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.