On Wednesday, residents of Spotsylvania County gathered for a public hearing regarding the proposal of a 500-megawatt solar power facility on a 6,300 acre site. Majority of the attendees went to the hearing to state their dismay over the project. Local residents to the proposed solar plant stated concerns about the location of the facility and unknown health risks. The solar company sPower claims safety is a top priority for them. However, residents are not convinced. The bill resides on the Virginia governors desk. Check back with Make Solar Safe for further updates on sPowers’s status.
Solar farm foes, supporters make their cases in marathon hearing before Spotsylvania supervisors
By Scott Shenk
In a marathon public hearing that ran into the early morning hours Wednesday, red-clad opposition forces of a massive solar farm proposed in western Spotsylvania County outnumbered green-geared solar proponents, but the winner remains undetermined.
The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors left the public hearing on the special-use permits for a proposed 500-megawatt solar power facility on a 6,300-acre site with a mountain of testimony and information, and probably a lot of questions.
The nearly nine hours of testimony ran the gamut of practical and scientific to profane accusations and what some called flat-out lies.
The crowd filled more than half of Spotsylvania High School’s auditorium. Those who showed up were greeted by solar proponents wearing green shirts and dishing out pizza and opponents wearing red shirts and passing out anti-project stickers.
The hearing drew more than 100 speakers, some of whom spoke several times. They ranged in age from teenagers to grandparents.
State Sen. Bryce Reeves, R–Spotsylvania, was one of those speakers. When the three-minute time limit for individuals was up, Reeves demanded more time to speak, for his constituents, he said to cheers. He got the extra two minutes allowed to speakers representing groups.
Reeves accused solar interests of gobbling up profits while enjoying tax breaks and told the crowd and supervisors he did not support the project.
He was among several opponents who targeted Sustainable Power Group’s credibility and intentions, along with other residents whose comments varied from well-organized, sincere and insightful to confusing, irate and political.
The first speaker—like many in the crowd, a resident of Fawn Lake, a neighborhood that borders a small portion of the site—connected the proposal to the “New Green Deal” and Washington politics. Yet, he and others also pointed out their primary concerns about the project: that it’s too big, too close to homes and there are too many unknown risks.
The Utah-based company, primarily through local attorney Charlie Payne, defended sPower’s background and said it has worked with officials in a rigorous approval process, which included hearings with the State Corporation Commission, the county Planning Commission and now the supervisors.
Payne, who repeatedly told supervisors “misinformation” was being spread, described the project and produced documents he said are backed by experts in such fields as solar, environmental, financial and housing.
The president and CEO of sPower, Ryan Creamer, spoke at the end of the hearing, after midnight had long passed and most of the crowd was gone.
He said safety is the company’s top priority and that all of the more than 150 solar and wind facilities sPower operates are strictly monitored. He also said the company has never decommissioned a facility, some of which operate near homes and schools.
Creamer also responded to issues raised about the numerous limited liability corporations involved in the project, which some think is dubious and a way for companies to bale out on projects without any culpability.
“We are not shell companies,” he said, adding that the Spotsylvania facility, like all others the company owns, are assets they want to work and that sPower has long-term contracts to sell its solar power. The company already has agreements to sell power from the Spotsylvania site to Microsoft, Apple and the University of Richmond.
A Microsoft official spoke at the meeting, saying the solar facility is key to the tech giant’s work, which requires a lot of electricity.
The proposal would use 1.8 million solar panels on three parcels of a more than 6,300-acre property used for years for timber farming. The solar panels and other equipment would cover about half of the property, while more than 2,000 acres would be conserved. The project would impact wetlands and endangered mussels.
The company chose the spot because of its proximity to the primary power grid. Payne called it the Interstate 95 of the electrical grid.
The facility would measure up with the largest so-called “solar farms” in the United States and be the biggest on the East Coast. While solar facilities exist in a variety of areas across the world (including around homes, schools and businesses) most of the large solar facilities are in isolated, desert areas.
Opponents say the Spotsylvania site is too close to homes. They say it would pose unknown risks to the ecosystem, in solar panels containing carcinogen cadmium telluride, from increased heat around the panels, by lowering property values in the area to the point that it would have a negative impact on county tax revenue. They say the project violates the county’s Comprehensive Plan and requirements for special-use permits.
Supporters said the project would help cut the reliance on environment-damaging fossil fuels, and the site would go mostly unnoticed because it is in the middle of several tracts of vacant land and a small number of residences would be impacted.
The company says the project complies with regulations and agrees with most of the county restrictions, including strict and voluminous stipulations suggested by the Planning Commission.
But Payne told the supervisors the total bond figure the commission recommended, to cover decommissioning costs, is exorbitant and unnecessary. He added that the 350-foot setbacks from home properties also is too much and would impact the project.
While the company takes issue with the bond expectations, Payne said sPower is happy to abide by stipulations in Reeve’s bill, which the senator said are meant to hold companies responsible.
Reeves told the crowd the bill was “sitting on the governor’s desk.”
The supervisors, who mostly listened to the speakers without comment, will digest information on the project and take up the issue at their next meeting, March 12. It is unclear if any vote will be taken at that time.
A newly proposed plan to build one of the largest solar facilities in the country has residents in an uproar in Spotsylvania County, VA. Sustainable Power Group, also known as sPower, plan to install around 1.8 million solar panels on 6,300-acres marked for agricultural use. The location sPower wants to build the 500-megawatt facility is surrounded by neighborhoods, schools, and forest land. The county residents have created groups to oppose the project. The people of Spotsylvania state their fear of potential health and environmental risks, along with decreasing community property values. A public hearing is scheduled to be held later this week. Make Solar Safe will continue to update consumers on the status of sPower’s proposed solar facility.
Public hearing nears for massive Spotsylvania solar farm proposal
By Scott Shenk
The public hearing is looming for the proposed 500-megawatt solar facility in the western part of Spotsylvania County.
The Board of Supervisors public hearing, for three special-use permits, is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The hearing will be held at Spotsylvania High School because of the expected large crowd. The county’s Planning Commission was forced to hold its meetings on the three special-use permits at the Marshall Center to accommodate the crowds.
If the supervisors’ hearing resembles past meetings on the contentious proposal, it will be a long night, with the applicant, Utah-based Sustainable Power Group, and residents who live near the site dueling to convince the supervisors to side with them.
Supervisor Gary Skinner, who told the board earlier this month he can’t attend the hearing because of a planned family trip, said there is “too much information” for him to make a decision anytime soon.
“I’m not ready for a vote,” he said in an interview last week. “This is the biggest project, I think, Spotsylvania will ever have.”
Fellow Supervisor David Ross agreed, adding in an email that Skinner’s absence would preclude the board from voting. But that appears to be a secondary issue.
“I personally believe after the public hearing and whatever the final changes (if any) are made to the SUP—there should be time to sink in before taking a vote,” Ross said in the email.
What has unfolded since sPower filed an application early last year to build the facility caught many by surprise.
The magnitude of the project has dominated much of the county’s business during the past year. Aside from filings with the State Corporation Commission and county, there has been opposition by well-organized and well-funded residents.
Already a major player in the booming solar industry, sPower wants to build a $615-million facility with 1.8 million solar panels planted on three swaths of land covering about 6,300-acres that has long been farmed for timber in a rural but increasingly populated area of the county. The property is zoned agricultural.
The project measures up with the biggest solar facilities in the country.
The largest such solar facility is known as Solar Star, a 579-megawatt plant in Rosamond, Calif. Like other utility-scale solar facilities, Solar Star was built in an isolated area of the Mojave Desert.
The proposed Spotsylvania site is on previously forested land with wildlife, although the property has been largely clear cut by a timber company.
The site also is bordered, in places, by homes, including the Fawn Lake neighborhood. Residents have formed groups in an effort to oppose the project.
The campaign on each side has ramped up recently, with sPower running slick video ads promoting the project and a resident group called Protect Spotsylvania sending out glossy fliers criticizing the solar farm.
The company is promoting the Spotsylvania proposal as a green energy project. The company has agreements with such tech giants as Microsoft and Apple to sell electricity the plant would generate and pipe into the power grid.
Although the facility’s electricity would be sold to companies outside the county, sPower says it would prove beneficial to Spotsylvania. Those primary benefits are financial, via jobs, tax revenue and attracting companies that would want to set up in the county.
Local attorney Charlie Payne, who represents sPower, said the project would generate $22 million in tax revenue alone.
Opponents dispute sPower’s revenue claims.
The Protect Spotsylvania group produced an analysis claiming the county would lose up to $88 million over 35 years, based on property value decreases along with 191 “unbuilt lots” and revenue tied to loss of construction of homes on the lots.
Among a raft of other issues, opponents say the project is too big to be built near homes and poses health and environmental risks.
The company disputes such claims, saying its scientific evidence backs up its position that the facility would be safe. Company officials also contend that its information has been vetted by intense regulatory oversight while the opponents’ information has not.
The company has adjusted its proposal, including planned water usage, after its initial filing.
Still, the planning commission set more conditions last month.
The additional restrictions focus on such things as setbacks from property lines, erosion control, construction impacts, prohibiting solar panels with cadmium telluride, the use of groundwater and burning debris.
The planning commission denied the larger two of the three special-use permit requests, one of which would produce 400 megawatts and comprise 5,200 acres.
Learn more here.
Beginning next year, all new California homes must be constructed to have solar panels. This Mandate is expected to add $8,000 to $10,000 on the cost of a new home. Consumers considering buying a house in California may want to sit back for a few years to see how the ramifications of this new policy will play out. Make Solar Safe will continue updating consumers on new policy regarding renewable energy.
Why California’s new solar mandate could cost new homeowners up to an extra $10,000
By Trent Gillies
- California became the first state in the nation to make solar mandatory for new houses. Beginning in 2020, newly constructed homes must have solar panels, which could be costly for homeowners.
- The state estimates that the cost will be offset by savings on utility bills.
- Yet the added costs could hit “the affordable side of the market,” an expert told CNBC.
Starting next year, every new home built in California will have something extra on top.
Recently, California became the first state in the nation to make solar mandatory for new houses. Beginning in 2020, newly constructed homes must have solar panels, which could be costly for homeowners: According to California’s Energy Commission (CEC), that mandate will add between $8,000 and $10,000 to the cost of a new home.
CEC estimates suggest that the solar addition will increase the average monthly mortgage payment by $40, but new homeowners will save an average of $80 a month on their heating, cooling and lighting bills.
Still, the requirement does add a costly additional expense to already pricey new homes in one of the richest real estate markets in the country.
Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com, told CNBC’s “On the Money” that the new solar requirement could undermine a segment of the real estate market that’s struggled to add to new homes relative to demand.
The added costs could hit “the affordable side of the market,” she said, where prices on available homes have been under pressure.
“It’s a very different perspective depending on if you’re looking for affordable homes, or pricier homes,” Hale told CNBC. “It’s already difficult for builders to build, and I think this is just going to exacerbate that problem.”
Will other places follow suit?
Although the law begins next year, a Realtor.com study found 8 of the 10 U.S. cities with the highest percentage of home solar panels are already in California, and more than six percent of homes in San Jose feature solar panels. The second highest percentage is in Salinas with 4.8 percent, and San Diego is fourth with about 3.3 percent “green” homes.
Phoenix (#3) and Prescott (#5), both in Arizona, are the only cities outside of California in the top ten. So will other states follow California and add the solar requirement?
“We might see states or localities make those decisions,” Hale said. “I think it’s going to take a couple of years before people see how the ramifications play out and what it really does for building in California, before they decide if it’s a good idea to follow suit.”
It all depends on whether home owners directly affected by the changes will embrace them willingly. Sanjay Garje recently told CNBC that he’s buying a home currently under construction in Santa Clara, CA that will come with solar panels on his roof — one year ahead of the requirement.
“I almost got apprehensive about it because we live in a free society and somebody is telling me I have to have solar in the home, ” Garje said.
With his home nearing completion, Garje found that after doing the math, he estimates his monthly energy savings could reach $200. He said he now welcomes the rooftop solar installation, calling it “the icing on the cake.”
–CNBC’s Aditi Roy and Yasmin Khorram contributed to this report.
On Wednesday, Senate bill 100 passed the Senate Comittee on Natural Resources and now awaits the House. The Kentucky bill will allow utility regulators to structure how solar customers are credited for the excess power they generate. The bill will help modernize the relationship between utilities and solar companies creating a better transition into the solar future. Make Solar Safe will continue to update consumers on positive bills that promote safe and fair energy practices.
Net-metering modernization bill filed in the Kentucky Senate
By GLI advocacy
An important piece of legislation that will modernize Kentucky’s net-metering laws and help the Commonwealth to maintain affordable energy rates has been filed in the General Assembly.
Senate Bill 100, sponsored by Senator Brandon Smith (R-Hazard), proposes allowing the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) to determine the value of excess energy generated by future solar-energy customers. Overseeing energy rates and ensuring they are reasonable and fair is one of the core functions of the PSC.
Under current law, which was written in the previous decade, electric utility businesses are required to credit solar-energy customers for excess energy at the retail rate, which equates to a 300 percent premium relative to other sources of power. This policy requires the costs to fully cover the energy grid to be shifted to all customers. While the fiscal impact of this system today is relatively modest, costs are projected to increase as solar continues becoming more affordable and popular. Senate Bill 100 presents an opportunity for Kentucky to get out ahead of a problem that will cause serious economic harm in the near future. Allowing the PSC to study and determine fair rates will help avoid cost-shifts and keep energy affordable for all Kentuckians.
Under Senate Bill 100, solar energy will still continue to thrive in the Commonwealth. Solar customers would still be able to export excess energy to the grid. The bill would grandfather in all existing solar-energy customers under current statute. Any rate change proposed by the PSC would only apply to customers who begin services after the bill’s proposed implementation date of January 1, 2020. On top of this, Senate Bill 100 would raise the cap on the size of eligible systems from 30kw to 45 kw, a 50 percent increase that would encourage the growth of the solar industry.
Senate Bill 100 proposes a modernized net-metering structure that is sustainable, fair, and forward-looking. GLI strongly supports this legislation as a way to keep energy rates in our region affordable, which is key to economic growth and business attraction.
Learn more here.
A major selling point for renewable energy is the initial promise of cheaper rates for customers. However, many consumers experience their utility rates become more expensive over time.
The increase of renewable energy through policy such as net metering has shown that rooftop solar energy is still in developing stages. The grid is not equipped to handle the distribution of solar energy. This causes an increase in utility bills to pay for infrastructure to better distribute energy to consumers. Promoting cheaper rates is a good strategy to convince consumers to go green, but not always accurate due to frequent policy change and infrastructure projects.
If Renewable Energy Is So Cheap, Why Are Utility Rates Going Up?
By Steve Hanley
In a recent story about renewable energy initiatives in the Midwest, we quoted David Lundy, head of the Path To 100 Coalition in Illinois, who said a bill before that state’s legislature to expand its renewable energy programs would add “a couple of bucks a month” to the average customer’s utility bill. That got a response from CleanTechnica reader Bob Meyer, who wrote,
“An issue I have been wondering about came up in this article. The comment by David Lundy about renewable energy expansion will add “a couple of bucks a month” to the average customer’s utility bill. What I am confused about is that wholesale renewable power is becoming the lowest cost form of generation, but I do not see any mention of these apparent cost savings translating into ratepayer rate reductions. Rather, there are occasional mentions of increased utility consumer costs. So my question is where are these “savings” going? Someone must be pocketing them. Does the ratepayer ever get to participate in these savings?”
Meyer continues, “I am a big supporter of renewable energy and enjoy the many excellent articles on CleanTechnica. But I am worried that if the general public keeps hearing about renewable energy and at the same time see their utility bill going up and up, how can we expect broad support? The traditional utility model uses its rate payers as cash cows. With the build out of renewable energy, are we going down the same path?”
Those are excellent questions. One of the biggest arguments against the initiative to increase Arizona’s renewable energy standard last fall was that ever since California started mandating more renewable energy, utility rates have gone up significantly. Of course, opponents were careful not to research why those rate increases occurred, as the standard for debate in America today is to lie through your teeth as often as necessary to “win.” But Bob Meyer raises a good point and I promised to look into his concerns.
Coincidentally, I recently found an article by CNBC stating that utility customers in Germany can expect bigger utility bills as more renewable energy is brought online in that country. By some estimates, German transmission system operators expect to spend upwards of €80 billion over the next 12 years to build new transmission infrastructure to move all that new renewable energy from where it is created to where it is needed.
Up to half of the demand for power in German’s industrial south will need to come from renewable sources located in the north. Already three new underground trunks are planned for completion by 2025 and the TSOs say two more may be needed in addition. They also say another €52 billion may be needed to connect offshore wind farms to the mainland.
Add it all up and it comes to some seriously big money. The upshot is that even if the wind and the sun are free, the interconnections that get all that power to where it is needed will cost beaucoup bucks. So the answer to Bob Meyer’s question is, generating solar and wind power is getting cheaper all the time, but connecting them to the traditional grid is getting more expensive.
Approximately one quarter of all utility bills go to paying for infrastructure. As those costs go up, so do our electric bills. Finding ways to deliver zero emissions electricity to end users more economically would go along way toward lowering them, which would help get more people interested in renewables. That, in turn, would be good for us, our nation, and our world.
U.S. legislators hold a growing concern over low-cost solar panels being imported by Huawei believing their products are causing harm to the electrical grid. Huawei’s products have been affected by the recent 25 percent tariff on Chinese electronics that became effective on Aug. 23, 2018. Politicians have warned these low-cost panels “may pose a threat to our nation’s infrastructure.” According to Reuters, Utah-based Vivint Solar confirmed it is considering using Huawei’s inverters to its line-up. Make Solar Safe has previously warned consumers on the investigation Vivint Solar is undergoing by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. The charges include allegations of unfair business practices, fraud and racketeering. New modernizations to make solar panels cheaper and more accessible could have negative consequences to the solar market. Make Solar Safe supports consumer rights to a safe transition to solar.
More Trouble for Huawei: U.S. Lawmakers Question “Threat” of Solar Panels
By Luca Laursen
Huawei’s troubles continue to gather pace.
In recent months the telecoms giant has had its CFO Meng Wanzhou arrested in Canada, been barred from the construction of 5G networks in the U.K, Australia, and New Zealand, and had a sales director arrested in Poland on suspicion of espionage (Poland is also considering a ban on the use of Huawei products).
Now, suspicion has spread to the Chinese firm’s sideline in solar panels. U.S. tariffs already posed a barrier to Huawei’s entry into the country’s growing solar market, but American politicians now claim the firm’s panels could be sleeper agents for disrupting the U.S. electrical grid.
In October, Democratic congressman Tom Marino wrote to U.S. energy secretary Rick Perry about their concerns, stating Huawei’s cheaper solar panel technology “may pose a threat to our nation’s infrastructure.”
On top of this, legislators introduced bills on Wednesday that would restrict sales of U.S. technology to Chinese telecoms companies in violation of sanctions or export control laws.
In response to the gathering storm, Huawei founder and president Ren Zhengfei Tuesday told reporters that he was ready to fight the mounting charges against his company. Huawei’s chief security officer in the U.S. told the Financial Times, “There is no evidence, and I have never heard any specific allegation that there is any greater vulnerability in our products than anybody else’s.”
Countries all over the world are running into the same problems in their transition to go solar. Large scale solar power is being hindered by outdated power grids. The electrical grid was built with the intention of steady and predictable energy flow. The grid does not have the technology for distributing renewable energy. Causing a strain on the electrical grid and restricting large scale projects. Upgrades are needed in grid capacity before going green, which would last years and cost billions.
Dutch power grid struggling under influx of solar panels: report
By Janene Pieters
In some areas in the Netherlands the power grid is struggling to cope with the large number of new solar panels installed over the past few years, various Dutch newspapers report.
According to the Telegraaf, there is talk of “traffic jams” on the grid. In parts of Groningen, Drenthe and Overijssel, network operators Enexis and Tennet have to say “no” to the initiators of new large-scale projects, the Volkskrant and Financieele Dagblad report. According to FD, a lack of power cables is even standing in the way of the switch to green energy.
These problems don’t affect individuals much, as they can’t be refused if they apply to install solar panels on their home. But large-scale consumers and suppliers can be told no, which means that the dreams of investors who want to build solar parks on farmland and the green ambitions of football clubs are being shattered, the newspapers write.
The north and east of the country in particular are facing problems, because the land there is the cheapest and so desirable for investors, but these areas have the thinnest cables in the ground.
“Our electricity grid is not built for what we expect now”, a spokesperson for network operator Liander said, according to RTL Nieuws. Expanding the grid capacity to make room for solar power will take years and cost billions of euros.
Read more here.
Solar panels change the nature of fires regardless of if they are installed or in transit to be installed. They contain hazardous substances that release carcinogens when burned. Carcinogens are known to be capable of causing cancer and other health problems to those exposed. Make Solar Safe prioritizes educating consumers on hazards involving solar panels.
Forklift unloading solar panels in Polk County catches fire, does $2 million in damage
By Chip Skambis
BARTOW, Fla. – A forklift in use to unload and install solar panels in Polk County caught fire Sunday morning, causing an estimated $2 million in damages, firefighters said.
The diesel forklift caught fire around 7 a.m. off of Bonnie Mine Road just outside of Bartow. The fire spread quickly to the solar panels, firefighters said.
Because solar panels contain chemicals that emit carcinogens when burned, firefighters were fully packed out, using copious amounts of water to put it out.
Extinguishing the fire took more than four hours, firefighters said.
The firefighters then underwent a full decontamination to ensure they were not exposed to carcinogens.
Firefighters have not yet determined the cause of the fire.
The December trend of bad policy to create “affordable housing” will do the exact opposite in Nevada if officials choose to follow California’s green mandates on builders and homebuyers. Earlier this month, California made a law requiring all new homes be built with installed rooftop solar panels. Shortly after California announced that bill, the Environmental America Research & Policy Center, a nonprofit that promotes renewable energy, released a report urging Nevada to jump on board or it would be a “missed opportunity.” Unfortunately for Environmental America, going solar is already inexpensive and Nevadans are still uninterested. Environmental America is pushing their agenda, which has potential to take away consumer rights that choose to be non-solar. Make Solar Safe is against harmful energy policy that takeaway consumer rights.
Solar panel mandates for new Nevada homes would be an awful idea
Las Vegas Review-Journal
The issue of “affordable housing” is on the agenda of seemingly every Nevada political body, from the Legislature to various local boards. Here’s one easy step: Resist self-serving calls for the state to follow California and impose expensive new green mandates on builders and homebuyers.
Last week, the Environmental America Research &Policy Center, a left-wing nonprofit that promotes renewable energy, released a report implying that Nevada should require solar panels on all new home construction. “Building without solar panels at this point,” said Bret Fanshaw, the group’s Go Solar campaign director, “is a missed opportunity.”
Not surprisingly, California recently became the first state to issue such a directive, which will add about $9,500 to the cost of the average home. Proponents claim the panels will save Golden State homeowners an average of $19,000 in energy and related costs over 30 years.
“I’m sure there would be plenty of homeowners excited about this,” Mr. Fanshaw told the Review-Journal. “If you’re streamlining this process, you can reduce cost in the industry and hopefully pass it along to the consumer.”
In Mr. Fanshaw’s parlance, “streamlining the process” apparently means imposing strict mandates on the market. And to those homebuyers who might prefer lower upfront costs to theoretical savings spread over three decades? Well, Mr. Fanshaw and his colleagues at Environmental America know best.
In fact, this proposal makes no sense on myriad levels.
First, the idea of Nevada importing housing policy from a state that has become a national basket case in that area is laughable, to say the least. Second, if homeowners are so excited about solar panels, they are currently free to have them installed. The fact that Mr. Fanshaw and Environmental America prefer to advance their policy goals through the heavy hand of state compulsion rather than consumer choice is quite telling. Finally, larger-scale community solar projects, by most accounts, are much more cost-efficient than rooftop solar, which survives only through “net-metering” subsidies.
If Nevada and Las Vegas officials hope to keep home prices affordable, why on earth would they seek to mimic California and potentially price thousands of residents out of a home? If the folks at Environmental America believe there is a “missed opportunity” in Nevada, let them enter the state’s homebuilding market and convince potential buyers of the many benefits inherent in paying $10,000 more to purchase a residence with pre-installed solar panels.
In the meantime, Nevada policymakers should ignore this unfortunate collision between progresssive environmental Nanny Staters and crony capitalism.
Consumers looking for affordable housing in 2020 will want to avoid California. California’s standard of living is about to skyrocket in price from the new building energy-efficiency standards the California Energy Commission (CEC) passed earlier this year. The bill requires every new home to be built with installed solar panels. CEC’s ambitious goal to rid the state of carbon sources by solar installation is ill-advised among many energy economists. Experts argue more cost-effective strategies exist in order to cut emissions. Building more solar and wind farms to pump renewable energy into the grid as the overall power-distribution infrastructure is a more cost-effective plan. There is no way around the fact, solar installation is expensive and still in early development stages. Providing the necessary time for development in technology is desperately needed in solar industry. Forcing the burden of costly rooftop solar upon consumers while better option exist is an injustice. Make Solar Safe supports affordable safe energy practices to protect all consumers.
Experts Aren’t Taking a Shine to California’s Rooftop Solar Rule
Energy economists say the new home requirement is inefficient and benefits wealthier people; supporters say it’s just one piece of the puzzle
By Jeremy Hsu
California has officially become the first U.S. state to require new homes to have rooftop solar panels, a major milestone in the Golden State’s hugely ambitious goal to shift all energy usage to 100 percent zero-carbon sources by 2045. But some economists doubt the rooftop rule will prove the most cost-effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions for California—or other states seeking to address the human impact on climate change.
The requirement is part of new building energy-efficiency standards the California Energy Commission (CEC) passed earlier this year. New homes under the revised building code—which takes effect starting in 2020—will use an estimated 53 percent less energy than existing homes built under 2016 standards, and could cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 700,000 metric tons over three years, according to CEC estimates (pdf). The California Building Standards Commission officially approved the measure on December 5. “It will curtail greenhouse gases,” says Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s just a very expensive way to do it.”
Borenstein and other skeptical energy economists—although acknowledging rooftop solar on new homes will help—argue more cost-effective strategies exist and could also provide better models for other U.S. states or countries seeking to cut emissions.
A Drop (or More) in the Bucket
The estimated direct impact of California’s rooftop solar initiative is not zero, but in some ways it barely budges the needle. That figure of 700,000 metric tons of emissions over three years is far less than even 1 percent of the state’s annual emissions (which total about 440 million metric tons), said Ethan Elkind, an attorney and director of the climate program at the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at U.C. Berkeley, in an interview with California Magazine.
Looking at it another way, the estimated emissions reduction would have approximately the same impact as removing 115,000 fossil-fuel cars from California’s roads. That comparison would still amount to slightly less than half a percent of the more than 25 million cars registered in the state.
Many energy economists say the rooftop solar mandate will prove less cost efficient than building more solar and wind farms to pump grid-scale renewable energy into the overall power-distribution infrastructure. Borenstein’s U.C. Berkeley colleagues estimate solar farms in ideal locations—and with tracking technology to continuously face the sun, unlike fixed rooftop panels—could prove three times cheaper than rooftop solar. “California should be creating the knowledge and models that the rest of the world can follow,” Borenstein says. “This is a bad model that is raising the cost of reducing greenhouse gases.”
California could also do more to reduce emissions by easing vehicle reliance on fossil fuels, says Garth Heutel, an economist at Georgia State University who specializes in energy and environmental policy. Emissions from homes accounted for just 7 percent of California’s overall greenhouse gas output in 2016, whereas transportation contributed a whopping 41 percent of all emissions.
The CEC has defended the rooftop solar requirement (pdf) as part of a broader strategy to reduce emissions from the building and transportation sectors. Unlike grid-scale solar farms, rooftop panels provide onsite power to homes in way that does not require additional land or supporting infrastructure, the commission points out. It adds that rooftop solar’s distributed power approach could strengthen the grid’s resiliency against power failures, natural disasters and wildfires.
Who Pays the Costs?
Requiring rooftop solar panels may also raise upfront costs for California homeowners at a time when San Francisco and other cities already struggle with the lack of affordable housing. The CEC estimates the new standards—which also include energy-efficient lighting upgrades—will raise the cost of new home construction by about $9,500, but could save $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over a 30-year mortgage. The situation may end up favoring wealthier home buyers who can afford the upfront costs and will save money in the long run, Borenstein says. “Could there be better, more cost-effective and cheaper ways to reduce emissions—ways that avoid unintended consequences like the impact on the affordable housing crisis in California?” Heutel says. “Yes.”
But that upfront cost need not deter new home buyers, said Drew Bohan, executive director of the CEC, during a recent meeting of the Building Standards Commission. The new standards allow homeowners or builders to use power-purchase agreements or leased solar options with little or no upfront costs—all while harnessing electricity bill savings from day one. There are even exemptions for new building projects where shade or unusually low electricity prices would not make rooftop solar cost effective.
If the state enacts the right policies, supporters say rooftop solar panels could spread clean energy benefits beyond just Californians who can buy expensive new homes and drive Tesla cars. For example, California’s cap-and-trade program—which since 2013 has required companies to buy emissions permits—is mandated by law to spend some revenue on socially and environmentally disadvantaged areas. That could help subsidize low-income families so that they, too, can buy new solar-powered homes and electric vehicles, says Dan Kammen, an energy policy specialist at U.C. Berkeley.
Construction companies will likely offer rooftop solar options that both power homes and recharge homeowners’ electric cars, Kammen says. That could encourage more Californians of all backgrounds to buy electric or hybrid vehicles, thus reducing transportation emissions. “We need to make sure the benefits of solar and electric vehicles go to low-income people,” he says. “To my mind, we will not succeed in a clean-energy transition unless it’s inclusive of specifically all low-income families.”