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Facing Facts About Solar

Distributed solar might be a game changer, but at what cost?

Fortnightly - June 2012

As solar gets cheaper, it will contribute more to the important goal of diversifying America’s power portfolio with domestic, sustainable resources. That’s an effort worth subsidizing.


While my friend is living the green life and showing off his solar panels, will the rest of us be content to pay ever-higher utility bills?


Whether subsidy levels are appropriate is another question, of course. In “Energy Subsidy Myths and Realities,” analysts Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling attempt to penetrate the maze of government incentives, subsidies, and programs that contain the full scope of government investments in energy. Whether those programs are designed to harmonize with policy goals is a debatable question. And it might be a moot point, given the amorphous nature of U.S. energy policy. However, in the grand scheme of things, accelerating the development of PV could make a dramatic difference—ultimately for the better, we hope. And so, I told Reggie that I’m OK with paying for part of his PV panels, because they serve my long-term interests as a ratepayer and a citizen.

But then I also told him he could take that money and spend it more productively on other things that serve the same goals. For example, he could replace all his old light bulbs, appliances, and windows with more efficient models. That investment would pay for itself faster than PV panels, I’d bet. Or better yet, he could have his SUV crushed into scrap, and replace it with a used Honda Civic. That would save a lot more energy and pollution, not to mention gas money.

Reggie didn’t like hearing these things, of course. None of them are nearly as cool as putting PV panels on his boathouse. But I figured that if his goal is to save the planet, he’d like to have the facts before he pulls out his checkbook.


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