The progressive magazine Mother Jones recognized problems with rooftop solar Monday, including financial benefits the industry gets from renewable energy credits (RECs) and how rooftop solar doesn’t help slow global warming.
Mother Jones argues credits and subsidies ensure rooftop solar companies aren’t actually helping fight global warming and instead are just enriching themselves while distracting from real solutions to global warming. The magazine claims RECs ensure someone who buys a rooftop solar panel isn’t actually fighting global warming, they’re “just helping the utility meet a goal it was already mandated to meet—thus helping excuse it from building more solar capacity itself. In other words, your direct net contribution to reducing greenhouse gas pollution is nil.”
Presently, utility companies are forced by law to purchase rooftop solar power at two to three times the rate it would cost to buy electricity from an industrial solar farm.
“[C]ompanies like SolarCity can sell them and thus help justify giving you the solar panels for little to nothing,” reads the article. “The biggest buyers of RECs are power companies looking to satisfy state-mandated clean-energy requirements, known as renewable portfolio standards. In effect, the power company pays for the right to claim the [lucrative] climate benefits of the panels on your roof.”
A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that rooftop solar subsides are inefficient and costly. Industrial scale solar power is more economically efficient than rooftop solar, according to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Solar and wind power have been heavily subsidized since at least the 1970s. Federal subsidies for solar are about $5 billion annually, with more than half of that amount going to rooftop solar.
Despite these huge subsidies, in 2014 solar power accounted for only 0.4 percent of electricity generated in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Homeowners who lock themselves and buyers into 20-year leases of these rapidly obsoleting devices are also being suckered, but that’s another issue.