each unit they produce or put into the grid. These costs outweigh the cost of what they would take from the grid, so the total cost goes up. At least this is the case in much of Western Europe, it used to be in Spain but the Government has limited the costs that can be passed on to consumers there and taxpayers have had to take up the slack. So you are kind of right but not for the reason you thought.

Decreasing asset utilisation is going to be an issue wherever there is a rise in the volume of RE, this will apply to transmission systems as well as traditional generators, and will complicate the economics of the distribution networks also, though more generation there will mean different impacts there than for the transmission side of things. Regulators are going to have to consider how the incentives for the networks work everywhere with decent RE ambitions.
posted by biffa at 3:03 PM on July 30, 2013


In Colorado, for example, it is illegal for residents to divert rainwater that falls upon land they own unless they have explicit permission to do so. Even collecting rainfall in a backyard barrel can technically violate the law.

This is not the idiocy that it at first appears to be. Water rights and management are tricky in arid regions. You could pretty easily greenhouse an entire yard and collect all the rainwater that fell on your property thus giving nothing back to the water table and also exacerbating flooding issues if your collection system ever overflows because you have concentrated what should be distributed. Water is extremely valuable in a desert.


Well actually that has changed, per Wikipedia:

In the United States: until 2009 in Colorado, water rights laws almost completely restricted rainwater harvesting; a property owner who captured rainwater was deemed to be stealing it from those who have rights to take water from the watershed. Now, residential well owners that meet certain criteria may obtain a permit to install a rooftop precipitation collection system (SB 09-080).[9] Up to 10 large scale pilot studies may also be permitted (HB 09-1129).[10] The main factor in persuading the Colorado Legislature to change the law was a 2007 study that found that in an average year, 97% of the precipitation that fell in Douglas County, in the southern suburbs of Denver, never reached a stream—it was used by plants or evaporated on the ground.

The article goes on to mention that rainwater harvesting is now being encouraged in many states.

I've seen many articles pointing out that when we talk about water use, we spend a lot of time tsking people for watering their yards and almost never talk about the fact that industry and agriculture gobble up and waste far more water than suburbs do.
posted by emjaybee at 8:04 PM on July 30, 2013


cosmic.osmo: "This kind of idiocy isn't unprecedented:
In Colorado, for example, it is illegal for residents to divert rainwater that falls upon land they own unless they have explicit permission to do so. Even collecting rainfall in a backyard barrel can technically violate the law.
This isn't idiocy at all.

Colorado has had water rights in place since the late 19th century, because even back then farmers ranchers realized that they were living in a high mountain desert with limited water resources. As a result, every drop of water that falls in the state has already been promised to dozens and dozens of people and places. Farmers have water rights, municipalities have water rights, golf courses have water rights. When people make diversions from water use that results in water not going to where it's supposed to be, that means that downstream users don't get water that they've already been promised.

Now imagine you're a farmer downstream from Boulder who has a water right that's been in your family since 1900 and you're expecting a certain number of acre feet. It's been a dry year, but you've got seniority, so you're confident you'll get at least part of your allotted water. Except all of a sudden a bunch of out-of-towners have moved in and started taking your water. You will not be keen on this result.

Also, water rights these days take into account the time it takes for water to percolate through the soil and return to a water shed. If people begin capturing a large amount of the natural water delivery into (say) Larimer County, that means that all the civil engineering equations and water adjudication rates that rely on accurate measurements from rain gauges, snowmelt gauges, and natural percolation can be thrown into disarray, screwing up every single aspect of water delivery downstream of the Poudre.

Particularly in Colorado these water rights are taken seriously because even before that famer gets to take their allotment of water out of the river system, the Colorado River Compact means that downstream states have to be delivered their allotment. This downstream state allotment doesn't really change, year-to-year, based on how much rain and snow falls in the state. If Colorado gets hit by a massive drought, the water commissioners still need to make sure that California, Arizona, etc. still get their due. What's left over? That goes to the farmers, ranchers, cities, businesses, etc. Especially in a case like that, the legal holders of water rights aren't happy that their water is being taken by people without right to hold and use the water.

Mind you, recent laws are slowly changing some of the rainwater harvesting policies, but rainwater collection will almost certainly fall under the existing water rights laws, so that water commissioners and the state can know who is using its limited water resources and how they should be managed.

Water rights management are a hugely complicated system that's evolved over the last century and a half, but they've actually turned into a pretty model way of handling a necessary and limited resource in an arid environment. This is a good book to get you up to speed on their history, how they work, how they're adjudicated, how they're managed and handled.

I spent more than a little time in a previous incarnation of my life very, very closely involved with Colorado water rights. I went into it knowing literally nothing about the system and came out impressed by the way in which it works and astonished at the foresight of the early settlers, judges, and engineers of Colorado, all of whom realized that without careful management and rules for how water gets distributed in dry environments there would be conflict and major problems.

If anything, expect similar systems to be heading more places around the world as water becomes a scarcer resource. I have a family member deeply involved in research on the geology of Australian groundwater, and she and her colleagues are very closely studying the Colorado water rights system to see which aspects of it can, should, and must be implemented in parts of eastern Australia.

So, long story short: don't call it idiocy. It seems insane when you first hear it, but it's a remarkably forward-thinking and sustainable way to manage such a limited resource that has different values for different users.

Jeez I type too much. Though it sounds kinda boring, it's a really interesting topic, and one that I think we'll be hearing a lot more about in coming years. Hell, I'm an archaeologist now, and not involved in water rights one iota, and I still find it fascinating! (I clearly have problems ...)
posted by barnacles at 8:44 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's not privatization or nationalization, it's just taxation.
Governments tax all kinds of stuff, this is no different.

No surprise there.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:51 AM on July 31, 2013


I have just come across an article in a subscription journal that deals with the Spanish situation and will try and draw out the gist of it.

Basically Spain is spending a lot on PV support and is trying to cut back because of their difficult economic situation. They plan to cut back on how much money they allow the distribution companies to make and to reorganise the tariffs that have been a feature of Spanish RE development since 1995. Spain has a 'tariff deficit' which stems from limiting the increases in costs it will pass to consumers via energy bills while paying out for increasing volumes of RE. The state has been covering this but it is eating a big hole in that budget. The reforms aim to cut the annual support for RE from €2.7bn to €1.4bn per year. There will also be cuts to capacity payments, primarily for gas generators.

The changes are controversial since they will apply retroactively - typically under a tariff mechanism once an RE generator is generating it gets a fixed sum for a fixed term. Eg, if there was a €80/MWh subsidy when you started generating in 2008 you would expect to get that for say 15 or 20 years. The tariff might then be €78/MWh the following year but that would only apply to new generation that year, the initial generator would keep getting €80/MWh. Having predictable and reliable subsidies is essential to allowing proper financial planning and to keeping risk down. Applying retroactive cuts undermines this transparency and adds risk, which pushes up costs for later investment and deters investment. Last time Spain made retroactive cuts it was followed by other EU Member States.
posted by biffa at 2:30 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older Jealous, much?   |   The World of Froud Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post