Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Message to the California Solar Industry... Shut Up!

Electric rates in parts of California are staggering.  Try PG&E's punative 50 cents per kilowatt hour for heavy electricity users.

Apparently PG&E has a five tier rate structure.  The top rate gets slapped on the biggest homes in the hottest areas, which are owned by the most affluent.  Get tagged with $0.50/kWh and the affluent will invest in all kinds of energy reducing technology, creating a bonanza for California's solar industry even without additional rebates and tax credits.

PG&E wants to simplify the rate structure from five tiers to three.  The proposed change will dramatically reduce the top rate from $0.50/kWh to $0.30/kWh, but expand the number of people paying $0.30/kWh.  For solar contractors, this should be good news.  The market has broadened.  A lot more Californians just became candidates for solar, especially when the tax credits are figured in.

Unfortunately, some are griping.  ""It feels like this is PG&E's way to thwart the solar industry," complained a solar contractor in a Silicon Valley Mercury-News article. "If the rate changes go through, the savings I am experiencing now and those projected into the future would decline substantially."

A solar manufacturing executive ranted, "I'm very concerned about it.  I don't think this was done with any consideration of how it will impact solar in California. California has sent a strong signal to the market that we want to promote solar. But if you implement rates that discourage solar, it undermines all of the hard policy work that has already happened. You can't have one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake at the same time."

It's one thing to be seen as pro-solar.  It's another to be seen as pro-electricity price gouging.  Why not lobby the state legislature for an unfunded mandate to require every homeowner to buy solar?
Everyone likes solar, right now.  It's as warm and fuzzy as a stuffed polar bear.  And if individual homeowners are independently assuming the first costs for solar installations, there's little basis for anyone to object (though some still do, as noted in an earlier post about homeowners associations and solar).  Solar's got great PR!
Lobbying for artificially high, punitive electric rates to make the technology feasible in the market is not good PR.  It's horrible PR.  It's akin to Toyota lobbying for $5.00 per gallon gasoline to get Prius sales back on track.  It's like kicking puppies.  It's the type of action that will cause a backlash against solar and the green movement in general.
The California solar industry needs to to the rest of the solar industry a favor and SHUT UP!

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