We have long held that adding solar is a very conservative thing to do—as in conserving your money to say nothing about conserving the planet. A recent Op-Ed in the LA Times echoed that sentiment quite clearly just the other day and it is worth a mention.
Titled, “Koch brothers and big utilities campaign to unplug solar power,” the piece by David Horsey lays out quite clearly the cynical attempt by the Koch brothers (who have inherited one of the largest family owned corporations in the oil and gas industry and in so doing, are richer than God), investor owned utilities and the American Legislative Council (see, Not so smart ALEC), to roll back laws in red states that help promote the solar industry. Those laws—specifically renewable portfolio standards (known as an RPS, that mandates a percentage of renewable energy in a utility’s energy mix) and net metering—were readily adopted across the country when solar was still too expensive for most consumers. But the recent, precipitous price drops in solar power systems has awakened the sleeping giant of the fossil-fuel industry and now they mean business.
Apparently they scored a recent victory in Oklahoma with the governor there signing a repeal law for that state’s RPS. Score one for the Kochs.
But, as we have noted before, there are conservative groups who see this issue through a—dare we say it—more conservative lens. From the Op-Ed:
Environmentalists have been energized to stand in the way of this well-funded multi-state onslaught against solar power, and it is gratifying to hear there is one conservative with a venerable Republican lineage who is taking their side. Former California congressman Barry Goldwater Jr. has formed a group, awkwardly named Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, that hopes to gather support among conservatives to oppose the big utilities.
“These solar companies are becoming popular, and utilities don’t like competition,” Goldwater told The Times. “I believe people ought to have a choice.”
Consumer choice. Business competition. Autonomy for individual Americans. Those certainly seem like sound conservative principles. You would think that is something the Koch brothers could appreciate, but, obviously, their brand of conservatism is defined less by principles than by profits.
Indeed those are sound principles that both conservatives and liberals can rally around.
The internal battle amongst conservatives is spilling over into the renewable energy arena, and how that battle plays out will determine whether conservation-minded conservatives can join forces with their enviro sisters and brothers, or if the only wearers of a conservative mantle will be following the scorched-earth policies of the Kochs.
Watch this space.
We are fans of SEIA, the Solar Energy Industry Association, as we believe that they do important work lobbying on behalf of solar in Washington, D.C. But a blog post by Chet Henry over at Red, Green & Blue titled, “Who has the best job in solar? Bet it’s not you,” (h/t SolarWakeup) had us spewing our coffee in disbelief—they are paying him what???
It turns out that SEIA is paying its President/CEO, Rhone Resch, $786,000 per year—to say nothing of a gym membership and guaranteed first class air travel. Say what?
Now this is not an attack on Mr. Resch, whom I respect. But seriously, SEIA, what the heck are you doing? Julia Hamm, who heads up SEPA, the Solar Electric Power Association (which tries to get electric utilities to adopt solar-friendly policies) gets paid roughly a third of Resch, at $286,000. Sorry, but there is no way Resch is worth three times what Hamm is. Worse still, according to the blog post, SEIA’s records reveal three other executive women at SEIA, none of whom makes more than a third of what Resch makes.
Frankly, we have been concerned for some time about SEIA’s dues structure which is disproportionately high for small revenue solar companies, and is one of the chief reasons that 80% of solar companies aren’t members. Indeed, we are no longer members as it simply didn’t seem like a worthwhile investment for our all too finite capital. Dumping nearly 800 G’s into one man’s salary, however, is no way to say to small installation companies, “we represent you and want you to participate.”
SEIA has noted that there are more than 140,000 people in this country working in the solar industry. I wonder how many of them are getting paid what SEIA is paying its President? SEIA has said that there are more than 5,000 solar companies in this country. I wonder how many of their President/CEOs are getting paid anywhere near what SEIA is paying its CEO?
I simply don’t buy the notion that you need to pay someone that kind of salary to attract the talent needed to do the job. After all, Ms. Hamm has to hobnob with the heads of IOUs who make 10 times as much as she does, but she can do it for nearly half a million dollars less than SEIA is paying out.
Time for reform at SEIA.
We all know that solar is booming throughout the U.S. and especially here in California, but where in California exactly? What county leads the state in permitting new solar projects? Take a guess—the winner may surprise you!
We recently came across a publication that attempts to compile information regarding building permits throughout the State of California. The data reports the total number of permits issued by county and gives a valuation for those permits. However, since the value assigned to a project at the permit office is generally not verified against the actual price of the project, we aren’t looking at that data. Instead, we simply focused on the total number of permits issued in March of 2014 for new, solar PV installations.
Go on, take a guess…
Did you see that coming? We certainly didn’t!
Wow, San Bernardino you are kicking it, and in a big way, accounting for nearly 12% of the 3,901 new PV permits pulled statewide in March. The top ten counties listed here combined for 65% of all permits for the month. Solar hotspots indeed.
Still, I suspect it tells you something about the continuing horrors of doing business in the City of the Angels, when Los Angeles county, with five times the population of San Bernardino county, has roughly half as many permits in the month.
It will be interesting to follow this data going forward to see whether this month was a fluke or a continuing trend.
Folks often write about Climate Change in terms of saving the Earth, but that isn’t accurate. Solving the problem of Climate Change is about saving us, saving our skins, and a brilliant new piece over at The Nation spells out quite clearly what that will take: “The New Abolitionism.”
Now I realize that we just posted a piece yesterday featuring Chris Hayes and following it up with a summary of his lengthy article may seem a tad too fanboy for some, but there are two good reasons for these back-to-back posts:
1) Chris Hayes writes more intelligently about the subject than just about anyone, and 2) the issue is just too important to ignore. So here we go.
As you might gather from the title, Hayes draws a parallel to the steps necessary to solve Climate Change to the ending of slavery in America. But his point isn’t to equate the fossil fuel industry with the moral atrocity of slave holding. Rather, his point is about the economic impact of both ending slavery and ending our dependence on fossil fuels, and the audacity of the demand from both the Abolitionists before the Civil War and Climate Change activists today.
Hayes lays out the economic history of slavery and notes that prior to the Civil War, the value of the slave economy in the South was something like $10 trillion (with a T) dollars. And the Abolitionists were demanding that those who owned slaves - who owned that economic gold mine - give it all up without compensation. Which they were forced to do, but only after we fought the bloodiest war in our history.
What has that to do with the fossil fuel industry? Turns out that in a 2012 paper titled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Bill McKibben laid out the calculation for how much carbon we could emit into the atmosphere and still avoid the 2°C temperature increase that most scientists believe is the level beyond which we dare not go, at least not if we are going to save our skins. According to McKibben, that total is 565 gigatons of carbon - which seems like a staggeringly high number, until you learn this: according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, the proven reserves of the world’s fossil fuels is 2,795 gigatons. In other words, “the total amount of known, proven extractable fossil fuel in the ground at this very moment is almost five times the amount we can safely burn."
Here’s how McKibben phrased it, writing back in 2012:
Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That’s the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.
How much are all of those reserves worth? Hard to say precisely since energy prices are highly volatile, but according to Hayes, a fair estimate is somewhere north of $10 trillion (again, with a T). That is an awful lot of money to leave on the table, and those of us who are asking to rein in the fossil fuel industry need to understand that those are the kinds of dollars we are talking about.
Hayes takes that comparison and manages to end on an upbeat note, so you owe it to yourself to check out the entire article, The New Abolitionism, here.
We’ve seen and written about the backlash against solar from utilities, fossil fuel interests and their allies for sometime now, but the brilliant Chris Hayes had a great segment about this on his show the other night (H/T ClimateCrocks.com). In case you missed it, here’s his piece:
There’s lots to like in this story, but one thing we really like is his guest, Nikki Silvestri from Green for All, who explains how adding solar to a neighborhood church or school really allows the technology to come home to people and educate them about the benefits of renewable energy in general, and solar in particular.
But it is precisely that educated familiarlity that has the reactionary forces so upset. While Solar Power Syndrome might be tongue-in-cheek ("ever since that solar installation went up, everything around here has been dimmer - those dang solar panels are sucking up all of the sunlight!"), the concerted attacks from ALEC and the other Conservative heavyweights [that] have [the] solar industry in their sights is painfully, and dangerously real.