To the editor:
A recent article in the St. Louis The Post Dispatch painted a gloom-and-doom slant on the recent court decision against solar rebates in Missouri, referring to the "expected crash of the solar industry", which is far from true.
The truth is that the solar industry has been around in Missouri for over 15 years, and the solar rebate helped catapult the technology towards mainstream adoption in the last two years. However, dramatically falling prices for solar panels, a hefty 30% federal tax incentive, and increased competition also mean that, even without the existence of a solar rebate, the price of solar systems would be way less today than it was three years ago.
Make no mistake about it - in an arena where every form of energy is subsidized - and none more than the fossil fuel industry - solar would certainly suffer in Missouri if its state subsidy was taken away. But it won't be - because the arguments the lower court recently used for declaring the solar rebate "illegal and unconstitutional" are nonsensical. The Public Service Commission and Attorney General, as well as the solar industry itself, are committed to upholding the law as written, and challenging this lower court's flawed logic. The court's misconceptions are actually reflective of commonly held beliefs about solar, and this provides an opportunity for Missouri to learn about the real benefits solar has to offer. [Ruling was made by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green in favor of an argument by the Missouri Retailers Association that the rebate system "unfairly takes money" from Missouri utility Ameren and its customers. Ameren and some other utilities in Missouri have sued the state's Public Service Commission over how it's implementing the ballot initiative--2008's popular Proposition C which created $2 per-watt rebates for homeowners to install solar.]
First, the court asserts that utilities receive "no benefit" for the solar rebates they pay out. In reality, the PSC requires solar systems that receive rebates to stay in place for at least 10 years, ensuring that this generation is online. And the times that these systems are online are typically the times when it's the most expensive for utilities to generate power themselves. The more solar that's online, the less utilities have to pay for their most expensive power plants to fire up during the hot, sunny afternoon hours.
Additionally, as opposed to independently financing and paying for new electricity generation, when utility companies pay solar rebates, they're paying only a fraction (perhaps 33%) of the cost of the solar system. The rest is covered by the federal government and the customer's checkbook. This means that, from the utility's standpoint, they're bringing reliable generation online for less money per kilowatt-hour produced than they could ever hope for by building new coal or nuclear. If this isn't a "benefit to the utility", as well as to the rest of the ratepayers and the public, I don't know what is.
The judge also states that it doesn't change the utility's electricity portfolio even "by one kilowatt". He's right - using Ameren's own numbers, the 442 kW of solar installed as a result of their rebate program wouldn't generate "one kilowatt"--it will actually generate 552 Mega-watt hours (552,000 kilowatt-hours) of electricity per year in Missouri.
The truth is that solar is here to stay in Missouri. Panel prices have fallen by over 300% in the last 5 years, and the total combined renewable energy installed in the US just surpassed the amount of nuclear energy installed. The solar rebates have done a good job helping Missouri catch up with the rest of the nation, and I believe that the lower court's decision will be thrown out, and solar rebates will be up and running again in Missouri soon.
PJ Wilson, director of Renew Missouri, Columbia