Backyard Talk

Who Owns the Sun?

Over the past 5 years rooftop installation of solar panels have seen explosive growth, perhaps as much as 900 percent, over the past six years according to an article in the New York Times. The U.S. solar market had its biggest year ever in 2016, nearly doubling its previous record and adding more electric generating capacity than any other source of energy for the first time ever. “It would be hard to overstate how impressive 2016 was for the solar industry,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Prices dropped to all-time lows, installations expanded in states across the country and job numbers soared. The bottom line is that more people are benefiting from solar now than at any point in the past, and while the market is changing, the broader trend over the next five years is going in one direction – and that’s up.”
Despite this unprecedented growth, new residential installations in 2017 has hit a snag. According to Forbes magazine, rooftop installations in the residential market could slow to as little as 9% this year, down from 16% in 2016, compared to an average growth of 63% over the three preceding years.
Several factors are cited for this decline including saturated markets like California, financial troubles for several top solar panel manufacturers, and lower energy costs primarily due to fracking. Another factor however is a well-funded highly orchestrated lobbying campaign by traditional utilities. According to Forbes magazine, utility companies are pushing back against residential solar in multiple states, citing the higher effective costs of catering to customers with residential installations. In states such as Nevada, residential and small-scale commercial solar users face higher electricity rates, along with reductions in the credits they receive for sending their unused solar generated electricity back to the grid, a practice known as “net metering.” The utilities are growing increasingly uncomfortable with homeowners generating their own energy and even making a profit by selling their unused energy back to the grid.
An outrageous example of how this scenario is playing out is occurring in North Carolina where Duke Energy used its power and influence in the state to attack the green energy efforts of a small environmental advocacy group to build solar projects for non-profits. Just this month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a $60,000 fine levied against NC WARN of Durham for installing solar panels on the roof of the Faith Community Church in Greensboro, NC and selling the energy to the church. Duke Energy who has a monopoly of the energy use in the state (as well as several other southern states), asked the court to make an example of NC WARN and to heavily penalize them for illegally selling solar electricity. North Carolina is one of only four states where third party sales of energy is thought to be disallowed.
Duke’s position is particularly outrageous because NC WARN had installed the solar panels on the roof of the church as a test case to clarify state policy on third party sales that allow solar companies to sell power directly to customers from systems on those customers’ property. NC WARN and the church’s Rev. Nelson Johnson very publicly announced their reason for installing the solar panels which was also accompanied by a legal request for a declaratory ruling by the NC Utilities Commission.
NC WARN is strongly considering an appeal to the NC Supreme Court. They have no intention to give up their efforts to break Duke Energy’s longstanding monopoly on electricity sales in the state. Energy companies like Duke Energy do not own the sun. They cannot dictate who profits and who does not from taping the sun’s energy to generate electricity. What NC WARN and multiple other nonprofits and solar companies are doing is what we need to do to safely and cleanly generate electricity and create jobs while doing it. Despite the efforts of the utilities to control the sun, the future for solar continues to appear quite bright.

Homepage News Archive

Mr. Pruitt Solar Panels are a Redevelopment Option

A Superfund site in Vermont will be redeveloped with solar panels. This is a redevelopment idea we can live with. While the land is being reused we can reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.
Read more.

Backyard Talk

President Obama’s Solar Plan for Low-Income Households

By: Rachel Oest

Last week, President Obama announced his plan to increase the affordability of solar power in communities across the United States. This is in recognition that our country has serious challenges when it comes to environmental justice. Low-income households are faced with a variety of barriers in their attempts for solar energy. They’re less likely to own their own roof, less able to access loans or other financing options for solar, and more likely to have subsidized utility bills that don’t transfer the financial benefits of solar to the homeowner. But as White House climate advisor Brian Deese told reporters, this initiative “…is aimed at taking directly on those challenges and making it easier and straightforward to deploy low-cost solar energy in every community in the country.”

America’s low-income households stand to benefit the most from producing their own solar energy. As of now, the proportion of poor income spent on energy is four times greater than the national average. Yet these households tend to use less electricity overall and would allow a typical solar setup to cover more of their needs. A report from George Washington University Solar Institute showed that of the roughly 645,000 homes and businesses with rooftop solar panels in the US, less than 5 percent are households with earnings less than $40,000. The same GW study noted that a 4 kilowatt solar system, about the average size for a home, would cover more than half a typical low-income households energy needs. If all low-income households went solar, they would collectively save up to $23.3 billion each year.

President Obama’s plan comes with many steps, including a new solar target for federally subsidized housing and an effort to increase the availability of federally insured loans for solar systems. The Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide technical guidance for state and local housing authorities on how to successfully go solar. With the initiative, came the announcement of more than $520 million in commitments from private companies, investors, NGOs, and varying levels of government to pay for energy efficiency and solar projects for low-income households.

This solar plan is a step in the right direction towards President Obama’s objective to reduce the nation’s energy-related carbon emissions. His plan is working to improve our countries quality of life as a whole, but also targets those that would not have this opportunity any other way. Most low-income households would not be able to consider solar energy without such subsidizes and loans. President Obama has suggested a plan that helps the climate concerned citizens as well as the low-income families looking for a cheaper solution to their energy bills. This is an opportunity that benefits everyone.