Thursday, December 16, 2010

Other Energies get Subsidized Too

Here is a great reminder from DougS that other types of energy receive subsidies, boosts and preferential treatment from the government too -- also at taxpayer expense. It originated in the comment thread from this recent blog post but it's so thoughtful that it deserves to be on the front page.

This was a reply to my expression of angst about the requirement that power companies buy SRECs (or generate green energy themselves).


It if makes you feel any better coal gets billions in subsidies every year. Unfortunately, our system is setup such that those with the money can lobby congress and get tax breaks, etc. This means that the ratepayer/taxpayer is the stuck with the bill.

The SREC is a subsidy as well, but it is hard to compete when one form of energy is subsidized and other is not. So, solar, coal, corn and the rest of them enjoy breaks at the expense of the ratepayer. It is up to you to pick your poison/weapon, and I'm glad to choose solar over the others.

Here is an article on some of the coal subsidies.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Down Side of SRECs

Whoa, check this article out. I've said before that I sometimes wonder if it's good public policy to force solar energy into the pipeline with this artificial SREC mechanism (although on a personal level, I like getting money). Requiring power companies to buy SRECs owned by solar power generators like me drives everybody's power costs up, because the utilities must accrue the money to buy them. is that good? This article, which happens to be about my county here in New Jersey, sums it up well at the end. I sometimes crow about high SREC prices while this article speaks of a longing for low ones...

Gloucester County Becoming Solar Powerhouse

Greg Reinert, spokesman for the Board of Public Utilities, said the Garden State is attractive to solar developers for a couple of reasons.

One, state law mandates how many gigawatts of solar power must be generated in the state on an annual basis Ð and the number climbs a bit each year Ð but that number has yet to be met.

Second, because the state hasn't met the number, it drives up the price of the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SREC), which are federal tax credits that owners of solar arrays receive for generating solar power. For every megawatt of solar power generated, the owner gets an SREC.

Unfortunately, solar power is a costly enterprise at the moment, Reinert said, and ultimately that cost falls back on the ratepayer. So, the more solar power, the lower the price of the SREC, and the lower the SREC price, the less that ratepayers will pay.

"The goal is to drive the SREC down," he said.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Solar Panels: Not Just for the Sunny States!

Today we have a guest blogger! Take it away, Edward Stern!

And thank you much to Elizabeth of hooking Edward up with us...

Solar Panels: Not Just for the Sunny States!

Edward Stern is a guest blogger and a writer.

All the rage amongst eco-friendly architects, solar panels have become more and more popular with the average homeowner over the last decade. These panels sit on the roof of a building, where they collect UV rays from the Sun and transfer this energy for use with appliances, electrical needs, etc. They constitute a sustainable energy source, one that is carbon-free and much healthier for the environment.

One common misconception of solar panels is that you need direct sunlight, and lots of it, to collect enough energy to make the investment worth it. The simple truth: absolutely not. Solar panels are not just for the sunny south, and work almost anywhere in the United States, especially in the typically windy, gloomy cities of the Midwest. Why? Solar energy requires UV rays much more than actual sunlight, and these rays are transmitted and captured even on cloudy days. If you've ever gotten a sunburn while skiing, then you know what I'm talking about.

A lack of sunlight is no reason to ignore the benefits of solar energy. Solar panels are becoming much more cost-effective, and worth a long-term investment due to rapidly upgrading technology. In 1980, it cost $100 per watt to capture energy from the Sun -- literally one hundred times more expensive than the going rate of electricity! However, by 1999, technology had reduced that figure to a mere $4 a watt, and it has been declining steadily since, at an average rate of 5% a year.

Solar energy saves on heating and electricity bills by replacing that energy with that collected by a solar panel. To pay for itself, a solar panel needs to be operational for 10-15 years, while solar hot water panels need 8-12. They are a long-term investment, but for homeowners not looking to switch locations anytime soon, a solid one. Plus, most panels come with a 20-25 year warranty, so you will see a return on your investment long before you'll need to pay for repairs.

Many states, including some in the Midwest, are investing heavily in solar energy and see it as a means to create sustainable, affordable energy. Currently 35 states offer rebates for home and small business owners who invest in panels, thus further defraying the cost. The federal government also provides tax breaks and other monetary benefits for those who invest in solar energy.

Solar energy may be the way of the future, but it is a solid, affordable investment that you can make now. You don't have to live in a sunny state to reap the benefits. UV rays can be harvested even in the gloomiest, snowiest states, and provide just as much of a benefit to the environment -- and to your utility bill.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

November: 1 SREC

1 SREC generated in November, sold in auction for $640.00.

That bumps our all-time SREC income to $9770.09. Thirty bucks short of ten grand!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Great Practical Information Here! (Not from me)

Hey Everybody,

Wasn't I just saying that the best stuff on this blog is in the comments from really smart people?

Well, here's a great comment that I thought was post-worthy. It's from a solar owner/operator in Pennsylvania (where they're really getting in gear on solar energy). There is a lot of ground-level, practical information here that you just don't see on all the glamorous web sites and presentations.

Thanks, Pennsylvania 9.84 kw system person!

I've been reading this blog since we installed our 9.84 kW system in PA earlier this year (early May). I love our system for how well it works and looks, but we've had numerous problems along the way. I'd like to share some of these for those installing in PA.

1) It took FOREVER for us to pass our electrical inspection. Because of the large number of systems being installed, there are independent inspectors inspecting solar only. This is great to ensure that our system looks and is installed as it should be, but our installer seemed confused/unprepared for the scrutiny given our system--unfortunately this all came at the price of over a month of inspections and reworking of our system...ugh!

2) Our installer powered up our system before PECO installed our second meter for net metering. Our meter happily ran back and forth--we were so happy, until we got our electric bill. Unfortunately, PECO only reads clicks of a reference point on analog meters, so every click forward (or backward) was billed. We explained our problem to PECO--they didn't care because our installer shouldn't have powered up the system. Our installer argued we could sell the SREC generated during this time to offset the electric cost--we couldn't. Until you are interconnected in PA, the system can not be registered, if it's not registered any SREC generated does not count.

3) Getting to sell SRECs takes time. We are using SREC Trade for our SRECS. Public record show our system was registered in early July (whether this is the date SREC can count or the date of registration I am not clear) but I am clear that registering, setting up a GATS account and getting to the point we could enter our production took until OCTOBER. We were not able to sell SRECs until the November auction even though we provided all our system info before install. Keep this 5-6 month window in mind as you budget repaying that really big install bill.

4) Speaking of that bill... Our system was installed using Tier I Sunshine funds. It is currently December and I still have not received my state rebate check. I can't seem to get any information out of the PA Sunshine office other than all the completion paperwork has been received. To be fair to the state of PA, my installer was slow to get all the paperwork in order, but the state acknowledges they have had everything since August and according to my installer we've been cleared to be paid since October. Apparently that check is being written one letter/number a day--hopefully we'll see that check before our one year install anniversary.

5) Our electric bills (PECO) do not go negative. I am still trying to figure everything out, so if anyone knows more ... We received readings of our 'out' meter and 'in' meter monthly. As long as the net production equals or exceeds our use in a month we are only billed a customer fee. My understanding is that if our usage exceeds production in any month we will receive a bill for the difference (even though we have a bank of over 1750 kWh at this point) and that our excess will be paid out (wholesale rate I believe) at the end of the solar year. I am not sure we will reach a point to test this hypothesis-- system works great to supply our usage needs and we are still producing an excess (this is the brightest point of our solar adventure). And yes...plans are in the works to change over more of our home to use more of our clean, 'free' electric supply. Of course, a large chuck of our money is tied up waiting......

Hope this useful to someone out there, if only to make you feel better about your own situation.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Read the Comments!

I want to mention to any and all readers that it's a good idea to read the comment trails in addition to the main posts. I try not to spread disinformation, and if I get something wrong I try to adjust the original post for accuracy. But there are so many readers who know way more than I do about all of this that it's very informative to read what THEY have to say.

For instance, I've learned a lot by reading the comments to this post from a few weeks ago about my negative electric bill.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Thought the Eagles were Already Green!

Way cool, man. The Philadelphia Eagles announced a plan to install green energy systems at Lincoln Financial Field on a scale that will allow them to generate enough power that they (LIKE ME) will export extra energy onto the grid. They're talking solar panels, wind turbines and a biodiesel/natural gas power plant. [I don't understand the natural gas part, that sounds like importing energy to generate other energy with, but whatever.]

Eagles Plan to Take the Gridiron off the Grid

I have 48 solar panels and I thought I was badass. They're going to install 2,500 of them.

I'm a lifelong Skins guy but I might have to become an Eagles fan. Not really.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One October SREC Sold

Sold an October SREC in the November 5 auction -- $640.

This is a great time of year to be generating energy. I've been admiring the reverse-spin on the meter for the past few weeks.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What a Negative Electric Bill Looks lIke

This bill is pretty cool. The amount we used was less than the amount generated and exported onto the grid. Hence, a negative electric bill ($39.29 credit). We get bills like this whenever the air conditioner isn't running.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SREC Sales History

We generated and sold one SREC for September 2010, for $640.00.

Here's a running total of SREC sales over the 1+ years we've been up and running:

Fall 2009 (sold at auction in December): 4 SRECs @ $ 660 = $ 2640
December 2009 (none generated)
January 2010 (sold at auction in February): 1 SREC @ $ 660 = $660
February 2010 (sold at auction in March): 1 SREC @ $ 665 = $ 665
March 2010 (none generated)
April 2010 (sold at auction in May): 2 SRECs @ 665 = $ 1330
May 2010 (sold at auction in June): 1 SREC @ 665 = $ 665
June 2010 (sold at auction in July): 1 SREC @ 665.04 = $665.04
July 2010: (sold at auction in August): 1 SREC @ 600.00 = $600.00
August 2010 (sold at auction in September): 1 SREC @ 625.65 = $625.65
September 2010: (sold at auction in October): 1 SREC @ 640.00 = $640.00

Grand Total: 13 SRECs sold for a total of $ 8,490.09.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Homes with Solar Built-in!

Cornerstone Building Group LLC is developing a small community of new housing with a 5.2KW solar panel system built right in! It's in South Jersey's Mullica Hill, just a few miles away (from where I am).

How cool! I've been wondering when something like this might pop up (I'm sure it's not the first but it's the first one I noticed.) I hope this catches on and people realize how utterly painless it is to capture and use all that energy that drips down the sides of our houses and goes unused.

Valle del Sol Exclusive Features

+ Exclusive agreement with Eastern Energy Services to supply, install and maintain a + 5.2 KW solar panel system on each home to lower energy costs and reduce environmental impact.
+ Solar powered street lights throughout development.

Energy-efficient Design

+ Insulated double-pane single hung windows with built-in grilles and screens and lower sash tilt-in design
+ 14 SEER Central air conditioning
+ High efficiency heat pumps
+ Fully insulated (R-30) ceilings and (R-13) exterior walls and superseal foam insulation package
+ 50 gallon high-efficiency direct vent electric hot water heater

Here's a link to the Valle del Sol page on Cornerstone's web site:

Valle del Sol

I must add for the sake of LOL that another of their developments in Deptford, New Jersey is incorrectly labeled as being in Debtford.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

August: 1 SREC Sold

We sold one SREC for August, for $625.65.

One of these months we're going to generate two of them. We seem overdue for that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another Way to "Make" Green Energy

Reducing energy usage is as green as it can get -- it's as green as the power generated by the panels on my roof.

That's why I loved this letter to the editor by R. Lalli of Atco that appeared in today's Courier Post (Cherry Hill, NJ):

Wasting Energy

"I noticed an immediate reduction in my electric bills as my central air conditioning system took less time to cool my home.."

Sounds familiar, right? Remember, air-conditioning season is the only period during which our house consumes more energy than it generates. Maybe better windows would change that for the better.

I must admit that in my house I have the crappy windows that the writer is referring to. Maybe that should be our next undertaking.

PSE&G and Renewable Energy

Interesting article about one of South Jersey's utility company's attitude on renewable energy.

PSE&G Embracing Renewable Energy

"PSEG has embraced renewables for a number of reasons.

First, our customers tell us they want the benefits of green energy. Utilities are uniquely equipped to bring these benefits to millions of people, just as we have traditionally provided universal access to electricity and gas.

Second, renewables can help put energy on a more sustainable track by reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Solar energy is not only carbon-free, but pollution-free.

Last but not least, renewables present an extraordinary jobs-and-growth opportunity.

New Jersey has a knowledge-based, high-tech economy. It's in our state's interest to have strong companies active here in the clean energy industry, creating jobs and poised to grow. It's in the interest of local communities, too. When we build a solar farm on a former contaminated site, as we are doing in Trenton, it not only brings land back into productive use, but also generates good-paying local jobs -- and hope for a better future."

Personally, based on my experience and what I read, I think PSE&G is less excited about renewable energy than their marketing spin meisters are claiming to be here. But it's still cool that they are doing some of these things anyway.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One (1) (I) SREC sold for July. Six hundred clams even. That's six-hundred clams closer to system payoff...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Concluded that SREC Income is Not Taxable (Rerun)

The most popular search topic on this blog, by far, is about whether or not SREC income is taxable. I did a little research last winter and concluded that it isn't, and I filed my 2010 tax return without mentioning it.

For more detail on this topic you can check out the March 20 blog post here: Taxable?

Friday, July 16, 2010

One June SREC

SRECTrade Customer Service got back to me pretty quickly. It turns out that we sold one June SREC for $665.04. I'm pretty sure we've done two in a month at least once so I'm having a hard time figuring out how we only had one. But we only had one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No Report on June SRECs

Well, the SREC auction was held last week but still no word from SRECTrade on how we made out. Usually there's an email confirming how many we sold, even if that number is 0.

I can't imagine that we didn't generate at least one SREC during sunny June. I was actually hoping for two. After a couple more days I guess I'll have to break down and ask somebody...

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Guest Blogger" Talks about Fifteen Year Limit on SREC Generation

Here's a "guest blog" by somebody who contributes a lot to this blog -- Mr. Anonymous!

It was actually forwarded as a comment but it's useful information for anybody who is going solar in the Garden State and deserves it's own post.

Take it away, Mr. A...

SRECs are generated beginning the day of interconnection approval. A little 'gotcha' to be aware of: The reporting cycle for SRECs runs June 1 to May 31st of the following year. You are eligible to generate SRECs for 15 years, so if your system is being built on May 1st, whatever you do, wait until after May 31st to get the interconnection approval because you miss out on a whole year's worth of SRECs if you come online before May 31st. If you come online with interconnection just after May 31st, you can generate SRECs for another year (technically year 16) of the system. The last thing you want is for your system to produce a single SREC in May and have that count as one year wasted.

Read more here:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

High Production but High Usage Too

This is the time of year when it's hard to tell if my system is making any difference at all. Ironically, it's the part of the year when it generates the most power (longest periods of high-sky sun) so you'd think it would be the most interesting time for watching it go. But as I've already detailed ad nauseum, it's also the part of the year where I use the most power -- because the evil air conditioner and it's partner in crime, the insidious pool filter -- are running a lot.

Checking the electric meter during the summer just isn't as exciting as it is in April or October because it's not spinning backwards as much.

Luckily I can look at the inverters and see that a lot of power is being generated. Now I remember why I spent so much time checking those last summer...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Blogger Today

We have a guest blogger today. Barbara Young has a lot of interesting and informative things to tell us about solar energy: how it works, some history, and a really thorough list of solar power pros and cons.

Warning from Dave -- she knows way more about solar power than I do -- get ready to learn!

Barbara writes regularly here on her very lively site that I plan to keep up with:

Her efforts are focused entirely on helping people save energy using solar powered energy to reduce CO2 emissions and energy dependency.

After you read this I’m betting that you bookmark that site – it’s that good!


Here’s an instant approach to learn the way solar panels work

What's solar energy ?

Solar energy is radiant energy that's produced by the sun. Each day the sun radiates, or sends out, an enormous amount of energy. The sun radiates more energy in one second than people have used since the beginning of time!

The energy of the Sun derives from within the sun itself. Like other stars, the sun is mostly a big ball of gases––mostly hydrogen and helium atoms.

The hydrogen atoms in the sun’s core combine to create helium and generate energy in a process called nuclear fusion.

During nuclear fusion, the sun’s extremely high pressure and temperature cause hydrogen atoms to come apart and their nuclei (the central cores of the atoms) to fuse or combine. Four hydrogen nuclei fuse to become one helium atom. However the helium atom contains less mass compared to four hydrogen atoms that fused. Some matter is lost during nuclear fusion. The lost matter is emitted into space as radiant energy.

It requires millions of years for the energy in the sun’s core to make its way to the solar surface, and then slightly over eight minutes to travel the 93 million miles to earth. The solar energy travels to the earth at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, the speed of sunshine.

Only a small part of the energy radiated by the sun into space strikes the earth, one part in two billion. Yet this quantity of energy is enormous. On a daily basis enough energy strikes the united states to supply the nation’s energy needs for one and a half years!

Where does all this energy go?

About 15 percent of the sun’s energy that hits the planet earth is reflected back to space. Another 30 percent is used to evaporate water, which, lifted in to the atmosphere, produces rainfall. Solar energy is also absorbed by plants, the land, and the oceans. The remaining could be employed to supply our energy needs.

Who invented solar power ?

People have harnessed solar technology for hundreds of years. Since the 7th century B.C., people used simple magnifying glasses to concentrate the light of the sun into beams so hot they would cause wood to catch fire. Over 100 years ago in France, a scientist used heat from a solar collector to produce steam to drive a steam engine. In the beginning of this century, scientists and engineers began researching ways to use solar energy in earnest. One important development was obviously a remarkably efficient solar boiler invented by Charles Greeley Abbott, an American astrophysicist, in 1936.

The solar hot water heater gained popularity at this time in Florida, California, and the Southwest. The industry started in the early 1920s and was in full swing prior to The second world war. This growth lasted before mid-1950s when low-cost natural gas took over as primary fuel for heating American homes.

People and world governments remained largely indifferent to the possibilities of solar energy before oil shortages of the1970s. Today, people use solar technology to heat buildings and water and also to generate electricity.

How do we use solar power today ?

Solar energy is employed in several different ways, of course. There are two very basic kinds of solar energy:

* Solar thermal energy collects the sun's warmth through 1 of 2 means: in water or in an anti-freeze (glycol) mixture.
* Solar photovoltaic energy converts the sun's radiation to usable electricity.
Listed here are the five most practical and popular ways that solar energy is employed:

1. Small portable solar photovoltaic systems. We have seen these used everywhere, from calculators to solar garden tools. Portable units can be utilised for everything from RV appliances while single panel systems are used for traffic signs and remote monitoring stations.

2. Solar pool heating. Running water in direct circulation systems via a solar collector is an extremely practical method to heat water for your pool or hot tub.

3. Thermal glycol energy to heat water. In this method (indirect circulation), glycol is heated by natural sunlight and the heat is then transferred to water in a warm water tank. Using this method of collecting the sun's energy is more practical now than ever. In areas as far north as Edmonton, Alberta, solar thermal to heat water is economically sound. It can pay for itself in three years or less.

4. Integrating solar photovoltaic energy into your home or business power. In many parts on the planet, solar photovoltaics is an economically feasible method to supplement the power of your home. In Japan, photovoltaics are competitive with other types of power. In the USA, new incentive programs make this form of solar technology ever more viable in many states. An increasingly popular and practical way of integrating solar energy into the power of your home or business is through the usage of building integrated solar photovoltaics.

5. Large independent photovoltaic systems. For those who have enough sun power at your site, you might be able to go off grid. You may also integrate or hybridize your solar energy system with wind power or other forms of renewable energy to stay 'off the grid.'

How can Photovoltaic panels work ?

Silicon is mounted beneath non-reflective glass to produce photovoltaic panels. These panels collect photons from the sun, converting them into DC electrical energy. The power created then flows into an inverter. The inverter transforms the power into basic voltage and AC electrical energy.

Solar cells are prepared with particular materials called semiconductors for example silicon, which is presently the most generally used. When light hits the Photovoltaic cell, a certain share of it is absorbed inside the semiconductor material. This means that the energy of the absorbed light is given to the semiconductor.

The power unfastens the electrons, permitting them to run freely. Photovoltaic cells also have one or more electric fields that act to compel electrons unfastened by light absorption to flow in a specific direction. This flow of electrons is a current, and by introducing metal links on the top and bottom of the -Photovoltaic cell, the current can be drawn to use it externally.

What are the positives and negatives of solar energy ?

Solar Pro Arguments

- Heating our homes with oil or natural gas or using electricity from power plants running with oil and coal is a reason for global warming and climate disruption. Solar power, on the other hand, is clean and environmentally-friendly.
- Solar hot-water heaters require little maintenance, and their initial investment can be recovered within a relatively short time.
- Solar hot-water heaters can work in nearly every climate, even in very cold ones. Simply choose the best system for your climate: drainback, thermosyphon, batch-ICS, etc.
- Maintenance costs of solar powered systems are minimal and the warranties large.
- Financial incentives (USA, Canada, European states…) can aid in eliminating the cost of the first investment in solar technologies. The U.S. government, for instance, offers tax credits for solar systems certified by by the SRCC (Solar Rating and Certification Corporation), which amount to 30 percent of the investment (2009-2016 period).

Solar Cons Arguments

- The initial investment in Solar Hot water heaters or in Solar PV Electric Systems is higher than that required by conventional electric and gas heaters systems.
- The payback period of solar PV-electric systems is high, as well as those of solar space heating or solar cooling (only the solar warm water heating payback is short or relatively short).
- Solar water heating do not support a direct in conjunction with radiators (including baseboard ones).
- Some air conditioning (solar space heating and the solar cooling systems) are costly, and rather untested technologies: solar ac isn't, till now, a truly economical option.
- The efficiency of solar powered systems is rather influenced by sunlight resources. It's in colder climates, where heating or electricity needs are higher, that the efficiency is smaller.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Several Newspaper Articles This Weekend

From Diane Mastrull of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday

Pa. Quietly takes back its solar-energy tax credit

"For a state that says it's trying to encourage more alternative-energy use, this is not an especially proud development. Which may explain why Pennsylvania put out no news releases and held no news conferences about it."

Dave's comment: I'm sorry to see this, but solar energy subsidies are frills that are hard to make cases for in the current state of affairs.


From Jacqueline L. Urgo of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday

Historic Cape May Allows Newfangled Alteration

"Thirty-eight new solar panels are hidden from sight atop the ornate 1882 Italianate structure that houses the Mad Batter Restaurant and Carroll Villa Hotel in the historical heart of this 19th-century seaside town."

Dave's comment: Cool. I'm glad they found a way to preserve the Cape May image while making room for progressive change.


From Eileen Smith of the Courier-Post (South Jersey's biggest paper!), Sunday

Solar Energy is Hot in N.J. -- Generous rebates pay dividends for homeowners

"New Jersey has the best economics in the country for solar," said David Lloren, CEO of San Francisco-based One Block off the Grid (1BOG), a broker for residential installation services.

Dave's comment: Ha! I'm going to generate at least twelve SRECs a year, not the paltry seven estimated in this article. But even so, my estimate for payback is 3.5 - 4 years, not the optimistic 2.8 years projected here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Terminology, Calculations, etc.

The other day I had a question that really, at this point I should have been able to answer easily. I couldn't. It involved a really basic principle: if a system is rated as size X, how much power does it produce?

Here's a useful web site developed by people who aren't as clueless as me:

Solar & Wind Energy Calculations: The (very) Basics

This paragraph from that website helped me the most because it explains what a system size rating means over the course of time (which was the concept I proved to be not too bright about):

"One kilowatt-hour (1 kWh) means an energy source supplies 1,000 watts (1 kW) of energy for one hour. Generally, a solar energy system will provide output for about 5 hours per day. So, if you have a 1.8 kW system size and it produces for 5 hours a day, 365 days a year: This solar energy system will produce 3,285 kWh in a year (1.8 kW x 5 hours x 365 days)."

One blog reader says this on June 15: "Actually 1000 kW of DC system produces about 1200 kWh of AC electric."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I'm a Solar Incentive Hypocrite

Remember the other day when I posted that I have mixed feelings about the government programs that I have benefited from? Here's what I meant.

On the one hand I think we need to look forward and exploit new technologies to generate the energy we need. On the other hand -- I'm just not a big government guy.

The word "hypocrite" won't get out of my head.

Below is a link to an interesting column by David Levy of The Energy Collective. It includes this quote:

"...This is a massive subsidy indeed, and raises significant policy issues. Even for those who are fervent advocates of renewable energy, does it make sense to provide such huge subsidies to solar, when modest subsidies for land-based wind power of around 2-3c/kWh serve to make it grid competitive in many regions? Would the money be better spent on research and development, and the development of local workforce skills and business clusters? Subsidizing installation at the retail level will generate a few local jobs for developers, electricians and installers, but the panels will mostly be imported. There is a serious risk of consumer backlash when people realize the extent of the subsidies and the impact on their utility bills..."

David Levy Column

Just food for thought, my friends...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Only 2 KWH Bought From PSE&G in March

Here's a snippet of my latest electric bill:

It turns out that I won't be receiving many exciting (negative) electric bills for a while because PSE&G does a lot of estimations (which you can see here).

I have to take a really close look to see the exciting stuff. If you look at the March row of this table you can see that in March 2009 I bought 760 KWH hours of power. In March 2010 it was only -- [drum roll] -- 2 KWH.

That's kind of cool. March wasn't even really very sunny. We didn't even generate an entire SREC. April will be more exciting -- unless PSE&G estimates the excitement away.

Monday, June 7, 2010

SRECs Sold So Far

As a review: an SREC is a certification that a system has produced 1000 Kilowatthours of solar energy. They can be bought and sold as commodities. In most states the utility companies are required to include certain percentages of 'green' power in their total production. They can and do purchase these certificates rather than physically generate the green power to meet this requirement. [I have mixed feelings about this scheme, many of which make me a hypocrite, but that's for another post.]

We sold one SREC for May, for $ 665.

So here's summary of SREC activity. We've been eligible to generate them since sometime last fall (I haven't been able to pin down the exact point where the energy we generated "counted" but I know we lost out on all that summer 2009 power because we hadn't passed inspection yet.)

Fall 2009 (sold at auction in December): 4 SRECs @ $ 660 = $ 2640
December 2009 (none generated)
January 2010 (sold at auction in February): 1 SREC @ $ 660 = $660
February 2010 (sold at auction in March): 1 SREC @ $ 665 = $ 665
March 2010 (none generated)
April 2010 (sold at auction in May): 2 SRECs @ 665 = $ 1330
May 2010 (sold at auction in June): 1 SREC @ 665 = $ 665

Grand Total: 9 SRECs sold for a total of $5,960.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Well today is anniversary day! One year ago today the system was completed and went online.

Also, it's Happy 22nd Anniversary to Dave and LA. Dinner at Guillermo's tonight to celebrate...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Different Kinds of SREC Brokers Out There!

I've been getting lots of questions from people who are signing up with SREC brokers who are offering deals which, let's say, aren't as good as the one I have. Immediately below I answered three questions that came in today. Then, rather than retype the same sentiments, I went back through my comments and dug up my best answer.

I apologize in advance for loving my broker, SRECTrade!

This question is from Jim in a comment posted today (June 2, 2010).

From your post, you are located in New Jersey. I have just received a proposal from my 'installer/broker' for a commission that is far greater than what you seem to be paying.

I have 3 questions:

1.) Are you receiving current (2010) market value for your SRECS?

Dave's answer: Yes. I sell my SRECS (well, my broker does ALL the work) every month at auction so I get the 2010 New Jersey market value (it's always been $660 or $665 so far.)

2.) How often are you making your SRECs available to the market? Monthly? quarterly?

Dave's answer: My SRECs sell in an auction every month.

3.) Regarding the paperwork - did you have all the information required readily available to you or did you have to dig for it?

Dave's answer: Once I signed on with my broker (SRECTrade) and filled out about 3 pages of forms that they sent, they did everything. I just sit back and wait for direct deposit.

Here's a more in-depth answer, which I copied from an older comment trail in the "1040 Good Buddy" post:

note: this reply will sound like a commercial for SRECTrade, the broker that handles my SRECs. I'm not associated with them in any way except as a customer -- but the fact is that they rock and I'm glad to endorse their services.]

First of all, don't worry about your SREC rotting away. You have plenty of time to decide how to sell these things.

I did research and decided to work with SRECTrade. I think they're fantastic. They'll hold your hand through signing up and all the red tape/paperwork. Then you can just sit back and read emails about the SRECs they've sold for you.

There are a lot of brokers out there. Some are like SRECTrade -- they take a very small commission and make their money by doing LOTS of transactions. With most of these, including SRECTrade, you are free to pull out of the arrangement any time.

The other ones are more old-fashioned. They don't want you to know the specifics, they just want you to commit to a long term arrangement (which usually benefits them a lot more than they benefit you, in my opinion.) My installer tried to push me into one of these. After I read the fine print I realized why -- they get a commission for the first two years of the contract. I thought it was a little shady.

Anyway, I am completely happy with SRECTrade. I can't imagine a better deal. I know it's possible to sell these on your own but the commission with SRECTrade is so small that I can't imagine going through all the hassle.

I hope I've helped. Feel free to ask me anything. I'm always happy to help!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Meter Readings for Last Month (or So)

I haven't posted any numbers for a while, so here goes. I don't track everything on a daily basis anymore. It was too much work, and I ended up losing my data when my computer crashed anyway.

Now I just look at the electric meter once in a while. To me this is the most important number because it summarizes the balance between power generated and power used.

[These are all a.m. meter readings.]

April 12: 17,510
April 13: 17,475
April 14: 17,493
April 15: 17,454
April 19: 17,353
April 21: 17,300
April 25: 17,213
April 28: 17,251
May 5: 17,294
May 17: 17,118
May 24: 17,140

A decrease from the previous reading means that a surplus has been generated and exported to the power grid. An increase means the opposite.

The reasons for fluctuations is obvious -- on cloudy days we don't generate as much power. On hot days we use more power (A.C.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Camping Out for the Solar Rebate

Interesting little blurb in the Courier Post (Cherry Hill, NJ) today. 1100 people submitted applications for the state solar rebate on the same day last week -- some of them camped out waiting in line to do so (I guess there must have been some kind of deadline).

The State Board of Public Utilities has stopped accepting applications until September. I can't imagine there's enough money to cover even the 1100 recent applicants.

Money is tight here in New Jersey right now and the new governor is cutting a lot of programs to try to balance the budget. Programs like this will probably be the first to go.

Here's the article.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bummer, Only two SRECs

I was hoping for three, as I already posted, but we only had two April SRECs to sell in the SRECTrade auction on Friday. Oh well, we only netted $1330 (selling price was $665). That ought to pay a few future electric bills...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Auction Friday

The auction for April SRECs is on Friday. I'm still pretty new at this but I can't imagine that I haven't generated at least two. We got shut out in March but I'll bet we generated .9999999 SRECs in that month. Add that to the two+ I'm estimating for April and it looks pretty good. Is three too many to expect?

That would be about $1900 -- we're chipping away at the initial cost. Cool...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

1040 Good Buddy

By the way, I forgot to mention that I filed my state and federal tax returns last week without declaring my SREC revenue as taxable income. We've had several posts about that here, and I won't rehash, but my accountant agreed that at least for this year, SREC income is not taxable.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Solar Fred

I have a permanent link to Solar Fred's site over to the right but I think he should have a big fat plug right here. This man is spreading the word and he's funny too!

One particular fact that I saw on that page is the "payback" periods for various states. I've often said that my system (9.12 kwh) will pay for itself in 4 years. Many folks think I'm lying or just clueless. I was glad to see that Fred projects the payback period to be 3.4 years in New Jersey. I may be clueless but I wasn't lying. After 4 years I'll be generating 80% of my own electricity using a paid off system that is under warranty for decades.

It all adds up for me.

By the way, the electric meter is down to 17,353 as of this morning. So we've generated about 600 kwh of power more than we used in the past four weeks -- all which went out onto the power grid for credit.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Transform Orchards to a Solar Field?

Here's an interesting article about converting agricultural land to solar power production. The area in question is a beautiful rural area in South Jersey, about twenty miles south of Philadelphia. A farmer wants to take 512 acres of orchard land and built the biggest solar power farm in New Jersey.

From the fields that Ed Stella Jr. owns in Upper Pittsgrove, Salem County, "miles and miles and miles of farmland" stretch in every direction. Stella wants to take 512 acres out of production to erect 80 megawatts of solar panels. The change, he said, would be "like a grain of pepper in the saltshaker."

The debate raises questions about how to balance two goals: to preserve New Jersey's agricultural economy, and to increase its role as a leader in solar energy.

I tend to be against replacing arable land with a power plant. Aesthetics aside, it reminds of me of what happened when midwestern farmers were encouraged to sell crops to be used for bio-fuels rather than food production -- it had an adverse effect on food supply. I'd prefer that non-arable land be used to set up a solar farm.

On the other hand, farmland in our area is disappearing at an alarming rate -- as development and sprawl radiates outward from the city. That includes my house, which was built in 1993 on land that had been used for agriculture (so yeah, I'm being hypocritical).

If the plan is approved, Stella has said he would put a deed restriction on the property so that, if the panels were removed, the land would go back to farming.

If not, the company has said, the alternative could be 150 houses, 627 miles of roads, and 188 children in the school system.

"I'd rather see this [solar project] than housing developments front and back," Doug Nichols, 60, whose home on Route 77 is sandwiched by Stella's property, said at an informational meeting this month.

If this farmland is going to be developed anyway, I wouldn't object to projects like solar farms being mixed in.

Read the entire Article Here

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Let's see -- March 24 was about 17 days ago. Now the meter reads 17,531. It's been very sunny over those seven days and we have the backwards spinnin' meter to prove it, to the tune of 384 kwh of surplus energy produced and dumped back onto the grid.

Thank you very much...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It Was a Great Day for Making Energy

This had to be one of our best power-cranking days ever (I don't know for sure because my computer recently crashed and I lost a lot of records).

This morning at 8:00 the electric meter read 17,915. At 6:00 p.m. it read 17,865. That means we generated a 50 kwh surplus. I'll bet we cranked out 60 kwh today.

It also means that despite a cloudy, snowy winter, we've generated as much as we've used since November. From now until air conditioning season we ought to see some primo surpluses every day that isn't cloudy. By the time we turn the A.C. on I expect we'll have wound that meter


to August or so...

8:00 a.m. 17,915
6:00 p.m. 17,865

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Are SRECs taxable? The Accountant Speaks

I've made several posts already about whether or not SREC income is taxable or not.

I talked and emailed with my accountant recently.

Here's what he wrote: "I think it will eventually be taxable but there is no ruling at this time."

That's consistent with everything I've read and posted, in that there really is no definitive statement by any authority on the issue. My plan is to consider it non-taxable until I hear otherwise.

By the way -- it's been so sunny this week that our meter is spinning backwards at a velocity that reminds me of summertime!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

February: One More SREC Sold

We sold one SREC for February. It was so cloudy and snowy that I'm surprised we generated enough power for even one. Some of that was probably left over from January.

The selling price was the highest yet, $ 665.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is SREC Income Taxable?

I asked SRECTrade this question. It turns out that this is as murky a question as we suspected. They sent me an informative blurb, which consists in part of a post from a blog similar to mine that originates in Maryland (great resource by the way, check it out:

Here's a link to the blurb from SRECTrade:

The position of Michael, the Maryland solar blogger, is that SREC income is not taxable because a profit on the solar electric system will not be generated until the entire system is paid off.

SRECTrade recommends consultation with a professional accountant but adds this:

Is the income generated from SRECs considered taxable income?

Questions constantly arise regarding the tax treatment of SRECs and it seems that no legislative body or government agency has explicitly answered the question. For example, the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy, the pioneer in SREC markets, provides the following information in their FAQs:

Is SREC income taxable? Will I be issued a 1099 if I sell my SRECs? Is there sales tax on an SREC?

- There is not a definitive ruling on this issue. We recommend you discuss the issue with your tax accountant and perhaps a tax lawyer.

SRECTrade doesn't even issue 1099 forms.

My plan is to hand the issue to my accountant and let him decide. Based on what I've seen here my own opinion is that the income is not taxable.

Edit: see the March 20 blog post. That's where I decided that for me, SREC income is not taxable.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

1 SREC Sold for January

We generated enough power for 1 SREC in January, which sold at auction for $660. As far as I'm concerned that makes the system $660 closer to paying for itself.

Thanks again as always to SRECTrade. I didn't have to do a thing except notice the deposit in my account.

Folks, if you're putting in a system, make sure to shop around before choosing somebody to broker your SRECs. There are vast differences between the terms of the agreements they'll want to make with you. If your installer is trying to hook you up with a particular broker, chances are they are getting something out of the deal. That doesn't mean it's the right deal for you.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Survived the Big Wind

The panels survived another durability test earlier this week when we experienced a day of violent wind. There were a lot of loose shingles blowing around the township (but none of mine, as it turns out). The winds were so strong that they did this to Washington Township High School just a few miles away:

Strong winds peeled sections of the roof off piece by piece until rain was falling into classrooms. The damage was so bad that classes were dismissed, everybody was sent home in the rain and school was cancelled the next day so the roof could be repaired.

From Fox News:
In New Jersey, Washington Township High School is closed. Fox 29's Steve Keeley reports a portion of the school's roof was peeled off by high winds. Heavy rain poured into several classrooms. Students were evacuated and sent home Monday just before lunch. It's not clear when classes will resume for the 3,000 students, faculty, and staff.

We sustained no damage at all to the panels, which started cranking out juice as soon as the sun came out the next day. That's a relief.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Clouds + December = No SRECs

Since I was bragging a few weeks ago about selling SRECs it's only fair that I report that we didn't earn any full SRECs this month and so had none to sell in the auction. This time of year is the slowest period for solar to begin with because of the short days and the low sun. On top of that, it was very cloudy. Hopefully we'll have two or three next month...