NY Times Editorial: US Needs Solar

The Koch Attack on Solar Energy


At long last, the Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have found a new tax they can support. Naturally it’s a tax on something the country needs: solar energy panels.

For the last few months, the Kochs and other big polluters have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, which have been adopted by most states. They particularly dislike state laws that allow homeowners with solar panels to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities. So they’ve been pushing legislatures to impose a surtax on this increasingly popular practice, hoping to make installing solar panels on houses less attractive.

Oklahoma lawmakers recently approved such a surcharge at the behest of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative group that often dictates bills to Republican statehouses and receives financing from the utility industry and fossil-fuel producers, including the Kochs. As The Los Angeles Times reported recently, the Kochs and ALEC have made similar efforts in other states, though they were beaten back by solar advocates in Kansas and the surtax was reduced to $5 a month in Arizona.

But the Big Carbon advocates aren’t giving up. The same group is trying to repeal or freeze Ohio’s requirement that 12.5 percent of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025. [The bill trying to repeal clean energy requirements is SB-310.] Twenty-nine states have established similar standards that call for 10 percent or more in renewable power. These states can now anticipate well-financed campaigns to eliminate these targets or scale them back.

The coal producers’ motivation is clear: They see solar and wind energy as a long-term threat to their businesses. That might seem distant at the moment, when nearly 40 percent of the nation’s electricity is still generated by coal, and when less than 1 percent of power customers have solar arrays. (It is slightly higher in California and Hawaii.) But given new regulations on power-plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants, and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions, the future clearly lies with renewable energy. In 2013, 29 percent of newly installed generation capacity came from solar, compared with 10 percent in 2012.

Renewables are good for economic as well as environmental reasons, as most states know. (More than 143,000 now work in the solar industry.) Currently, 43 states require utilities to buy excess power generated by consumers with solar arrays. This practice, known as net metering, essentially runs electric meters backward when power flows from rooftop solar panels into the grid, giving consumers a credit for the power they generate but don’t use.

The utilities hate this requirement, for obvious reasons. A report by the Edison Electric Institute, the lobbying arm of the power industry, says this kind of law will put “a squeeze on profitability,” and warns that if state incentives are not rolled back, “it may be too late to repair the utility business model.”

Since that’s an unsympathetic argument, the utilities have devised another: Solar expansion, they claim, will actually hurt consumers. The Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest utility, funneled large sums through a Koch operative to a nonprofit group that ran an ad claiming net metering would hurt older people on fixed incomes by raising electric rates. The ad tried to link the requirement to President Obama. Another Koch ad likens the renewable-energy requirement to health care reform, the ultimate insult in that world. “Like Obamacare, it’s another government mandate we can’t afford,” the narrator says.

That line might appeal to Tea Partiers, but it’s deliberately misleading. This campaign is really about the profits of Koch Carbon and the utilities, which to its organizers is much more important than clean air and the consequences of climate change.

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Ohio voters favor green energy

Ohio voters favor green energy, efficiency and political candidates who do the same, poll finds

By John Funk, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohioans overwhelmingly favor replacing coal-fired power plants with wind farms and solar arrays, and requiring utilities to help customers use less electricity, a poll released Wednesday has found.

The random telephone survey of 600 Ohio voters found:

• That 72 percent favor renewable energy over traditional power plants, with 52 percent strongly in favor.

• That 86 percent of Ohio voters support mandated utility energy efficiency programs, with 49 percent strongly supporting the rules.

• That two-thirds of voters say they would more likely support legislative candidates this fall who promote renewable energy over those who think the state’s utilities should continue to emphasize traditional coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

The Hatfield's Ferry power plant in Pennsylvania has the capacity to generate more than 1,700 megawatts. The power plant's three boilers are fueled with coal. FirstEnergy has closed the plant.
The Hatfield’s Ferry power plant in Pennsylvania has the capacity to generate more than 1,700 megawatts. The power plant’s three boilers are fueled with coal. FirstEnergy has closed the plant.

“The findings present a very clear picture of where Ohioans stand when it comes to energy policy and some of the debates going on in the state legislature,” said David Metz, a principal in the polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. Known as FM3, the firm is based in California.

“And relative to other polling we have done in Ohio and around the country, these results are consistent in the strong support that Ohio voters offer for more use of clean energy and greater use of energy efficiency,” said Metz during a news conference.

Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, an advocacy group for efficiency and renewables, commissioned the poll. Ohio Advanced Energy has been battling against a proposal supported by the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate — Senate Bill 310 — to amend state rules requiring power companies to help customers switch to more efficient equipment and lighting.

The law, which received bipartisan support by all but one lawmaker in 2008, requires utilities to help customers reduce power consumption through energy efficiency by 22 percent by 2025, compared with 2009 levels. And by the same year, the law requires that 12.5 percent of the power sold in the state to have been generated with renewable technologies. The percentages began at less than 1 percent in 2009 and are increasing annually.

But Republican lawmakers, in response to complaints from some large industrial companies and pressure from the utilities, led by FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, want to freeze things at this year’s levels and then study the issue for three years.

FirstEnergy has been clear that it believes the efficiency rules have cut into normal market growth. Some large industries say it is costing too much in extra charges to fund the mandated programs. Proponents dismiss that complaint, saying the current law allows utilities to halt efficiency programs if they cost more than what they save customers.

Ford and other advocates for keeping the law argue that the bill pending in the Ohio Senate will effectively kill the efficiency and renewable industries that have sprung up since 2009.

“Ohio is home to some 400 advanced energy companies employing 25,000 Ohioans,” said Ted Ford, president and CEO of Ohio AEE. “Ohio’s clean energy law is working. It’s saving money for consumers, creating jobs, and making Ohio competitive. And now, we can demonstrate that the voting public strongly supports it, too.”

But the poll, Ohio Statewide Survey, also found that despite the efforts of energy efficiency advocates like Ford, almost half of the electorate haven’t heard anything at all about what lawmakers are considering. About 20 percent said they were aware of the debate.

Still, almost three-quarters of those polled said they support the current state law that requires utilities to switch to an increasing percentage of renewable energy.

And when asked what percentage of Ohio’s energy should come from wind and solar, on average, Ohioans said they would like to see a majority of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources, as much as 56 percent, said Metz.

“We saw a similar pattern when we asked about energy efficiency, he said. “Most Ohio voters see this (the current law) as something that could benefit them personally.”

“When we ask whether they would be interested in taking advantages of incentives to weatherize their homes, become more energy efficient and not waste energy, 90 percent of voters said that they personally would be interested.

Third Sun Solar B-Corp Certification Renewed

BCorpThis past week, we received notification that our B-Corp certification has been renewed. This is an annual process whereby we are reviewed, as a company, for adherence to the B-Corp “triple bottom line” principles — that we are dedicated to practices that benefit People, Planet, and Profit. You can read our B-Corp profile here.

We went through a thorough review process for our original B-Corp certification, and we’re proud to be upholding the principles of this national “ethical business” certification, and to be wearing the B-Corp logo with honor.

Testimony from a Solar Customer

Ground-mounted 9kW solar array, Butler, Ohio
Ground-mounted 9kW solar array, Butler, Ohio

I have a 36 panel ground mount 9 KW solar system. I wanted American made products so I had to pay slightly more. I went with Sharp solar panels and Enphase Microconverters. The solar panels are connected in series and so far my output slightly exceeds the prediction by Third Sun Solar, so I am very pleased. It was installed by Third Sun Solar in cooperation with my electric provider, Butler Rural Electric. It is a ground mount in a field with no shade and serves my home in Butler County, Ohio. The solar panels are located around 450 ft from my house. They ran three large underground cable wires that connect to my meter at the house.

I contacted three solar companies before making a decision. I was surprised by the differences in layout that each of the three companies proposed. One company for example insisted I would lose a lot of energy by having such a long distance between the panels and my house and insisted the panels needed to be connected in parallel. The other two companies agreed that connecting them in series was better, but <company name deleted> insisted they could only run a cable that far if they used my barn as a substation.

As mentioned earlier in my review of <company name deleted>, I was seriously misled by the salesperson who has since left the company and that would have charged several thousand dollars more than my quote from Third Sun Solar, for a smaller system (32 solar panels), vs 36 panels and a true 9 K system.

I chose Third Sun Solar and I can’t say enough positive comments about this company. They were very professional in all my dealings with them and I could not be happier with the result. It took them a full week to install the solar system (36 panels). I elected not to have the panels put on my roof as that has a disadvantage in terms of needing to take them down and reinstalling when the shingles on the roof need to be replaced, and heat build-up from the roof can also reduce efficiency. I did not want to replace my shingles which should be good for another 15 years or so, while the life span of the solar panels which should be maintenance free for 30 years or more. Don’t trust a salesman when he says their company will take the panels off and reinstall for no cost when your shingles do need replacing.

Anyway, for the month of March which is still not quite done, I am exceeding the predicted output. So far my panels have produced 1,061 kWh so I will receive a check for 1 SREC for March and most likely a total of 12 SREC credits per year. My system is reducing my electric use from Butler Rural Electric by 75% and some months I will not use any net electric from my electric company. After choosing to go with Third Sun Solar, I noticed that my electric company has a small 2.3 K solar system installed at their facility in Hamilton, Ohio and that was installed by Third Sun Solar as well.

Bottom line, all solar companies are not the same. I have full trust in Third Sun Solar which is located in Athens, Ohio.

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