Monday, June 27, 2005

Schwartzenegger's Solar Plan Takes Heat

California governator -- er, governor -- Arnold Schwartzenegger is finding his solar rooftop plan has generated some backlash, according to the Los Angeles Times. Not only are big box retailers -- who would pay a lot more -- unhappy about the rate hikes that would be required to subsidize solar power, but a coalition of utilities, business lobbies, and consumer groups seems to be forming in opposition.
The governor's solar plan is "so expensive that it's not cost-effective," said Joseph Lyons, an energy lobbyist for the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn.

"Our members need rate relief, and this goes in the other direction," Lyons said.

Southern California Edison Co., the state's second-largest investor-owned utility, is also skeptical, saying the governor's bill favors rooftop solar systems over what it says are more cost-effective centralized solar generating stations.

Of course, you probably would expect them to say that; centralized generation and distribution is what the utilities know best how to do.
Even fans of solar power — who view photovoltaic panels as a crucial part of the state's alternative energy mix — question the wisdom of earmarking the bulk of funding for one source, to the detriment of less-glamorous energy efficiency and conservation programs.

"Solar is not even close to competitive," said Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute in Berkeley. He noted that solar power's long-run, average production cost of 25 cents to 30 cents per kilowatt hour, not including government subsidies or tax credits, is much higher than the 5 cents to 9 cents for wind power and 6 cents to 7 cents for modern, natural-gas-fired generation plants.

Even a leading energy consumer advocate, the Utility Reform Network, is critical of the governor's solar dream, contending it would drive up utility bills for some lower-income residential ratepayers.

"It singles out one technology … it's not giving us the biggest bang for the buck," said Michael Florio, an attorney for the group.

This is an important point I've been meaning to write about for a while now (actually, "drive home again" would maybe be better). There's a constant authoritarian itch, it seems, with much Green thinking, and one wonders whether they ever consider the net result of their proposed moves. That is, if solar cells are uneconomic, subsidies won't change that; they'll merely force taxpayers to make up the difference. This is not a small consideration, one I've written about previously. Picking winners and losers in advance is a very bad idea.