Is The “Value Of Solar” Rate A Fair Deal For Consumers?


This letter was written in response to ‘The 'Value Of Solar' Rate: Designing An Improved Residential Solar Tariff,’ which was published in the February 2013 issue of Solar Industry.

To The Editor:

I was surprised to see such a power-plant-biased perspective being given as many column inches as the one you published by Karl Rabago. Net metering is unfair to the consumer and is in no way unfair to the local electrical utility. At my house, I paid 100% of the cost to install a system at a cost of $22,000. My local utility only had to send someone to replace the meter which took 10 minutes to do and cost them less than $100.

For half of my prior electrical usage, I paid a 50% premium rate of $0.34/kWh, and when I generate excess power during peak usage hours, I receive compensation at the rate of $0.12/kWh.

It has been well researched and documented for more than three decades the costs that the utility companies incur to meet peak demand during peak usage months. Residential solar installations save these companies many millions of dollars in new plant construction and capital costs, as well as direct operating costs for plant capacity that is needed for fewer than 10% of the hours during the year.

Ignored as well is the true cost to provide alternative forms of power to these plants. In Germany, their enlightened government was aware that the cost to subsidize their coal industry was over $600 million a year – and that did not include the health and medical and disability costs involved.

In the U.S., the coal subsidy is in the billions of dollars, and the health costs for asthma alone are over $11.5 billion a year in this country. Japan has learned the hard way the true cost of its nuclear-powered plants with an estimated cleanup cost for the Fukushima-Daiichi plant of $250 billion, and to that one needs to add the economic loss until alternative forms of energy production come online and the loss to the inhabitants of the communities affected. That would buy a lot of solar panels and inverters.

The solar industry should be pushing for feed-in tariffs so that utility companies are paying solar producers $0.34/kWh, as has been already done in Germany and Austria and is now being done in progressive Palo Alto, Calif. The cost to the average rate utility customer would be less than $8 a year and far less costly to these people than more coal- or nuclear- or gas-powered plants in the short run – and less costly by far when the costs of global climate change and the resulting destruction to crops, homes, buildings and infrastructure are included.

The solar industry is not alone in being 10 years behind the times, but it would behoove this periodical to help develop a political strategy to move the industry and this country into the 21st century. It can start by not providing free PR for the utilities, as was done with Rabago's entirely one-sided piece.


Bruce Stenman
Lightsmith Inc.
Prunedale, Calif.

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