Solar users, beware! You are the enemy

C. Coimbra photo

When a business’s sales figures drop on the graph, a savvy business owner seeks ways to reverse the downward trend. As a self employed person and/or business owner for over 35 years, I carefully watched my sales records. Negative impacts to my sales were bigger and better ideas outside of my business’s capacity to match; changing needs and standards in the market; or simply not paying attention to my customers’ needs or providing adequate customer service.

For the record, a small business like my former bookstore (circa 1988-sold in 1996) simply could not compete with the new (at the time) big-box bookstore trend with deep discounts, and housed less than a half-block walking distance from my store. The other business that featured hard product sales and service, temporarily faltered when I was in cancer treatment. By necessity it was dependent on employees to handle day-to-day details.

Comparing my measly businesses to mega-corporations is folly—but the same basic rules apply. So when I read Evan Halper’s recent report in the Los Angeles Times, “Conservative heavyweights set sights on solar industry,” I was shocked that the new bad guy in the business-world is the rooftop solar-energy consumer.

Quoting Halper, “Solar, once almost universally regarded as a virtuous, if perhaps over-hyped, energy alternative, has now grown big enough to have enemies.” And the solar industry’s enemy, from my simple point of view, is the status quo, aging power grids, and declining electrical sales since the peak year of electrical usage, 2007. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, “The electricity industry saw a 1.9% decline in sales from 2007-2012. Also, the first ten months of 2013 saw lower overall sales than the first ten months of 2012.”

Factors in this decline include the recession, energy efficient appliances, energy efficient buildings, electric prices have not significantly increased during this time period, and overall warmer winters. And yes, increased use of solar panels across the U.S.

A Washington Post headline from last December calls it: Americans are buying less electricity. That’s a big problem for utilities. “Electric utilities make more money by selling more power. They don’t usually benefit if people start buying more efficient washing machines or installing solar panels on their roofs. If these trends are accelerating, that’s a real problem for power companies.

“The doomsday scenario for utilities goes like this: Solar power keeps getting cheaper and more people start installing panels. In the meantime, overall electricity use grows slowly or stagnates. That means utilities are selling less and less electricity. In order to recoup their costs for things like maintaining the grid, they have to hike rates on their remaining customers. That pushes even more people to install solar panels, hurting sales further. Commence the death spiral,” reports Brad Plumber for the WP.

As cities across the nation, like Lancaster, Ca., strive towards cleaner energy, as reported in High Country News this January, this further takes away profit from the status quo energy providers.

Here’s the basics for the Mojave desert city as reported by Judith Lewis Mernit for High Country News, “Since 2010, 52 megawatts of PV solar panels have gone up on Lancaster’s rooftops, schools, carports and warehouses, as well as on five city facilities, including City Hall and the baseball stadium…Last spring, when the city council mandated that new housing developments average one kilowatt of solar per structure, even KB Homes, the region’s major housing developer, got behind it.” In just two years, the city has generated $400,000 from solar energy.

That, folks, is money out of the status quo pocket. And when sales drop, you, as a business owner, must stop the bleed. Big business practices don’t have to play nice. The objective can be to win at all costs. People and planet be damned. But one must use caution when attacking Snow White (the solar industry). So, find a problem that Snow White causes, like her seven dwarves running amuck to awaken the sleeping princess. Think of the havoc on the community!

In this case the crazed dwarves is “net metering.” “Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid. Many states have passed net metering laws…Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid…Customers are only billed for their “net” energy use,” explains the Solar Energy Industries Association.

With the decline in electric sales, suddenly the solar-energy user is a thief, a social nuisance, and the status quo’s newest enemy. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) came to the defense of the status quo, and crafted model legislation that targets net metering.

Watch conservative states this year introduce legislation that repeals former green-energy initiatives. Halpern’s LA Times piece writes, “In Arizona, a major utility and a tangle of secret donors and operatives with ties to ALEC and the Kochs (Koch Industries, Inc.) invested millions to persuade state regulators to impose a monthly fee of $50 to $100 on net-metering customers.” Who said they had to play nice? It’s a sad statement about American enterprise when the individual who sees value in renewable resources and implements those ideals, becomes the newest enemy of those who proclaim to stand for free enterprise and the American way of life.

Business does not have to attack and control to earn a profit. In this case it ignored or laughed at renewable energy and its proponents. Like, a bunch of tree huggers have any power? (Pun intended.)

We are an energy-driven society. There’s not much I can do without the grid—that aging beast that has lost its luster for wear and tear. It seems that the drive for profit over common sense has let you and me down, and created a enemy that follows the sun.

***

June 9, 2015 Update: In a report from The Guardian, “Secretive donors gave US climate denial groups $125m over three years”, it reads, Another top recipient, the State Policy Network, a network of ultra-conservative thinktanks, received a total of $8.2m over the last three years.

Thinktanks allied with the State Policy Network have worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a pro-business lobby, which has sought legislation to penalise homeowners who install solar panels.

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