Does solar power make sense?

Southern California Edison desperately wants you to install a solar system.As power administrators for the California Public Utilities Commission, SCE is attempting to help reach a statewide goal of an additional 3,000 megawatts (MW) of solar-produced, grid-connected electricity by the end of 2016. These goals are being encouraged through the California Solar Initiative, which seeks to incentivize solar installations for both residences and businesses. Why are the goals so critical and why are these incentives being offered? Because southern California continues to grow, and during peak days, SCE customers already use as much as 26,000 MW of electricity. So, rather than continue to build power plants, SCE through the California Solar Initiative hopes to generate power during peak daylight hours, when demand is highest, from the rooftops of homes and businesses in sunny southern California. This approach was written into law in 2006 by CA SB 1, originally known as the "Million Solar Roofs" program. And it makes sense--in a region of the country that boasts not only a perennially sunny climate, but also miles upon miles of suburban residential rooftops. Moreover, solar power allows homeowners and businesses to dramatically reduce their carbon footprints as well as their energy costs. Solar systems are extremely reliable, with a lifespan of approximately twenty-five years. They also increase home resale values by $20,000 for every $1,000 of annual electric billing savings, according to real estate appraiser estimates. Is the California public embracing this program? The answer to that question is a qualified "yes," with rebate incentives already distributed for 700 MW of solar power installation under the initiative. Yet at a recent seminar offered for free by SCE at the Embassy Suites in Downey, 29 Downey residents--along with 10 additional attendees from other Los Angeles area communities as far away as West Covina--seemed unconvinced. The primary reservation hinged on the question of cost-effectiveness. Those present seemed skeptical that an eight to nine year return on investment was worth the initial outlay. Not discussed was the reality that prices for electricity will increase in the coming years. SCE has already announced proposed rate increases of 7.2% in 2012, an additional 1.3% in 2013, and another 4.35% in 2014, totaling a significant thirteen percent proposed increase over a three-year period. From an environmental standpoint, a widely dispersed source of solar power is virtually a necessity. I have already reported in previous articles on my own enormously positive personal experience since installing solar power, with the prospect of negligible electricity costs for the rest of my life. But ultimately the question of whether solar power makes sense rests with the home or business owner. When it comes right down to it, it's your call. Lars Clutterham is a Downey resident and charter member of the city of Downey's Green Task Force and Downey Chamber of Commerce's Green Committee.

********** Published: November 17, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 31