#1 By: Cory Doctorow, December 27th, 2013 12:02
#2 By: David Forbes, December 27th, 2013 12:08
Yes, the subsidies to solar users are unfair. That what subsidies are, is unfair. They don't like it when the shoe's on the other foot, eh?
#3 By: Earnestine Browning, December 27th, 2013 12:17
Solar works. The power company said it couldn't work. When they are proved wrong they stop them by other methods. Make the utilities public again and we can end this non-sense.
#4 By: Gtrjnky, December 27th, 2013 12:23
Not to worry. Our fearless political leaders will rectify this injustice.
#5 By: mynonymouse, December 27th, 2013 12:28
The Guardian wrote a solid article about this after obtaining leaked docs from a conservative group that basically writes legislation for state legislatures across the US.
#6 By: IronEdithKidd, December 27th, 2013 12:32
Regulatory capture working as intended.
#7 By: Mark Tomlinson, December 27th, 2013 12:33
I did not have a terrible time installing mine (central Florida, Progress energy at the time) however since then, Duke has bought them out... might be harder now. It was (and still is) a lot more expensive of an investment than it should be, but it does pay off (mine seems to be tracking towards a 5-7 year break even on the investment).
#8 By: Fascinoma, December 27th, 2013 12:33
My utilities are government run. I have no complaints.
#9 By: Mike Bryan, December 27th, 2013 12:57
So let me see if I have this straight:
• Power costs too much.
• In places where there is lots of sun, people look to solar energy to supplant some of that need.
• But solar panels are very expensive, probably too expensive to ever recoup the cost directly, so the government subsidizes some of the cost. Energy companies also allow some people to connect their panels to the grid, reducing the cost of the electricity that the power company provides.
• That makes solar panels more attractive to buy, and the hope is that the more people adopt the technology the better and less expensive it will become.
• But the power companies aren't prepared for this influx of backfeeding solar customers, and can't adequately provide the equipment necessary to keep the grid running the way it should. So they're telling customers that they can't feed their solar panel energy back into the grid anymore, causing people to complain.
Maybe it's a money grab from the power company, but if it is, it's not a very aggressive one. These people can still use their solar panels to power their own home. Their power bill will still be a slight fraction of what it would be without the panels, they just can't get a negative bill or get it down to as close to nothing as they thought.
#10 By: Chip Andre, December 27th, 2013 12:59
The primary excuse being employed by HECO is not entirely BS.
The electrical grid in the US is antiquated. It was not originally built with two-way power supply in mind, and it has never been upgraded for this since then. When they say "we need to upgrade the system to handle solar-supplied power", they're not lying. De-privatizing the power companies will not change this.
The question becomes "who pays for it?" It's certainly not a cheap fix. It's going to cost somebody about half a trillion dollars. If the cost is evenly distributed, then people who don't have solar will be paying extra to subsidize upgrades they don't personally need. If solar users have to cover it themselves, solar will no longer be financially attractive enough to install, and the upgrades won't even be necessary. Some would probably argue that the utilities should be paying, but even if you think they're making "too much" right now, they're definitely not making enough to pay for it out of pocket.
In a perfect world, a smart grid upgrade would be federally mandated. It's too important and too necessary to be left to the discretion of utilities who would be perfectly happy making easy money as they always have. The cost should be divided up between all parties - federal, state, utilities, and customers. Yes, the early solar adopters should probably have to pay a bit more or get reimbursed for their spare energy a bit less than they're getting now. It's a big shit sandwich, and everybody is going to have to take a bite to get it eaten.
#11 By: knoxblox, December 27th, 2013 13:00
Just waiting for the day when I have to pay to grow vegetables on my own land for my own consumption (if it's not happening already).
#12 By: George Mokray, December 27th, 2013 13:03
Anti-solar legislation and utility foot-dragging are real problems but so is the design of the present day grid. The grid we have now was not designed for distributed power production and distribution from rooftop solar panels or even some utility-scale wind turbines. In Vermont, there is at least one commercial-scale wind installation that can't distribute about 25% of the electricity it generates because the local grid can't take the intermittent load safely.
ALEC and its pernicious influence should be opposed but don't ignore the need to upgrade and rethink the grid if we are going to have a reliable, resilient, renewable power system.
PS: In the US state of Georgia, the utility opposition to home solar has forged a link between the Greens and the Tea Party. One reason, once again, why I say Solar IS Civil Defense (http://youtu.be/u0mjqjgZ64E).
#13 By: Roger Lambert, December 27th, 2013 13:04
Most utilities in the U.S. are at least quasi-public. Yet, many still fight solar, which means they fight against our common future. The reason, I think, is that they still operate on a fossil fuel paradigm - where hefty fees must charged to purchase refined fuels.
But our renewable future will be based on fuels that are all free and in exhaustible - solar, wind and tide, etc. This old utility paradigm is based on free market capitalism. We need to ask whether free market capitalism is an appropriate model for our renewable future.
I would argue that it is not appropriate, and what our energy future requires is a public commons model. The U.S. spent $1.2 trillion in 2010 (latest available figures) for fossil fuels. If we redirected less than a decade of such spending into a public renewable-only utility service, we could pay for all the new infrastructure we needed to provide every calorie of energy we need as a nation. And then, since solar, wind, tide, etc are free - we could provide our energy to our citizens at no cost.
We could solve global warming in less than a decade, offer limitless free power to all, and wind up saving hundreds of trillions of dollars by the end of the century. All we have to do is change the conversation to: "What is the best business model for renewable energy?"
#14 By: Chip Andre, December 27th, 2013 13:07
To clarify, they're not billing customers for installing/using solar panels for their own electrical needs. They're charging for (and in some cases, blocking from) feeding power back to the grid. In the areas mentioned in the article, there is too much power coming back into the grid in some neighborhoods, and the system was never built to handle that situation. If you live there, you can still stick panels on your roof and use them to power your home - you just can't sell your spare juice back to the power company because they can't handle it.
#15 By: alkali19, December 27th, 2013 13:09
This is a harder question than you might think. Suppose an ISP charged customers per downloaded GB and let you credit uploads against that number. Now suppose a substantial subset customers widely stopped downloading content from the Internet and instead mostly uploaded content. That would change the ISP's business model substantially. There are ways to change that pricing structure that encourage solar while permitting utilities to get a fair return on their infrastructure investment. David Roberts did a series at grist.org called "Utilities For Dummies" that addresses some of these issues.
#16 By: technogeek, December 27th, 2013 13:30
There isn't a "war" in all parts of the US. Here in the northeast, the power companies like solar and other local generation, because local power sources reduce their need to upgrade distributions backbones (which are near capacity), as well as letting them reduce their reported CO2 production.
I've had absolutely no trouble selling power back to them. Ask them to install a net-usage meter, install the solar generation system, monthly electric bill drops substantially. No muss, no fuss. (It hasn't quite gone negative yet and had them owing me money, but I expect that to happen occasionally during summer. And I don't have an especially huge or high-efficiency system. 1.25 MWh since June and counting. Haven't yet officially sold the first SREC.)
Before announcing a war, make sure you know who's really fighting it. Some of the folks you assume are opponents may be allies.
#17 By: knoxblox, December 27th, 2013 13:31
I see what you mean but your previous answer popped up before I posted mine.
I would have removed it, but then it would have looked like I posted something offensive, and then took it down.
#18 By: Cary, December 27th, 2013 13:31
This is why I am working on a backyard nuke generator... Most of it's output will go to powering the death ray' so I will still need solar, but subsidy negotiations will be much more interesting. (Bonus: the cooling pond also serves as an awesome hot tub).
#19 By: Neil Winkelmann, December 27th, 2013 13:37
It's a decent analogy. Just as localised small-scale solar cells are an extremely inefficient and expensive way to generate electrical power, so too is small-scale "backyard" food production. Both renewable energy and food production need to be undertaken on an industrial scale for them to not be an environmental disaster.
Disclaimer, I live in a free-standing house and I enjoy home-grown vegetables from my 1/2 acre yard, but I acknowledge that simply occupying a freestanding house on a 1/2 acre is a big environmental footprint compared to living in an apartment down-town and eating efficiently grown and transported food. I also realise that to put solar cells on my house would result in much less reduction in carbon emission than investing the same money in a fund that was building mega-sized solar installations in the Mojave Desert (or replacing old, inefficient coal-fired stations with new ones at twice the efficiency - best back for your buck, right now carbon-wise).
Localising my food production and carbon-reduction investment makes me feel smug, but I don't pretend for a minute that it is the best way to do things in any rational sense.
#20 By: Joe D, December 27th, 2013 13:45
There was a great post about this on Reddit a few weeks ago.
The TLDR is that you aren't just paying for the power you use - you're also paying for the more-or-less fixed costs of maintaining the power grid infrastructure. The problem is that they're rolling those fixed costs into the power bill instead of breaking the bill up into two parts: power and infrastructure (or however you want to phrase it).
As long as the percentage of people with solar is small, it's not a big deal. But as that percentage goes up, the burden of paying for the infrastructure gets pushed more and more onto the non-solar customers. If you take it to an extreme where everyone is on solar, then suddenly the power company is in big trouble because nobody is paying anything, yet they still have salaries and other maintenance costs to pay.
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