Net metering is a lose-lose situation for taxpayers

Commercial energy producers are complaining about a recent change in New Hampshire’s net metering law that limits their ability to take advantage of a program meant for home owners. Net metering gives homeowners the ability to sell extra electricity produced by rooftop solar panels back to the grid at high rates. The policy shifts the cost of grid maintenance to non-solar users and allowing commercial producers to sell electricity at these high rates instead of wholesale rates paid to other commercial producers is unfair to ratepayers and net-metering users.

Net metering is a lose-lose situation for taxpayers

To The Daily Sun,

In response to the August 22 Letter from Tony Guinta and the August 23 article by Thomas Caldwell on Net Metering: Governor’s veto, as a 5 MW power plant (Solar, Hydro or BioMass) is not a residential installation, but a commercial energy producer, and as such should be paid the same rates as any other commercial energy producers.

The 1 MW limit was established to allow home owners and small business owners to offset the high cost of Electricity in this state, not to make a for-profit electricity generator company cash at the expense of the rest of the rate payers. Land required per MW is approx 5 acres (setbacks excluded). So a 5 MW system would require 25-30 acres of land.

The Bill Sponsors — Bob Giuda and Kevin Avard — advocate for the override of the Veto. If the bill sponsors wanted to use the bill for the benefit of the Biomass Industry they should not have tied it to the Net Metering bill … these are two separate issues.

The Net Metering restrictions in place keep large commercial solar and wind farms (by out-of-state firms) from disrupting the landscape. There will be no benefit to the tax payers of NH if the large commercial solar firm come to NH to install systems under subsidies, it make them more money, but does not increase the commercial taxes collected, which is a lose-lose situation for taxpayers. Instead of large power lines, which were successfully fought, along the Northern Pass, you would have eye sore large Solar farms and Wind Turbines all over the state. Most recently, there was a proposal for a 25 MW, 80,000 panel solar system in Sanbornton on private land in a rural-residential area by a Colorado firm, that would have been put on old farm fields and woodlands. The proposal would have clear-cut 50 acres of forest in the forest conservation district of the town. These are the types of projects that will flood into NH by out-of-state firms that want to reap the benefit of the subsidies without any benefit to the taxpayers. That same Sanbornton project would have been on land owned by Mr. Guinta and his family. Thus, he has a slight conflict of interest beyond his push for the “veto override” for just the City of Franklin’s growth. We all support the use of Solar and Wind projects. These commercial entities should be encouraged to come to NH, but not subsidized by the taxpayers. Let the commercial firms, large and small, in-state and out-of-state, pay their fare share to the tax base. Save the subsidies for the local homeowners that put solar panels on the rooftops, like the subsidies were meant for. Keep the VETO in place!

Mark Larocque


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San Isabel warns of fraud

Many solar installers are using outlandish claims to help sell solar panels, some so outlandish San Isabel Electric is calling them fraudulent. Claims of massive savings, to the point of eliminating consumer’s electric bill, have officials concerned about how the fraud will affect customers. San Isabel is telling customers the best way to find out how solar panels will affect their monthly bill is to talk to the utility directly and take the claims on salesmen with a grain of salt.

San Isabel warns of fraud

A solar energy company based out of Provo, Utah, is being accused by San Isabel Electric of making fraudulent claims, using the electric co-op’s name and trusted reputation as a sales tactic in the Pueblo West area.

Several San Isabel Electric members have reported experiences of Ion Solar sales representatives going door to door making claims that Ion Solar is working with San Isabel Electric on solar projects, working for SIEA or is affiliated with SIEA — all as part of their sales pitch.

“They are telling our customers false information about our business practices like what would happen to their rates if they went solar and also they are saying that customers will no longer get a bill from San Isabel Electric,” said Paris Elliot, spokeswoman for the utility.

Elliott said San Isabel Electric fully embraces solar power, the positive business opportunities solar power growth is providing to the Southern Colorado community, as well as the potential energy bill savings for some consumers.

“However, San Isabel Electric is not in any way affiliated with any solar contractor, or any other contractor of any other trade,” she said.

“This is starting to damage our reputation because our members are getting false information about solar.”

Elliott said the utility has its own solar energy facility.

“This is the second time in a year that Ion has been making these claims door-to-door. They said they were going to stop last year in August and they apologized,” Elliott said.

“They actually went to a San Isabel executive’s door as well as a board member.”

Elliott said the first instance occurred during July 2017. Ion Solar has made apologies by email and have promised to correct the problem in both instances.

“San Isabel Electric Association takes great pride in our ability to provide Southern Colorado with superior customer service, reliable power, local control and steady rates and we’ve done so for 80 years. The misrepresentation of Ion Solar’s relationship with San Isabel is confusing our Members, thus damaging our credibility and honorable reputation.” General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Reg Rudolph said.

San Isabel Electric is asking members who have been contacted by Ion Solar, or any other company misrepresenting San Isabel Electric, to email the name of the company, the phone number/means of contact and an explain of how they misrepresented San Isabel Electric to

Members who are considering adding solar panels to their home or business are encouraged to contact San Isabel Electric’s Energy Services Department to discuss how it will affect your rate and system interconnection (net-metering).

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Solar installer charged with fleecing state, customers

Without proper consumer safety measures in place, it is far too easy for bad actors to prey on unsuspecting solar customers. Fraudsters are using state and federal programs to collect incentive money aimed at increasing solar usage without actually installing any solar panels. State’s must ensure any programs using cash incentives have adequate consumer protections to stop fraudulent collection of incentives.

Solar installer charged with fleecing state, customers

The owner of a Shelton solar power installation company has been charged with stealing more than $62,000 in state energy incentives and fleecing nearly two dozen customers in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

Christopher Stapleton, 56, of Fairview Oregon, was charged Friday with two counts of first-degree larceny and one count of first-degree larceny by defrauding a public community.

He was released after posting $100,000 bond.

State police said they received a complaint from the Connecticut Green Bank, a state agency created to accelerate investment in clean energy projects in the state regarding CatchinRays 2 LLC, of Kneen Street Extension in Shelton.

The Green Bank manages the state’s Residential Solar Investment Incentive Program which provides cost incentives to home owners and businesses who have solar power systems installed. The incentives are paid directly to the installers.

State police said in 2014 and 2015, CathinRays 2 received incentive payments from the Green Bank on behalf of 23 customers for a total of $62,0000.

However, a subsequent investigation determined that the customers, who had paid CathinRays 2 between $500 and $25,000, never had the systems installed, police said.

State police said the customers unsuccessfully attempted to receive refunds from CathinRays 2 and were owed a total of $125,000.

When state police later contacted Stapleton by telephone they said he told them he had been dealing with “alcohol abuse issues,” and had been unable to run a successful business. But they said he denied taking any money he wasn’t entitled to.

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Montana’s largest utility overpays for rooftop solar energy, study suggests

A recent study in Montana is showing how little benefit customers receive from solar users selling their excess power back to the grid. A typical solar user provides $.04 of benefit, but is reimbursed at a rate of $.12 per kilowatt from other customers. Montana has the opportunity to bring down the rate of reimbursement to match the benefit to other customers later this year.

Montana’s largest utility overpays for rooftop solar energy, study suggests

By Tom Lutley

Homes and businesses with rooftop solar provide a small benefit to NorthWestern Energy through net metering, the company reported this week, although maybe not enough to warrant current compensation.

In a 40-page cost-benefit analysis of solar net metering, Montana’s largest utility company concluded that the energy rooftop solar delivered back onto the grid had a net value of about 4 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s about a third of what net-metering customers are currently compensated, which is retail value.

The 2017 Montana Legislature ordered the study to determine whether the costs of accommodating net-meterers were being unfairly distributed to other customers. A possible result of the study was that people delivering rooftop solar back onto the grid would have to pay more for the ability to do so, most likely by receiving less credit for the surplus power sold back to NorthWestern.

After the report, which was done by third-party analysts, NorthWestern remained skeptical about the cost benefits.

“The central theme is maybe the value of the electricity that is produced and whether the consumer generator is getting paid a real high price for it,” said Butch Larcombe, of NorthWestern Energy.

The terms net meterers receive from NorthWestern are likely to come up this fall as the Public Service Commission begins a comprehensive review of NorthWestern’s rates, the first review of its kind in several years.

There are 2,100 NorthWestern customers with their own sources of renewable energy, Larcombe said. Most of those customers have rooftop solar panels, though there are a few windmills. Through net-metering, they pump surplus power onto the grid when the sun shines, but then draw electricity from NorthWestern when there’s little solar power to top.

The price of solar panels is less than half what it was ten years ago. Better rates have piqued the interest rooftop solar enthusiasts. There were fewer than 300 NorthWestern customers using net-metering 10 years ago, according to the utility.

Solar advocates say NorthWestern’s study is the starting point of the conversation, not the end.

“This thing’s really going to affect Montana’s energy future,” said Andrew Valainis, Montana Renewable Energy Association executive director. “The way Montana homeowners are going after net-metering. The way businesses are installing net-metering. It’s going to affect how they can do that.”

Valainis sees an under-realized potential for rooftop solar in Montana. The technology gives consumers a choice about where their energy comes from. Homeowners benefit, but business and government buildings with large roofs benefit even more so. There are jobs connected to the installation of the 2,100 net-metering systems online.

There’s a sentiment among renewable advocates that the NorthWestern-commissioned study, which was done by Navigan, has set the net value of rooftop solar too low, a debate that will continue into fall.

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Homeowners say solar panels shouldn’t be their problem

Homeowners in Arizona are regretting a required set of solar panels that have been installed on their homes by the homebuilder. The systems are generating very little power and it is nearly impossible to get them serviced. It is important for consumers to have access to quality products provided by certified installers.

Homeowners say solar panels shouldn’t be their problem

By: Courtney Holmes, Joe Ducey

Deep in Goodyear is Canta Mia, a 55-plus subdivision with the big sell of energy efficient homes.

The builder AV Homes touts awards it’s received for innovation in green home design, but some homeowners we spoke with are not happy with the solar company it chose to install their solar panels.

Dan Haarstad says when he bought his new house in 2013, the builder had already picked the panels and the installer.

“If you ordered a house or had a house built they would install Echo (first) Solar,” he says. “It was a requirement.”

But just a few years into owning the home, Dan says he and dozens of his neighbors were barely generating any power.

And when they called for warranty service, “there was nobody to contact anymore.”

Echo First Solar was taken over by another company, Sun Edison. But in April 2016 that company filed bankruptcy and according to homeowners was unreachable.  In December 2017 Sun Edison emerged from chapter 11 as a shell of itself.  Court documents show it operates out of St. Louis, but phone numbers are out of service, and our emails have gone unreturned.

Dan and his neighbors went to the builder for help, hoping they would help them foot the bill since they chose the solar company in the first place.

“This was AV Homes’ concept. They sold us on this system.” He says their response was “a letter letting us know that they are not responsible.”

But Dan asks if not them, then who?

AV Homes stopped using that solar company on newer homes, but Dan says those stuck with their first choice should be treated better.

“It makes me feel used,” he says.

Dan has already replaced his, but says he’d like to be reimbursed for some of what he spent.

So you make the call, should the builder be responsible?  Or should homeowners be forced to pay for another solar panel system?

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Fire at primary school in Leigh was ‘most likely’ caused by faulty solar panels

Improperly installed solar panels can be a major fire risk to homes, schools, and businesses. It is important for regulators to ensure minimum safety standards are in place to protect solar customers. Make Solar Safe supports consumer safety standards for solar installers to prevent fires like the one in Leigh.

Fire at primary school in Leigh was ‘most likely’ caused by faulty solar panels

The fire service said the blaze started in the roof at Westleigh Methodist Primary School

A huge blaze at a primary school was ‘most likely’ caused by a faulty electrical solar panel.

Firefighters were called to Westleigh Methodist Primary School in Leigh after flames were seen coming from the building just before 11am on Sunday.

Upper levels of the Westleigh Lane building were ‘well alight’ at the height of the fire.

A statement on the school’s Facebook page said the it will be closed until further notice.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) bosses believe the blaze was caused by electrical solar panels on the roof of the hall at the school.

The fire originated where the panels are embedded. It is thought there was a fault with one of the devices.

An eyewitness said they saw four solar panels on fire.

Station manager Chris Roberts said: “A fire investigation officer examined the fire burn patterns and determined that the source of the fire was at roof level.

Fire at Westleigh Methodist Primary School (Image: Manchester Evening News)
Fire at Westleigh Methodist Primary School (Image: Manchester Evening News)

“The fire started on the right hand side of the roof, where a number of solar panels were in place – causing the fire to spread resulting the whole roof being ablaze.

“The pattern of the fire burn would also conclude that the fire’s origin was in the vicinity of the solar panels.

“Examination on the inside of the main hall found charring on the top of the wooden beams which were situated under the roof of the building which would only occur if the fire was above the beam.

“Due to the intense heat of the fire, wiring from the panels were burnt away so we are unable to determine if or why an electrical fault occurred.

“An eyewitness account that was given to the emergency services when the fire first started stated that they saw approximately four solar panels on the roof of the school on fire.

“These panels were located on the right hand side of the roof area. This account also supports the outcome of our investigation in determining the area of origin where the fire started and in identifying any materials that could possible cause a fire to start.”

A school statement read: “Due to the fire the whole of the school building will be closed until further notice. This includes preschool, Honey Bears Nursery and the Startwell Centre.”

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Why Am I Paying $65/year for Your Solar Panels?

California’s net metering laws are increasing the cost of electricity for non-solar users by shifting the cost of grid upkeep to a smaller and smaller pool of rate payers, while the use of the grid is shared by all users. The shift in cost has already reached $65 per year for normal utility customers and will continue to increase if California doesn’t reexamine the state’s net metering policy.

Why Am I Paying $65/year for Your Solar Panels?

700,000 California homes now have solar panels; what does this mean for everyone else’s rates?

“This is the future,” one of my neighbors recently told me, proudly showing off his rooftop solar panels, “Forget the old, inefficient utility.” The panels do look great, and, for a moment, I got caught up in my neighbor’s “green glow” of eco-righteousness. Should I be doing “my part” for climate?

But wait a second. I already am! As Severin Borenstein has been pointing out for years, a big part of the reason why rooftop solar is so popular in California is our electricity rates. And because of the way rates work, every time another neighbor installs solar, my rates go up. I’m tired of it. Why should they get all the “green glow”? Why should I be paying more for their rooftop solar, particularly given that grid-scale renewables are so much cheaper?

Almost 700,000 homes in California have installed solar, about 5% of all homes in California. Today I want to figure out what this means for the rest of us. No fancy econometrics, no complicated model. I just want to do a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation to try to figure out how big of a deal this is.

Utilities have a lot of Fixed Costs

It is helpful to take a step back and think about what it takes to deliver electricity. Utilities have lots of what economists call “fixed costs”. For example, utilities have to maintain all the transmission and distribution lines used to deliver power. These costs are fixed (not marginal) because they do not depend on how much electricity is consumed.

Who pays for these fixed costs? We all do. Every time you use electricity, you help pay for these fixed costs. There is a long history in the United States of regulators setting electricity prices equal to average costs.  Economists have argued that it would be more efficient to set prices equal to marginal cost. But the truth is this didn’t matter much in the past, in part because people didn’t have much choice about whether or not to consume electricity.

Until now. Rooftop solar is an opportunity for consumers to radically reduce the amount of electricity they buy from the utility. In Hawaii there is a lot of talk of “grid defection”, but in 99.9%+ of cases solar homes continue to be connected to the grid. Solar homes use the grid just as much as other households, as they are always either importing or exporting electricity, it’s just that they consume much less grid-electricity.

What this means is that good people like my neighbor contribute much less to paying for utility fixed costs. The fixed costs haven’t gone away, but my neighbor now has a lower electricity bill so pays far less of them. This leaves the utility with a revenue shortfall, and it is forced to raise prices. So who pays for the fixed costs my neighbor used to pay? Everyone else.

A key subtlety here is “net metering”. Households who install rooftop solar pay only for the electricity they consume “on net” after solar generation. This is easy and simple, but also wrong. Implicitly, this means that they get compensated for their solar panels’ sales to the grid at the retail electricity rate. This is too high, significantly exceeding what the utility saves from not having to supply that electricity. Under an alternative rate structure, in which households were paid the wholesale rate, you would not have this “cost-shifting” away from solar households.

Cost Shifting 

Ok, but how much cost shifting is actually happening? Outside California, Arizona, and Hawaii, probably not much. But California has a lot of solar, about half of all U.S. rooftop solar. How much have California electricity rates increased due to the 700,000 homes with solar?

This is tricky because we don’t actually know how much electricity is being produced by rooftop solar. Almost everyone is on net metering, so we only observe net consumption, not solar production. Fortunately, the California Energy Commission has poured over solar radiation information and other data and estimated that total annual generation from California behind-the-meter solar is 9,000 GWh. About two-thirds of this is residential, so about 6,000 GWh. To put this in some context, total annual residential electricity consumption in California is 90,000 GWh.

So how much “cost shifting” does this imply? The average residential electricity price in California is $0.185/kWh, while the average wholesale price is about $0.04/kWh. Accounting for electricity that is lost during delivery to the end customer adds about 9% more per kWh delivered. Thus, each time a California household produces a kWh, the utility experiences a revenue shortfall of about $0.14. Multiply this by total residential distributed solar generation, and you get $840 million annually. California utilities receive $15 billion annually in revenue from residential customers, so the total shortfall is about 5%.

This is a crude calculation, and it could undoubtedly be refined. For example, distributed solar proponents argue that local generation allows the utility to avoid distribution system upgrades, which would represent an additional benefit. These impacts have been found to be relatively small, but this continues to be an area of active research. On the other hand, I’ve also made an assumption that significantly decreases my estimate of cost shift. In particular, I’ve used the average residential retail price, but California customers actually pay increasing block rates so most solar customers face a marginal price well in excess of the average price.


The total revenue shortfall works out to about $0.01 per kWh, or $65/year for the average California household. This is more than I expected. And, I’d bet most Californians are not even aware that this cost shift is happening.

So why am I paying $65/year for other people to have solar? It doesn’t make sense. Sure, I’m concerned about climate change, but my $65/year could go a lot farther if it was used instead for grid-scale renewables. Moreover, this is almost certainly bad from an equity perspective, as we know that high-income households adopt solar much more often than other households. Rooftop solar isn’t getting rid of the utility. It’s just changing who pays for it.

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It’s time to plan for solar panel recycling in the United States

As solar panels begin to reach the end of their useful life, current recycling systems are not designed to handle the proper recycling of the panels. Without a proper plan for disposing of panels, old and damaged units could end up in landfills. Damaged panels can leach dangerous materials if disposed of in a landfill.

It’s time to plan for solar panel recycling in the United States

End-of-life panels might not need recycling for another 15 years, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the growing issue today.

In 2017, the United States installed 10.6 GW of new solar energy. Using rough math (if every panel was 300 W), that’s 35.3 million new solar panels installed last year. In about 30 years, a wave of 35.3 million panels may reach the end of their lifespans, not counting the hundreds of millions of panels that flooded the U.S. market in the last decade that may need to be disposed of sooner.

What to do with this future solar waste has been bothering many in the industry, especially Sam Vanderhoof, owner of consulting firm Solar CowboyZ and former president of Schott Solar.

“I’ve been working in solar since 1976. I’ve been doing it a long time, and that’s part of my guilt. I’ve been involved with millions of solar panels going into the field, and now they’re getting old,” he said. “The industry seems to think—myself included—that there isn’t a problem yet. The reality is that there is a problem now, and it’s only going to get larger, rapidly expanding as the PV industry expanded 10 years ago.”

Solar panel disposal and recycling isn’t a huge issue right now in 2018 because there isn’t a big enough volume to cause concern. Solar panels are warrantied to perform more than 25 years, and once the warranty expires, panels will still produce energy, albeit not at their advertised peak. Solar installations in the United States didn’t really take off until 2010. Any influx of panels needing replaced today happens after freak weather events or other accidents.

But where are those damaged panels going now? With no dedicated national program or requirement to safely dispose of solar panels, some unfortunately find their way to landfills. If the system owner is green-minded and has the money, panels may get shipped to a recycling facility. Other industry players are warehousing damaged or old panels until a practical recycling program is established.

That’s why Vanderhoof and a few colleagues recently started a new recycling program in the United States—Recycle PV—modeled after Europe’s successful program. The program is still in its early stages, but Vanderhoof hopes his efforts will start a movement.

“Who is responsible for it? In the U.S., nobody is,” he said of solar panel recycling guidelines. “It is important for the industry to step up to address it. Solar is supposed to be renewable and clean energy, but there is this dirty side to it. There is a waste stream after time that hasn’t been addressed.”

Vanderhoof isn’t alone in these concerns. There are many U.S. players trying to get plans in place before safe panel disposal becomes a national issue. Determining guidelines now will make things easier when panels reach the end of their useful lives.

Economics vs. regulations

Cara Libby, senior technical leader of solar energy at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), has been doing solar PV recycling research on behalf of the organization’s utility members. Libby said utilities asked for EPRI’s help understanding the feasibility of recycling in the United States since many own solar arrays approaching 20 years old. Libby and her research partners have been looking at various recycling technologies, whether modules should be classified as hazardous waste and how other countries have already approached recycling regulations.

“It’s still a little premature for dedicated PV recycling facilities [in the United States],” Libby said. “In the future, maybe around 2030, there will be a surge in PV waste volumes. Then we’ll have to start thinking about a better way to collect and recycle efficiently.”

EPRI found that most panel recycling in Europe through the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive—which established rules for solar panel recycling in 2012—happens at glass recyclers. Panels are crushed or shredded and then glass and metals are separated. Other chemical and thermal processes may be used to recover high-value material like silver or copper.

System owners recycle their panels in Europe because they are required to. Panel recycling in an unregulated market (like the United States) will only work if there is value in the product. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) detailed solar panel compositions in a 2016 report and found that c-Si modules contained about 76% glass, 10% polymer (encapsulant and backsheet), 8% aluminum (mostly the frame), 5% silicon, 1% copper and less than 0.1% of silver, tin and lead. As new technologies are adopted, the percentage of glass is expected to increase while aluminum and polymers will decrease, most likely because of dual-glass bifacial designs and frameless models.

CIGS thin-film modules are composed of 89% glass, 7% aluminum and 4% polymers. The small percentages of semiconductors and other metals include copper, indium, gallium and selenium. CdTe thin-film is about 97% glass and 3% polymer, with other metals including nickel, zinc, tin and cadmium telluride.

There’s just not a large amount of money-making salvageable parts on any type of solar panel. That’s why regulations have made such a difference in Europe.

“In Europe, we’ve seen that when it’s mandated, it gets done,” Libby said. “Either it becomes economical or it gets mandated. But I’ve heard that it will have to be mandated because it won’t ever be economical.”

There’s nothing yet mandated at a national level, but there are a few states trying to get the required recycling ball moving. In July 2017, Washington became the first state to pass a solar stewardship bill (ESSB 5939), requiring manufacturers selling solar products into the state to have end-of-life recycling programs for their own products. Manufacturers that do not provide a recycling program or outline will not be able to sell solar modules into the state after Jan. 1, 2021. Regional takeback locations will be set up to accept solar panels at no cost to the system owner, and the state may charge manufacturers for the program. Final plans are still being decided.

Washington-based solar panel manufacturer Itek Energy assisted with the bill’s writing.

“Most of us here at the company feel strongly about being strong environmental stewards,” said Evan Bush, special programs coordinator at Itek. “It’s important to spearhead these efforts before there’s a big volume that will need to be disposed. With this in place, we’ll be more prepared.”

Itek’s modules are already in compliance with the new bill; the company uses a recycling partner in Idaho to take damaged panels and manufacturing scrap. Itek has been accepting back other brands of modules just to keep them out of landfills.

“There are reasons beyond just doing the right thing that should encourage others to [recycle panels],” Bush said. “Given the value of the component materials in modules, this shouldn’t be a burden to us or other participants.”

New York has a similar bill on the Senate calendar this year. Bill S2837A would require solar panel manufacturers to collect end-of-life panels for recycling. Critics argue that panel manufacturers should not bear the burden of recycling panels alone, although that is how the WEEE Directive works in Europe.

California SB 489 passed in 2015 and encourages safe disposition of old panels. California designates end-of-life solar panels as universal waste, a type of hazardous waste that is widely used in homes and businesses (like TVs or batteries). By California law, universal waste cannot be trashed or landfilled, but no guidelines are given on the proper way to recycle solar panels.

A U.S. recycling veteran

One U.S. company that has recycling figured out is CdTe thin-film module manufacturer First Solar. In 2005, the company made a commitment to extended producer responsibility. First Solar execs understood that in order for a renewable energy technology to truly be green, it was important to consider its end-of-life management. First Solar’s recycling program was established at the beginning of production to responsibly recycle manufacturing scrap, warranty returns and end-of-life panels. This environmental decision also had a financial perspective—tellurium doesn’t just grow on trees.

“There is a finite amount of tellurium,” said First Solar global recycling director Sukhwant Raju. “They wanted to make sure there was a way to recover the valuable stuff so it becomes sustainable growth for First Solar. It’s not just about being green, but how do we stay sustainable in the long term?”

First Solar recycling plants are attached to its manufacturing facilities—in Ohio, Malaysia and under construction in Vietnam. There’s also a stand-alone recycling plant in Germany.

“We have the capacity to recycle 2 million panels globally on an annual basis,” Raju said. “As more panels start reaching the end of their 25-year lifetimes, recycling will increase drastically.”

The company only recycles CdTe panels currently, even if the panels are not manufactured by First Solar (other CdTe panel manufacturers include Calyxo of Germany and Advanced Solar Power (ASP) of China). Raju said the company may develop techniques to handle crystalline silicon panels.

“We have a decade’s worth of experience in recycling, and we want to utilize that to broaden our efforts,” he said.

As with the decommissioning of other energy technologies, there’s still a financial obligation on behalf of the system owner. The company’s initial recycling program was pre-funded. When a First Solar panel was sold, a portion of that money went into a fund that could only be used for end-of-life recycling. In 2012, the company switched gears but continues to honor historical commitments under the prefunded module collection and recycling program.

“We realized we were not doing anyone any favors by charging customers 20 to 30 years in advance for end of life recycling,” Raju said. “The better approach was to do pay-as-you-go since it is more cost-efficient to finance PV recycling through later-year project cash flows instead of upfront funding. Now when we sell our panels, we offer a global recycling services agreement. Customers have the option to use our services when the panels get to the end of life stage. We’ll do the recycling, and they’ll pay the price at that time.”

This customer-funded recycling effort is dependent on system owners willing to pay the price to do the right thing. Raju thinks that as volume increases, recycling costs will come down and the greener option will be more attractive than just throwing panels away. First Solar is also taking steps to reduce recycling costs to ensure recycling becomes the preferred end-of-life management approach.

“Limited land availability and regulatory requirements will only increase the costs of landfilling,” he said. “Meanwhile, recycling costs will continue to go down. While customers may only be sending 100 panels today for recycling, by the time most of their panels get to end of life, our cost ratio will be way lower. They see the value in getting on the recycling bandwagon.

“But at the end of the day,” Raju continued, “there is nothing to force them, other than in places where there are regulations.”

The need for crystalline recycling

For c-Si modules needing recycling now in the United States, there are a few scattered options. Various glass and electronics recyclers have taken on solar panel recycling, but usually not on dedicated lines or on a grand scale. Industry advocacy group SEIA has begun organizing recycling efforts through its PV Recycling Working Group. SEIA will choose preferred recycling partners that offer benefits to SEIA members. ECS Refining and Cleanlites Recycling have recently been approved as SEIA recycling partners.

Cleanlites began in the early 1990s as a light bulb recycler, taking on other items like batteries and electronics, until it found a niche with “difficult to recycle” items. It has been catering to a solar crowd for the last few years and recycled 1.5 million lbs of solar panels last year (again, using rough math of 50 lbs per panel, that’s 30,000 panels).

“I saw the impending need for solar panel [recycling]. Those coming out of commission from now to the next 10 years is astronomical,” said Tim Kimmel, Cleanlites vice president.

Cleanlites uses optical, magnetic and hand sorting to separate aluminum, other metals and electronics from c-Si solar panels at its Cincinnati-based facility. The company is hesitant to accept other types of panels right now until it can determine safe processes. The leftover glass and silicon wafers (which may also have copper and silver mixed in) are sent to a smelter for further extraction. The process works for now, but it could be improved.

“We’re looking to put a new process line in that will be able to separate all the components and recover the silicon wafers and recycle the units 100%,” Kimmel said. “The goal is to avoid landfilling all these units, which is going to be a vast number here shortly.”

As solar panels are processed on the current lines, Cleanlites collects the scrap and sends 45,000-lb loads out at a time.

“At times, we get thousands of panels in a month, and on those times, we process twice a week, making the material and sending to the smelter on a consistent basis,” Kimmel said. “Other times, they come in slowly and we build them up until we are able to process a whole shipment.”

It costs money to send “solar scrap” to a smelter, and Cleanlites incorporates that cost and the cost of transportation into its recycling prices.

“There is a cost, so you have to weigh… do you want to be an environmentally sustainable company, or do you want to landfill thousands of pounds of material and have that show up?” Kimmel said. “The benefit of sending it to us, we’re able to receive it, ensure that the metals are recovered, and we recycle it. You’re not creating any waste or hazardous waste.”

A solar panel’s level of hazardous waste is up for debate. If panels are just old, there are usually no reasons to worry. EPRI research found the chance of chemical leaching grows if panels are damaged.

“We’ve conducted some toxicity testing on modules, and we have seen results showing that the presence of lead is higher than the threshold allowed by the TCLP (toxicity characteristic leaching procedure). There is a lot of variation between module types,” Libby said. “There is a potential for leaching of toxic materials such as lead in landfill environments. If modules are intact, it’s a low risk, but as soon as they’re broken or crushed, then the potential for leaching is increased.”

Recycling panels is the safest way to dispose of them, and SEIA and recycling centers are trying to make it easy to do the right thing.

Planning for future volume

There are clearly recycling options available now to U.S. solar owners, but their fragmented nature is what led Vanderhoof to form Recycle PV.

“There’s a little effort for sure, but it’s not concentrated. The information isn’t out there,” he said. “There’s not a good, simple flow of information and processes and procedures to deal with the waste stream.”

Recycle PV went straight to the pros, partnering with PV Cycle (the successful non-profit organization that offers waste management help to solar companies in Europe) and German panel refurbisher Rinovasolfor the U.S. market. Slightly damaged or underperforming panels can find a second life on the refurbished market. Rinovasol will take care of those, and PV Cycle sets up memberships to get recyclable panels to partner facilities. Thus far, Recycle PV has shipped two containers of panels to Germany for recycling, which is expensive but the only way to fully take advantage of the PV Cycle process right now.

The plan for Recycle PV is to get volumes large enough to build a dedicated solar recycling plant in the United States. Vanderhoof said once Recycle PV is processing 10,000 panels a month, a U.S. facility will make more sense.

“It’s not an outrageous goal,” he said. “Right now in Europe, they can recycle that much a day, but it’s been going on for a long time already.”

It’s a lofty goal for Vanderhoof and his partners to start a brand new operation, but he felt he had to do something.

“We’ve gone to a lot of waste management and EPA meetings. You look around the room and it’s all waste management people, not solar people,” he said. “Those guys are in there trying to work on the policies that affect all of us, and they’d like it to be a more expensive policy because they make more money off it. The solar guys aren’t as engaged as they could be.”

The most promising solution for the United States is if SEIA can successfully tap into the PV Cycle model and pick up recycling plants across the nation willing to invest in solar processing. If more states adopt Washington’s requirements to have all panels backed by recycling programs, national recycling plans might automatically form. A big solar name may be willing to forgo Washington sales, but it’d have a harder time losing out on California sales just because it doesn’t have a recycling plan in place.

Time is ticking. The United States has about 15 years before solar panel recycling becomes a major issue. Plenty of time to figure out the best course of action, but also plenty of time to procrastinate. Here’s hoping we set early deadlines.

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Solar panel company goes out of business, leaves customers with unfinished installs

After Sundurance Solar LLC went out of business, many of its customers were left with unfinished systems, or the wrong systems installed. What many homeowners believed was a smart investment for their homes turned into a major hassle. In some cases the installed equipment would have created a fire hazard had the panels been turned on. Without safeguards for consumers this type of situation will continue. We encourage all states to put consumer protections in place to stop this type of bad installation from happening in the future.

Solar panel company goes out of business, leaves customers with unfinished installs

Orlando-area woman informed what she paid for is not what was installed

By Adrianna Iwasinski – Investigative Reporter

Homeowners across Central Florida and across the state are having their solar panel systems checked after the solar panel company that installed them went out of business.

Some of those customers were left with unfinished installs and were stuck paying for equipment that didn’t even work.

Cyndie Chase, of Apopka, was one of those customers.

Chase said she put Solar panels on her home to increase the value of her home and to save money on her bill. She said she shopped around and picked a company called Sundurance Solar LLC to install the panels and get her switched over.

“I felt that they were reputable,” Chase said. “They offered good payment options, better than the other plan I was looking at.”

Chase said she signed the contract for the solar panels and was approved for the financing last summer. Since then, she has been making her monthly payments, but the solar system is still not connected.

She said she kept calling the company to come out and finish the job, and kept getting put off and then she learned Sundurance Solar LLC went out of business.

A quick internet search shows Sundurance has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau and a list of complaints and reviews before they closed up shop.

But Chase said she had no idea how bad things really were until the company stopped returning her calls.

Chase said she then called the finance company named on her contract to try to get results. She said they told her they would get another solar panel company to check on the status of the install and see what else needed to be done, but weeks went by with no action.

That’s when she called News 6.

Within a week of us calling, the finance company put Chase in touch with All American Solar LLC, of Orange City, to finish the job.

But what they discovered shocked Chase and them even more. Not only was it the wrong equipment, but it was poorly installed and if someone powered up the system, it could have caused a major fire hazard.

“The inverter wasn’t the right inverter that the homeowner purchased based of the agreement,” said Brandon Bing with All American Solar. “There’s been over 14 customers as of late that we are aware of as of right now. And if the list continues to compile, we are just trying to work diligently with the homeowners and come up with an amicable solution.”

Bing said they have been all over Florida fixing the mess Sundurance Solar LLC left behind. They warn all homeowners to do their homework before signing on the dotted line and said Sundurance definitely preyed on these customers.

All American Solar is working with Chase to get the correct equipment installed within the next 30 days.

“You know you have a lot of fly-by-night companies,” Bing said. “You have these outfits that are coming from different states —  and then you have a lot of individuals that are just doing sleazy unethical sales tactics.

News 6 is continuing their investigation into the principals involved in Sundurance Solar LLC.

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FBAE opposes South Carolina net metering bill

Today, FBAE sent a letter to the South Carolina House of Representatives opposing HB 4421. This bill would have shifted the burden of grid maintenance from all consumers to non-solar users. This extra subsidy to solar users is an unfair shift in the cost of South Carolina’s electrical infrastructure. A copy of the letter is available here: FBAE – Oppose South Carolina HB4421

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