Common Sense Energy

Sep 27, 2017

To the Editor:

I am writing to challenge the assertions made by James Spickard in his column on the solar industry (“Solar Welfare,” 9/20). I just wanted to provide a different perspective to counter distortions in his letter.

Solar energy is not welfare; it’s common sense. Solar enjoys certain incentives and subsidies because the source is free and endless. These incentives pale in comparison to the beneficial subsidies that the carbon and coal-based industries receive. Solar would be relatively cheaper if the government and society actually made the non-renewable and carbon-based energy industries (coal, oil and gas) absorb the full cost of their destructive impact on the environment and society (i.e. environmental costs, health and global dependence).

The solar installation industry, like all others, has unscrupulous profiteers and incompetent installers, but it should not be a reason to blackball the industry.

I have installed two solar systems, at my expense, on two homes, one in Florida and one on LBI. The Florida system was installed in 2011 at a cost of about $20,000 net of a federal tax credit. It has been trouble free. The solar system generates enough energy to cover about 90 percent of the annual electric demands of an all-electric, LEED-certified home.

From June to September, it generates a surplus of energy that is then sent to the Florida Power and Light grid, thereby helping to reduce the need for FPL to buy extra energy to meet peak demands. In the winter months when we’re not there, it helps feed the energy demands of other Floridians. Mr. Spickard is right; there are fewer incentives for installing solar in Florida, as they are not needed. The benefits over the long term are overwhelmingly positive – to me, FPL and other Florida residents.

On LBI, my system was begun before but completed after Sandy. Because of the relative inefficiencies of northern latitudes and my roof design, the system has only one-half of the generation capability of the system in Sarasota, Fla. It costs a bit less as a result. This installation also enjoyed a federal tax credit for installation, and provides excess generation to the grid via Atlantic City Electric, when available.

My solar system covers about 30 percent of my power needs here. Though it does not fully cover the cost, the net benefit for me is a lower electric bill, and AC Electric has to provide less power to my house to meet its demand. New Jersey provides tax credits for my actual annual solar production, because in the big picture, it helps reduce the need for more oil, gas and coal fuel and facilities.

I sell my New Jersey credits to the market each year, which provides me with $600 to $800 of supplemental income. Where New Jersey has required carbon-based energy companies to help pay for their environmental impacts, they can purchase my tax credits to help cover their obligations. (It is analogous to Mount Laurel housing obligations, which can be satisfied through transfers of credits by developers or towns to neighboring towns).

Factoring in these credits, my system here is very efficient. And it is remotely monitored by the installer, who can see if the system has a problem. But it, too, has been trouble free.

I am fortunate enough to be able to afford the costs of these systems, which are still expensive even with the subsidies. I am not sure then where the concept of “welfare” comes in. If as a society we made the commitment to protect the environment and become energy independent, then we would fully tax the oil and coal industries, and make solar systems free to all. That’s not welfare, just smart.

Tom McArdle

Ship Bottom



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