Tag: "center for american progress"

10/22/13

  10:06:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 582 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar News

A Question of Equities - Utility Attacks vs Solar Reality

We have written about the faux populism of electric utilities decrying solar generally - and net metering in particular - as unfair to poorer utility customers.  But is that true?  Are solar incentives really a question of robbing the poor to give to the rich? (H/T greentechsolar.)

Attacks on the solar industry as being unfair have been on the rise and getting nasty - and not just in California where folks like Ms. Burt from PG&E have been accusing the industry of being a Robin Hood in reverse.  For example, over in Arizona, APS - the state’s largest utility - was just discovered as having spent thousands of dollars supporting attack ads against the solar industry.  “We are in a political battle,” said APS Spokesman Jim McDonald. “We didn’t ask for it. But we are not going to lie down and get our heads kicked in. We are just not. We are obligated to fight. It is irresponsible to our customers not to fight back.”

And how are they fighting back?  With ads like this one:

There’s so many things wrong with that ad - for example, I love the irony of the ad attacking “out of state solar companies” when the ad was produced by a DC-based lobbying group!

But the real message is the class warfare meme: “Out of state billionaires using your hard-earned dollars to subsidize their wealthy customers.”

Which begs the question - are solar customer really wealthy?

To be sure some are, and back in the day, perhaps most were.  But as solar costs have plummeted, solar has become more affordable for more people.  We see that in our own business - we have had our share of wealthy clients, but certainly the majority of our residential clients appear to be of far more modest means.

Now a study is out from the non-partisan Center For American Progress titled, Solar Power to the People: The Rise of Rooftop Solar Among the Middle Class, that seeks to answer that question more generally.  The study looked at solar installations in the three biggest solar markets in the US - California, Arizona and New Jersey - and correlated census zip-code median income data against the locations for solar installs.  What they discovered will surprise many and directly undercuts the faux populists at Big Energy.

Who is installing solar?Check out this chart - click for larger - it shows the distribution of solar installations across income range for these three markets over time. Interestingly, in each state, the distribution follows a similar patter with more than 60% of all installations occurring in zip codes with a median income of between $40,00-$90,000.  In Arizona, where allegedly all those hard-earned dollars are going to wealthy customers, just under 80% of the installs were in middle-income zip codes!  Here in California, two-thirds of installations are in middle-income zip codes.  That tracks with our experience: we’ve done lots of installs in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Altadena - but none in San Marino.

As alternative financing mechanisms combine with lower prices, this is a trend that will surely continue.  (Indeed, intelligent solar loan programs are the best development yet - and we will have more to say about that later this week.)

Which makes it hard to argue that solar is a rich man’s toy when two thirds of the installs are occurring outside of rich person enclaves.  And yes, we realize that zip code median income is not a perfect proxy for wealth of the person installing, but it is a better proxy than any being used by the other side of this debate.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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