Ditching Net Metering Is in the ‘Best Interest’ of Solar, Say MIT Economists

Solar energy is a particularly important tool for addressing the global climate challenge, while helping to meet a massive increase in future electricity demand, according to a comprehensive report released today by the MIT Energy Initiative.

But while solar costs have fallen dramatically in recent years, MIT researchers warned that continued rapid growth in solar is not an inevitability.

One of the recommendations included in the 332-page report is for the United States to move away from net metering policies for distributed solar — contrary to what many solar advocates would say.

“I think we’ve got to find a better way to do it, because I think net metering is going to result in a pushback against residential solar,” said Richard Schmalensee, economics professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, on the sidelines of the report launch in Washington, D.C.

“We’re not anti-residential, because some people love the thought of solar on their roof, and if you’re going to subsidize solar, there’s no reason not to subsidize them,” he added. “But there’s no reason to excessively subsidize them, or to subsidize them in a way, as net metering does, that’s going to produce a pushback.”

Net metering compensates distributed solar generators at the retail price for electricity they supply to the grid, rather than at the wholesale price received by grid-scale generators. This gives an extra incentive to distributed solar customers by reducing their contribution to covering distribution costs, while shifting those distribution costs onto utility customers who don’t have solar.

Because cost-shifting has become so controversial in certain states, Schmalensee said it’s in solar’s “best interest” to do away with retail pricing in net metering policies, and to treat utility- and residential-scale solar “more or less the same.”

Several other reports have come to a similar conclusion, such as a recent reportcommissioned by the Louisiana Public Service Commission that drew ire from solar advocates. However, several more studies (including in NevadaVermontand Mississippi) have found just the opposite: that distributed solar does not impose a significant net cost to ratepayers, and in many cases produces a net benefit to all ratepayers.

Some of the benefits listed in a 2013 study, commissioned by the Solar Energy Industries Association, were that distributed solar allows for reduced investments in transmission and distribution infrastructure and deferred investments in expensive and polluting conventional power plants, as well as providing an affordable way to meet state renewable energy mandates.

Schmalensee countered these claims. He acknowledged that distributed solar could save on transmission costs in some locations. But, in general, he found that distribution costs would go up because of the technical upgrades needed to accommodate two-way power flow.

Also, he said it’s true that distributed solar could reduce the need to build new, expensive thermal power plants, but so could utility-scale solar and energy efficiency. So there’s no justification for giving residential solar preferential treatment, he said.

On cost, the MIT study found that utility-scale solar is inherently less expensive than residential-scale, and is likely to remain less expensive despite foreseeable cost reductions in residential. Therefore, utility-owned projects are a more affordable pathway to meeting renewable energy requirements.

“Residential solar doesn’t have greater external benefits; it has greater external costs,” said Schmalensee.

But according to Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association, the MIT report paints an “incomplete and flawed picture of solar economics.” It largely ignores commercial and industrial rooftop solar, he said, which often have cost structures similar to those of utility-scale solar, but without some of the complexity of ground-mount systems.

“The cost differences between rooftop and utility-scale solar are based, in large part, on inflated soft costs,” Johnson added. “We’re working hard to change that. Through improved public policies, such as cutting red tape and streamlining permitting and interconnection processes, soft costs could be lowered dramatically in the future.”

Keep the ITC and get rid of the state RPS

While the MIT report took issue with incentives for residential solar in terms of the way most net metering policies are structured today, the authors called for continued government incentives for solar power overall.

Letting the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) expire at the end of 2016 would be “unwise,” because it could lead to a sharp drop in solar deployment, according to Schmalensee. But the ITC’s focus on subsidizing solar investments, as opposed to solar power generation, is misguided, he said.

And the ITC isn’t alone. There’s a long list of solar subsidies in the U.S., such as state tax credits and property tax exemptions, that need to be redesigned to reward solar output, in his view.

“If we’re about solar generation, we should subsidize solar generation,” said Schmalensee.

MIT economists also made a case for bringing state renewable energy standards under a unified national program, which they said would reduce costs by allowing for unrestricted interstate trading of renewable energy credits. This approach would also maximize the value of solar, by directing investments toward sunnier places.

Finally, in terms of the technical advances needed to realize increasing solar adoption, the report recommended that the federal government concentrate its research and development dollars in emerging thin-film technologies, rather than continue to support crystalline silicon technology (c-Si), which is currently dominating the the solar energy market.

Now that c-Si modules and their component cells and input materials have reached scale, there’s an incentive for the private sector to make the technology more competitive. As a result, there’s a weak case for continued government support in current c-Si technology, according to MIT.

Thin-film technologies — so long as they’re made from earth-abundant materials — have several advantages over c-Si systems: they’re lighter, have lower manufacturing complexity, and are capable of being installed in flexible formats. These attributes offer the promise of reduced balance-of-system costs, which today make up the majority of overall solar deployment costs. But to realize these savings, emerging thin-film technologies need to become much more mature.

“Therefore, to increase the contribution of solar energy to long-term climate change mitigation, we strongly recommend that a large fraction of federal resources available for solar research and development focus on environmentally benign, emerging thin-film technologies that are based on earth-abundant materials,” the authors concluded.

View original article here.

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Should you be forced to subsidize your neighbor’s solar panels?

Net metering at retail rates forces non-solar customers to pay for the upkeep of the power grid. Is it fair for non-solar customers to be saddled with this massive cost while solar customers benefit? Utah recently decided to change its net metering policy to make it fair for both solar and non-solar customers.

Should you be forced to subsidize your neighbor’s solar panels?

By Evelyn Everton | For The Tribune

Should Utahns who don’t want or cannot afford to install solar panels on their home be forced to pay for those who can? That’s the crux of the current net-metering debate in our state.

Net metering allows solar customers to sell excess electricity generated by their rooftop panels back to the utility companies.

A study last year found that solar customers, who rely on and use the electrical grid as much as traditional customers, are not paying their fair share for its use.

What’s more, under the current net-metering arrangement, Rocky Mountain Power, Utah’s electric utility company, pays three times more for energy generated by residential solar panels than it pays for energy generated by commercial solar farms.

As a result, solar customers essentially receive a $400 subsidy every year, which amounts to a $6.5 million cost to the utility company. If things don’t change, as more people install solar panels on their homes, that number could skyrocket to $78 million.

This is bad news for non-solar customers who will foot the bill when Rocky Mountain Power increases prices to cover these losses.

The situation is particularly urgent for low-income households that spend an ever-growing portion of their income on electricity and suffer greatly from higher energy prices. For the 198,000 Utah households that earn less than $30,000, 18 percent of their monthly budget is already swallowed up by energy costs.

What’s worse, a rate increase doesn’t just mean higher utility bills, it also means higher costs for everything else. Local grocery stores forced to pay higher energy rates to light their stores and refrigerate food will likely pass on that cost in the form of higher prices. For families struggling to make ends meet from one month to the next, increased electricity costs could be catastrophic.

And when you consider that more than 60 percent of the state’s 22,000 rooftop solar owners earn more than $100,000 per year, it’s easy to see that the current rate structure is a patently unfair transfer of wealth from less fortunate consumers who can’t afford solar panels to the more well-off Utahns who can.

To level the playing field for all Utahns and protect the more vulnerable in our community, Rocky Mountain Power submitted a request to the Utah Public Service Commission to create a fairer rate structure.

Of course, solar companies that care only about protecting their customers’ lucrative subsidy are attempting to block the correction.

They argue that many customers who choose solar to save money on their electric bills will be disinclined to do so if the new prices requested by Rocky Mountain Power go into effect. And they disingenuously claim that fixing the rate disparity is meant to stifle competition and will kill jobs and harm a “thriving” industry.

But they fail to recognize that cheaper energy prices make Utah a desirable locale for businesses. Utah enjoys some of the lowest energy prices in the country, close to 20 percent lower than the national average. A potential rate increase to cover the ballooning costs of net metering could jeopardize our state’s ability to attract and retain businesses and jobs across all industries.

Moreover, if the solar industry is propped up with forced subsidies from people who cannot afford the product or simply don’t want it, is it really thriving?

The Utah Public Service Commission must eliminate the unfair subsidy for rooftop solar users. For their part, instead of relying on an artificial boost, rooftop solar companies should strive to make products and services that are truly affordable.

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Solar power can’t replace the main electric grid after a storm

Contrary to a number of fake news sites’s claims, solar panels can’t replace the electric grid following a hurricane. As the Palm Beach post published following Hurricane Irma’s hit on Florida, 

“The vast majority of solar systems are what’s known as “grid-tied.” If the power goes out, the photo-voltaic system automatically disconnects. If the grid has no power, the solar system has no power, experts say.

Even if the sun is shining, the panels will not generate power.”

We’ve all seen the articles claiming that if only there were more rooftops with solar on them people could have power after a major storm causes power to go out. But it just isn’t true. And this isn’t because the utility companies are trying to punish solar customers, it’s for safety, as Alyssa Jean Schaefer from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy explained to the Post:

“The biggest reason for this shutdown is safety. As soon as possible after the grid goes down in a hurricane or tropical storm, power companies get to work trying to bring it back on, that means hundreds, or even thousands, of workers and emergency response teams are performing hands on work on power lines in affected areas. If residential solar panel systems are connected to the grid and generating power, this poses an electric shock risk to any worker. Incorrectly connected generators pose the same risk and come with warnings not to connect to the grid.”

The only way to have power from your solar panels without the main electric grid is if you have a system with battery backup. And battery storage doesn’t come cheap. According to Greentech Media, a 5.6 kW system with enough battery storage to provide resiliency during an outage would cost more than $45,000.

After Hurricane Irma: Why solar power can’t replace storm-damaged grid

Susan Salisbury – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Hurricane Irma knocked out electricity to millions of Floridians, as well as people in Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas last week. At the outage peak on Sept. 11, 7.8 million utility customers were in the dark.

What about those with solar systems on their homes? Were they also without power?

Yes. The vast majority of solar systems are what’s known as “grid-tied.” If the power goes out, the photo-voltaic system automatically disconnects. If the grid has no power, the solar system has no power, experts say.

Even if the sun is shining, the panels will not generate power.

Alissa Jean Schafer, solar communications and policy manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, explained in a recent blog that the standard, grid-connected solar system cannot necessarily be counted on to replace the power grid if you are without power after a storm.

“If the grid goes down, your solar panels are ‘down’ as well, not providing any electricity to you. If you’re not sure what kind you have, they are probably connected to the grid,” Schafer wrote.

“The biggest reason for this shutdown is safety. As soon as possible after the grid goes down in a hurricane or tropical storm, power companies get to work trying to bring it back on, that means hundreds, or even thousands, of workers and emergency response teams are performing hands on work on power lines in affected areas. If residential solar panel systems are connected to the grid and generating power, this poses an electric shock risk to any worker. Incorrectly connected generators pose the same risk and come with warnings not to connect to the grid,” Schafer said.

If you have a rare off-grid system, complete with a battery back-up, then it would work, Schafer said.

Of course, even when the grid is working fine, solar systems only produce power when the sun is shining.

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Settlement would let Rocky Mountain Power charge nonsolar customers to pay for rooftop solar power

Rooftop solar will soon get major subsidies directly from the pockets of Utah power customers thanks to a settlement between the solar industry and Rocky Mountain Power. Currently Rocky Mountain Power is forced to buy excess electricity from homes with rooftop solar at over three times the cost of other power sources.

Settlement would let Rocky Mountain Power charge nonsolar customers to pay for rooftop solar power

Charges could factor into Utah customers’ bills by mid-2019
By Emma Penrod

Utah’s Rocky Mountain Power customers could end up paying more directly for power generated by their neighbors’ solar panels, under the terms of the company’s recent settlement with the solar industry.

The settlement has been praised for preserving, at least for now, most of the financial credits that customers with rooftop solar arrays receive from Rocky Mountain Power when they generate surplus electricity.

Solar industry leaders and other clean-energy advocates cut the compromise deal with the state’s largest utility in an effort to replace an earlier Rocky Mountain Power proposal. Advocates feared that plan to introduce a three-part billing structure for solar households had the potential to halt the industry’s growth.

But the fine print of the new agreement — which hinges on how solar residential customers get reimbursed under what is called “net metering” — also includes a provision letting Rocky Mountain Power to pay those power credits with money raised by increasing the power bills of all Utahns.

The settlement’s authors say the charge is only temporary and would amount to a few cents on customer’s monthly bills at most. But representatives from the few groups opposing the settlement argue it is unfair to non-solar customers.

“Utah customers will have to pay additional charges that would not exist in the absence of the [settlement],” Steven Michel, chief of policy development for environmental group Western Resource Advocates, wrote in testimony submitted to Utah’s Public Service Commission. And yet, Michel said, there is still no evidence that Rocky Mountain Power needs this income to cover the costs of services associated with residential rooftop solar arrays.

The state Public Service Commission (PSC) is set to review the settlement later this month.

If the current terms are approved, solar customers who have signed up for Rocky Mountain Power’s net metering program before Nov. 15, 2017 will be grandfathered into the utility’s existing pay-back program for nearly 20 years. That would bring them credits on their bills worth about 10 cents per kilowatt hour of surplus power their rooftop panels generate.

Those who sign up after that deadline will be considered “transition” solar customers. For the next three years, they will receive a credit worth a little over 9 cents per kilowatt hour of surplus power.

Rocky Mountain Power argues it could buy solar power on the open market for just 3 cents per kilowatt hour — were it not for a state law that effectively requires the utility to buy its residential customers’ surplus power at a higher rate.

So, under the proposed settlement, to recoup those added costs from paying above market rates for electricity, Rocky Mountain Power would be allowed to charge additional fees to all its Utah customers — in effect, some argue, forcing non-solar customers to subsidize higher prices paid to solar customers.

Those charges would be applied to customers’ power bills via something called the Energy Balancing Account,  a mechanism previously allowed by state regulators to let Rocky Mountain Power add surcharges to customers’ power bills when it gets hit with unexpected expenses, such as a sudden spikes in the cost of natural gas for its power plants.

Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall said it makes sense to use the Energy Balancing Account to charge these new fees because the amount of surplus power that residential solar panels generate tends to fluctuate and is difficult to predict.

“When we buy something, our customers buy it,” Hall said, “and this is a mechanism that enables us to recover unexpected costs.”

Hall said if the Public Service Commission approves its proposal, customers could start seeing solar-related charges on their bills as early as May 1, 2019.

Not surprisingly, Utah consumers and businesses have mixed feelings about the deal.

In principal, the national Consumer Energy Alliance, which advocates for power customers, said it opposes policies that shift costs from private power generation onto utility customers who do not have solar panels.

But James Voyles, policy counsel for the Washington D.C.-based group, said its Utah members haven’t come down strongly on either side of the recent settlement. Some of Utah businesses within its ranks approve of the new charges, Voyles said, while others oppose them.

Voyles nonetheless praised attempts to negotiate the settlement. “It is our hope,” he said, ”that all parties involved keep the most important stakeholder in mind — families and businesses.”

Others involved in closed-door negotiations that produced the settlement declined to discuss its details, including the proposed use of Energy Balancing Account charges. Western Resource Advocates, which participated off and on in the settlement talks but ultimately did not sign on, declined to discuss the charges, referring instead to its written testimony submitted to the PSC.

Clean air and energy advocates at HEAL Utah, one of the parties that did sign the agreement, called the Energy Balancing Account provision “concerning.” But the group declined to discuss the issue further.

Sara Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy, another party to the settlement talks, said that the new charges weren’t meant to be permanent and would be reconsidered in coming years.

“It’s not a done deal. It’s not permanent forever and eternity,” she said, declining to comment further.

The state Office of Consumer Services has also signed onto the settlement. Its director, Michele Beck, said parties to the settlement do not all agree about whether households with rooftop solar panels actually cost Rocky Mountain Power more money than other customers. But, Beck said, the compromise will allow the new charges only temporarily, until a new study of Rocky Mountain Power’s rates is completed, sometime around 2020.

“Solar advocates believe that there aren’t current subsidies, and this is a partway solution,” Beck said. “This is an important interim step that moves toward removing the subsidy, but some remains.”

Technically, Beck said, the utility’s customers already pay for net metering credits through their power bills, just not directly. But by assigning a specific monetary value to those credits, the proposed settlement lets Rocky Mountain Power apply those costs to power bills in a more direct way.

“They’re already having to pay, it’s just not quite so explicit,” Beck said. “Will it raise the rates? That’s not clear, because there are hundreds, maybe thousands of moving parts behind the Energy Balancing Account.”

But any increase, Beck said, would likely be so small that when spread over all the utility’s customers, “it’s going to be lost in the rounding.”

Read original article at: http://www.sltrib.com/news/2017/09/11/settlement-would-let-rocky-mountain-power-charge-nonsolar-customers-to-pay-for-rooftop-solar-power/

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Couple questions solar panel installation

An Arizona couple is questioning the practices of a solar panel firm that installed panels on their home without their knowledge or permission. The firm’s practices lead to an audit by the IRS that cost the couple more than $11,000. Fraudulent firms like Clean Energy Systems create problems for customers looking to install solar.

Couple questions solar panel installation

By: Courtney HolmesJoe Ducey

PHOENIX – A Valley couple says their roof is covered with solar panels that they can’t use.

David and Marcy Edwards say the panels were installed in 2014, but that they never actually signed up for them.

“It surprised me because I had just come in from off the road in my truck, and there were three or four guys on my roof,” he says. “I’m thinking maybe Marcy went through APS or one of these people that are knocking on your doors constantly saying ‘oh you need to go solar.’”

Wife Marcy says she didn’t sign up for the panels, but few weeks before the panels were installed, her tax preparer asked if they would be interested in getting solar.

“I said yeah we’d be interested in doing that and then I never heard anything from anybody,” she says.

With no agreement made, and no contract signed, they moved on. Then one day without warning or a contract, the panels appeared and they say they had no idea who they belonged to.

“I was kind of waiting on someone to come by the house and say well here’s your bill or let me know we’re the company that put this on your house or something,” he says.

He says that wouldn’t happen for another year and a half.

“I have a note that was put on my door by a gentleman and he said Mr. Edwards we’ve been trying to get ahold of you so you can get this solar turned on for you,” he says.

David says the company, Clean Energy Systems, wanted him to sign a lease for the panels.  He refused, asking for the panels to be taken down and his roof repaired. He says he went back and forth with the company without a resolution.

The couple found that the solar company had a relationship with their tax preparer, and according to the IRS, so did they.

David says in February 2016, “the IRS provided us information that said we were in a partnership with the company— with Clean Energy Systems. We’re not in a partnership and we never signed anything.”

He says they got a notice that the company was being audited for 2013 tax year.

But that wasn’t the only surprising news. They too received a letter saying they were personally being audited, for a $250,000 loss from the partnership.

“I think I told him, ‘You’ve got to be kidding $250,000?’ He wasn’t kidding,” Marcy says.
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The couple says it went back to the place where their taxes were prepared, Heritage Tax Services in Sun City.

“They would not respond, they would not answer his calls, they wouldn’t answer his messages so he finally went there and got a copy of the return from them,” Marcy says.

They say the return they got from the preparer showed a loss of $71,000 not $250,000 that was on the documents that the IRS provided.  The Edwards say both returns showed that they received a refund of more than $11,000 but that they only received about $3,000.

“I’m dumbfounded by the whole thing,” David says. “It’s so far-fetched it’s hard for me to even believe.”

The Edwards had to pay back more than $11,000 to the IRS despite saying they only received a $3,000 refund.

We contacted Heritage Tax owner Phillip Scafetta, he eventually responded by email saying in part “I explained how this worked that it was based on trust and the taxes would be adjusted when deemed necessary to pay for the solar system.”

He also says that the panels were placed on their home without a contract because “unfortunately the beginning process is based on trust and I told them that,” and “The entire process was halted because they said that they didn’t approve anything.”

Scafetta goes on to say, “All my due diligence confirms to me that the tax code is very complicated and I was directed on how to complete the tax return by the IRS and other companies that deal with very wealthy taxpayers. I was able to bring this concept to individuals instead of large corporations benefiting from NOL (net operating loss). Only sophisticated Corporate CPAs and Tax Attornies [sic] understand the concepts.”

Scafetta confirmed that he is not a CPA or tax attorney.

He also says he changed the loss from $250,000 to $70,000 “since they disagreed to continue the solar project.”

Clean Energy Systems and owner Charles Kirkland did not return our calls but the company is fighting a tax adjustment imposed by the IRS.

The solar panels on the Edwards roof are no closer to being taken off or turned on but they say they hope they can help prevent others from making their mistakes.

“I think it’s pretty unfair and I hope it doesn’t happen to anybody else,” Marcy says.

Read original and view video at: http://www.abc15.com/news/let-joe-know/couple-questions-solar-panel-installation

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Solar Panel Mandate Will Make Miami’s Housing Less Affordable

Mandating solar panels on all new rooftops in South Miami will make housing less affordable. This costly mandate will hurt the future of the community by increasing home prices by more than $16,000. Taking away choice from consumers will have major implications for the future of rooftop solar.

Solar Panel Mandate Will Make Miami’s Housing Less Affordable

Adam Millsap

Residents and local officials in cities around the country are concerned about housing affordability. One such city is Miami, where even upper-middle class people are feeling squeezed by high housing prices. Two big factors affecting housing prices in Miami and other expensive areas like Southern California are strong demand and land-use restrictions that make it difficult to build new housing. One recent report by two apartment trade associations concludes that Miami is the 4th toughest U.S. city in which to build new apartments, in part due to its land regulations.

Cities also add additional mandates that increase construction costs, such as South Miami’s new ordinance that requires solar panels on all new residential construction. South Miami’s mayor, Philip Stoddard, is a fan of the ordinance and lauds its environmental benefits. But while it may reduce carbon emissions, it also makes housing more expensive.

According to energysage, the average cost of a solar panel system in Miami is about $16,000 before any government subsidies, a significant expense and just over 5% of the average construction cost of a single family home in the United States, according to the National Association of Homebuilders.

Affordable housing starts with affordable construction. Every municipal building mandate that prioritizes some other goal—e.g. the environment—over lower costs pushes adequate housing further out of reach for many lower-income people. Cities don’t need to abandon building codes that mandate a basic level of quality, but they should consider the affordability tradeoff that accompanies mandating some other goal not related to shelter or safety—no matter how worthwhile that goal may be.

Supporters of the solar panel ordinance also note that using solar power generates energy savings in the long run. But it can take approximately 11 years to recoup the upfront costs, and for some this might not be a worthwhile tradeoff.

A similar argument applies to appliance efficiency standards. Like solar panels, appliance efficiency standards designed to help the environment promise lower long-run operating costs for a higher upfront price: For example, pay $42 more for an air conditioner in order to save $7 over ten years.

For the environment’s sake, municipalities could mandate that all apartment units be outfitted with the newest and most efficient appliances rather than the older models typically found in many lower-priced apartments. Luckily, I’m not aware of a city that has done this, but as a policy it’s similar to South Miami’s solar panel mandate and would also make apartments more expensive.

More building is the solution for the affordable housing problem, but the building needs to be done in a cost-effective way to ensure that the final product is actually affordable. This means cities should allow housing of various types and quality, both with and without solar panels. Micro units, trailer parks, tenement-style housing and accessory dwelling units are all viable options for people looking for affordable shelter, even if they don’t meet some idealized image of what a home should be.

Read original at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adammillsap/2017/08/11/solar-panel-mandate-will-make-miamis-housing-less-affordable/#75dc6d6ab562

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Solar panel blazes ignite safety fears

After several fires in the UK were linked to solar panels, the British government is now investigating the safety of panels being installed in the country. Representative of the solar industry points to faulty installation as the cause. Make Solar Safe urges governments to implement minimum safety standards for installing solar panels to keep homes, businesses, and first responders safe from fire hazards.

Solar panel blazes ignite safety fears

An investigation has been launched after fires at buildings, including flats and schools, fitted with the energy equipment

Fire risks posed by solar panels fitted to thousands of British homes, schools and businesses are being investigated after international warnings over the panels’ flammability.

The Building Research Establishment (BRE), a government fire safety contractor that is conducting tests on cladding after the Grenfell Tower blaze, is examining instances of solar panels catching fire and is due to report initial findings at an industry meeting this week.

About 80 firefighters fought a blaze at a new block of flats in Bow, east London, last Sunday in which the solar panels appear to have caught fire. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

A blaze last month at a block of flats in Thornton Heath, south London, is also being investigated after solar panels and cladding caught fire. Orbit, the housing organisation that owns the block, said an initial investigation indicated the fire was caused by “an overheated solar panel”.

Over the past five years solar panels have also caught fire on buildings such as Hove Town Hall in East Sussex in 2015, a Nottinghamshire primary school in 2014 and a Devon hotel in 2013.

There are about 920,000 solar panel installations in Britain, with no minimum fire safety standards for those placed on fire-resistant roofs. Systems with a low fire rating that are built into roofs must be at least 65ft from a boundary wall.

The Society of Fire Protection Engineers, an international body, has stated: “One of the many dangers to solar panels is how the panel and its mounting system impact the combustibility of the overall roof system. Some solar panels include a backing of highly combustible plastic.”

Italian research published in 2015 found that in Italy and Germany over a two-year period there had been nearly 700 fires involving solar panels. Fire tests for the study found that ethylene vinyl acetate — a material commonly used in the panels — appeared to be “a rapidly combustible material releasing gaseous fuels . . . once degraded thermally”.

Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, said the BRE study would help government and industry understand whether changes to regulations and guidance were required. Barwell said: “It is one of the safest technologies but we do need to ensure we have the highest safety standards.”

Few fires in Britain have involved solar panels and the BRE said there is no evidence to suggest the risks are greater than with other electrical equipment. It adds, however, that evidence is emerging of potential fire hazards and its website asks for UK cases to be reported.

Jonathan Bates, managing director of Photon Energy, a solar energy firm in Reading, Berkshire, said the most likely causes of fires were electrical faults as a result of incorrect installation. He said a properly installed solar panel system should pose no significant risk but some providers “cut corners”. He added: “We have seen some fairly shocking installations. Like any industry that grows very quickly, you will inevitably get cowboys.”

Chris Roberts, who chairs a working group of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, which provides quality assurance for renewable technologies, said he considered the regulations robust but that they would be reviewed in light of the BRE research.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which supports the solar panel certification scheme, said: “The government’s top priority is public safety and, while the risk of solar panel fires is extremely low, it’s only right that we work with the industry to improve safety further. That’s why we continually review our guidelines to ensure exemplary safety standards are in place.”

Read original article at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/solar-panel-blazes-ignite-safety-fears-60mvb3265?

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Solar energy a growing consumer complaint

More and more consumers are being targeted by fraudulent solar companies trying to take advantage of the growing market. Putting adequate protections in place at the state and local level can prevent companies from trying to take advantage of consumers who want to install solar on their homes.

Solar energy a growing consumer complaint

Solar energy may be the power source of the future, but it already has become one of the fastest-growing consumer complaints.

Misleading sales tactics about solar energy was flagged as one of the problems to watch in the latest survey by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

Florida was one of 23 states with consumer protection agencies that participated in a study of the top consumer gripes in 2016.

As the solar power industry grows, so could consumer problems.

“Solar energy is good for the environment and for consumers’ pocketbooks, but there are starting to be complaints concerning misleading sales practices, confusing contracts and shoddy installation” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at CFA. “Consumers should check out the company and make sure they understand the terms of the agreement before they sign on the dotted line for solar contracts.”

The most common complaints received by the agencies dealt with autos, on such issues as misrepresentations in advertising or sales, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.

Ranked second was shoddy home construction and improvement, including contractors who failed to start or complete a project.

Consumers also complained about utilities, such as installation issues, service problems and billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, internet, electric and gas services.

“The 39 state and local consumer protection agencies in the survey received more than 203,284 complaints last year and saved or recovered $161.4 million through mediation and other actions,” the report said. “This does not include the money that people avoided losing because of their advice or the savings to businesses and court systems that resulted from their resolving complaints informally.”

Consumers’ other top complaints involved false advertising by retailers, credit disputes including mortgage fraud, misleading claims about health products and services, landlord/tenant disputes, problems with household goods, deceptive Internet sales and misrepresentations by home solicitors.

The three fastest-growing complaints were fraud, cable, phone and internet services, and health services.

“Fraud is a perennial problem, but different types of scams rise and fall in popularity,” the study said. “Apartment rental scams, bogus offers of employment, false promises of loans, phony government grants, bogus health cures, and imposters posing as local officials were cited as particularly fast-growing last year.”

New problems in 2016 that cost consumers money included passport services that accepted funding then disappeared, web sites that post mugshots of arrested people and then charge a fee to remove them, crowdfunding investments that didn’t pan out, identity thieves who gave low-income and homeless people free phones to collect their personal information, and mortgage companies withholding insurance funds from flood victims.

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Watchdog calls on FTC to investigate residential solar power industry

Consumer groups are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate deceptive practices by fraudulent solar installers that take advantage of customers looking to install solar on their homes. Common practices include misleading marketing, using contracts with confusing language, and false claims to actual energy savings. Consumers should be protected from companies trying to take advantage of the demand for solar.

Watchdog calls on FTC to investigate residential solar power industry

Campaign for Accountability asked the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open an investigation into companies that offer residential solar panels.

A review of consumer complaints filed with FTC reveals many of these companies have engaged in false and misleading acts in the marketing and sale or lease of solar panels, in apparent violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Read the letter here.

CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens said, “Solar companies are using misleading sales practices to trick homeowners into buying or leasing solar panels. The FTC has recognized the problem, but has yet to act. The FTC should open an investigation and hold companies that violate the law accountable.”

Last summer, the FTC hosted a public workshop about consumer protection issues in solar energy. Representatives from Consumers Union and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, among others, recounted emerging problems such as contracts that contain confusing wording about energy tax credits, consumers unable to sell or buy homes that have solar panels installed, and false promises of savings on utility bills.

Following the conference, watchdog Public Citizen submitted comments to the FTC urging the commission to ban arbitration clauses in solar contracts. The National Consumer Law Center submitted comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau noting “extensive complaints of false claims as to the savings with such panels and the terms of the leases.”

In the wake of these developments, CfA submitted open records requests to several states and the FTC to examine consumers’ concerns. CfA requested complaints submitted between 2012 and the present pertaining to the sale or leasing of solar panels and their installation on the roofs of customers’ homes.

CfA reviewed more than 1,200 complaints released by the FTC. The complaints reveal a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse by solar companies. Consumers detailed how the companies deceived them about the true costs of installing solar panels, lured them in with low price quotes that later proved to be false, required them to sign confusing contracts, and promised energy savings that failed to materialize.

These tactics appear to violate the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.

Stevens continued, “Solar companies often seem to target vulnerable populations, leaving seniors and those living on fixed incomes with higher monthly utility costs and loans that often exceed what they can afford to pay, plunging them into debt. The FTC should investigate these nefarious practices and hold violators accountable.”

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City of South Miami Tone-Deaf to Affordable Housing Issue

City of South Miami Tone-Deaf to Affordable Housing Issue

South Miami Electeds Respond From Dais, “I Hate To Burst Your Bubble, But South Miami Is Unaffordable”

 

SOUTH MIAMI, Fla. – When South Miami residents and businesses presented concerns during a recent commission hearing that the proposed ordinance mandating solar requirements will make South Miami more unaffordable, the Mayor and Vice Mayor refused to address concerns; instead, the commission doubled down on the argument that South Miami was unaffordable. 

 

Mayor Philip Stoddard (1:58:43):  “If you build a big house…  What does a 5,000 sq. ft. house cost in South Miami? $1.5 – 2 million?”

 

When residents and local businesses pointed out that the Mayor’s examples continue to ignore affordable homes, the Vice Mayor added:

 

Vice Mayor Robert Welsh (2:03:36) “The Builders Association of South Florida sent a letter saying this ordinance will make South Miami unaffordable. Well, guess what? We’re unaffordable already… I hate to burst your bubble but South Miami is unaffordable.

 

While rising property values are creating an affordable housing crisis, the City of South Miami Commission is attempting to pass an ordinance mandating solar requirements that threatens many of the community they were elected to serve.


The ordinance will mandate up to a $25,000 expense on all new houses, townhouses and many remodels within city limits making South Miami even more unaffordable and unattainable. It is imperative for the South Miami Commission to weigh the legitimate economic concerns of South Miami residents before hastily imposing a poorly thought out mandate for homeowners and home builders to put solar panels on homes in South Miami.

 

The local chapter of Family Businesses for Affordable Energy (FBAE) raised suggestions of ways to amend the ordinance to account for affordability that the South Miami Commission and Mayor Stoddard have largely ignored.  Full letter submitted to the commission is below.

South Miami is already one of the most unaffordable communities in South Florida and city commission’s efforts to mandate solar will make it even more unaffordable. At the very least, residents should be adequately consulted before a mandate is thrust upon them, and should be made aware of the economic, legal, and safety consequences of that mandate.

On Wednesday, July 12th, the Commission will once again bring the ordinance up for a reading and vote. 

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