The rooftop solar scam

Norman Rogers:
A large-scale natural gas-generating plant can supply electricity for around 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Rooftop solar electricity costs, without subsidies, around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, or five times as much. Average retail rates for electricity in most places are between 8 cents and 16 cents per kilowatt-hour. Yet, paradoxically, the homeowner can often reduce this electric bill by installing rooftop solar.

It is actually worse than forcing the power company to take 30-cent electricity that it could get from a natural gas plant for 6 cents. When the company throttles down a natural gas plant to make room for rooftop electricity, it is not saving six cents, because it already has paid for the gas plant. All it saves is the marginal fuel that is saved when the plant is throttled down to make room for the rooftop electricity. The saving in fuel is about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. So 30-cent electricity displaces grid electricity and saves two cents.

But where does the other 28 cents come from? Who pays for that? Part is paid for by the federal 30% subsidy for solar energy construction cost. That takes care of about nine cents per kilowatt-hour. That leaves the homeowner with electricity costing him 21 cents per kilowatt-hour. The cost comes from his monthly payments on the loan to build the solar system divided by the number of kilowatt-hours generated that month. If he pays cash for the solar system, then the monthly cost is his lost investment return on the cash he paid. If he lives in a jurisdiction where electricity costs 11 cents, then he is losing 10 cents for each kilowatt-hour generated (21 cents minus 11 cents). But if he lives in California, where larger home users of electricity pay 53 cents per kilowatt-hour if they consume beyond a baseline limit, he saves 32 cents for each kilowatt-hour of solar electricity generated. In that case, the power company is losing kilowatt-hours it could have sold for 53 cents. Other customers have to pay more to make up the lost revenue.
There may be a few applications where rooftop solar is necessary for a limited number of houses off the grid.  But this breakdown demonstrates how counterproductive Californaornia's new law requiring all new homes to have rooftop solar will be.  It will add significantly to the cost of buying the home and operating it.


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