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On Solar Policy Battle: IRS Now Part of Fierce Debate Over How to Value Solar Energy

Job001, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of not only how utilities work in the U.S., but the exhorbitant subsidy structure behind solar power, without which the industry would not exist.

The American utility industry is the most highly regulated in the country, and its executives are the lowest paid. In many respects, the "industry" is a government agency with enough financial incentives to drive innovation while keeping a tight lid on profits. In California, utilities are prevented by state law from raising their rates more than 10% above costs. There is no other business in the country with this level of oversight and restriction on profitability.

Despite all the hype, solar power generates less than 1% of U.S. electricity. The only reason solar costs are declining 11%/year is the government is handing out 30% of solar installation costs to everyone who wants it, whether they live in sunny Arizona or rainy Seattle. On a per-kilowatthour basis, that's twice the subsidy which is offered the nuclear industry, which nationwide generates seventeen times as much carbon-free power. It's power which is available day or night, rain or shine, and doesn't require fossil fuel backup. It costs one-third less than solar and, contrary to popular belief, is even safer.

So I have to laugh at your portrayal of utilities as powerful monoliths bent on crushing solar innovation under their heavy boots. That's a fantasy of Greenpeace and solar entrepreneurs, who are rushing to capitalize on an obscene federal windfall before the cash runs out.

Have you considered that the reason "utility guy blogs show no cognizance of learning curve progress with wind, storage, fuel cells, or solar" might be because none of those technologies are proving adequate for either providing power or addressing climate change?

October 1, 2014    View Comment    

On 11 Wonktastic Charts that Will Help You Understand Climate Change

Great job Lindsay, except you may get some disagreement on whether turning the ocean into our carbon toilet is a success story.

September 30, 2014    View Comment    

On Solar Policy Battle: IRS Now Part of Fierce Debate Over How to Value Solar Energy

Job001, utilities are not worried about significant numbers of customers going fully off line because it's not practical, nor are they worried about having to declare power generated by the sun as "income" (utilities are required to buy it, so it's an expense they can write off).

They're not even particularly worried about the solar industry attempting to portray solar as being more valuable than it is, because most utilities are entitled by law to simply raise their rates to cover the cost. Who should be worrying is anyone who can't afford their own solar array and will end up cross-subsidizing richer people who can.

Whether it's education, security, or energy, the nation's poorest end up footing the bill with these free market privatization schemes.

September 30, 2014    View Comment    

On How a Top Liberal State Is Creating an Electricity Market That Conservatives Should Love

Roger, as relevant as your last comment is, you will probably not get any more traction with Stephen Lacey/GreenTech Media by referencing engineering or any other scientific discipline. An actual statement from their website:

Traditional engineering analysis lacks the kind of robust modeling of distribution laterals and secondary distribution necessary to understand the effects of customer-connected generation.

When science contradicts their quasi-religious agenda, they're not above throwing it under the bus.

September 30, 2014    View Comment    

On It's Time to Abandon the Delusion of a Carbon Tax

Steven, there's so much wrong with this it's hard to comment, but for starters you might want to review the history of British Columbia's revenue-neutral carbon tax, which has lowered the country's gasoline consumption by 17% in four years with no harm to the economy, before you dismiss the strategy as a "delusion".

What's delusional is the notion that passing the buck to India and China, on a problem of our own making, might prove constructive in any regard.

September 30, 2014    View Comment    

On Latest EIA Report Shows Marked Increase in U.S. CO2 Emissions

Tom, either

The growth in U.S. CO2 emissions [in spite of record growth in renewable energy] is clear wake-up call that much more needs to be done to accelerate the growth of renewable energy sources...

or it's a clear wake-up call that renewable energy sources are ineffective at mitigating climate change.

It's long past time to start listening to people who know what they're talking about.

September 30, 2014    View Comment    

On What the McKinsey GHG Abatement Curve Tells us About CDR

Noah, CDR is indeed still emerging from relative obscurity.

What is it?

September 29, 2014    View Comment    

On How a Top Liberal State Is Creating an Electricity Market That Conservatives Should Love

Stephen, in article after article GreenTech Media makes the blanket assumption that distrbuted generation will benefit the environment.

What evidence do you have that this is the case? The most public example, from an environmental standpoint, has proven a disastrous flop.

September 29, 2014    View Comment    

On Eye on the Prize: Solar Market Potential in Saudi Arabia

Nathan, I believe you've identified the real prize the Saudis have their eyes on.

September 29, 2014    View Comment    

On The Politics of Distributed Generation

James, in reference to your comment:

Properly understood, and properly represented, wealthier and better informed consumers are using distributed solar and behind the meter storage to do what they have been trying to do for years with other technologies: use electricity more efficiently and reduce their energy costs.

What evidence do you have that distributed solar and behind the meter storage, including backup utility power and battery resistance losses, use electricity any more efficiently than pulling it directly from the grid?

September 29, 2014    View Comment    

On Virginia Utilities Pull Out of Collaboration Working on a Method to Value Solar Energy

Hops, though that might intuitively seem true, check out what happened to home/condo values in San Clemente, CA - 3 miles from San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station - when it was announced the plant would close on June 7, 2013 (red line is median price):

 “For most residents, I think San Onofre was out of sight, out of mind,” Tim Brown, a San Clemente city councilman, said. “They took the power it generated for granted. Now that it’s gone, well, we’ll see how much it really does affect our lives.

“I anticipate it’s going to be tough for some folks,” he continued. “The plant was a large employer in town. It brought a lot of money and activity to our city. And the new normal is going to be ever-increasing power rates.”


Californians Consider a Future Without a Nuclear Plant for a Neighbor

September 27, 2014    View Comment    

On Virginia Utilities Pull Out of Collaboration Working on a Method to Value Solar Energy

Jim, I hear the phone vs. utility deregulation argument pop up frequently, but there are several distinctions which make this comparison moot. Most important is that, unlike telecoms:

  • The product that any utility sells is identiical to that of any other utility, and
  • The fact that there is essentially only one product being sold permits significant economies of scale to be realized if that product is created by a single entity

The word "economies" has a dual meaning here - both financial and environmental economies deteriorate as more entities participate in electricity generation, and there is no analog in the telecom world corresponding to electricity generation's environmental impact. Reliable, clean, affordable electricity is what the public needs, and in the U.S. that is, for the most part, what the public already has.

Can electricity in the U.S. be cleaner? Of course, but there is no evidence that microgrids, deregulation, or more solar will help, and considerable evidence to the contrary. Deregulation has in every region of the U.S. resulted in higher rates and poorer service, and whether energy utilities no longer need to be monopoly providers is not the issue - it's whether they should be or not.

Regarding energy subsidies, on a per-kilowatthour basis the nuclear industry receives subsidies which amount to one-half of what the solar industry receives. The myth of proportionally excessive subsidies for nuclear is a direct result of solar activists' lack of understanding about how little solar really has to offer.

September 27, 2014    View Comment